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Historical Nobodies

It’s not often I have the urge to answer the idiocy I encounter on the Internet. There seems little point. Such “discussions” generally produce more heat than light. I’ve got better things to do than contribute to some flame war. I can understand if you feel differently about this than I do. After all, if nobody calls people on the idiotic things they say about the church and the Bible, then it is only those idiotic things which will remain in the public view. “Answer a fool according to his folly,” Solomon said, “or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5 NIV)

That’s all well and good, but the verse just prior to that says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4 NIV) The way I see it, it’s a no-win situation. It’s not likely you’ll change any minds by engaging. At best you end up agreeing to disagree. I figure the most beneficial thing we can do is present the truth on our own platforms. Then, we hold the high ground if somebody wants to disagree. They’re on our turf. Our rules apply. If necessary, we can cut trolls off at the knees.

Having said all that, not too long ago I was sorely tempted to break my own rule and respond to some idiotic statements somebody made on his blog about the Bible, the writers thereof and Jesus Christ. What made the situation particularly galling is that the theme of the blog, and even of the post in question, is far removed from religion, let alone Christianity. In regard to the stated theme of the blog, the author is someone whose opinion I respect.

Though the situation still bugs me, I finally decided to retain my status as a lurker. What tipped the scale in favor of remaining silent was the man’s smug, condescending, arrogant attitude of superiority on the subject. He claims to be a skeptic – that he’s open to evidence and that he always challenges his own assumptions. Yet, it was obvious from his replies to a believer who, oh so gently and politely, demurred from what he said in the blog post that this man made up his mind long ago about the Bible and Christ. Far from being open he either dismisses evidence or twists it to suit his own preconceived notions.

It reminded me of an exchange I read some years ago between a believer and someone who called himself an atheist. The atheist claimed that he could see no evidence for the existence of God. The believer asked the atheist what sort of evidence it would take to convince him of God’s existence. The atheist immediately moved the goal-posts by asking the believer to define what he meant by “God.” It rapidly became obvious to me (and, I think to everyone else who read that exchange) that no amount of evidence of any kind would be sufficient to convince the atheist that he was wrong. He had already made up his mind that God could not exist, ergo, by definition, any evidence to the contrary is misleading or misinterpreted. Therefore, no matter what evidence you produce, or what arguments you use, it will never be enough to convince him. To put it another way, he is intellectually dishonest and self-deceived. I got the same impression this time around. The blogger claims to be a skeptic. In reality, when it comes to God and Christianity, it looks very much like his mind is closed to facts and logic.

The man wrote that he gave up belief as a teenager because his parish priest couldn’t answer his questions about the Bible. Really? That’s a pretty lame excuse. Since when is someone else responsible for our faith or lack thereof? I’m sorry the priest couldn’t answer his questions. But it sounds like the priest is a convenient scapegoat. I doubt the priest could have said anything to change the determination this man had already made.

Let’s suppose the priest genuinely couldn’t answer reasonable and sincere questions about the Bible. Is the priest the only authority in the world? Obviously not. There are plenty of sources which can answer questions about the authenticity of the Bible. There happens to be far more evidence for the authenticity and accuracy of the Bible than any other piece of ancient literature. It always amazes me that people claim to have doubts about the integrity of the biblical texts, yet accept that we have accurate copies of other works with far less manuscript evidence. Are people who question the biblical text merely ignorant, or are they hypocrites?

I have more sympathy for those who question the message of the Scriptures than I do for those who question the texts. I will freely grant that a superficial reading of the Bible – particularly the Old Testament – can raise questions about the character of God. The blogger emphatically stated that God, as portrayed in Scripture, is abusive because we are told to fear Him. How shallow! He does not inquire how the Bible defines “fear” (look up Proverbs 8:13). He does not look at context to see why we should fear God. He does not attempt to harmonize the various passages which speak of fear. He gives no consideration to passages which tell us to both fear and not fear. (Such as 1 Peter 3:1-6. The word in verse 2 which the NIV renders “reverence” is the Greek “phobos” from which we get phobia.) He makes no allowance for the biblical teaching about how love transforms fear (see 1 John 4:18). No! This man has apparently decided that fear is evil and, therefore, God must be abusive because the Bible instructs us to fear Him.

How can this man not realize that fear, as God made it and intends us to use it, is actually something extremely positive? It is fear which keeps us out of all sorts of dangerous situations. It is the person who does not have a “healthy respect” (which is what the biblical term “fear” often means) for power tools, firearms or automobiles who is at most risk of being harmed by them. How is God being abusive when it is a “healthy respect”, “awe” or “reverence” for Him which helps us avoid evil? Is the blogger a bad father if he tells his children that there will be consequences if they do not obey the guidelines he has established for his household? Is he an abusive father if he instills a fear in them which will keep them from “crossing the line” into harmful behavior? Would he prefer that his toddler run into the road and be struck by a car rather than fear his displeasure for ignoring instruction? Does he love his children any less because he has instilled a fear of the consequences of wrong behavior in them? I would argue that if he hasn’t instilled such fear in his young children it is evidence that he doesn’t love them as he should. Yes, I agree that as a child grows and matures, the motive of the fear of consequences should be replaced by the motive of love. The child should do what pleases his father out of respect and love for his parent. He should not want to do anything which would harm his relationship with his parent. But until that time comes, fear is a very healthy emotion. It saves both the child and his parents much grief and heartache. How can this man not see that what is true in human parent-child relationships also holds true in our relationship with God? The logical disconnect is mind-boggling!

The blogger also bashes the God of the Bible because of the terrible things which happen in this world. He blames God for natural disasters, diseases and birth defects. He claims that a loving God would never have sent Noah’s flood. In reality, all this bleating merely shows a profound ignorance of the Bible’s message. (I’m being generous here. If it isn’t ignorance it’s something much worse – a deliberate distortion or rejection of the facts.) The truth is that it is the Bible which makes sense of the problems of pain, suffering and evil. If the Bible’s explanation is wrong, then either there is no God and therefore there is no meaning or hope to life at all (hence no reason to be disturbed by any natural disaster or anyone’s pain and suffering), or God is the “Cosmic Sadist” C.S. Lewis postulates in his book A Grief Observed.

The Bible’s explanation is really quite simple. And it is elegant in that it accounts for all that we see and experience. The world we know is not how God created it nor how He intended it to be. He created it good and perfect. But, if God is going to allow us free will, it follows that He must also grant us the possibility of doing wrong. If people choose to do evil, then evil will be in the world. It is inevitable. It could not be otherwise. The presence of evil in our world is not a reflection upon God but the inevitable result of personal choices we made to do evil. God cannot grant choice and at the same time prevent evil from occurring.

The blogger’s complaint ignores this basic principle of action and consequence. Each action has a result. Not only is the presence of evil in the world a result of our choice, the Bible teaches that there was another consequence of that choice. The act of doing wrong altered the very nature of this world. Disease and disaster were not meant to be. But they are the consequence of what we did. Who is to blame? God for giving us the choice, or us for wrecking the perfect world He gave us? If I choose to walk off the roof, is God to blame that I smash my bones on the pavement below? Is the builder of a house to blame if I choose to set fire to it?

Even if that were the only message of the Bible, we would not be justified in blaming God for the mess we find ourselves in. We could only pine for paradise lost. But that is not the end of the story. Though God would be perfectly within His rights if He left us to stew in the consequences of our own decisions, He gives us a way out. Just as He created us and our world perfect, through Jesus Christ He is in the process of re-creating both us and nature. One day those of us who love Him and respond to His offer of redemption will inherit a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

What I find particularly irritating about the blogger’s line of un-reasoning is that he, himself, is an author and, therefore, a creator. As such he should have an understanding of the principle of action and consequence. He should have an intuitive understanding of God the Creator, for he himself creates characters and the environments in which they live. As an author I doubt that he gives his characters as much choice and freedom of action as God gives us. Yet, if his stories are to make any sense at all, the characters he invents must experience the consequences of the actions they perform. If nothing happens as a result of what they do – if there is no connection between actions and results – the plot will be illogical, random and meaningless. Yet this man rails against God because we experience the consequences of what we do.

Not only that, there is another aspect of the creator/creature relationship he seems to ignore. He undoubtedly puts his characters in all sorts of uncomfortable situations. There would be no tension, suspense or conflict in his stories if he did not. They would be flat, insipid and boring. As the creator of these tales does he not have the right to put his characters into stressful or uncomfortable situations? Does he not have the right to determine the plot? Does he not have the right to say that if character X does Y, then Z will result, whereas if character X does not choose to do Y then A will occur? Is he a “terrible” author because he puts his people into difficulties? Is he a bad man because he decrees what is “right” for his characters to do and determines the consequences if they deviate from the morals or customs which he has designed for the society in which he places them? Why then, does he accuse God – the author of life – of being abusive and unjust when He determines the standards to which we, His creatures, should comply and the consequences which will result if we choose to deviate from those standards? It seems to me that this man allows himself the very privileges he denies God. I find the blogger’s attitude toward God more than a little hypocritical.

He also blames God for atheists. Why, he asks, if God is all knowing and all loving would He create someone to be an atheist? Note the illogical assumption. His question is predicated on people not having free will. According to him, we are born the way we are; we have no choice in whether we believe or not. Surely, the blogger’s every-day experience conclusively demonstrates that he does have the ability to choose. Since he has that capacity and exercises it every day, then how can he, with a straight face, blame God for the choices he freely makes? Even if God did create us so that we did not have free will, as Creator, that is His prerogative. Paul writes, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:20-24 NIV) I wonder how much guff the blogger takes from the characters he creates?

Not only does this man rail against the character of God, he disputes that God exists at all. He claims that people don’t need any divine being to tell them that everyone should get along together in love. The most charitable thing I can say about this sentiment is that it betrays a total lack of thought and understanding. The truth is that without the supernatural – specifically without God – there is no basis for love or any moral concepts at all. Throw God out and there is no reason to love. In fact, love cannot exist. Similarly, there is no reason for any moral constraints. “Might makes right” is the only principle left to you. In contrast, the instant you use the words “should” or “ought” you bear witness to the reality of something other than the material universe. This man wishes to have the benefits of Judeo-Christian morality – which is based solidly on the character of God – without the responsibility submitting to God who is the source of morality.

He claims that he would accept a being as God if that being performed miracles or created life before his eyes. So, what he is really saying is that God must fit into his mold before he will believe in Him. God must conform to his notions and do his bidding. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but such a god would not be worth believing in. Who are we to dictate to God what He must do? He is not a performing seal. If He is God, then we must come to Him on His terms, or not at all. And you would believe if you saw a miracle would you? Right. Tell me another. There were plenty of people who saw God “in the flesh” perform many miracles and still refused to believe (John 12:37). If the eyewitness accounts are not enough to convince you, then nothing will. “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”” (Matthew 12:38-42 NIV)

The man claims he’d kneel before a being who would prove himself. Well, I’ve got news for you. The day will come when all creatures – whether in heaven or on earth or below the earth – will bow before Jesus and confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). But when that happens it’ll be too late to change your mind. He’s already proved Himself and you wouldn’t accept the proof. You chose to reject it. That day you won’t have the choice. Since you refused to freely bow before Christ when you had the chance, you’ll be forced to bow whether you want to or not.

In spite of saying he would believe if he saw a miracle, this man also says that no church can persuade him because their answers always come down to faith. He then goes on to define faith as “belief without proof”. Even if we accept his definition (which is, at best, problematical and incomplete) it conveniently ignores the fact that everybody functions on the basis of faith. We might not believe a particular religious assertion or dogma but there are plenty of other things we take for granted without having proof. We simply couldn’t live our lives if we had to have proof for everything. Nobody takes the time to verify everything he’s told before he accepts it. How tedious life would be if we attempted to do so! No, this is simply a convenient excuse. I find it rather telling that in other posts this same blogger emphatically says that he has faith (his word) in certain processes or methods. So, either he is changing his definition, or he is undercutting his own argument. But then, when it comes to religion, this man isn’t very consistent.

Only God knows the heart, but the overwhelming impression I got was that, in spite of his assertion to the contrary, this particular “skeptic” has no interest in finding out whether God exists and, if so, no desire to serve Him. If the doubts and questions had been genuine and sincere it would have been a privilege and honor to show the man the truth. However, as I read his comments I couldn’t help but think that his problem is not one of intellect, but one of morals. If the God of the Bible truly does exist, he’d have to change the way he lives – and he wants to leave self on the throne. I found myself veering between feelings of pity and a weary disgust. Disgust because all of this stuff is the same, old, boring, insipid blather that’s been debunked a thousand times before. Unbelievers trot out these pathetic arguments as if they’re saying something original and brilliant while, in reality, they only demonstrate their own lack of wit and integrity. My sense of pity was aroused because I can’t help thinking how threadbare all of these excuses will sound when this man has to bow before the One he goes out of his way to deny and belittle. I also pity him because of the depth of life he’s deliberately turned his back on. He has this world’s goods, but how much richer his soul would be if he only was willing to submit himself to Christ!

What prompted my rant, however, is this man did say something which I don’t remember having heard before. It’s breathtaking for sheer audacity, condescension, presumption and arrogance. It is so “out there” and “over the top” that, at first, I couldn’t think how to answer as I was so busy metaphorically picking my “jaw off the floor”. He dismisses the writers of the Bible (and therefore what they wrote), specifically Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as “historical nobodies”. He even goes so far as to call Jesus Christ Himself an “historical nobody”. According to him they are “nobodies” because there are few or no mentions of them in contemporary writings. Since there are few or no mentions of these people, therefore – according to this blogger, it is doubtful whether they even existed. There isn’t really any evidence that they did.

The illogic is mind-blowing. First, notice the relatively minor point that someone is only worth listening to if he happens to be famous – or at least has a good publicity department. If you aren’t listed in the proper stud-book or contemporary who’s who, you have nothing to say. (The blogger skipped over the “minor” inconvenience to his assertion that in Jesus’ case we have full genealogies. We know exactly what His lineage is.) It occurs to me that if we are going to accept this argument, in order to be consistent, we’d have to dismiss or doubt the existence of a lot of other people, too. How would folks like Plato and Confucius fare under this requirement? Were they all that well-known in their own lifetimes? Is it not true that their teaching had its greatest influence after their deaths? If that is not a cause to doubt their existence, then why is it grounds to doubt whether Jesus lived?

To bolster his statement that Jesus is an “historical nobody” the blogger asks where, “in his own words” is Jesus’ gospel? Well, if you are going to doubt Jesus’ existence because He delegated writing down His teaching to the disciples, are you also going to doubt the existence of people like Alexander the Great? The only way we have to know what Alexander said and did, and the laws he passed are from the accounts of others. Does that make Alexander less of a historical person?

However, the thing which really boggled my mind is how can this guy dismiss Jesus as an “historical nobody” when Jesus and His teachings has, arguably, had a more profound effect on history than any other person? Frankly, in spite of this blogger’s notoriety on the Internet, he will never even remotely have the kind of impact on our world that Jesus continues to have. Yet Jesus, in his mind, is a “nobody”!

I really shouldn’t be surprised. The attitude merely demonstrates how different the mindset of the world is compared to those in the Kingdom of Heaven. It shows just how ignorant and uncomprehending this man is of the very teachings and writings he disdains and dismisses. The Apostle Paul described it long ago: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:20-29 NIV)

So, if someone want to dismiss Jesus and the Apostles as “historical nobodies” go right ahead. It is those very “nobodies” God chooses and uses to fulfill His purposes. As for me, I would much rather be counted among the “nobodies” than to have all the honor and fame this world could give. I’d rather endure the mocking of people like the blogger in this life than try to explain, when I have to face to my Creator why I refused to believe in Him. I’ll take Christ crucified over the “wisdom” of the world, any day.

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