Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Easter Letter

[I wrote and posted this on April 13 of last year. But it seems worth re-running.]

Some people tell me, "If only I could see a miracle, I could believe."

Or, despondent over the fact that someone they care about refuses to believe in the risen Christ we proclaim this Easter Sunday, others say, "If only so and so could witness a miracle, they could believe."

Let me tell you a true story. When I was in junior high school, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was admitted to the hospital one day in order to undergo surgery the next day.

But on the morning of the scheduled procedure, the doctor came by her room. He was mystified. A final round of tests conducted the afternoon before showed no cancer. He didn't understand how this could have happened. But we all did: People had prayed and in the mysterious providence of God, my mother was healed.

I knew all about what had happened and yet within a few short years, I came to consider myself an atheist. I continued to say that there was no God for about eight more years after that.

That's the thing about miracles: They're as subject to questioning and rejection as the statements, "There is a God" or "Jesus is risen from the dead."

To believe in a God Who is bigger than us or in a God Who becomes human, offers Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and then rises from death to give everlasting life with God to all who believe in Him is not an easy thing. We human beings are such control freaks that even when we see the miraculous or inexplicable, we want to explain it away. We always want God to prove Himself with just one more piece of evidence.

Jesus once told the story of a man who had died and was burning in hell. In his life on earth, he had been an unjust man who ignored the needs of a poor man, Lazarus, who died at his gate and had gone to heaven. From hell, he called out to Abraham, the patriarch of Old Testament faith, begging him to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers of the fate that awaited them if they didn't trust in God. Surely, the rich man reasoned, if they saw someone back from the dead, they would listen to God's Word and believe. Forget it, Abraham responds in Jesus' story, if they didn't pay attention to the ways in which God revealed Himself through Moses and all the prophets, there's no way they'll pay attention to someone resurrected from the dead.

Belief in God isn't antithetical to the life of the mind. We don't check our brains in at the church door. But faith isn't the byproduct of the smoking guns of miraculous evidence, either. "Have you believed because you have seen Me?" Jesus asked His once-skeptical disciple, Thomas. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Some say Jesus rose from the dead. Others don't. And while those who say that He did rise can point to oodles of evidence to support their belief (see here and here, for example), no amount of evidence will convince those who have decided that they will not believe. The apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament says:
...I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
God Himself makes it possible for us to believe...but only if we are willing to believe.

This is where the credibility of Christians becomes so important. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest people in human history. He was once asked why he, who had closely studied the New Testament and whose tactics for bringing freedom to India came directly from Jesus, never became a Christian. He had, it turns out, been quite open to following Christ. But as a young lawyer in South Africa, he was subjected to ill-treatment by Christians. He concluded that if the people who bore Christ's Name were so un-Christian, it was pointless to follow Christ.

Christians, of course, are sinners just like the rest of the human race. We are imperfect. We do things that we have every reason to regret. But when others see the direction of our lives...when they can see that when we sin, we regret it and seek to move toward the love of God and neighbor to which Christ calls us...when they see in us a commitment to service..when they see the risen Jesus Christ evidenced in our living, these things are seen as greater indicators of the reality of God and the truth of the resurrection than any number of miracles.

God will never force us to believe in Him or follow Him. But if we are willing to believe, the Spirit of God will begin to fashion faith within us, making it possible for us to join those ancient confessions of the Church: I believe in God the Father! I believe in the risen Jesus Christ! I believe in God the Holy Spirit!

I urge Christians to pray for their skeptical friends and neighbors to move toward a willingness to faith and to ask God to help all of us become believable, loving, serving witnesses for our Savior.

And if you are among the skeptical or the scoffers like I once was, I hope that you can move toward the moment when you can tell God, "I'm not even sure you're there. But I want You to be and if You are, help me to know You and to follow You." Don't be surprised if from that tiny opening, the Holy Spirit lovingly nudges you toward faith in the risen Christ. That's exactly what happened to me...and that really is a miracle, when you think about it!

[You might be interested in this blog series on why I believe the Christian faith is true:
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 1
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 2
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 3
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 4
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 5
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 6]

[You might also want to read this series, which deals with a tough topic impeding some from belief in God:
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 1
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 2
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 3
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 4
The Light of the World!]

[THANKS TO: Brian, of the excellent new blog,, for linking to this post.]


P_J said...


May you have a profoundly joyful Easter as you celebrate and worship the risen Christ!

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Happy Easter to you and all your loved ones, Mark!