12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
I Corinthians 15: 12-14
Alister McGrath, a former atheist who has become a believer in Christ, a theologian and a scientist, tells the following story about the first time he awakened to the hope of Christ’s resurrection:
[As a young man], I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.
Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.
As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?
McGrath’s struggle with the truth(s) of the Christian faith is not unique. The Apostle Paul had his own barriers, one being (from a Jewish perspective) the barrier of a religious tradition that assumed that the Messiah would conquer via the glory and honor of war, not the ignominious cross of dishonor.
Barriers to belief many times come in the form of intellectual pride as with McGrath, but McGrath knew by virtue of the moral law within and the starry sky above that “there is something more wonderful beyond” this life. Our neo-pagan culture lies to itself by saying that this is all that there is. It reduces reality to matter, a contiguous concourse of mere molecules in motion. We are like the ancients in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; we believe the shadows of this dark fallen world are all that there is. Yet, some of us are like St. Paul prior to his conversion; because of religious pride we assume “man-made” traditions are all that there is. Religious tradition can too cast a long, dark shadow upon us. Even regenerate (born again) Christians will allow the need to belong to muddy our thinking in the morass of misconceptions. This was the case for Paul as he addressed the First Church of Corinth. Their intellectual pride of wanting to be accepted by their surrounding pagan culture (sounds familiar?) had them buying into pagan concepts (like the pagan idea that there is no bodily resurrection of believers), concepts contrary to the essentials of the faith (like the Christian idea of the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ).
These are just some barriers to belief. Others barriers can be suffering, evil, and pain. However, when we are confronted with the resurrected Lord, when we have an encounter with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when we encounter the ultimate reality of the Word of God made flesh then all the idols of our minds retreat while our hearts surrender to Christ. This is what happened to Paul. It was Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus which eroded his doubt; his pang of a guilty conscience receded into the shadows in the face of the overwhelming effulgence of the resurrected Lord.
During this season of Lent and Easter if you are struggling with doubt—e.g. doubt from pride, or doubt from pain and loss, etc.–turn your gaze again to the reality of our Lord who conquered death not for Himself, but for us. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, death for us is but a shadow; and because of Christ’s life and resurrection there is something more wonderful here and now for us and beyond!
Soli Deo Gloria
Rev. G Carl Moore