Jesus: the Doubting Deity

There came the impossible moment: when the promises of the devil may have actually held some appeal.

Jesus had separated himself from the rest of his disciples, who were charged with prayer but in reality were struggling to stay awake (thanks to the glasses of wine consumed during their Passover meal earlier that evening). The Son of Man walked farther into the garden. The first drops of blood shed for us weren’t on the cross. They drizzled down Jesus’ forehead as he looked for another way.

Thomas is known as the doubting disciple, which is rather fitting because there was a time when Jesus was the doubting deity.

Too many popular Christian songs today forget this moment. In our recognitions of Calvary and the sacrifice of God, we don’t dwell much on the fact that hours before his gruesome execution, Jesus was hoping for a way out of his having to die for our sins. It was there, in the garden, that the promise of Satan from years before came back as an invitation.

“All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.”

There could be another way to be the Messiah. Jesus could have the kingdoms of the world–something he was destined to have, anyway. But here, Jesus wrestled with the option of ruling the world without first being killed by it. He could be the King without first being condemned as a criminal. It was a lie, of course; a devilish not dissimilar to the lie told to Adam and Eve: “eat, and you will become gods”.

The fore-parents of humanity believed it and were expelled from Eden.

Jesus chose not to believe it and left the garden as a prisoner.

There’s something beautiful about the words of G.K. Chesterton here. In Orthodoxy, he wrote:

“When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

We tend to think that Jesus showed Thomas his scars to give his doubts the final knockout. That’s not necessarily wrong; it’s just incomplete. Jesus showed Thomas his scars, not just to prove that he was alive again, but to show the doubter that the author of faith understood, because He, too, had doubted.

Jesus had had his own faith tested, even as he had known before anyone that the hour was coming for him. The scars of Christ are reminders to us that the Lord of all there is once shared our deepest, darkest questions. In our worst moments, when we find ourselves questioning everything, that’s where we find Him, sweating blood and repeating our questions.

How to Destroy Your Friend’s Wavering Faith

If you know someone who is wrestling with whether or not to follow Christ or believe in God anymore and want to ensure that they never do again, then here’s the best way I know of to take the sickly beast that is his/her faith, tie it to a tree, and shoot it in the head:

Stop being their friend.

Don’t call. Don’t keep in touch. Don’t talk to them. Treat them like a stranger.

I write this out of painful experience. I once confided in a close friend that I was very close to not wanting to be a Christian anymore. At the time, I didn’t see any reason to see Christianity as valid when so many of its non-adherents were good people who would still end up going to hell for not holding to the proper set of beliefs–especially when so many other Christians I knew were absolute a**holes.

They listened. They asked questions. I answered them. We parted ways … and I never heard from them again. They didn’t call or text anymore. Even when we were together in the same social group, they were different toward me. They were cordial, but there was something in their demeanor that told me they were keeping me at arm’s length.

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out how things changed–until I realized that this only happened after I confessed my doubts. That’s when I realized that the good friendship I thought I shared with this person was based only on how good of a Christian they believed me to be.

And once it seemed clear that I wasn’t up to their spiritual standards, I no longer met their pre-requisites for friendship, either.

That period was hard enough. It’s not an easy thing to consider abandoning the faith that has defined so much of your life, that you have held with love and perseverance since you were a child. Trust me when I say that it only gets harder when the people you love and respect suddenly abandon you for having the audacity to be honest about where you are in life.

So if this story reminds you of anyone you know, take my advice: don’t treat them any differently. Don’t cut them out of your life.

In addition to pushing them away, you may end up pushing them away from God, too.

On Why God Won’t Prove Himself

The Bad Catholic blog posted a response not too long ago in which the author pushed back against the claim that if God existed, He would prove Himself to skeptics.

The whole post is here, but this quote is probably my favorite:

“If it takes a miracle to make you believe in God, your belief could only ever be miraculous; never your own. Joe could not reject God after such an event any more than he could reject the weather. And without the possibility of rejection there exists no possibility of Love, a fact which the atheist, in his pious fear and trembling, always forgets, that God’s aim is not simply that we believe in Him — it is that we love Him.”

I’d add that we can’t stop at belief. According to the apostle, to only believe in God is to put yourself on the same level as demons.

How Miracles Make Skeptics

[If I were to have a conversation with Jesus, then this is what it would probably look like.]

Me: “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

Jesus: “Me?”

Me: “Yup.”

Jesus: “Well, then, bone-picker, let’s hear it.”

Me: “I don’t get why you let so many people become skeptics when you obviously have the ability to perform miracles that would prove to them that you exist, once and for all.”

Jesus: “Uh-huh.”

Me: “I mean, you’re obviously qualified for such a thing. You did all of those miracles in the New Testament.”

Jesus [smirking]: “Physician, heal thyself.”

Me: “What?”

Jesus: “Never mind …”

Me: “Was that some kind of inside joke?”

Jesus: “Hardly. I’ve never found that one particularly funny.”

Me: “Okaaaay … but you still haven’t answered my question.”

Jesus: “About why I won’t do miracles for skeptics.”

Me: “That’s the one.”

Jesus: “There are many answers for that, but for one, let’s just say that I don’t want to make people atheists.”

Me: “I’m sorry?”

Jesus: “Don’t worry, you heard me right the first time. I don’t want to make people even more skeptical than they already are. Many of them have a hard enough time with faith as it is. You wouldn’t believe how heavy a mustard seed can be.”

Me [frowning]: “You’re going to have to explain that one to me.”

Jesus [grinning again]: “I’ve heard that one before, too.”

Me: “Right. So …”

Jesus: “So … before I answer your question, let me pose a hypothetical: let’s say I was willing to be the wonder-worker that you want me to be. Let’s say I granted everyone a chance to witness a miracle of their choice. Maybe it’s restoring sight to a blind person, maybe it’s turning their family dog into a monkey. Seriously, any one miracle they wanted me to perform, I would do. Here’s my question: even if I were willing to do all of that, what difference would it make?”

Me: “Well, people would see the proof of you that they need to believe. Faith wouldn’t be so hard.”

Jesus: “It wouldn’t?”

Me: “Well, no. … Wait, are you doing the God-thing where you try to trick me?”

Jesus: “No, but I do think you’re putting too much stock in miracles. You mentioned the miracles in the gospels. What you didn’t mention was the number of times they made unbelievers out of people.

“I cast a demon out of a person, and my critics accused me of being demon-possessed. I healed a person on the Sabbath, and that only confirmed to onlookers that I was a Law-breaker who had pitted himself against God. I raised Lazarus from the dead, and that act of life-giving power spurred my enemies to conspire against me.”

Me: “But they also helped to give people faith! You healed people, and they followed you, like that blind man in John chapter 9.

Jesus: “That’s true, a lot of people not only found that I could heal them but also discovered what a life with me really meant. I did help a lot of people, but I think you’re giving my miracles too much credit. Some people came to me broken in more ways than one, even if they only publicly spoke of one source of pain. In some sense, they were aware of it–and because of that, I could do more for them to get rid of a disease or restore a useless hand.

But for others, they wanted signs from me not because they couldn’t believe but because they already believed something else. They were already entrenched in the notion that, whoever I was, whether it was a false prophet or the carrier of a demon, I couldn’t possibly be from God. In their case, they would have been better never to have seen a miracle at all.”

[Here is where I think for a long time.]

Me: “So you might not do miracles today …”

Jesus: “… because if I did, the people who saw them wouldn’t believe in me but rather, their twisted understanding of me. For these people, miracles wouldn’t prove my existence; they would simply prove the existence of a toxic distortion. The last thing I want to do is confirm a belief in someone who doesn’t exist.”

Me: “How?”

Jesus: “What do you mean?”

Me: “How could someone get to that point?”

Jesus: “Some people will just refuse to come. They’re addicted to the kind of evil that I came to kill. That’s one group among many.

“Another group consists of people who wouldn’t believe because that would mean submitting to the doctrine of their most-hated enemies. You know that churches are capable of telling people about My love even as they act against it. At times, you’ve been one of them, and … no, don’t keep apologizing. Your apologies are actually offensive to me after the first one.

“My point is, there are a lot of people who have been so hurt by those Christians that they haven’t yet reached the point where they understand that when they hurt you, they also hurt me. They either think I had something to do with it, or they’re just not in the place where they’re ready for me to be a part of their lives. And so if I were to do a miracle in front of them, they might reject it not because they hate Me but because they hate that church. They’d rather lick the fires of hell than admit that the Christians of their past were as right as they were hateful.”

Me: “If that’s the case, then what hope do they have? What if they die before they get to that point?”

Jesus: “What hope do they have? I’m alive. How much more hope do they need?”

Me: “But what if they die …”

Jesus [smiling]: “It’s like you said.”

Me: “Which part?”

Jesus: “I can do miracles.”