Last century Frank Morison, an atheist, set out to prove that the resurrection story of Jesus was a myth. He published the result of his investigations in 1930 in the famous book Who Moved the Stone?
But something unexpected happened to Morison in his rigorous pursuit of the facts. He became convinced, beyond doubt, that the biblical account was true.
I, too, underwent an epiphany in my early 20s when – after years of sneering at Christianity – I actually read the Bible. My defences dissolved and I became a Christian.
Militant atheist Richard Dawkins considers the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as “cosmic child abuse”, God making an innocent man die for the sins of many. My reaction is exactly the opposite.
Here was a logically impossible dilemma. How could God’s perfect holiness allow in his presence unholy, rebellious, self-willed, cruel humanity (and, deep inside, we all know this is us) and still be holy? Yet how could his all-encompassing love forbid us?
God provided the only solution, one I could not have imagined. He sacrificed himself to rescue those who could not rescue themselves.
This struck me as a story too beautiful to be invented.
And when Jesus did so, the Bible tells us, death could not hold him; he was resurrected and 40 days later rose to the spiritual realm we call heaven. This breaking of the power of death in the resurrection is what Christians celebrate today on Easter Day, and we are told it is a guarantee for us eventually too.
This struck me as a story too beautiful to be invented. And not only a story, but historical fact, and if historical fact then the most important historical fact in human history. God himself took human form, entered the empirical realm, suffered as a human and died to ransom, redeem and restore frail humans.
It also answered for me a couple of questions I had wrestled with: it was important to me to believe that humans are equal, but in what sense is this true? In what sense was the trafficked girl, the child born with profound disabilities, the starving infant equal to me? Not in opportunity. Not in resources. Not in life’s pleasures.
The biblical account, the philosophical basis of all human rights, is that all are equal because all are created in the image of God and have an inherent worth and dignity by virtue of that fact. Finally, I had an answer.
The other big question answered for me was how can humans, not only collectively but individually, be so generous, intelligent and noble and at the same time so selfish, greedy and brutal? But I haven’t space to explore that now.
I know these claims may stretch credulity, but really they need only one precondition to be possible: accepting that God exists.
Barney Zwartz is a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.
This article first appeared in The Age.