John Lennox explains what he calls the heart of the Christian message.
The Christian faith diagnoses our world as being broken and fractured, going right back to the original story in Genesis. And that historical description (as I believe it is) is enormously important for understanding exactly where we are as human beings, and as an explanation of the alienation that we all feel – that there’s something wrong.
And it tells us, first of all – actually quite positively – it didn’t all start with me. It’s not all my fault. I find myself as an individual, I find weaknesses and brokenness and so on, and this puts me into a huge picture of a story that started before me, before my parents, that had been trickling down through history, and immediately enables me – because it says something about this, that you can’t put all this right. You didn’t cause it all, so you can’t put it right. And that instantly shows me that, whatever attempts I make within myself to reform my life, they’re good, they’re wonderful, but they can’t deal with the basic problem.
And this of course serves to highlight the central Christian message, where Christ becomes incarnate in our world and shares its brokenness and actually ends up on a cross. And what we’re told about that is that his death and resurrection in some profound way can deal with that fracture, provided I’m prepared to take the step of trusting Christ. Now many people stop there – they say to me, look, you’re a scientist, you can’t go along with all this stuff. How would you possibly explain that?
And I say, just a minute. You probably believe in gravity; are you aware that nobody knows what it is? You believe in consciousness; no one knows what it is. You believe in energy; no one knows what it is. You believe in time; no one knows what it is. And yet they believe in these things. Now, at exactly the same level, we use these concepts because they make sense, they do a job – they have explanatory power even though we don’t know what they are. I cannot explain as a scientist, or as a human being, how it is that the death and resurrection of Christ deal with that fracture, but from the point of view of experience it actually works – it makes sense where other explanations are too superficial to make sense and deal with the problem.
And I think this is a very important thing, that we look at the condition, the condition humaine, the condition of human beings, and we see this huge thing looming above it. And the trouble with many philosophies (without going into detail) is they analyse it brilliantly, in the sense that they recognise the fracture, that we’re broken, that we’re alien – Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, did it brilliantly – but no solution. There’s no way out. There certainly is no way out from within the human individual, but we can appropriate something from outside ourselves.
And that is the heart, I believe, of the Christian message, and it’s a huge contribution. Socrates, I think it was, felt that education would be enough to cure the human condition. But Aristotle said, well, he said, you know, we can know all this stuff, but I find in myself that there’s a brokenness, there’s something that drives me the wrong way. He was really talking like the apostle Paul in a sense – he realised that you needed a power and something coming in from outside. And that brings us to the very heart of Christianity.