It may be that Jesus never lived and so, never died. But that’s a rabbit hole for another day. We do know at least from the Jewish historian Josephus, that would-be messiahs and crucifixions were common around the time Jesus is said to have lived.
But let’s just suppose there was a historical Jesus, as described in the gospels. Was his death temporary? Did he rise 3 days later? What implications does this have for mammals like us?
35 years ago, when I was a Christian, although I hoped for an afterlife, I focused more on the death of Jesus, the atonement for the sins of the world through his blood sacrifice. But of course the other key piece is the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. Together, these seem to be the core of the Christian message, at least if you are a salvation by faith rather than a salvation by works kind of Christian.
We recently received a little pamphlet in our letterbox from a local Adelaide Baptist church entitled The Empty Tomb.
We’re approaching Easter 2021 so that’s not too surprising.
In my “Questionable Church Signs” posts I obscure any reference to the church to which a sign belongs. The Empty Tomb pamphlet includes the URL for the website, but I won’t include it here.
The Empty Tomb tells the story of the early life of Jesus, his baptism, miracles, downfall, crucifixion and resurrection.
After describing the horror of the crucifixion, it declares:
Just before He died, Jesus shouted… “IT IS FINISHED”.
The penalty for the sins of all mankind had been paid in full.
Now anyone could be saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ.
All fairly standard salvation by faith stuff.
On the next page after the resurrection, we have:
HE IS RISEN!
Jesus DEFEATED Satan, and conquered death and hell.
At this point I could be excused for expecting a land of unicorns, rainbows and butterflies…
But, then the pamphlet confronts me with…
All who accept Christ will live with God forever in heaven.
and, inevitably, and with “lovely” pictures…
Those who reject Jesus will burn forever in a lake of fire.
…which I take to mean Hell. Finally, we have…
Someday you will bow before God.
Who will YOU serve?
So, no other options then?
Just the two?
Hmm. Wait a sec…
Is atonement really for everyone? Have our sins been paid for in full? Or, is this conditional upon uttering some magic words like “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour”?
Not completely clear from this particular user manual.
Were Satan and Hell actually defeated? Not really, if it’s possible to burn in Hell or to serve Satan (or bizarrely somehow, both at the same time). Was that always possible, and now only optional because of what Jesus did?
The logical contradictions and gaps in reasoning in The Empty Tomb abound.
But worse than that is the ease with which The Other is condemned. Those who do not believe as “we” do.
That is very dangerous thinking.
Hitch would have declared this an example of how religion poisons everything. It’s easy to see why.
What role do liberal-minded Christians have in countering this kind of thinking? Similarly, what role do liberal-minded Muslims have in countering Jihad and other Islamist (“must convert the infidel”) thinking?
I can’t speak for the faithful although I am always happy to converse with them or anyone, to try to find common ground, and to agree to disagree otherwise.
That’s really the only way forward, isn’t it?
However, I also see it as a kind of duty to expose and counter harmful nonsense, such as is promoted in The Empty Tomb pamphlet.
Life is short and we are not at the centre of things. And, our species is in desperate need of growing up.
My concern with religion is that it allows us by the millions to believe what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own.Sam Harris