Friday, May 21, 2010
In my turbulent youth, I used to deny God and proclaim myself an out-and-out atheist. There were two periods in my life when I did that openly. The first was when I was about 16 when I was certain the whole God hypothesis was bunkum but I was an atheist for only two weeks before church, the love of my family and other familiar habits coaxed me gently back to the straight and narrow path of faith.
The other occasion when I turned my back on our wonderful blind faith was after I left university. I felt I had the backing of great writers, philosophers and other learned men whose books I had read such as AJ Ayer, Russell and Paul Davies. I remained an atheist for 3 years before returning to the faith. The path I took to return to the faith was simple: First, I forced myself to believe in my original religion - thought of those happy times when I believed in Christ as a child. Next, assume the Bible to be the word of God and any doubt I had about it called for a detailed reading of that portion of Scripture in the original Koine Greek (if it's the New Testament), believing always that it is perfect and it's my own inadequacies that led to the doubt. Leon Morris's Commentary on the Gospel of John (which incidentally was presented to me by my devout brother as a birthday present) was particularly helpful in leading me back to the faith.
Naturally, my "re-conversion" stunned quite a few of my friends. I brought three of my close friends to the faith by leading them in Bible Study. At that time, I also taught Sunday School in church.
In one of the Bible studies I had with my 3 friends, we were on the topic of the resurrection of our Lord. The Gospels tell us that when Christ died on the cross, many holy people rose from their graves and went into Jerusalem and were seen even after Christ's resurrection. One of my friends naturally asked me if there were non-religious records of the resurrection of Jesus.
I was at that time blissfully ignorant of the historical records around the time of Christ. Despite my ignorance, I replied that there were Roman records of his execution and resurrection. There was a noticeable change in my friends after I had said that. They became receptive and accepting. Those were the days before the internet and in order to verify what I had said, one had to go to the library and who would really bother? All 3 of them were subsequently baptised and confirmed in Wesley.
Did I feel guilty for having told a lie? No, I felt certain that I did the right thing. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, what's the harm of saying there were Roman records of that event? I was just plain ignorant. Perhaps there were Roman records that I knew nothing of. Even if I was incorrect, the fact remained that 3 souls were saved!
That's how lying for God is in fact a very natural thing to do. It may not be an outright lie. It may just be an "error" that came about because of our poor ignorance.
I'm now older and wiser and better read too. I know that outside of religious writings, it's difficult to find even a single reference to Jesus as having existed, not to mention references to his resurrection! I know today that the Testimonium Flavianium which Christian apologists love to wave in your face is in fact a forgery or at best an interpolation. Any other mention of Jesus in history which believers try so hard to make a mountain of is nothing more than a mere reference to the early Christians as "followers of Christus" which no more asserts the existence of Jesus than the term "followers of Zeus" can be construed as a declaration of the existence of Zeus.
Have I confessed to my 3 friends that I lied to them? I've lost touch with one of them, another has left the country but I'm still in constant contact with the third who is now, sadly, afflicted with terminal cancer. I recently confessed to him that I had lied about the Roman records but he told me it didn't matter. He found it amusing that I was so bothered about truth. What he said was really interesting: even if the Bible is shown to contain lies and falsehoods galore, the faithful will remain faithful. People will stick to what they are comfortable with and the truth is not at all important. Was he upset that I had lied to him? Not in the least. He thought it was all for the best and my intention was pure.
How was my intention pure? I didn't know a thing about non-religious records in the Greco-Roman world. And yet I represented that there were Roman records of Christ's resurrection! No doubt I believed the resurrection to be a true event but to conjure up Roman records was surely dishonest! I had believed that leading or misleading my friends into believing in Christ's resurrection was essential for their salvation. Since I knew very little about ancient records then, I felt there had to be some record of such a momentous event. The Gospels say MANY holy people rose from the dead and went to Jerusalem when Christ died on the cross. Surely there would have to be some record of the event that was so closely connected to Christ's death and resurrection. Surely a simple mention of Jesus as a historical person can at least be found in the voluminous annals of Roman historical records? Surely they would talk about the resurrection not just of Jesus but of MANY holy people?
The fact is I was dishonest. I didn't know of any record. I declared confidently that there were records. My only comfort is that at that time, I didn't know there were no reliable records AT ALL. I had assumed there were. And I had spoken confidently like a true man of God.
Is lying for God a bad thing? After all, Rahab told a lie that caused all men, women, children and infants in Jericho to be slaughtered by God's people. And Hebrews speaks of Rahab as faithful! Was I being faithful to God by lying for him?
That was a long time ago. Today, I believe in speaking the truth all the time. But am I being faithless for doing that just as Rahab was faithful for telling lies?
One never knows. God works in mysterious ways indeed!