We Are Not Alone in Our Doubts

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C.S. Lewis, a master storyteller, grew up feeling an irreconcilable tension between his love for literature on the one hand and rational thinking on the other. While the romantic side of Lewis was drawn to happily-ever-after stories, his rational side would spoil the tales. While these stories functioned as a temporary escape from reality, to Lewis they were by no means reflections of reality.

This inner conflict between imagination and reason also led Lewis to reject the Christian faith he was exposed to in childhood. While stories like the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth, walking on water, and rising from the dead amused him, they seemed far-fetched to his bright intellect. In many ways they did not square with science and reason, and therefore seemed irrelevant.

Then, in an evening conversation at Magdalen College with his friend and fellow writer, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis experienced a transformation in his thinking. Tolkein explained how imagination and reason are deeply reconciled in the Gospel accounts.  In the words of British biographer Colin Duriez:

Tolkein showed Lewis how the two sides [imagination and reason] could be reconciled in the Gospel narratives. The Gospels had all the qualities of great human storytelling. But they portrayed a true event—God the storyteller entered his own, story, in the flesh, and brought a joyous conclusion [resurrection] from a tragic situation. Suddenly Lewis could see that the nourishment he had always received from great myths and fantasy stories was a taste of that greatest, truest story—of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.[1]

From that point forward, Lewis’ perspective on the happily-ever-after story was transformed. Instead of being a mythical, untrue escape from reality, all the best stories became invitations into reality. Imagination and intellect were now reconciled as two sides of the same coin. The Jesus story for Lewis, as with Tolkein, had become the Story beneath all good stories, an alluring invitation—even to sophisticated grown-ups—to look at everything with the imagination of a child (Matthew 18:3).

After several months enduring a similar crisis of faith, pastor and philosopher Francis Schaeffer told his wife, Edith, that he believed there was one reason, and only one reason, to be a Christian: Because it’s true.

But is it?

According to the Bible, C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were not alone in their doubts. Even the disciples of Jesus—those who had lived closely alongside him and saw him walk on water, turn water into wine, raise dead people to life, still a storm at sea, feed thousands of people with small amounts of bread fish—would question the happily-ever-after story. Even though Jesus had told them ahead of time that on the third day he would rise from the dead, when resurrection actually happened they doubted. Perhaps they, too, thought such a happily-ever-after story was only for children:

When they saw [Jesus], they worshiped him, but some doubted (Matthew 28:17).

Now Thomas…was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:24-25).

When I read these words from Thomas, the nickname “Doubting Thomas” doesn’t quite cut it. To me, it seems more accurate to refer to him as “Unbelieving Thomas.”

Yet, there is an Unbelieving Thomas in all of us. Tales of such victory and resurrection are inspiring to the heart, but seem far-fetched to the intellect. Knowing this, Jesus provides evidence for his resurrection miracle to assure us that he is alive and seated on a throne and that his happily-ever-after triumph is not merely a tale. It is time-space history, and therefore true.

The Bible belabors this point. In Luke’s Gospel, for example, we are told that “Jesus himself stood among [his disciples]… They were startled and frightened… Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts” (Luke 24:36ff).

Here, Jesus invites his disciples to doubt their doubts about his resurrection from the dead. Then he helps them by engaging their senses:

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet (Luke 24:38-40).

Based on such encounters with Jesus, Peter would later write, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Similarly, John would say “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it and testify to it” (1 John 1:1-4).

The twelve disciples became so convinced of Jesus’ resurrection that all but two of them (Judas and John) would later die as martyrs for the faith. As Lee Strobel writes:

People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but people won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false. While most people can only have faith that their beliefs are true, the disciples were in a position to know without a doubt whether or not Jesus had risen from the dead. They claimed that they saw him, talked with him, and ate with him. If they weren’t absolutely certain, they wouldn’t have allowed themselves to be tortured to death for proclaiming that the resurrection had happened.[2]

In other words, the disciples were in the unique position of knowing if they had truly encountered the risen Christ or not. If the disciples were purveyors of a conspiracy that they knew wasn’t true, then they submitted to their own horrific deaths for a known lie.  The more rational explanation is that they actually witnessed the resurrected Christ and staked their lives on this testimony.

The Gospels also cite how Mary Magdalene similarly and shockingly staked her life on her testimony of seeing Jesus risen from the dead. Mary, a former demoniac and likely prostitute, was the first eyewitness of the resurrection. No one would have taken seriously the testimony of a woman like her. According to Jewish historian Joesphus, a woman’s testimony would not have even been admissible in a court of law “because of the levity and boldness of [her] sex.” Celsus, a second-century critic of Christianity, mocked and discredited Mary Magdalene as “a hysterical female… deluded by… sorcery.”[3]

If the Gospel writers were merely trying to build a tight case for the appearance of Jesus after the resurrection, they would not have inserted the irreputable Mary Magdalene as the first eyewitness. There is only one reason why the Gospel writers would have mentioned such a discredited source:

Because that is how it actually happened.

And how wonderful that it did happen in this way! As was the case then, so it is now—that Jesus, time and time again, restores dignity and purpose to people whom society prefers to diminish, dismiss, and discard.

 


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[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/j-r-r-tolkien-and-c-s-lewis-legendary-friendship.html

[2] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ.

[3] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/04/15/why-it-matters-theologically-and-historically-that-women-were-the-first-to-discover-the-empty-tomb/

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One response to “We Are Not Alone in Our Doubts”

  1. Robert Boersma says:

    Thank you! I have read most of Lewis’ writings as well as Tolkien, I appreciated this article. I mentor many youth through Sunday School and one on one meals. We often marvel at and wonder about the mystery of the Gospel. Rereading Tolkien and Lewis keeps this 64 year old feeling quite young!
    Thank you!

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