BBC World Service Talk
B.B.C. World Service December, 1985
So far, I have tried to describe how I became an atheist as a young man, and how I eventually moved from that position to one in which I found to my dismay that despite myself I believed in God. Later I came also to believe in Christ as God’s self-portrait – the living image of God on earth – but how do I describe that in four minutes? Moreover, Christ was not only God’s image; he was also God in action, or so Christians have always believed, and I came eventually to believe that too.
The crucial factor in persuading me was the Resurrection. Being a child of my generation I was extremely sceptical about miracle stories; people don’t go round walking on water and raising corpses to life, though they might conceivably heal people. But it was not just my innate prejudices, which made me doubt the miracle stories attributed to Jesus, the New Testament itself makes it very difficult to believe in them, for Jesus was reported again and again as refusing to give people overwhelming proof that he came from God. It was an evil and adulterous generation which asked for such a thing, he told them; so what was he doing raising Lazarus publicly from the dead? The miracle stores made great sense as parable. A man born blind and cured by Jesus, when some people doubted his cure, said to them, ‘One thing I know that, whereas I was born blind, now I see,’ and I knew what he meant. I too had been born blind to God, and now I too could see. But when the New Testament comes to the Resurrection, things are a bit different, as St. Paul knew very well, ‘If Christ be not raised,’ he said, ‘Your faith is vain.’
So what about the Resurrection? We know that the disciples were disillusioned and terrified when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified; they hid in fear and despair, convinced that they had been wrong about him all along. We know too that a bit later, they were transformed into a bunch of people who knew that they had been right all along; nothing thereafter could persuade them to change their minds. Plainly something must have happened to work this remarkable change in them. They said that they had seen Christ raised from the dead, and thus totally vindicated in all that he had said and done. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, what could have transformed them like this? People wishing to deny the truth of Christianity have always seen that this is the crux of the matter, and they have made various suggestions to try to account for the disciples’ behaviour. Perhaps Jesus survived the crucifixion, and they met him without realising that he had not died? But this is incredible; Roman solders knew the difference between a live and a dead man, and even if by a million to one chance they made a mistake, a man nailed to a cross would have suffered such appalling injuries that he could not possibly have walked around next day as if nothing had happened. Whatever else may be true, that isn’t. Perhaps, then, the disciples suffered delusions? Well, one or two of them might have done so, but if you have to believe that they all became deluded at the same time but independently and in different places, and then later when all together in the Upper Room, I can’t believe that possible. Someone would have shouted, ‘Come off it! You’re seeing things.’ The only other suggestion has been that the disciples perpetrated a hoax – cheated – knowing perfectly well that Jesus was dead but saying that they’d seen him alive and well. But the point of a hoax is to gain something, and all the disciples gained was a life of persecution, while one or two of them – Peter for instance – were martyred; and no one dies for a hoax. Which leaves me believing that they spoke the truth, and that God did indeed raise Jesus from the dead. He almost had to do so, for if he hadn’t everyone would have had to conclude that Jesus was a deluded fanatic, who had thrown a talented life away in the power of a monstrous delusion about God, and I don’t think Jesus was that. I believe he was right about God, and that God proved him right by raising him from the dead.