Chapter 8
The Birth of Images

It will have occurred to many people already that it is all very well to say that Jesus was an ordinary man, ' in all things like unto his brethren', but if he was no more than that, why on earth did anyone ever come to believe that he was also the image of God? No one has ever attracted such a burgeoning of images as Jesus, the Jewish boy from Nazareth. He has been called the image of God, true vine, tree of life, branch of righteousness, well of living water, rose of Sharon, good shepherd, root of David, sun of righteousness, new Adam, bishop of our souls, rock of ages, mighty God, consolation of Israel, king, morning star, desire of all nations, bundle of myrrh, lion of the tribe of Judah, bread of life, cornerstone, lamb of God, Immanuel, horn of salvation, wisdom of God, tabernacle, day-star, first-born of the dead, brightness of the Father's glory, Son of God, and so many other things that Alexander Cruden, compiling his Concordance to the Bible in the first half of the eighteenth century, listed two hundred names and images which have been applied to him. They were not applied to Joseph his father, James his brother, Peter or John, but to Jesus alone, and the question again is, Why?

Images are the stock-in-trade of artists and poets. They resort to them because ordinary words are unable to bring out the full significance of whatever the artist or poet is concerned with. The words used in everyday speech and common prose are designed to describe a thing or event with the minimum fuss and the maximum objectivity; artists and poets are concerned to evoke an understanding of that thing or event, casting the mind of the spectator or the reader beyond the mere thing or event to an awareness of its value, splendour, horror, beauty or terror.

Thus the phrase, 'Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war', is far more evocative of Mark Antony's anger, the evil of Caesar's unavenged murder and the horror of the war that it is about to provoke than such a phrase as, 'Hostilities will commence at 0900 hours.' Plainly, then, the images which clustered round the figure of Jesus were meant to bring out his significance in a manner beyond the capability of straight, everyday prose. Thus Mark, the author of the earliest Gospel, began with an immensely powerful and evocative image: 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God', he wrote, where an entry in Who's Who would doubtless have run 'Jesus, s. of Joseph and Mary, b 25 Dec. ADI educ. Nazareth Synagogue; baptized, Jordan, circa AD 28....' etc., etc.

This use of poetry and art by the writers of the New Testament has far-reaching consequences which are all too easily forgotten, the chief of which is that all our principal sources of information about the life and death and teaching of Jesus are much more closely akin to works of art than to manuals of statistics, parish registers or collections of bare historical facts.

The various books in the New Testament are like paintings by different artists of the same subject seen from slightly different points of view; they vary in colour, interpretation and emphasis as, say, a series of landscapes by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat and Sisley of Mont Ste Victoire in Provence would have varied, had all those men been set to paint it. None of them would have been primarily interested in making a detailed or accurate record of exactly what they saw, leaf by leaf,. rock by rock, field by field, and passing cloud by passing cloud, though each of their paintings would have been recognizably of the same physical mountain; even so, their works would have been of little use to geologists, botanists or agriculturalists of a later time, who might have wanted to gather information about that part of Provence in the late nineteenth century. Instead, they would have interested only those people of all ages who found in them glimpses of the splendour and harmony of what Cezanne called 'the spectacle that Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus spreads out before our eyes'; but to people so interested the paintings would have been far from valueless or uninteresting; for, vastly to over-simplify, where Cezanne would have said something about the structure of the landscape (and not only of the landscape, but of landscape in general) and Van Gogh something about its sun-drenched vitality. Seurat and the others would have added their own distinctive contributions to an 'understanding' of the massive and transcendent splendour of Mont Ste Victorie and of the world of which it is a part.

As a result, the observers of their various works would have gone away enriched; more enriched than they would have been by any one painting alone, but still no better informed than before about the height of the mountain, the composition of its rocks or the fertility of its soil. They would have been given a vision of the mountain and the world, not a factual account of it, though the vision would have been impossible had there been no mountain there in actual, hard fact in the first place; indeed, they would have been given a number of visions, and each of them would have been in the nature of a challenge to the spectators to say, 'Is Mont Ste Victoire - indeed, is the world - this kind place, or isn't it?'

Perhaps I have pushed the analogy too far, though I hope not. Be that as it may, I still have not answered the question as to why it was round the man Jesus that this wealth of imagery accrued and why it was of him that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the rest painted their visionary portraits - their landscapes of his life and death - if that is a permissible way of describing the New Testament books. The clue may be found, I think, in the story, recounted by two of the Evangelists, of the reaction of the people of his own home town to him, when he returned there during the course of his ministry; convinced of his ordinariness, they turned to each other in astonishment, saying, 'Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are not they all with us?' But they made the cause of their astonishment plain when they added, 'Whence then hath this man this wisdom and these mighty works?' That is the point. His contemporaries were convinced of his ordinary humanity; there was no doubt in their minds about that, but at the same time they were baffled by a suspicion that somehow God was acting and speaking through him; or if God was not doing so, then something very like God was at work in him: a demon perhaps, some people concluded. In John's portrait, Jesus himself is made to claim that it was indeed God who was speaking and acting through him 'As my father hath taught me, I speak these things.....the works that I do in my father's name bear witness of me'. Later, he is even more explicit, saying to his disciples, 'He that hath seen me hath seen the father.....I am in the father, and the father in me. The words that I say unto you I speak not from myself; but the father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the father, and the father in me; or else believe me for the very works sake.' Whether Jesus himself spoke these actual words is a matter of dispute amongst biblical scholars, but in this context it does not greatly matter, for they certainly sum up what people came to believe of him, namely that God was speaking and acting through him; and that is a very remarkable thing to believe of anyone. Plainly, something must have happened to make them do so. So, once again, the question is, What happened?

In one sense the answer is obvious enough, for in all the gospels there are miracle stores which challenge the reader to answer the question, 'What manner of man is this?', and of course they are intended to pose just such a question. But did the miracles happen? As parables, the miracle stories make great sense., The story of the healing of a man born blind, which is told in John's gospel, is a case in point; to some people who refused to believe that Jesus could have given him his sight, he protested, 'One thing I know, that whereas I was born blind, now I see'; and I know just how he felt. For years I, too, had been blind to many things which later in life I began to see clearly for the first time after God had opened my eyes to what I had been missing. Similarly, the stories of Jesus raising the dead to new life made sense of my own experience of being given a new life in a new sort of world with new perspectives and new horizons. But these stories are presented by the Evangelists as facts, not parables, and inevitably this creates a problem for most twentieth-century readers, who are prejudiced against the idea that such miraculous happenings are possible, though others, who have had experiences of a radical change of mind from unbelief to belief similar to my own, seem to find no difficulty in accepting the miracle stories au pied de la lettre.

However, things are not as simple as that; in some ways I wish they were, and perhaps those who find no difficulty in believing in the literal truth of the miracle stories are the lucky ones, going straight to the religious truth contained in them like homing pigeons. But this is not possible for everyone, and it is not only twentieth-century prejudice which makes some of the miracle stories difficult to accept at their face value; the real difficulty is created by the
New Testament itself, which contains other stories which are very hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the idea that Jesus went around during his ministry raising the dead and performed a number of sensational miracles which could have left no doubt in anyone's mind that he was what the Church later claimed him to have been, namely the miracle-working son of God.

Again and again, the Evangelists report him as refusing to give people incontrovertible signs, miraculous proofs that it was indeed God who was at work in and through him. It was, he said, 'an evil and adulterous generation' that sought such things, and he flatly refused to provide them. Indeed, right at the beginning of his ministry, one of the temptations to which he had been subjected in the wilderness had been to dazzle people by casting himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to be rescued in spectacular fashion by a posse of angels so that the world could do nothing but hail him as the miraculous son of God; and this, too, he had firmly rejected. The Superman syndrome was not for him.

How, then, can these two apparently irreconcilable aspects of the Gospels be reconciled, and how can the stories of Jesus's refusal to work miracles be understood alongside such stories as that of the raising of Lazarus? The Gospels are more like works of art than factual records, and the purpose of a work of art is to 'bring out the significance, transcendent value or beauty of its principal subject. there is no doubt at all that this was the purpose of the authors of the New Testament books, their subject being Jesus, and his significance for them being God-made-present and active; and there are indications that some of the miracle stories may have started life during the period of oral tradition, when the stories about Jesus and his actions were passed by word of mouth, in rather different forms, and have been adapted to serve that purpose. For instance, both Matthew and Mark report that, on encountering a fruitless fig tree Jesus, who was hungry at the time, cursed it, and it promptly withered and died. Apart from the fact that such an irrational action on Jesus's part would have been out of character, Luke tells substantially the same story as a parable; that is to say, a barren fig is good for nothing but to be destroyed, the moral being that if Israel ceases to bear the fruit of righteousness desired by God, it deserves no better fate than that of the barren fig. it seems highly probable, therefore, that the versions of this story in Matthew and Mark are dramatically enhanced versions of Luke's parable, in which over the years, with the most laudable of intentions, the words 'Jesus said.....' have been transformed by the tellers of the story into 'Jesus did.....'

But there is another aspect of the miracle stories which is easily overlooked, namely that many of them are not about actions which we should necessarily class as miraculous at all. I personally believe that God heals people primarily through the skill, knowledge and labours of the medical profession, but doctors themselves would, I think, be the first nowadays to admit that many human ills are psychosomatic in origin and nature, and thus open to cure by suggestion and various means other than those normally used by medical practitioners, though they themselves often prescribe placebos with salutary effect. There is, therefore, no
reason to doubt that some of the stories abut Jesus forgiving people's sins, healing their diseases and casting out their demons are rooted and grounded in historical fact. We should probably have classed some of his 'patients' as schizophrenics, hysterics or neurotics, but to the contemporaries of Jesus, who believed that disease was the result of sin and that only God could forgive sin, their cures would have been manifest pointers to the fact that God was at work in and through this extraordinary, and yet at the same time. this entirely ordinary, man in their midst; and the report of such actions would have been enough to start rumours circulating that 'a great prophet is arisen among us, and God hath visited his people'.

But although this may be true, it does not solve the problem of the birth of the images. Indeed, it seems certain that during Jesus's lifetime people did not get much beyond the point of suspecting that either God or a demon was at work in him. Even the disciples did not realize the truth until after his death, and as far as the majority of his contemporaries were concerned he puzzled rather than convinced them. So why did the writers of the new Testament, the painters of his portraits, unanimously present him to their readers as someone through whom, to their certain knowledge, God had acted with almost literally earth-shaking power? The answer, of course, is to be found in the events of Easter; it was not until after Easter that they began to acclaim him as the Christ, and everything written both by St Paul and the Evangelists was written in the light of that acclamation; that is to say, in the light of the conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead on Easter morning and 'made him Lord and Christ'. Everything started there.

If the other miracle stories represent a post-Easter conviction that God had been at work in Jesus, the resurrection is presented as the supreme act of God wrought through him, a vindication of all that he had said and done, and thus the greatest of all reasons for faith in God and in Jesus; it was the supreme 'sign' of the power and faithfulness of God. However God-forsaken a place the world might seem to be from time to time in all the darkness, violence and death, and however many men and women down the ages might cry like Jesus in an extremity of desolation, 'My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?' God was not dead or deaf on Good Friday, and by raising Jesus from the dead on Easter Day, creating life and light out of the bloody destruction and darkness of Calvary, he demonstrated once and for all his concern for this world and all those who live and die in it. He does not save us from disaster, as we should like; he saves us beyond disaster. At least, that is the gospel, the 'good news' which intoxicated the earliest Christians, so that John could assure his readers that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.' Thus the resurrection was and is the heart of Christian faith, as a chorus of contemporary theologians are prepared to affirm. 'For them (the first disciples) the gospel without the resurrection was not merely a gospel without its final chapter; it was not a gospel at all', wrote Michael Ramsey, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, and he was echoed by Professor Gunther Bornkamm of Heidelberg University, who said that 'there could be no gospel, not one account, no letter in the New Testament, no faith, no Church, no worship, no prayer in Christendom to this day without the message of the resurrection.'

I had read none of these learned works at the time, but I had read the Gospels, and the fact that the Christian faith was born at Easter was obvious enough; Paul had told the Christians in Corinth that 'if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain'. Thus, the resurrection is the crunch-point of the gospel - the sine qua non of the Christian faith; and yet paradoxically no one saw it. It took place - if indeed, it took place at all - in the darkness of a rock-cut Herodian tomb, where the spirit of God brooded over the corpse of a dead man in a new genesis, a new act of creation; the birth of the church and its explosive faith were the results of that hidden encounter, that germinal event. In a further paradox, although this is the heart of the gospel, to ask the Gospels to explain exactly what that event was - to demand to know just what happened - is to demand the impossible. It is a bit like asking one of those hypothetical paintings of Mont Ste Victoire to reveal the geological secrets of the mountain; how was it formed in the first place, and is it composed of igneous, sedimentary or volcanic rock? The paintings are not patient of such material questions, though they are capable of assuring the beholder that Mont Ste Victoire is there and that the painters were confronted with a real mountain in all its solidity and splendour. The analogy is not exact, but in a somewhat similar way the Gospels are not patient of the kind of material questions about the resurrection which we should dearly like to put to them; was the corpse of Jesus resuscitated without being changed or was it transformed in some way, or did the disciples meet a spiritually recreated Jesus? But if the Gospels cannot answer these questions they can assure us, I believe, that the events described by the disciples, the early Church and the writers of the New Testament were real enough; they did not sit down and write about a non-event but about a very real sainte victoire. Like the mountain, it was there.

So what facts do the various accounts of the resurrection contain? They contain a record of fear, bewilderment and failure on the part of the disciples as the end of Jesus's ministry and life drew near. After years of being unsure of what to make of him - years of oscillation between hope and depression - when he was arrested by the Jewish authorities, they deserted him; understandably terrified, they left him to die alone, while Peter disclaimed any knowledge of him to save his own skin. Their disillusionment was completed by his execution as a common criminal, and after his death and hasty burial, dismayed and appalled by what had happened, they hid themselves behind closed doors for fear of sharing his fate. Since this
account of their behaviour could scarcely reflect more shamefully upon the disciples, we may be as sure as we can be about anything that it happened; historians do not invent shameful stories about their heroes, and since Peter and the other disciples were the heroes of the early Church, its founding fathers, there is every reason to believe that they behaved in this way at the time of the crucifixion.

What is equally sure, as sure as the Battle of Waterloo, is that after the crucifixion and death of Jesus they were quite suddenly transformed into a bunch of men who were so completely convinced that the world had failed to destroy him on Calvary, and that God had given him the victory by raising him from the dead, that nothing - not even the threat of martyrdom or even actual martyrdom - could thereafter persuade them that they were mistaken. This man, whom the world had killed ignominiously and with the utmost brutality as a criminal agitator and a failed prophet, they proclaimed to be the son of God; this man, who died alone, nailed helplessly to a cross, unable to move hand or foot and covered all over with blood and sweat and the spittle of a jeering crowd, they proclaimed to be victor over death; this man, who by any normal standards had plumbed the depths of human weakness and dereliction, they proclaimed to be the wielder of all power in heaven and on earth; this man, who had been buried in a rock-cup tomb over the door of which had been rolled a large stone like a mill-stone weighing half a ton or more, they proclaimed to be alive; they had met him and spoken to him. Their fears and doubts disappeared on Easter morning like mist before the heat of the rising sun and, like any other historical phenomenon, this transformation of the disciples, this birth of faith out of the womb of despair, must have been caused by something. As everyone knows, they themselves said that it was the result of discovering his tomb to be empty and subsequently meeting the risen Christ, and those who wish to deny that the resurrection ever happened must provide some alternative explanation of this radical change of heart and mind in the disciples. This has always been recognized, and three alternative hypotheses have been put forward by various people in the past.

The first and simplest suggestion is that Jesus survived the crucifixion and that the disciples met him on Easter morning while under the impression that he had died on Friday; but this does not stand much examination. A good deal is known about the manner in which the Romans executed condemned men, and the chances of anyone surviving the treatment reserved for them were remote in the extreme. As in Jesus's case, condemned men were first subjected to a flagellation with a five-thonged leather whip, a flagellum, with pieces of metal tied into its thongs, and this treatment was sometimes so severe that it killed those undergoing it. Thereafter, criminals were nailed to crosses, and if a modern experiment carried out in a hospital in Belgium some years ago on a corpse is anything to go by, the physical effects of this could only have been extremely damaging. When the experiment was made, it was soon discovered that nails driven through the palms of the hands did not hold the weight of a normal body; the hands split, and the body fell. It is probable therefore that the earliest tradition is right, and that nails were driven through a condemned man's wrists and feet, thus securing him to the cross in a position which, after a time, would have led to dislocation of the joints. On top of this, a crucified man would have lost much blood, suffered appalling pain, and lasted a short time only before dying of exhaustion.

In John's gospel, it is said that there came a time when Jesus was so obviously dead that the Roman soldiers attending his execution did not bother to hurry matters by breaking his legs, and it may have been included for theological reasons, but it is highly unlikely that Roman
soldiers, who were very used to killing people, would have left the scene or allowed anyone to take down a body from a cross until they were quite sure that the man was dead. But even if by some remarkable chance this had happened, those who wrapped the body of Jesus in grave clothes and placed it in the tomb would surely have noticed that he was still alive if there had been a flicker of life left in him. But if by some even more remarkable chance they had failed to do so, a man subjected to such appalling physical treatment and with half the joints in his body dislocated could not possibly have revived in the tomb, stood up, rolled away a stone weighing half a ton or more, and subsequently walked about the town in search of his friends.

The second suggestion sometimes made is that the disciples were subject to delusions; they did not really see Jesus, they only imagined they did. But this does not bear very much examination. Although the individual descriptions by the four Evangelists and St Paul of the events connected with the resurrection vary as much in detail and presentation as my imaginary pictures of Mont Ste Victoire by different artists, all of them agree that after his death Jesus appeared on some occasions to individuals or pairs of individuals, and on other he appeared to the disciples when they were all together. While the suggestion is credible enough that one or more of the disciples might very well have suffered delusions as a result of the fear and strain of the preceding days, the fact that several of them independently of each other and yet more or less simultaneously should have suffered exactly the same kind of delusions - that there should have been a sudden epidemic of identical delusions - is not easy to believe; and when the fact is added that Jesus is said to have appeared more than once to all of them together and no one. cried, 'The Emperor's clothes! There is no one there. You are seeing things', I find the outbreak of such a remarkable unanimity of visual and aural hallucinations impossible to accept.

As far as I know, the only other suggested explanation of the behaviour of the disciples at Easter is that the whole thing was a deliberate fraud on their part; they or some of their friends stole and hid the body of Jesus and then proclaimed that God had raised him from the dead and that they had seen him and spoken to him. Whatever may be thought of the other suggestions, this one is not acceptable, for the nature of a fraud is that those who perpetrate it should gain something by doing so, and all the disciples gained for themselves by sticking to their story was the hatred of the authorities, persecution, and in several cases death by martyrdom. No one stands by a fraudulent story to the point of dying for it.

Which leaves only the explanation given by the disciples themselves that God had raised Jesus from the dead and had given them such convincing evidence of this that both they and their world had been turned upside down; evidence which, whether we like it or not, is embedded in the stories of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the birth of faith in the earliest Church. I say 'whether we like it or not', though probably I should have said, 'although we do not like it at all'; for it is not our kind of evidence. We should much prefer a dossier of bare facts, with no inconsistencies, carefully compiled by a trained observer, who, if he were alive today, would be welcome as a contributor to the American Histyorical Review or, perhaps even better, to the Westdeutsche Zeitschrift fur Geschichte; whereas what we have got
are four verbal portraits of the events of that crucial time, together with a commentary upon them by St Paul; four portraits of events painted by four very different people and as full of differences - 'inconsistencies' if you like - as any four different portraits of the same subject will inevitably be. Moreover, what makes the stories of the resurrection contained in these verbal portraits even less satisfactory from our point of view - or anyway the point of view of the twentieth century - is that they give a strong impression of being stories not so much about hard facts as about a series of events, many of which are not patient of verbal description or prosaic analysis. there are exceptions; for instance, we are told that the tomb was empty, the body of Jesus gone, and that on one occasion the risen Christ ate broiled fish with his disciples; all apparently hard facts about the physical absence or presence of the risen Christ; but these reports of hard, intelligible facts are indeed exceptions. The majority of the stories of the resurrection appearances seem to deal with much stranger events than that. 'When the doors were shut for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst', it is said in John's gospel, and that does not sound like a normal entrance. In Luke's Gospel, the strangeness of the risen Christ is even more strongly emphasized in the story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus, when two disciples meet a man they do not know, walk to the village with him, conversing on the way, sit down in the local Inn to a meal with him, and only then quite suddenly 'their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight'. Similarly, when Peter and four other disciples were fishing on the sea of Tiberias, Jesus appeared on the shore and called to them, but they did not recognize him; only later did they do so, and even then 'none of the disciples dared to ask him, Who are you? They knew it was the Lord'. And so I could go on; but the fact is that we do not know precisely what happened in hard physical fact. The event which transformed the lives of the disciples and eventually overturned the world refuses to be laid out on the dissecting table for scientific examination and precise historical analysis; but that does not mean that we are left with nothing at all. On the contrary, something must have happened so to transform the disciples, and what we are left with is the explosion of faith which that 'something', whatever it may have been, caused.

Paul called that 'something' an act of new creation on God's part. As a result of the resurrection, he told the Corinthians that 'if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away, behold, all things are become new.' The explosion of faith in God through Christ was the result of this act of new creation by means of which every human being could be taken up into a new life and new world of faith, hope and charity. I know that the worlds of Pauline theology and modern cosmology are distinct, but I am not convinced that human knowledge is so locked up in closed and separate compartments that the contents of one may not serve to illuminate that of another; and modern science has changed so much in our own time that in some ways its paradigms are more like theological analogies than the old mechanistic models of nineteenth-century science, and I believe that the one realm may indeed serve today to illuminate the other, if only because they sometimes face very similar difficulties and embarrassments. As a case in point, Sir Bernard Lovell, speaking in 1975 of the origin of the universe, pointed out that 'the striking observational evidence that 10,000 million years ago the universe was beginning to evolve from a dense concentrate of primeval material....presents us with an imponderable conceptual difficulty'; for although 'the solution of the equations of general relativity provide us with expanding models for the universe evolving from zero radius at the beginning of time....the great difficulty is that these evolutionary models for the universe inevitably predict a singular condition of infinite density of infinitesimal dimensions before the beginning of the expansion' and, incidentally, before the existence of space. This is literally inconceivable; we can make no mental image of it, and yet the observational evidence of the expanding universe all round is filled, as it is, with isotropic radiation left over as a relic of the Big Bang, makes it impossible to deny that at the beginning of time the universe must have existed in such a state of infinite density and yet zero size; everything is nothing, in fact; and 'this', as Sir Bernard acknowledges, 'is an embarrassing situation for science', which does not like such conceptual impossibilities.

Nor does theology, for that matter, but when dealing with the ultimate mystery of God it is not always possible to avoid embarrassment; and it is not entirely surprising that in both the old and the new creations, if that is indeed what the beginning of the universe and the resurrection of Christ really were, we are confronted with just such difficulties; and yet in both the observed results are indisputable. We may never know how everything was produced out of nothing in the Big Bang, or what the spirit of God, brooding in the darkness of the tomb, did to the broken body of Jesus; but as we know that the expanding universe exists, so we know too that there was a great explosion of faith in Palestine at the beginning of our era which has gone on expanding throughout the world ever since, and all accounts agree that it arose because the disciples were given evidence that God had raised Jesus from the dead. That this presents Christians with 'an imponderable conceptual difficulty' is undeniable, but since no one has ever put forward a credible alternative to account for the explosion of faith at Easter I agree with Clifford Longley, the religious correspondent of
The Times, who has said that 'if explanations biased against faith are at the end of the day thoroughly unconvincing, an explanation in the light of faith becomes almost unavoidable'.

Indeed, at this point I should like to go further and say that, in the absence of any reasonable alternative to the disciples' own story to account for what Paul called the 'new creation', it is not unreasonable to believe that, if there is a God at all, and if Jesus was in any way right to believe what he believed about him, God had little alternative but to show someone that death had not been the end of him; for otherwise no one could have escaped the conclusion that he, Jesus, had been a sadly mistaken religious fanatic who had thrown away a highly talented life in the grip of a monstrous delusion, and that trust in God was therefore a policy for fools. Although this conviction of mine is expressed, as all religious convictions and statements must be expressed, in the language of metaphor and analogy rather than in the prosaic terms of material description, I still believe it to be reasonable; but I am well aware, too, that such a belief transcends reason. Reason alone did not take me by the hand and lead me to belief in the resurrection of Christ any more than reason opened my ears to the splendour of Allegri's Miserere the first time I heard it, or stopped me in my tracts in front of Uccello's Rout of San Romano in my student days, and I do not expect reasonable argument about the evidence in the New Testament to persuade anyone to believe in the resurrection any more than it persuaded me.

For the fact is that, as in the first days of the new creation, so today no one recognizes the risen Christ until he chooses to reveal himself. Belief is the result of a self-disclosure by God, as Paul knew when he told the citizens of Corinth that 'no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit'. That sounds dauntingly pious, but I think that it is the language of conversion and belief, tarnished as it has been by religious commercialism with its professional ad-men who, no doubt with the best of intentions, try to sell Christian conversion as if it were a patent medicine, packaged in cliches and guaranteed to kill all known germs, which is putting off. The experience itself is simply that of discovering that one believes something one did not believe before, and although such a discovery can be dramatic - as dramatic occasionally as Otto Loewi's experience in the field of scientific discovery - often it is not so. I am not even sure when I discovered that I believed that God had raised Christ from the dead, but, as I have already said, I certainly did not come to believe it as a result of studying the evidence in a scholarly way; on the contrary, I turned to the evidence afterwards in order to see how tenable belief in the resurrection might be, rather, I suppose, as Otto Loewi put the inspiration which had come to him in his sleep to the test when he eventually woke up and found it already planted in his head. Belief is the result of disclosure rather than the culmination of a rational process, though whatever it may be which is disclosed should be subjected to rational examination and criticism after the event.

Although I know this to be the case, and I accept it, like an old computer programmed years ago, I am still sufficiently conditioned by the largely unquestioned assumptions of our own day with its worship of reason (however unreasonably it may constantly behave) to feel slightly embarrassed when admitting this. Similarly, when I find as illustrious a twentieth-century philosopher as Martin Heidegger, once of Freiburg University, saying that 'thinking only begins at the point where we have come to know that Reason, glorified for centuries, is the most obstinate adversary of thinking', all the old hackles on my ex-athiest-rationalist back rise up, and I bristle like one of Pavlov's dogs; but if Heidegger meant that our existence, our being, in all its earthy richness and varied capability cannot be neatly fitted into the theoretical concepts which have been fashioned for special use in the realm of pure reason, he is plainly right. When God irrupts into 'this world' in the creation of the universe or into its rich and earthy existence in the resurrection of Christ, or even indeed into my earthy existence or your earthy existence, I can only agree with Immanuel Kant that 'pure reason' cannot be stretched to tame and cage such events.

The same point has been better made at the end of that most splendidly rational of books in the Old Testament, in which Job takes on God in a dogged argument and refuses to give up until the outer limits of argumentation and reason have been reached; then and only then is Joh confronted with the reality of God and his power in a whirlwind, as astronomy is confronted with God and his power in the Big Bang, and as the disciples were confronted with the reality of God and his power in the resurrection of Christ from the dead; and then and only then Job said, 'I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be restrained. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have utterly abhorred that which I understood not, things too wonderful for me that I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'
Antony Cyprian Bridge