A very close friend of mine was expressing concern about the state of the world recently. Specifically, Donald Trump seems to be provoking the Korean dictator, like a bully provokes a mass murderer. I was not prepared for such an existential discussion, and I did not respond very well.
The concerns are real. I was haunted by the specter of nuclear war as a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I even bought a poster of a mushroom cloud to hang on my wall, not because I wanted the world to end in a ball of fire, but because it was the reality I couldn’t ignore.
But we do learn to ignore realities likes that. Maybe because it’s hard to live with them, we learn to push them back into the recesses of our consciousness. We displace the angst with busyness, entertainment and other distractions.
The fact is that life is short and tenuous. Whether we live to be a hundred or 80 or only 8, life will end. This is also a harsh but true reality, thought I’m afraid it isn’t very helpful “advice” for someone who is laboring under the burden of the weight of the world. I wish I had said something more.
I firmly believe this world is not all there is. We thirst, and water exists to quench our thirst. We hunger, and food exists to sate our hunger. It makes sense that, if we yearn for something transcendent, something transcendental exists to satisfy our existential longing.
We all seem to “know” this, but the world is so full of a thousand superficial answers to the ultimate existential question that we hardly have any idea where to start looking. We might be tempted to seize on the first or closest one, like responding to that Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes mailer declaring you might be the winner, or we abandon any hope of an existential answer and resign ourselves to the material world.
Is there proof of something transcendent? How can we know? These are serious and heartfelt questions.
Frankly, there is no proof, as in a mathematical equation that can spit that answer out for us. I recently quoted Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, on this point (in Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason). He was asking the same existential question, but not out of a sense of dread for the direction of the world. He was asking as a scientist with integrity who was not willing to rest on assumptions without having a reasoned answer for his disbelief.
What he found is not what he expected. He found no proof for God, but he also found that the case for atheism is more flimsy than the case for theism. While falling short of proof, the existence of a transcendent Being seemed to him more compelling than any other answer. Having followed the evidence to that point, he continued down the path this lead him, ultimately, to belief in the God of the Bible – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This is where my path has led me as well. I have written quite a bit on why I have come to this conclusion. I couldn’t possibly recount what I have written or expound on this point here. Volumes have been written on the same existential point by people far more insightful than I.
At its most basic essence, it all boils down to one person – Jesus Christ. If Jesus was a real person who lived at the beginning of the 1st Century AD, said the things that have been attributed to him and did the things people claimed he did, and if he rose from the dead and appeared in the flesh to people who could verify that it was him, there is no other figure in the history of the word like him.
I am not talking about the figure of Christ on a crucifix that we hold onto like a rabbit’s foot. I am not talking about systems of rules and regulations that have developed into denominations, or monstrous stone monuments to man’s religious ambitions or self-righteous political agendas. I am talking about the person of Jesus described in the 1st Century, eye-witness accounts described by Matthew and John, who lived with Jesus and knew him intimately; the second hand account by Mark who described Jesus as related by Peter who was one of the closest companions of Jesus; and the second hand account of Luke, the physician and historian who traveled with Paul who had a first hand, life changing encounter with the risen Jesus.
These are what we call the Gospels. If you want to know Jesus, read the Gospels. He will leap off the pages, not because of the exceptional writing or storytelling. The writing isn’t very poetic, and the storytelling is bare bones at best, perhaps because it isn’t just a story.
These are accounts on the face of them from people who are simply trying to share what really happened. Jesus leaps off the pages, I believe, because he lives.
If he lives, these are more than stories. If he lives, he is as real today as he was when he walked the earth. His message not only rings true, it rings true for all time. It is a living message for you and me.
More than his historical life, the words he spoke and the things he did, the very central and pivotal fact about Jesus that sets him apart from all others and draws our attention to him as the ultimate key to that transcendent reality for which we all long is the resurrection. If he rose from the dead as 1st Century eye-witnesses claim, it is a game changer.
If he didn’t rise from dead, there is nothing more compelling about Jesus than any other great figure in history. Frankly, if he didn’t rise from the dead, Jesus is compellingly tragic or insidious – tragic because he acted like and carried himself as if he were God; insidious if he knew he wasn’t. How could we take him seriously on either account?
Yet, all major world religions and secular philosophies, alike, claim and use the words of Jesus as their own: “love your neighbor as yourself”; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.
Most of them lift these words from the Gospel accounts while ignoring the obvious claims to deity: “I and my Father are one”; “before Abraham was, I Am”; “if you destroy this body, I will raise it again in three days”.
If Jesus rose from the dead, he lives, and his words invite you to test what he said, speaking of himself: “everyone who believes may have eternal life”; “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life”; and “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Jesus also said,
“[W]hoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Are these the words of a wise man (if Jesus is just a man)? If he didn’t rise from the dead, these are the words of a lunatic or a liar, as CS Lewis aptly stated. But, if Jesus did rise from the dead, he is in class by himself. He is who he said he was.
Jesus is the transcendent hope that gives us peace when the world around us seems to be tilting out of control. Jesus is the transcendent hope for fulfillment of the longing for transcendence that we all have. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that “[God] has set eternity into the hearts of man”, and Jesus is the fulfillment of that longing that God himself placed in us.
Though we are made from the elements of this world, God has breathed something into us that is able to sense transcendence – to sense Him. The accounts of Jesus are the accounts of God inserting Himself into our world and showing us the way to connect with Him.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Not that we would have all that we want in this world, but that we would have His life that transcends this world as God transcends this world – and we can begin to know that transcendent life now if believe and commit ourselves to the person of Christ and allow His Spirit to take up residence within us. This is our transcendent hope.
 Matthew 22:39; and Mark 12:31
 Matthew 7:12; and Luke 6:31
 See John 10:30-33
“I and the Father are one.”
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
 John 8:58
 He said this many times referring to the temple (of his body), which was more clearly stated in Matthew 16:21-28
 John 3:16
 John 3:36
 John 14:23
 John 4:14
 John 6:50-51
 Ecclesiastes, 3:11