This is the Easter Essay I wrote for the Mail on Sunday….another great opportunity to get the gospel into the secular press. For once I thought there headline was much better than mine – and their stand out quote was superb! Click the link to see the article in its original form
Article for Mail on Sunday – 16th April 2017
There is an old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”. If that’s true then I suspect that many of us will be feeling particularly cursed! It’s hard to know where to turn next – Syria, North Korea, Islamist terrorism, Brexit, the possibility of another Scottish Independence referendum. Everything seems so uncertain. If that is true in a national and international sense, I suspect that many of us are more preoccupied with more local matters (schools, hospitals, work) and more personal (ill health, finance and relationships). In the midst of all this turmoil, the question I have is a simple one – this Easter Sunday what does the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection have to say to all of us?
Is it True?
Lets begin with the simple question. Is it true? When the Roman Governor Pilate was told by Jesus ‘everyone on the side of truth listens to me’, he sidestepped the issue by asking ‘what is truth?”. Until very recently many of the academic elites in our society were on the side of Pilate. ‘What is truth?’ they asked. ‘There is no such thing as truth; all truth is relative’, they assured us. In the words of the Manic Street Preachers the motto of our culture was ‘this is my truth, tell me yours’. But now they are regretting it. Apparently we live in a post-truth society and this is a cause of much weeping and gnashing of teeth. They have sown the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. The world is full of ‘alternative facts’ (usually defined as ‘facts’ which don’t agree with my opinion). And those who complain most about it are those who first of all told us that there was no such thing as truth.
Does it Matter?
Does it matter? Yes of course it does. Without truth we live in hell. Is it true that President Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, or was it an Al Qaeda set up? Is it true that your partner had an affair? Is it true that your CT scan is clear? Truth matters.
But the trouble is surely with those who claim to know the truth. In these post-truth days I regularly come across conspiracy theorists who just ‘know’ the truth – after all they read it on the Internet and they have friends who agree with them, (in fact they don’t have any friends who disagree with them because they ‘unfriend’ anyone who is so stupid), so it must be true. Did you know that the Westminster attack was carried out by the British secret service to distract from the Scottish parliament vote? That the Israeli government carried out 9/11? Or that the earth is flat? Yes – these are all ‘truths’ that have been told to me in recent days by those who just ‘know’.
Doesn’t religious truth lead to violence?
An American philosophy professor once told me that when he heard someone talk about absolute truth he would reach for his gun! Somehow the image of someone claiming the truth, conjures up the notion of dangerous fanaticism. No more so than when it comes to the issue of religion. Isn’t it religious fanatics who are causing so much trouble in the world? Those who believe that if they strap on a suicide vest they will end up in paradise? Isn’t it those who believe in the truth of their particular religion who cause most wars?
Yes – this Easter we will once again see the effects of fanatical and violent religion. We already have. The 41 Coptic Christians slaughtered in a bomb attack on their church in Egypt will sadly not be the only ones to die. But blaming all religions for this is a bit like saying that you won’t watch the BBC because of Jimmy Saville, or support your football team because of the sex abuse now being uncovered with some youth teams. And the claim about religious wars just does not stack up. In their recent book The Encylopaedia of Wars, Charles and Alan Axelrod list 1763 wars in history, of which only 123 were religious – 7%.
The problem is not with claims to truth – after all even those who claim there is no such thing as truth believe that that claim is true! The question is – how do we know what truth is? Is it even possible to know? And this is where we return to Easter.
I am the Truth
Jesus made an astonishing claim before he went to the cross. He told his inquiring disciples ‘I am the truth’. Not just that he taught it, or represented it. But that he is the truth. Truth embodied in a person. Anyone saying such a thing today would be a clear candidate for being ‘sectioned’. And we would never have heard of Jesus if it were not for Easter day. Because then everything changed. His resurrection from the dead is the pivotal point of human history. His claims moved into a different league.
When the Apostle Paul went to Athens and began to debate with the philosophers, politicians and religious leaders they gave him a polite hearing, until he mentioned that Jesus had risen from the dead. Given that resurrections were no more common and plausible in the 1st Century than they are today, it was little wonder that at the point the discussion was over. Some sneered and laughed but a few investigated. And they found it was true. They became followers of Christ.
This Easter the key issues are not whether Cadburys have been disrespectful over their Easter egg campaign, or whether we need more religion or morality. The key issue is whether Jesus really did rise from the dead. As the Anglican Michael Green puts it: ‘The Resurrection, therefore, is the place to begin if you are looking for a satisfying faith on which to base your life. …Examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus instead. If he is risen you need look no further.”
This Easter investigate. Read the gospel of John. Go to a church where the bible is taught. Try an Alpha or a Christianity explored course. Ask a Christian friend. And then when you find out – believe in Christ. Trust Christ and you will find that your world is wonderfully turned upside down.
What Difference Does it Make?
What difference does it make? All the difference in the world. After the slaughter of the Egyptian Christians, one of their leaders, Father Boules George gave a remarkable sermon in which he called upon the congregation to pray for, love and forgive their enemies. He declared: “We need to pray for them so they can sleep at night. A person who has all this inside them, how can he sleep comfortably? Can you imagine? We are being slaughtered and the King of Peace gives us peace to sleep. And the one who slaughters, all night he can’t sleep.”
Imagine being able to live like that. With such peace, love and forgiveness. What freedom! As Jesus said – “Know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Christ is Risen! Happy Easter.
Minister St Peters Free Church, Dundee – www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk/
Associate Director of Solas CPC – www.solas-cpc.org