- Jason Andersen
History is Reality
Thus we must begin by laying the foundation of the solid reality of the events, and then go on to inquire into their figurative meaning, or else if we take away the foundation it will look as if we are determined to build on air.
Sermon 8 of Augustine.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:12–24
One of the more important things about the Christian faith is that it is real. I suppose that’s an understatement. But it is something that a person has to grapple with when they become a Christian and even as they mature. It doesn’t help us that in our world, we’ve entered and now left the room of complete certainty about anything. The Walter Cronkite ‘truth’ of the news is no longer a sure thing anymore. Everything is partisan, everything is truth-checked and then counter-truth checked. Of course, this is more the way of the world before truthy news. But I think culturally we still long for absolute certainty because we still think we can know it all. So when we look at news, we are looking for the correct news. Before all this, a man was more content with his limited nature, and I think permitted a bit more mystery. We might call it mythical or we might call it a report from far-away lands. It was more common in previous times for a person not to have left their area. In medieval maps they once said, ‘Here be dragons’ in places unexplored.
The unexplored world left much of reality to the imagination. What made anything truly real? With so much of a pre-modern person’s life engaged in the mythical, could a person have any certainty? We know that there was one thing that provided certainty for pre-modern people, and it was eye-witness testimony. If someone saw the thing, then that reality was pretty certain. If a handful of people saw it, it was even more certain. We actually tend to dismiss the importance of eyewitness testimony, but it is monumental for establishing an understanding of reality. Once we hear a report from a handful of different people, we begin to understand the truth of the thing.
The point then is that we can know for certain that things happened in the past. It is through people who were physically eye-witnesses of an event and participants in the situation. And there were eye-witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus Christ who saw the risen Lord.
But now we come to a difficulty. I think it is easy to forget the reality of things we read in the scriptures. It is so far distant in time and in place. It is a story that moves us, and perhaps since we get caught up in the story, we’re less concerned about the reality of the thing. Or maybe we love the theological musings of the apostle John and the rhetoric of Paul, and we just get lost in the joy of the argument. Whatever the case, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we do not build our faith on the air. And this goes for the whole of the testimony of scripture that tells us of what happened: what happened really happened. We can not live with an ‘I don’t think I need to affirm’ attitude about God’s revelation. It really happened and from that reality, we base our faith. This doesn’t answer questions of interpretation. There may always be debates on dating certain things or the geography of them. But it does not matter that we know where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea for us to know that they did it (or was it the sea of reeds, the great bitter lake?). We may not ever figure out the chronology of the book of Judges, but that these Judges ruled and led Israel is a matter of our faith. We may not ever know the specific date of Jesus’ birth, but he was truly born. We may not know where the Transfiguration happened (Tabor? Or Hermon?), but that Christ was transfigured and met with Elijah and Moses proclaims his human and divine identity. We may not know the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (Gordon’s Calvary or Traditional Calvary or somewhere else?), but Christ was crucified for our sins, and was buried for three days and rose again and was seen by many eyewitnesses. Not only did it happen, but it’s meaning is tangible. We feel it and know the salvation of that real reality.
So let’s not base our faith on the airy things of personal opinion and speculations, but on the real reality that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and rose again as seen by many witnesses.