Convince me

“[The rich man] answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“[Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” — Luke 16:27-31 (NIV)

I’m a skeptic, by which I mean I’m not easily persuaded. Tell me something strange and I probably won’t believe you until I’ve had a chance to research it myself. I don’t trust authorities until I’ve found a way to double-check their claims.

question authority bumper sticker on old car

I trust people I know well and who have proved trustworthy, but even they have a high bar to clear if they’re going to make some fantastic claim. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.” I’m sure he stole that phrase from me.

Many religious claims are impossible to prove, which creates a problem for skeptics like me. Speaking about Christianity, it’s well-documented that Jesus Christ lived when the Bible says he did. There’s ample evidence that the four New Testament Gospels were written near enough to the events that they describe that they are more likely than not to be faithful accounts of Jesus’ life and words. I’ve done my due diligence. I’m convinced. Can’t prove it, but I believe Jesus was the Son of God and the only one who can reconcile you and me with God the Almighty.

If you’re a skeptic like me, my say so isn’t good enough. So what is?

I grew up when there were only three television networks, no internet, and phones were attached to the wall. We were primitive, but we had Uncle Walter. Every night at 6pm, Walter Cronkite came on the CBS Evening News and told us the truth. There were others, too, but I was partial to Uncle Walter’s deep voice and grandfatherly manner. He had kind eyes—truthful eyes.

If Walter Cronkite said a thing was true, you could take it to the bank.

Jesus’ story about the rich man who had died is about belief, skepticism, and the search for what’s true. In life, the rich man had heard truth from the words he was taught in the synagogue, but he was skeptical, his priorities were on his wealth and grand living and power and influence. He had heard the truth, but he had never acted on what he’d heard, and suddenly, it was too late.

He begged Abraham to send a messenger from the dead to warn his brothers, but Abraham refused. They had already heard the truth, said Abraham. When or if they acted on it was up to them.

We each have all that we need to investigate the claims of Jesus and to make up our minds about what’s true, what isn’t, and what we’re going to do about it.

During the COVID pandemic, everyone was wrapped up in a search for the truth. Did masks work? Were vaccines effective? Did airborne virus particles transmit the disease more readily than surfaces?

There were thousands of opinions and few facts. There were thousands of experts and even more pseudo-experts, as well as wide disagreement among scientists about how to stop the spread and save the dying. Our lives depended on knowing the truth, so we read, we listened to the experts, we made up our minds about what we believed, and we lived our lives accordingly.

The crisis is over. Correction, that crisis is over. But there’s a crisis that we were born into and continue to live through today—the crisis of the nature of ultimate truth and how we will live in response to that truth. What do we believe about the meaning of life? What do we believe about death? What do we believe about God?

I was once very skeptical about all this Christianity stuff, but I decided to give it a chance. I checked it out and I came away a believer. That was 54 years ago, and I’m more convinced than ever that Jesus really said all those things claimed by the Gospel writers, he really did rise from the dead, and he really does offer the only way of living that’s built on a foundation of truth.

I’m a skeptic about a great many things, but not about Jesus. We have all the data we need. We just have to decide what we’re willing to believe is true, and then live it.

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