Over Easter I took the time to read several opinion pieces in the New Zealand Herald about Easter. One was by Matt Heath titled, "Why I'm sick of being an atheist – it can be stressful". Matt is a radio host for Radio Hauraki and is a regular columnist in the Herald.
In the article Matt writes:
"When my mum died last year I really wished I was religious. It would have been really handy to believe in heaven at that point. I tried. I looked up at the sky. I literally fell to my knees. But I couldn't make myself believe and my mum didn't come back."
Matt then goes on to say:
"My granddad was a minister. My mum read the Bible to me at night. But for some reason - like more than a million other Kiwis - I didn't grow up a believer. People like me will never feel the crucifixion, resurrection or ascension in our souls. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are just some mates we know. But what can we do? No matter how hard we try we can't force ourselves to believe something we don't. Try this philosophy 101 experiment. Look at your right shoulder. Now concentrate really really hard and make yourself believe there's a takahe sitting on it. You can't. Even with a gun to your head, you couldn't make yourself believe."
When I read article my heart went out to Matt because his struggle is shared by so many. So I replied to his piece. I said, "Matt thank you for your honesty on this subject.However, you may be surprised to find out that God isn't blind to the fact that many people have a hard time perceiving Him because he is spirit (John 4:24) or he is invisible and does not have a human body. That is one of the main reasons that God sent his Son to earth in human form – so that through Jesus we could know what God the Father is like. Hebrews 1:3 says, "The son is the radiance of God's glory and exact representation of his being".So if we want to know what God is like we look to Jesus."
So I encouraged Matt instead of applying all his effort to trying to believe in God through sheer will power, that he start with Jesus and work backwards from there.
I also said to Matt that many people, including Christians, don't realize the amount of evidence there is outside the Bible that supports the fact that Jesus was a real historical figure. I said by way of example the Jews who had the most to gain by denying Jesus' existed, accepted him as real historical figure. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who wrote about the Apostle James noted in his writings that he was "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ."
In, another passage Josephus said "there was a man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified, and he died. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was thought to be the Messiah."
If I had the space I would have also pointed to Matt that while Roman historians wrote primarily of events and people important to their empire rather than matters that affected the small country of Israel, two important Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, also acknowledged Jesus as a real person.
Tacitus (a.d. 55-120), the greatest early Roman historian, wrote that Christus (Greek for Christ) had lived during the reign of Tiberius and "suffered under Pontius Pilate, that Jesus' teachings had already spread to Rome; and that Christians were considered criminals and tortured in a variety of ways, including crucifixion."And Suetonius (a.d. 69-130) wrote of "Chrestus" as an instigator. Most scholars believe this is a reference to Christ. Suetonius also wrote of Christians having been persecuted by Nero in a.d. 64.
In total, nine early non-Christian secular writers mention Jesus as a real person within 150 years of his death. Interestingly, that is the same number of secular writers who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor during Jesus' time. If we were to consider Christian and non-Christian sources, there are forty-two who mention Jesus, compared to just ten for Tiberius.
I finished my reply to Matt by talking about human effort. I said Matt, "your right, trying to believe in God simply by telling yourself He is real is really wishful thinking and a waste of time. Genuine Christians don't believe we are saved by brainwashing ourselves into believing God is real, but rather by "faith" which is a gift of God. In other words we hold that we can only believe that Jesus lived, died, was buried and rose again, because God gives us the faith (or the ability) to believe these things.But then it's up to us to act on this belief and accept him as Lord and saviour."
So I said, "Matt in addition to investigating the historical Jesus you may wish to stop trying to convince yourself God exists as if he was an imaginary bird on your shoulder" and try praying. Something that I have personally found to be a lot more successful than wishful thinking.Ask God to reveal himself to you by giving you the gift of faith.This gift I assure you will enable you to value Easter for more than a day off and Easter eggs".
So if you know people like Matt, who are struggling to accept Gods' existence – why not ask them if they have investigated the reality of the historical Jesus and then challenge them to pray for the gift of faith?
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you"Matthew 7:7