That may seem like part of my job description as a disciple, but in this case I’ve been thinking about my choice to follow Jesus and about the choice not to follow him made by a rabbi friend who is co-author with me of They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.
We have been asked to speak to a class at an Episcopal church about those choices. So I’ve been looking at arguments I think my friend may use — including those outlined in David Klinghoffer’s book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus.
But this isn’t really a debate and it won’t be won or lost on the basis of our arguments.
That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent, reasonable arguments for being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Oh, my. Many such arguments exist, and the whole quarrelsome, insistent field of Christian apologetics exists to make them to anyone willing to listen.
Rather, the decision I’ve made to be a Christ-follower and the decision my friend has made not to be one are based on much more than a dry recitation of history or any particular interpretation of that history. Those decisions — however rational we think they are — are rooted in our own personal histories, our own experiences of faith and our own systems for evaluating life’s big and eternal questions.
The truth is that neither one of us can prove we are right in our choices. And that’s as it should be. For as the Hebrew Scriptures remind us, we walk by faith, not by sight.
That very idea was contained in a note I received recently from a friend who is both a Catholic priest and Trappist monk. Hear not only his commitment to faith but also his expression of the Benedictine virtue of humility:
“While I am more committed than ever to the Christian vision, faith is difficult. Without the Christ event, I would likely be an atheist. Even if it would turn out that Jesus was wrong, that the cosmos is empty, his cry will be our mutual protest. We are in it together, for there is no one else in all of creation with whom I would rather stand than he.”
Do you see the paradox there, the difficulty all of us face? Faith indeed is difficult, despite people who pretend otherwise. Just think what being a Christian means. It means that we are committed to being disciples of a Palestinian Jew who lived 2,000 years ago and got strung up on a cross as a common criminal. Using the measures of rationality we find operative in 21st Century America, that’s just nuts.
And yet it’s also somehow well within the divine economy, well within what is reasonable to a surprising God who brings order out of chaos, light out of darkness, health out of sickness, life out of death.
My rabbi friend once said to me that he doesn’t believe in Jesus, he’ll never believe in Jesus and he doesn’t know how I can believe in Jesus, but he loves me anyway. I suppose, in the end, that in our discussion before the Episcopalians I’ll simply have to say something similar, something like: Jesus is decisive for me. I wish you could know the joy I feel because of that but I respect your choice and love you anyway. Which I do.
You can’t argue people into (or out of) faith. Instead, they come to faith through transforming experiences with the living God, even if those experiences raise even more mysteries. In Scripture and other ways I’ve encountered the risen Christ and have said yes to the gift of faith. So, with my monk friend, I assert that even if Jesus was wrong, there is no one else in all of creation with whom I would rather stand than he.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at http://billtammeus.typepad.com. Read about his new book at www.theywerejustpeople.com. E-mail him at [email protected].