It’s one thing to believe in Christ when you are healthy and everything is going well; it is quite another when you believe death is imminent.
Almost ten years ago I experienced a life-threatening illness when a bacterial infection invaded my lungs and brain. Early on, my doctors thought I might have stage IV brain cancer. Since most patients in that condition die quickly, the diagnosis led me to do some soul searching. Though multiple abscessed brain lesions made thinking difficult, I lay in my hospital bed late at night, alone, and asked myself whether I really believed that Christianity was indeed true.
This introspective mood was challenging and, frankly speaking, is an experience I will never forget. I asked myself whether it was a mistake to believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior. I wondered what my fate would be if another religion, such as Islam or Hinduism, were true. I also considered the possibility of atheistic naturalism being true where physical death is the final end. This existential reflection was brief, blurred by both the lesions and heavy pain medications.
In more lucid moments I refocused on my deepest Christian convictions. Lines from the Apostles’ Creed, this historic Christian statement of faith I’ve known and recited most of my life, came to mind. I concentrated as best I could on the middle section of the creed, which summarizes the great events Jesus Christ’s life.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his [God’s] only son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead.
Slowly, the objective reasons that supported my belief in Jesus Christ’s historical resurrection from the dead came back to me. These reasons include seven points of evidence for the Resurrection that I lecture about, time and time again, in my apologetics ministry:
- Jesus’s Empty Tomb
- Jesus’s Postmortem Appearances
- Short Time Frame between Actual Events and Eyewitness Claims
- Extraordinary Transformation of the Apostles
- Great Conversion of Saul of Tarsus (to the Apostle Paul)
- Emergence of the Historic Christian Church
- Emergence of Sunday as a Day of Worship
Recalling and reflecting upon the facts concerning Jesus’s resurrection, even though my head was often spinning, genuinely helped me to face my life-threatening illness with strength and with courage.
I went through a long and painful recovery—experiencing significant ups and downs—but thanks be to the Triune God I did recover fully. At Easter time I often think of that difficult period of my life and the existential introspection I experienced.
Atheists and Introspective Moods
When I was teaching philosophy at a local community college many years ago I once asked a skeptical student whether he was skeptical of his skepticism. I asked him specifically, “Do you ever have doubts about your unbelief?” His immediate response was an unequivocal—“No!” I informed him that I was skeptical concerning the certainty of his response.
Former atheist C. S. Lewis reveals a different response upon reflecting back on his earlier days in unbelief. In his classic apologetics work Mere Christianity Lewis wrote:1
Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.
Does this mean that in their quiet, reflective moments, when the voice of Dawkins and Harris has faded, even some atheists have doubts about their faith in atheism? It appears so.
From a biblical point of view, maybe in C. S. Lewis’s case it was a type of divine prevenient grace (a grace that precedes the human decision in salvation). But for the late, hardened atheist Christopher Hitchens, it may have consisted of an intuition of pending and inevitable divine justice.
Christians and atheists sometimes accuse each other of engaging in wishful thinking (assuming that a position is true based upon one’s desires)—yet it appears that those darn introspective moods can strike both believers and nonbelievers alike. It’s in those sober and candid moments that the objective historical facts appear to better support the truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection other than not.
Something for both camps to think about at Easter time.
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980), 125.