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He is Risen Indeed!

As we approach Good Friday and Easter, we might wonder whether we can really believe in the historicity of the events we celebrate.  Let’s tackle then the strongest argument ever made against them.  One of the more influential arguments in the history of philosophy is David Hume’s argument against the rationality of belief in miracles.  It goes like this:

1.  A miracle is a violation of a natural law.

2.  Natural laws are based on “uniform human experience.”

3.  Therefore any report of a miracle has the entire experience of humanity against it.
4.  Therefore it is always more rational to believe that the person reporting a miracle is either deceived himself or is deceiving you than it is to believe he is telling the truth.

David Hume

Hume’s infamous argument does explain why we are rightly skeptical about most claims of the miraculous and demand pretty good evidence before we believe them. But it has two flaws.  First, we do not have to accept the definition that a miracle would violate natural law.  God might perform miracles by applying  force to nature that our understanding of natural law could not have predicted–but the object to which that force was applied could respond to it without breaking any laws at all.  If the definition of miracle need not be accepted, then the rest of the argument is moot.
Second, Hume commits the fallacy of circular reasoning.
How is the argument circular?  It is because he cheats on the phrase “uniform human experience.” How could we know that human experience of the irreversibility of death was uniform before looking to see if the alleged eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were truly exceptions to it?  We couldn’t. and Hume didn’t.  Having cheated on the word “uniform,” Hume cannot then justify his use of the word “always” when he says it is always more rational to believe that the one reporting a miracle is either deceived or deceiving than to believe he is telling the truth. If the attestation is strong enough, if the alternative explanations are sufficiently stretched and unable to account for the data, and if the miracle in question fits elegantly enough with what we know to be the plan and purposes of God, then there could be times, albeit rare, when it is indeed more rational to believe.

 

Hume thinks he is nailing shut the lid on the coffin when he says that we would only be justified in believing a miracle if the alternative was more miraculous than the miracle itself. He thinks he is driving the last nail into the coffin, but he has really just handed Christian believers the game. For the resurrection of Christ neatly meets precisely that criterion. When you compare the egregious ignorance of the physiology of crucifixion and tomb construction required to accept the “swoon theory,” or the gullible naivety required to believe in mass hallucinations, etc., with the demands made on our credulity by the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, the finality of Hume’s defeat becomes inescapable.

For it is not some random dude about whom we make this claim. It is the Son of Man.  It is the one whose coming had been prepared by Providence and predicted by prophecy for two thousand years.  It is the one whose disciples kept asking themselves “What manner of man is this?”  This is one who spoke like no man ever spoke.  This is one who had already shown himself to be sovereign over life and death. If ever there was one about whom we could rationally believe such a thing, it was this man. It was Jesus of Nazareth.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.  He is the author of ten books, most recently Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Lantern Hollow Press, 2016).
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CLXVI

 Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Poets of all men should know that human beings are embodied creatures.  Our bodies are part of our glory, and the Christian hope is that they will be resurrected in the Last Day, not discarded.  But now they partake of our fall—no more than the spirit, but no less either.  This poem was first published in The Rolling Coulter 4:2 (Fall 1992): 41.

The muscles and tendons of the human body

THE BODY HUMAN

Sonnet L

“Intricate engine angels might admire,

Material spirit, animated earth,

Crafted casket for celestial fire–

Doomed to die the day it has its birth.

Hands that open, befitting a gracious lord,

Able to touch a cheek as soft as mist,

To wield a pen, a brush, a harpsichord–

But just as apt to freeze into a fist.

Godlike image, able to stand erect,

Yet by what small and simple things laid low:

A sneeze, a scratch, a germ, and all is wrecked;

A few short years, the time has come to go.

Delicate instrument of Love or Lust,

Admirably compacted–out of dust.”

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out soon from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CXLVI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Scripture is full of drama just waiting to be drawn out.  And while the sonnet form has mainly been used for love poetry or the expression of emotion, it has its own dramatic possibilities.  One of my favorite things to do is draw those two facts together.

THE GUARD

Sonnet XLVII

Crucifixion-Glass

Don’t get me wrong.  I saw the Romans kill

The blighter, and they did a thorough job.

But stones that size just do not roll uphill

Unhelped, and if his people came to rob

The tomb, I’ll eat my hat.  O. K., I’ll take

The money and pretend that’s what they did.

But I’ve just got a feeling it won’t make

The truth—what ever it may be—stay hid.

The whole thing simply makes no sense.  If he

Were really the Messiah, tell my why

The Romans rule and Israel is not free,

Or why, for goodness’ sake, God let him die?

Yet—when the stone rolled, just before we fled,

I’d swear I saw him walk out from the dead!

ResurrectionJesus-998x665

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

CXXXIV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

The fun of the dramatic monologue is to capture the entire dramatic scene and situation with no narrator, just the words of the speaker, who reveals perhaps more about himself and his situation than he intends.  See how quickly you realize who is talking here.

Payday

All we had to give was a night’s sleep

To keep the prophet’s ragtag band of men

From making the whole situation worse

By stealing the corpse.  That stupid bunch of sheep?

Their only thought was saving their own skin!

Their shepherd struck, they scattered—more’s their curse.

Cross-Fulcrum

So how they pulled it off I’ll never know.

They must have snuck in when the earthquake came,

And got out quickly—that’s the official tale

And all you’ll get from me.  I’ll tell you, though,

You’re no one’s fool, and so I would not blame

You if you thought it was a little frail.

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

 

Come, here’s an inn.  I’ll buy—now, not a peep

Of where I got the money!  I’d be in

More trouble than a legion could disperse.

[whispered]     It was a fine conspiracy to keep

His name from ever being heard again

That put the temple silver in my purse!

PaintingQuidorInn

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Stars Through the Clouds

CXXX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 It is now 1984-5.  I continue serving as pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church of Marietta, GA.  The discipline of weekly biblical exposition is showing up in my poetic life, while inspiration from my other reading and from Nature both continue.  The resulting mix was (to me, at least) quite interesting.  What makes this sonnet interesting is the ironic understatement of the last line.

Crucifixion-Glass

Thoughts of a Night Watchman

Sonnet XLI

“The elements are simple:  flesh, and stone,

Shroud, seal, silence, watching guard,

Dew, lingering smell of myrrh and nard;

Deserted by his friends, he lies alone.

A prophet, touted once for David’s throne,

A good man and a healer—but he jarred

Their consciences just once too often—hard—

And so became a bag of rotting bone.”

 

“We’ve seen a lot of cases:  other men—

Messiahs always end up in a tomb,

The elements the same.  As you’d assume,

Their names are never heard on earth again—

And this one’s won’t be either, I dare say.”

It was almost the dawn of the third day.

" . . . and rise from the dead the third day . . ."

” . . . and rise from the dead the third day . . .”

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD