Apologetics: The answer to “God…why?”

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasI remember a young man, back in those high school days, who was so brave and sure of his wisdom that he attempted to answer a teacher’s aggressive questions about the validity of the Christian faith.  He stood firm and unshakable until one of those questions came this way: “If you have so much faith in Jesus, can you heal the sick like he did?”  Yes, the student was me and no, I did not have an answer, not one that I can recall as being satisfactory anyway. Suffice it to say, I was embarrassed; not so much because of a classroom of people seeing me silenced, but because I really did not have the answer and that fact didn’t sit well with me in my own spiritual walk.

However, if you were to ask me the same question today, I`d tell you that not everyone can heal the sick, nor do all believers have the same ability to teach the mysteries of God or prophecy, but working together we use what gifts we have in unity as one body, one family in God.  (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)  Also, there is a measure of faith involved as the Lord Jesus Himself was limited in power by other`s unbelief.

apologetics-nature-pic“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,  Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.   Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”   He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:2-6)

The answer rolls off of the tongue now only because that awkward situation years ago pushed me to learn as much about my own faith as I could.  I studied the Bible, probed my pastors and mentors for answers to tough questions and prayed fervently about the things I just didn`t understand.  I knew God was real, what with the amazing experience of my conversion as a boy, so it was only logical to me that the answers were there.  Then in college, I learned about Christian apologetics: a field of Christian theology that strives to present evidence of the reliable truth of the faith, defending it against objections.  It comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “to defend oneself” and was used in courts as well as in literary circles as a response to another`s critical speech.

The oldest known New Testament fragment, P52, at the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, U.K.  It is a portion of  John`s gospel,18:31-33, from 125 A.D.

The oldest known New Testament fragment, P52, at the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, U.K. It is a portion of John`s gospel,18:31-33, from 125 A.D.

I was surprised to learn that the Apostle Paul, the most influential missionary of the 1st century, was one of the first to frequently apply this discipline to his own ministry. (Acts 26)  In letter after letter, he testifies of how he originally hated and persecuted the Christian community, encountered the risen Christ on a road to Damascus and the depths of the grace that Jesus offered to him and anyone else who would accept.  As my research began to gain steam, I saw images of the original letters and writings that made up the New Testament for the first time and came across other apologists like the influential Origen and even current examples like former atheist Lee Strobel, a journalist whose own spiritual journey is detailed in his excellent book “The Case for Christ”.  Although I had always believed what was passed down to me about the Son of God and his passion for mankind, the revelation of the historical foundation on which my faith was built became irreplaceable.

Josephus Flavius originally a Jew who fought against Rome, later became a historian and translator in their service.

Josephus Flavius (37-100 A.D.), originally a Jew who fought against Rome, later became a historian and translator in their service.

So what?  Lets try apologetics out.  I have actually heard people say that they believed Jesus never really existed and if he did, what we have in the Bible now is only an amalgamation of information and legends that were added centuries later.  However, even if you don`t accept the historical reliability of the gospel accounts and letters, the reputable and non-Christian historians, Titus Flavius Josephus and Publius Cornelius Tacitus, both record that Jesus was the brother of James, called “Christ” by some, and eventually suffered the “extreme penalty” of crucifixion under Pontius Pilatus. (Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chapter 9,1 and Annals, book 15, chapter 44)  All of this was recorded between 93-116 A.D., mere decades after Jesus` life.

Does a word like “apologetics” sound pretentious to you?   In case the answer is yes, just know that if you have ever studied the Bible or learned from the Lord`s teachers in order to better relate the gospel to someone with prickly questions or if you find yourself enthralled by answers revealed in the many letters of the New Testament, then you`re already in the field my friend.  Lets keep digging and learning from the truth because the Lord promises great finds if we`re only willing to seek.

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