John 20:19-31 – So That We May Believe Jesus Was The Messiah

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[Reflections on the Gospel Lectionary Reading for May 1, 2011]

In his Gospel, John reveals his motivation for writing.  He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 19:30-31, NRSV).

We are a people poisoned/blessed by the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  We like to figure things out for ourselves.  In order to believe something, we rely on evidence and argument.  Jesus had to perform miracles, and Jesus had to be resurrected from the dead in order for us to begin to believe that Jesus really was who he claimed to be.  Such belief is critical to sharing in Jesus’ inheritance of eternal life.

Yet even after all of this evidence, many refuse to believe.  They choose rather to deny those miracles and his resurrection.  This is not just a product of the extended length of time that has passed since these events occurred.  Even at the time, many refused to believe their own eyes, for to believe in Jesus’ miracles requires an explanation for this super-human power.

We have a great capacity to be blind to evidence that challenges our view of the world.  Our confirmation bias makes it very difficult for us to embrace the truth of Jesus’ miracles or resurrection.  The dilemma is that only miracles that no mere human could achieve are sufficient for us to believe that Jesus is God.  However, this fact makes us skeptical.  We don’t believe that “impossible” things were ever done, because we don’t believe in the possibility of the impossible.

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  • Jim Wheeler  On April 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    You may count me among those who “. . . don’t believe in the possibility of the impossible.” However, I do not “refuse to believe”. I consider that belief is something that happens to me, not something I choose. If belief is a matter of choice, then all manner of superstition would be on the menu for me to so choose. Is this not so?

    The only evidence of Jesus’ miracles is a compilation of writings made based on oral accounts many decades after the events supposedly occurred, and even after these were committed to writing they were edited by committees. How reliable can this be? And, if such writing and such editing were guided by the Holy Spirit, how can we know that to be fact?

    I am envious of the apostle Thomas. He asked for direct evidence of the resurrection and was granted same. You have previously opined that Thomas likely gained entrance to heaven all the same. So my question is, why is Thomas so privileged when I am denied the same?


    • jwhester  On April 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm

      How odd that you think belief happens to you. All manner of superstition is in fact on the menu for you to choose. You do not choose it because it does not meet your criteria of belief. Whenever you are presented with evidence and argument you choose whether or not to believe it. If belief happens to people, how does one explain that when presented with identical evidence and argument one person believes while another one doesn’t?

      I would argue that the amount of extant evidence (those writings) exceeds that of many historical facts that we accept without much thought. As I say in this post, I believe our difficulty in believing is not based on the evidence but rather based on our reluctance to embrace something that is outside our own experience and expectations.

      I do not deny you the privilege of salvation. It is not up to me to do so. But I don’t even suppose that you will be denied it. I don’t begin to have enough information to have an opinion about the matter. The fact that you write what you have written today doesn’t indicate much about your eternal fate, as far as I’m concerned.

  • Jim Wheeler  On April 22, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I am moved to comment on the matter of whether belief happens or is chosen. You are twisting my words to mean the opposite of my intent.

    When I say that belief happens tome rather than being chosen, I mean that I am rational. I mean, in other words, that when the facts of a situation lead to a logical conclusion, then I accept that logical conclusion whether I like it or not. Were I to “choose” what I wish to believe, then that is where I am opened to superstition. And that is where I see you as well.

    I must disagree when you say, “. . . that the amount of extant evidence (those writings) exceeds that of many historical facts that we accept without much thought.” I don’t accept anything in history that defies physical laws, and that includes walking on water, controlling the weather by force of mind alone, or turning water into wine, among others. I could go along with the “resurrection” of someone who appeared to be dead but was only in a temporary coma, but not someone who was thoroughly dead and without a heartbeat for 15 minutes at normal room temperature. But that wouldn’t be a miracle.

    While I believe that a man named Jesus did live and was crucified for his religious beliefs, the detailed “evidence” of the bible is edited oral myth and open to question. And while I have seen unusual things in my life, I have never seen anything that could not be explained scientifically, so I have no rational basis to believe in the resurrection.

    There was a time not so long ago when Catholic priests would have eagerly tortured me to death for expressing such views, which still amount to official unforgivable sin by their rules. Why do you suppose they felt the need to do that to unbelievers?

    It seems we will just have to agree to disagree on this matter, JH.

  • jwhester  On April 22, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I did not intentionally twist your meaning. I misunderstood you.

    Interestingly you go on to illustrate what I meant. You have chosen to ignore the evidence of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection because that evidence defies laws that are so precious to you that you will defend them in the face of contrary evidence. To me, you are choosing to believe [or in this case choosing NOT to believe]. The facts of Jesus’ miracles are being prevented from acting on you so that belief happens to you.

    I agree with your conclusion. We will have to cordially disagree on this matter.

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