I have the privilege to be able to go to seminary and study some pretty incredible things. What’s the point of that if I cannot share what I have learned? So, here’s a tidbit I thought others might enjoy.
The set up:
I once saw a television game show that was quite simple. Contestants were given a briefcase full of money and given an hour to hide it. After this, they would be arrested and questioned by trained interrogators. If interrogators could get enough information and retrieve the briefcase in 24 hours, the contestants received nothing. If contestants could withstand the interrogation and the briefcase remained hidden the next day, then they got to keep all of the money inside.
The only episode I watched was about two brothers. They buried the money in a park under some bushes, and concocted a lie about giving the briefcase to a friend to tell the interrogators. While being questioned, the older brother acted casual and relayed the story as rehearsed. The younger brother, however, messed up a few details of the lie. Gradually, interrogators widened the gaps of the fabricated story, and eventually they cracked the younger brother. He divulged the location of the briefcase, and the brothers won nothing.
For a host of reasons, early Christians experienced great scrutiny and persecution. Many people doubted the claims that Jesus was divine and despised their faith practices. Yet, despite such pressure the faith began to spread and grow. The question becomes: what fueled this growth?
The cool stuff:
Today, many of our Christian beliefs and terms can be traced back to a handful of scholars who helped guide the Church and Christian thought in its earliest stages. One such scholar was noted historian Eusebius whose work dates between the 4th and 5th centuries.
For Seminary, many of my courses require me to delve into these original texts. What I find there is a rich perspective on Christian faith and Jesus. In reading some of Eusebius’ work, I found an excerpt that has been incredibly enlightening and helpful for my faith. I think perhaps it also sheds light on the question of what fueled Christian growth in spite of persecution. Here is what he wrote:
“But if the [the miracles of Christ] were lies invented according to a mutual agreement among [His disciples], what a wonder it is that such a number were able to keep to their agreement about their fabrication, even in the face of death, and that no coward among them ever retired from the association and made a premature repudiation of the things agreed upon; nor did they ever announce anything in contradiction to the others, bringing to light what had been put together among themselves” (Proof of the Gospel by Eusebius).
What’s the point:
Here, Eusebius comes to the defense of Christians. To detractors he essentially says this: “Okay, let’s say that Christianity is a sham. The disciples made up stuff about Jesus being the Christ. Don’t you think it’d be pretty difficult for someone to withstand torture and horrendous death all for the sake of a made up lie? Yet, those who were closest to Jesus believed in the truth of his deity so strongly that no just one, but all of them maintained its truth until their dying breaths. It seems pretty unlikely that one of them would not stumble or crack under the pressure or give up the lie.”
It reminds me of the two brothers on the game show. They faced no real threat. They were just playing a game. The worst that could happen to them is that they return their lives just as they were, but they had a chance to gain a large sum of money if they could just maintain a simple lie. In spite of this, interrogators found discrepancies in their stories and one of two men could no longer withhold the truth. Lies tend to crumble under pressure and questioning; especially when the same lie is split between multiple parties. Eusebius points out that it is unlikely the disciples underwent torture for something they knew or thought might be false.
Why it matters:
In this day and age you can hardly turn on the television, open the newspaper, peruse the internet, or even go to a coffee shop without bumping into someone critiquing or doubting the Christian claim. Sometimes, it feels as though we ought to be ashamed to admit that we are Christians, or perhaps we even experience doubts of our own. Though certainly we are to turn to our own experiences with God at moments such as these, I find it encouraging to also have this support from a past brother in Christ.
Eusebius’ thought points out how firmly the disciples believed in Christ. If Jesus was just a neat guy with some unique teachings, all of them would not have continued to proclaim otherwise when facing death. Eusebius wants to remind us that those who were closest to Jesus did not cave under scrutiny. Was it because they were exceptional liars and had a desire to deceive everyone? No. It was because those who knew Jesus best believed so strongly in who he was that they knew following him was more important than their lives.
What to do with this:
Perhaps this historical excerpt does nothing for you; if so, feel free to ignore it. However, I find it helps me in two ways. 1) At points in my life, I have run up against questions, doubts, and uncertainties in my own faith. Sometimes, the arguments of the world press in and it can be hard to stand firm. At these moments, Eusebius’ words remind me that the earliest followers of Jesus—though certainly far from perfect—had one thing that kept them grounded: they knew that Jesus was the Christ. They must have believed that to their very core to die for it; a lie would not be enough. That encourages my faith. 2) It offers me a model to be a light for my faith. If I truly believe in Jesus, how should that shape my life? Is it enough to occasionally pray and in special moments include God in my life? I don’t think so. The disciples believed this so strongly that nothing swayed them from pursuing God and proclaiming the hope of Jesus. Yet, sometimes we are swayed from sharing our faith because it might be a bit awkward to mention Jesus to a co-worker. These words remind me to live my faith knowing that the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean a great deal more than I sometimes act like they do.