Saturday, November 18, 2017

WAS JESUS OF NAZARETH A REAL PERSON?

     Wow!  Another week, another 400 views for this little blog!  I appreciate all of you who stop by and read this every week more than I can say, and I hope what I write is always worth your time.

     I have never been one to shy away from debate, and this week has been an exceptionally frustrating one in that regard.  A longtime atheist sparring partner of mine has recently adopted the position that Jesus of Nazareth never even existed as a historical person.  In fact, he's taken it one step further:  He says both the books of the New Testament, and Christianity ITSELF did not exist prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, when the Romans, led by Emperor Constantine and Bishop Eusebius, simply cobbled it together out of existing religious themes in order to create a single religion in order to unify the Empire.

    Now, honestly, that latter claim is so ludicrous that I am not going to address it at length.  There is Christian graffiti in the Catacombs of Rome dating to the earliest decades of the Second Century AD, and there are so many Christian authors that wrote commentaries on the Gospels and the Books of the New Testament in the Second Century (Clement of Rome, Papias, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Justin Martyr, just to name a few, plus the various Gnostic Gospels and epistles, written in the Second and Third Centuries) that claiming there were no Christians prior to Constantine's time is to deny history that is universally accepted by virtually all scholars, liberal and conservative, agnostic and faithful. Plus you'd still have to account for several hundred manuscripts of Christian writings that have been carefully and accurately dated by archeologists to the Second and Third Centuries.  Frankly, denying the existence of Christianity prior to the Council of Nicaea is to deny eighteen hundred centuries of history, scholarship, and research, much of it by non-Christians.

   But, the first point is certainly worth rebutting.  Too many people today are willing to accept what they read on the net at face value, and so if they see someone claiming that Jesus never existed, then they pick the idea up without thinking much about it and pass it on to someone else.  That's how falsehoods grow and thrive in the digital age - anyone can write up anything in halfway coherent prose and post it online, and the whole world accepts it as true.  "Fake news," indeed!

    So let me be clear:  I can respect anyone who says that "Jesus of Nazareth was a significant historical figure, but I do not believe he was the son of God, or in any way divine." I do not agree - I would not have devoted so much of my life to the Gospel if I did - but that's a conversation that we can have, and I'll enjoy going back and forth with it.  But when someone says: "Jesus never existed," that gets my hackles up.  So - what evidence is there?

    THE NEW TESTAMENT - There is a knee-jerk assumption that the Gospels, and the other writings that make up the New Testament, are somehow unreliable because they were all written by people who believed that Jesus was the Son of God.  That is not necessarily an accurate assumption - is a biology textbook automatically suspect because it was written by someone who believes in evolution?  While the dating of the books of the NT is always controversial, the vast majority of scholars who have studied the issue (this includes both Christian and non-Christian scholars) agree that most, if not all, of the NT books were written in the First Century AD.  Even John's Gospel, acknowledged for centuries by Christians to be the last of the four, had been around for some time by 125 AD.  That is the scientific date of the Rylands Papyrus Fragment, a hand-sized piece of John's Gospel discovered in Egypt about 80 years ago.  It has been dated several times by various methods, and the date is as certain as that of ANY ancient text.  Paul's letters, which clearly refer to Jesus as a real person AND a divine being, were all completed by the year 68 AD, when Paul was martyred.  So in the NT we have 27 documents that all refer to Jesus as a real, flesh and blood person, all of them written within less than a century of His death in 33 AD.  We know the rough timeframe of his birth and a much more specific time for his death, as well as the places where he lived and ministered.  If we accept traditional authorship, then several books of the New Testament - John, Matthew, I and II Peter, James, Jude, and the letters of John - were written by men who knew and followed Jesus personally.  The others were written by men who knew those who knew Jesus.  Even if you reject the traditional authorship, you still have a substantial body of work that would have been written while the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life were still alive.

GREEK AND ROMAN SOURCES -

  Well, first of all we have Tacitus, who wrote his Annals, an account of Roman history, around the year 116-117 AD - again, LESS than a century after Jesus' crucifixion.  He said this about the aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome: 

 "N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular. 

   Now, Tacitus didn't care for the Christians, obviously - but that makes his testimony all the more valuable, since he is a hostile witness.  This passage occurs in all extant copies of his Annals, and is in the same classical Latin he uses throughout.  What does he verify, then?  That there were Christians in Rome at the time of Nero and the Great Fire (64 AD), and that their founder was a man known as Christ, who lived in Judea during the time of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD) and the governorship of Pontius Pilate (27-37 AD).  That's strong corroborative evidence.

   Lucian of Samosata, who lived from 115-200 AD, made a reference to Christianity in one of his satires, The Passing of Peregrinus.  The title character was a former Christian who became a cynic philosopher.  Again, Lucian's reference to Christians is derogatory, but he also acknowledges that the faith was founded by a real person:  "after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.   For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws."

   Again, a hostile source identifies the founder of Christianity as a real person who was crucified in Palestine sometime prior to the Second Century AD. This is an ancient work whose authenticity has never been questioned by any serious scholar, and it contains a clear reference to the historical Jesus.

 Yet another source is Celsus, a Greek philosopher who despised Christianity.  He is quoted (and refuted) in the works of Origen, but his statement on Jesus is still interesting:  "Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god."

  The bit about Panthera was common gossip among the foes of Christianity, probably a play on words - Jesus was referred to by the early church as "ben Parthenos" - "son of a virgin," and it's a short hop there  in Greek to "ben Pantheros" - Pantherus being a common Roman name.  But still, what does Celsus say?  That Jesus was born to a young woman, betrothed to a carpenter, and that he spent time in Egypt as a boy, that he was possessed of seemingly supernatural powers, and finally that he made claims to divinity.

Roman governor Pliny the Younger also wrote a letter around 112 AD to the Emperor Trajan, asking what to do with Christians.  His only direct reference to Jesus is this:  "On a fixed day they used to assemble before dawn to sing an antiphonal hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath not for any criminal purpose, but to commit no fraud, no robbery or adultery, to bear no false witness, and not to deny any debt when asked to pay up.   After this it was their custom to separate and to reassemble to eat a communion meal, all together and quite harmless."

    Three things to note here: One, that Christians clearly worshiped Jesus as a God during the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD), and that they observed the communal meal mentioned in the New Testament.  Last of all, Pliny never refers to "Christ" as a myth or legend.

   Rounding off our Greco-Roman sources is the letter of Mara ben Serapion, a Stoic philosopher captured by the Romans in 73 AD.  He wrote a letter to his son that contains this reference:
What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the "new law" he laid down.
If the date most scholars assign to this letter - around 75 AD - is accurate, this is quite possibly the earliest extra-biblical reference to Jesus.  While Serapion does not mention Jesus by name,  there was no other person during that time frame, known as the "King of the Jews," who was executed - nor who would have lived on through the "new law" he introduced.
    So what do all these sources agree on?  That Christianity was introduced during the first half of the First Century AD by a real, physical person named Jesus of Nazareth.  All of these men, except possibly Serapion, were foes of Christianity and regarded the Christian faith as a vile superstition - yet NONE of them claimed that Jesus was a mythical figure, a legend, or a fabrication.

JEWISH SOURCES:  At the head of this list stands Josephus, the foremost Jewish historian of the ancient world.  There are two passages in his Antiquities of the Jews that refer to Jesus, one of which is universally accepted by all scholars, the second of which is controversial but still worth mentioning.  Let's go with the one we're sure of first, an account of the death of James: 
Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.1

What does this show us?  That around 62 AD, during a time when the old Roman governor had died and the new one was on his way to Judea, the High Priest Ananus put to death a man named James, the brother of Jesus "who is called Messiah."  (Note: This is a Jewish translation; Josephus wrote in Greek and used the title "Christos.")  Therefore, before 62 AD, there was a man named Jesus whom some called the Christ.  Skeptics have tried to argue (in a long and incredibly boring YouTube video my friend forwarded to me, most recently) that the "Jesus" in question was Jesus ben Damneus, who succeeded Ananus as High Priest.  This founders on two things:  One, Josephus never mentions a character in passing without explaining him first, and second, there is no evidence Jesus ben Damneus was ever "called Messiah."  Of course, they respond that the "Messiah" bit was a later Christian interpolation, but there is ZERO manuscript or historical evidence for that.  A Christian interpolator would have simply called him "James the Brother of Jesus,"  "James the Lord's Brother," or "James the Just" - the titles by which James was known to them. So there must have been an earlier reference to Jesus, and sure enough, a few pages back, in Book Three of Antiquities of the Jews, we find this reference, the infamous Testimonium Flavinium:

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.


   "Jesus-mythers" will tell  you all day long that this passage is a shameless fabrication inserted into the text by a later, Christian scribe.  However, the vast majority of scholarship - and this encompasses both Christian and non-Christan scholars - have concluded that the core passage is authentic, with some interpolations added by a Christian scribe later on to turn this into a positive witness of Jesus as Messiah instead of an account of the death of a would-be Messiah. There is a nice summary of the debate in the Wikipedia entry on the Testimonium Flavinium, and a more scholarly treatment in the Biblical Archeological Review entitled "Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible." In short, most historians and scholars believe that Josephus did, in fact, write a short summary of the life of Jesus in his Antiquities.
 
   Finally, there were no more rabid opponents of Christianity than the Jews of the Second Century onward.  Many Talmudic references to Jesus were either censored or edited later on to make the references to Jesus less clear - their favorite tactic was to erase His name and describe Him as "Such a one" - but the references are still there.  The Babylonian Talmud, compiled around 400-500 AD from earlier writings, states:
  Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously the herald had cried, “He is being led out for stoning, because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whosoever has anything to say in his defense, let him come and declare it.” As nothing was brought forward in his defense, he was hanged on Passover Eve.

While this reference is later in date than the others, and somewhat confused (note the contradiction on Jesus' death - it references him being stoned and hung (a Jewish euphemism for crucifixion) in the same Passage - it is very clear that he was considered to have been a real person who was actually executed on the eve of Passover.  There are several other Talmudic references, but this is the most clear.

   Was Jesus a real, historical person?  I will conclude with the words of atheist scholar Bart Ehrman:
". . . as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist."

Friday, November 10, 2017

ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM AN AGNOSTIC

WOW!! Over 600 views in ten days for my "Story of the Black Coffin!"  That's just so awesome, all I can say is THANKS to all those who took the time to read and share my silly story.  Today's post is something completely different, but I hope that it will be even more widely read.  Not long ago, a friend of mine named Brandon posted a series of questions about God, whose existence he seriously doubts, on my FaceBook page.  I tried to answer them in a FB post, and he came back with an even longer set of questions in his next few posts.  Some of them are a bit redundant, but I felt like, as a believer, I owed him an answer.  So, over the next couple of weeks (it took MUCH longer than I originally planned, because of my busy schedule), I tried to answer what he wrote.  This is the result - his questions in black, my answers in red.


                         BRANDON’S QUESTIONS


Why does God make natural disasters, and kill his people???

First of all, like many, you confuse what God made with what God allows.  The story arc of mankind is creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  God gave us a perfect world in the beginning.  But we were incapable of simply enjoying that gift; we screwed it up, and all the evils that beset creation stem from that fall so long ago.  Because of that original disobedience, all mankind is mortal, death is our inevitable fate.  It is neither good nor evil, it simply is.
Why does he let people rape children who are supposed to be with him (preachers)???

God created man with free will.  It is our greatest gift and our greatest curse.  What men do with that free will is up to them; however, God holds all men accountable for their deeds.  Jesus Himself said: “If any man causes one of these little ones who believes in me to stumble, it would be better for that man if a millstone were tied around his neck, and he were cast into the depths of the sea.”  Those who hurt little children in God’s name literally have hell to pay.  God’s justice doesn’t move on our timetable, but it is still just.
Why doesn't he come back???

God is still here.  He never left, never quit being the creator and supreme judge of the earth.  The only aspect of God that departed from the earth was His living incarnation as a man, Jesus.  He completed the task set before Him two thousand years ago, and his physical, mortal form left the earth.

Where did he go???

Once He had completed the mission for which His Father sent Him to earth, Jesus returned to His throne, and resumed His place as part of the Godhead.
If no one knows the answers then how do we know anything???

Saying “no one knows” is a false premise.  You cannot know the mind of everyone on earth, so you can’t know say that with any accuracy.  How do we know anything?  With historical events, you go with the preponderance of surviving evidence, based on physical relics and eyewitness testimony.  With scientific principles, you go with hypothesis, theory, experimentation, and proof.  You can’t “scientifically” prove a historical event happened, and you can’t “historically” prove a scientific theory has validity.
You say from the book, what if the guy just passed out and came to, and everyone thought he had come back from the dead??? There was not microscopes back then, no doctors, etc... Could have been a LOT different than the book reads..

As a historian, I can tell you one thing – Romans KNEW how to kill people.  Read through the Gospel accounts, especially John’s Gospel.  John stood at the foot of the cross. He watched Jesus die, and after Jesus was dead, he watched a legionary ram a Roman spear (known as a pilum) through His chest, piercing his heart.  That’s the only way that you would have had blood and water (the clear fluid that surrounds the heart) flow from the wound mixed, as John noted.
  But, OK, say Jesus by some miracle survived.  They wrapped his body in cloths soaked in spices and sealed him in a rock tomb on a hillside in Jerusalem.  It was April – overnight temperatures on Mt. Zion can drop to the forties and fifties that time of year.  What happens if you take someone who has endured severe shock and trauma, wrap them in wet cloths, lay them on a cold stone slab, and seal them in a chilly cave?  They slip further into shock and DIE!

Even if Jesus somehow, despite all that, survived and crawled out of the cave, how did He get past the Roman guards?  How did He convince the disciples that He was the risen Prince of Glory when he was a pathetic wreck of a human being, unable to walk on His lacerated feet, or use His nail-pierced hands?  Of all the purported explanations for the Resurrection, this is the weakest – so much so that most educated skeptics don’t even bother with it any more.
Why would you put your whole existence on a book wrote a long time ago???

All of human history is inscribed in books written a long time ago.  How do you know George Washington existed?  Or Napoleon?  Or Julius Caesar?  As a professional historian I can tell you the Gospels pass the test of history as well as any other written document from the ancient world.
Man who could have been high or drunk or just making stuff up???

Multiple independent sources recounting the same set of events?  Not to mention that Jesus’ disciples endured whips, jail, beatings, exile, and in all cases but one, eventual martyrdom for their faith.  What kind of men die for a lame, baseless lie KNOWING it was a lie?  The best thing they could have done for themselves would be to forget they ever knew Jesus and go back to their fishermen’s nets.  But instead they proclaimed His resurrection right up to the day they died.
Besides, if Jesus was really dead, all the High Priest would have had to do would be to place His rotting body on a wagon and drag it through the streets of Jerusalem.   The whole city would have seen that the disciples were peddling a lie, and Christianity would have been strangled in its cradle.

There IS NO WAY to know for sure, you say evidence???

There is no way to know for sure that any historical event really happened.  You have to go with where the evidence takes you.  Some people have analyzed the evidence for the Gospels and found it wanting; others find it quite convincing.  For me, the Resurrection of Jesus is the most plausible explanation for the events surrounding the origin of Christianity. No alternative theory I have read fits the available facts even half as well.  As one scholar put it, “There is a gaping hole in history that is the size and shape of a Resurrection.”
Then why do people spend their whole lives trying to convince people he is real???

Well, for one thing, we were commanded “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.”

The fact is, we are commanded to love our fellow men.  When you love someone, you share life-changing truths with them.  The Good News of Jesus is too wonderful NOT to share!
If there was no doubt there would not be people doing this, as I said you don't see people walking around trying to convince people that the sun is real....

There will always be skeptics about everything, whether they are Holocaust deniers or folks who say the moon landings were fake, or Flat Earth Society members.  Historians, by trade, spend their lives educating people about things they will never be able to see for themselves. Think about this: no one alive today witnessed the Big Bang, and yet nearly all scientists agree that it happened.  No one has ever seen a black hole, but all evidence points to their existence.  God always provides some proof before asking us to have faith.  The clues to His existence are everywhere!  In history, in science, in geology and physics, countless indicators point to a prime mover, an uncreated creator, something or someone who willfully set the cosmos in motion.  When Jesus returned from the dead, Thomas refused to believe in Him at first, saying that he would have to put his finger in the nail prints before he would accept that the Master had really come back.  When Jesus appeared to him and held out His nail-scarred hands, Thomas sang a different tune. He fell to his knees and cried “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus chided him gently: “Because you have seen, you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe!”  That’s us.  We can’t see the physical Jesus as they did, but we believe anyway.  And we are blessed for it!


And if God makes everything, then why when a hurricane hits a place and everyone's houses and stuff are ruined, they say, thank God we are ok???? I mean that is insanity right there!!!! He was the one who made the hurricane, WHY would you be happy with him???


God MADE everything. Past tense. He created the world a perfect and beautiful place; man’s sin wrecked, twisted, and distorted what God had made.  So to say that God is to blame for the hurricane that devastated Houston is to overlook the responsibility that man has for polluting, breaking, and corrupting the beautiful home God gave us.  Say you are a master carpenter who built a house and made it sturdy and strong, and gave it to your children to live in. They proceed to spend the next few decades abusing, neglecting, and trashing it.  Then one day one of them leans against the balcony and it breaks because he was beating on it with a hammer, or using it for target practice with his pistol. Are YOU to blame when the bannister breaks and topples him to his death?  But, to answer the second part, people who love God give thanks to Him for all the gifts He gives, most of all for the gift of life.  Every day of life on this planet is another day to live, to love, and to tell our fellow men about the God we love.
I mean, IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!!!!
I need actual answers not a made up excuse of why things happen..

Well, the thing is, I’m giving “actual answers.” But if you make up your mind NOT to believe, you’ll decide my answers are not enough and go on demanding other, different answers.  On the other hand, if you have an open mind, maybe you’ll think about what I have written and decide to dig deeper.  The beauty of it is, God allows us freedom of choice.  We can accept Him or reject Him, as we see fit, and He will honor that choice, in this life or eternity.


There are so many unanswered questions that it is hard to believe...
I can't trick myself into believing.

It’s not a matter of “tricking yourself.”  Yes, faith is hard.  Every single believer in the world struggles with doubt at one time or another – it’s part of having a brain that works!  But the more I look into the mysteries of life, the more I see an invisible hand at work, something greater and deeper than the imagination of man.  And my faith gives my life meaning, purpose, and joy!
I need answers..
One more thing, a whole lot of the things we take for granted today was made or thought up by someone who did not believe in God.
So how is that possible???
God doesn't save lives, Doctors do...

But who made the mind of man?  We create and invent because God placed within all of us a spark of himself, the desire to alter our environment to suit our needs, the desire to create, with our hands or with our voices or with our minds, things that others will see and admire.  One doesn’t have to be a believer to make us of the natural gifts God gave us all.


Again I will finish with, why do people have to convince other people that it is real???

For one thing, Jesus commanded His disciples to “Go therefore and teach all nations.”  People can be remarkably ignorant – as a teacher, I see that every day.  I have to convince my students of all sorts of things that they simply refuse to acknowledge or don’t believe to be true.  Some folks will reject the clearest and plainest of evidence when it contradicts an idea or value they have held for their whole lives (like when you try to convince someone from Mississippi that the Civil War really was about slavery!).
When clearly things that are real do not need an army of people to make them believe in it...

How many people completely deny climate change, despite the scientific evidence that it is indeed real?
It just doesn't make sense...
That's all..
In my opinion religion has capped the brain. People can't get past it, it is ruining us...

Many of the greatest works the world has ever seen are products of faith.  Religion – the desire to be a commune with the divine – is generally morally neutral.  It’s what we DO with our religion that makes it good or bad.
Terrorist are a product of religion.

Some are. Some are products of communism, which is purely atheistic in its philosophy. Some are products of nationalism or an individual’s desire for power and dominion.  Terrorism is a product of MANKIND; since Cain and Abel we have needed little excuse to go out and kill each other.
And if gods knowledge is so difficult to understand by us humans. How do we know the terrorists are not right in what they do???

God has revealed enough of himself; his final revelation came through Jesus Christ.  Jesus never ordered His disciples to hurt anyone; he introduced a new Covenant with man that was meant to be spread peacefully.
Because we don't need a God to tell us that it hurts when we lose a loved one..

No, but the healing love of God can do much to make that hurt endurable.
Why does God not fight the other gods and get this mess straightened out????

Because there is only ONE God, and He would look kind of silly shadowboxing Himself.
Anyway I could go on and on...

 

Pretty greedy, arrogant, demanding, etc... wouldn't you say???
Yes, humanity is all of those things.  And the gods we create in our own image are too.

And again that's the problem for me, no way to know...

Debatable.  There are many things we CAN know for sure, and then from there we progress from knowing to believing.
You can’t go knock on the door and get some advice.

Sure you can!  I’ll send you my address! LOL
You have to rely on a book.

A collection of 66 books, actually, written over a time period of 1500 years or so, with an incredibly clear and consistent message.
That NO ONE takes or acts on literally.

Um, the fact that there are over a billion Christians in the world – actually, closer to a billion and a half – would argue against that statement.  As far as the old argument about taking the Bible literally – the Bible contains history, poetry, prayers, laments, parables, and many other forms of expression.  Some of it is literal, some of it is symbolic, or else simple figures of speech.

What I mean is there is a bunch of stuff you don't hear about.
People make this stuff up as they go to suit the situation.

I am not sure exactly what you mean by this.  People are endlessly creative, and man does invent some silly and even destructive religious ideas (Scientology).  On the other hand, if you live your life by the teachings of Jesus, you will be a better person for it.
Example- a person can rape and kill a child, go to prison, find God, get out of prison and have a better chance of getting a job than I.

Child killers RARELY get out of prison, unless they plead mental illness.  But I see what you mean.  Some folks in prison truly convert; they reform their lives and become better people, one of my close friends was a shoplifting, drug-addicted thief who found Jesus in prison and is now a pastor, married, with a beautiful family.  But, some people fake religious conversion in order to try and get paroled, then go straight back into their old lives.  The question devolves on who REALLY believed, and who didn’t.
All because he got his head dipped into some water...
That guy hasn't stopped having the thoughts.

Faith gives some people the mental and moral strength to overcome temptation.  Others are so damaged by their addiction to sin that they cannot change, even if they try.  And some simply fake trying in order to secure release.
And most people that do that go back to prison for the same thing as before.
I'm just saying the current system is not working.

If you are talking about the legal system, I agree!
And I think it's simply because it's not real...

God or the legal system? LOL!

A hurricane hits landfall and destroying everything in its path and killing innocent God loving people.
Then after the hurricane ( that God created ) people say, thank God we are ok..
So how messed up is that????

See above.
So because it's God he can do some bad things and not get in trouble???
Kinda looks like that's how our society is built, if you do wrong, just go to your local church and get saved and all is forgiven.

By God, sure, if you truly repent. But that does not negate legal consequences.  You can plead Jesus all day long, but you still gotta pay that traffic ticket!
I'm sorry but this is not healthy...
It's backwards...lol..
Seriously though, if he was a real person and did these things, everyone would hate him..
So why is it OK for God to just randomly kill people????

God doesn’t “randomly kill people.”  Mankind is MORTAL.  “It is appointed to me once to die, and after that the judgment,” as Scripture says.  Why should we be any different from every other life form on earth?
Why should we worship someone like that???

Your view of God is distorted by the evil actions of men.
Why don't people give an intelligent answer after the hurricane, like, this is the part of our God that we don't like, when he sends natural disasters our way.

Most intelligent believers I know would say: “This is what comes of living in a broken world.”
Now that would make a lot more sense than saying " thank God we are ok" ...
It just doesn't make sense.. lol..
But thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me.. I do appreciate it.

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you.
Because I would really like to know the answers to my questions.

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. 

 

If you want to read more, Lee Strobel has written some great books – THE CASE FOR CHRIST, THE CASE FOR FAITH, and THE CASE FOR A CREATOR.  They handle a lot of questions like yours on a fairly basic level, but each chapter and topic have their own bibliography, so you can read much more detailed answers on the issues and questions that bug you the most.  Thanks for providing me with some very interesting fodder for my blog!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Written down at last! THE STORY OF THE BLACK COFFIN

This is my most famous story.  I've been telling it for over thirty years now orally, and a generation of my students have heard it, remembered it, and even tried, on occasion to inflict it on others.  I've never written it down before, but I thought that, since I told it to all my history classes today (Halloween is the ONE day of the year that I don't even try to teach any new content), I might try to write it down at last this evening.  So read on . . . if you DARE . . . .


                                                 THE STORY OF THE BLACK COFFIN

     There are two things you should know before I begin.  One is that every word of this story is absolutely, 100% TRUE.  I promise.
     The other is that this story is a little bit creepy.  You might be a bit scared.  You might even be terrified.  But listen to the end, and you will be all right.  Maybe.

     Our story begins in the year 1930 - eighty-seven years ago, at the height of the Great Depression. A third of the country was out of work, and people were walking the streets, desperately looking for jobs, looking for handouts, looking for food, searching for hope. It was a dark time for America. The story begins in Chicago, the famous windy city on the shores of the lake, on a cold, rainy, and bleak autumn day.

                                                      PART I - THE INHERITANCE

     There were four brothers who shared a dingy, walk-up tenement on the city's south side.  They were all single - one divorced, and three who had not yet wed.  All four were out of work, and they were three months behind on their rent.  The landlord had served notice: If they did not make a payment by Friday, they would be evicted.  So on this grim Wednesday all four set out, pounding the pavement in search of opportunity - or maybe a generous stranger, or even just a bite of food. When they met back at their flat at the end of the day, all they had between them were two pieces of dry, week-old bread, and a few slices of bologna that didn't look too bad after you scraped the mold off of them.  No job offers, no money of any sort.  They had about twenty cents between the three of them. They took the food they had scrounged and made a single sandwich, then cut it into quarters.  That fourth of a sandwich was the most any of them had eaten all day - but as they dug into the meager meal, the doorbell rang.

     The youngest brother hopped up and answered the door, and to his astonishment, he saw a Western Union telegram man standing there - not an everyday occurrence in that seedy part of town.  Telegrams were a means of communication reserved for the wealthy, not the inhabitants of Chicago's slums.  Imagine their astonishment, then, when the messenger told the four that he was delivering a legal document that would require all four of them to sign!  They quickly scribbled their names on the receipt, then the oldest brother tore open the envelope and began to read out loud.  As the message unfolded, puzzlement gave way to disbelief, and then to shouts of rejoicing!

     It seemed that their long-dead father had an older brother he had never told them about.  This brother had gone north during the Great Klondike Gold Rush in 1901 and made a fortune.  Coming back to New York before World War One, he'd invested all his money in the arms industry, and tripled it.  Then in the 1920's he plowed it all into the stock market and tripled it again!  He had cashed out before the Great Crash, and placed it all in a nice, safe Swiss bank account earning compound interest.  The long and short of it was that they were now the joint heirs to a fortune of about $200 million!

     The brothers were screaming, crying, and hugging each other, unable to believe this sudden turn of events.  Finally the eldest called them back to attention.
     "There's more," he said.  "It says here that 'There are several unusual stipulations in the will which all four of you must agree to in order to claim your inheritance..  Please come by my offices tomorrow at ten in the morning to discuss the will and your Uncle's  bequest.  Signed, Simon Buckner Driscoll, attorney at law."

     So the very next morning, the four brothers dressed in the very best clothes they had - old and threadbare thought they were - and used their last nickels to catch a trolley ride to an exclusive neighborhood on the North side.  There they found the attorney's office, housed in a huge, ornate brownstone mansion with deep pile carpets and furniture that cost more than they had earned in the last decade.  Driscoll's secretary told them to go in, and they found the attorney waiting - tall, silver-haired, with a monocle and a walrus moustache, smelling faintly of expensive Cuban cigars.

     He explained a bit more about the mysterious uncle they had never heard of.  The man had lived for the last fifteen years as a hermit in a huge mansion he had built on top of one of the Appalachian peaks in eastern Kentucky.  He had his groceries delivered weekly, and managed his financial empire via phone calls and telegrams to his various accountants and brokers.  The delivery boy had noticed, about a year before, that the old man had not picked up his previous delivery.  He thought the old fellow might simply have gone out of town, but the next week there were two unclaimed boxes of groceries sitting outside the gate, so the lad had called the local sheriff.    They had cut the lock on the gate and made their way up to the enormous manor house.  Inside the door they had found the millionaire's body.  I use the term 'body' loosely. The old man owned between thirty and forty cats; the animals had been very hungry for not being fed and had turned on their master's remains.  Little more than a skeleton was left.  Upon confirming his identity through dental records and jewelry, the attorneys had been called in.  They had spent the better part of a year trying to find the old man's nearest relatives, and now, finally, the will could be executed.

     "Here are the conditions," said Mr.Driscoll.  "First, no one but you four may ever enter the old man's dwelling as long as you remain alive and in good health.  Secondly, you may never sell or transfer the property until all four of you are deceased.  Third, no one - not even you four - may live in the house.  Finally, all four of  you must meet up every four years, on the anniversary of your Uncle's death, and clean the house all day long.  You must work the entire day and evening, until at least 9 PM,  and be out of the house before dawn the next day.  That's it.  Do you accept?"
     They conferred briefly, but really, there was no doubt about the answer.  The eldest brother posed the one question they were all wondering:
     "What day did he die?" he asked.
     Driscoll paused.  "Well, the closest the coroner could say was late October.  Why don't we say Halloween, so the date will be easy to remember?"
    "Fair enough," the brothers agreed, and all of them signed the codicil to the will and claimed their inheritance.

     Fifty million dollars is a lot of money today, and it was about twelve times more in 1930.  The country was desperately poor, and everything and everyone was for sale - so the brothers bought what they wanted.  Everything they wanted.  Fast cars, faster women, fine whiskey, big houses, trophy wives - you name it, they had it.  Life went well, and it also went fast.  They blinked, and four years had passed.

                                                        PART II - THE MANSION

     So the four met up at a small Kentucky town, the closest settlement to the remote mountain where their uncle's estate was.  There was a fine little greasy spoon diner there, so they treated themselves to a hearty breakfast, and then went around the corner to a hardware store and bought all the cleaning supplies they could think of.  After that, they followed the oldest brother, who had directions to the mansion from the attorney's office.
     Fifteen miles up a winding blacktop road, then a gravel road turned off to the left.  It snaked its way back and forth up the side of a tree-clad slope, until finally the timber ended and they saw a massive, ten foot stone wall with a massive arch spanning a wrought iron gate that was chained and padlocked shut.  The oldest brother got the key ring the lawyer had given him and unlocked the padlock, pulling the chain free and slowly swinging the gates open.
     The driveway was paved, although the concrete had cracked in places.  It led them up a grassy slope to a huge circle drive with a weedy, overgrown fountain in the middle of it.  Beyond the driveway stood the mansion.
      There really was no other word for it, all four of them thought as they got out of their cars.  Over a hundred yards from end to end, three stories high, with a tall, clock-tower looking appendage jutting up from one end. The eldest brother unlocked the front door, and they entered, not knowing what to expect.
     What they found was a god-awful mess. Stacks of newspapers, magazines, and books all over the floors, mummified cat carcasses in odd corners, desiccated cat turds everywhere.  Some of the windows had been broken out by storms, and there were drifts of leaves in the odd corners.
      The first priority was to clear the front rooms, where it appeared the old man had spent most of his time.  The brothers searched behind the house and found the gardener's shed, with a couple of old wheelbarrows that were still serviceable, and they began hauling trash out of the house and piling it up in the front yard.  It was a cool, drizzly day, so they stacked up the junk in a huge pile and lit it up, enjoying the warmth and smell of the flames as they disposed of the stacks of trash and paper.
     Then they decided to count the rooms in the house and see what shape they were in.  They started on one end and opened each room.  Some were perfectly sealed time capsules, beds still made, furniture still in place despite a thick coat of dust.  Others were bare and unfurnished, and a few were completely trashed.  Ninety-two rooms they counted, by the time they made their way to the staircase  that led up to the top of the tower on the far end.  They made the four rounds of the staircase and found themselves in a small vestibule at the top, facing a locked door.  The oldest brother tried every key on the ring, but none fit.  They pushed, prodded, hammered, and pried on the door, to no avail.  Finally they gave up and returned to their task.
      By the end of the day, the four brothers had cleared a majority of the junk and done some sweeping and mopping.  There was much to go, but they had fulfilled their obligation and were dead tired.  So they went into the kitchen and dug into the supplies they had brought, making some hearty sandwiches and pouring some drinks.  They sat down in the small dining room right off the kitchen and soon the eldest produced from his pocket a deck of cards.  They started a high stakes poker game and played with great merriment, eating and drinking and enjoying each other's company.
    Then the youngest brother stood and spoke.
     "I just hate that we have set foot in every room but one," he said.  "I want to go try the door in the tower one more time.  I have a funny feeling that it might open for me."
     "Well, I think you're a fool," his closest sibling teased him.  "But you go try, and we'll make some more sandwiches."
     So he headed down the long corridor to the tower staircase, and his brothers made a fresh round of sandwiches and drinks.  When they returned from the kitchen, he wasn't back yet.
     "You don't think he really got that door to open?" one asked.
     "One way to find out," the eldest said.  "Let's see."

 
PART III - THE DISAPPEARANCES
 
       There was no sign of their brother in the tower - the door at the top of the stairs was locked tight as ever.  Nor did they see him in any of the rooms they checked on their way back to the dining room.  They looked in the front drive and his car was still there.  His jacket still hung on the coat peg in the front hall.  They finished their meal and then conferred.
     "I figure he took one nip too many from his flask and is sleeping it off somewhere," the eldest said.  "Or he may have gone for a stroll.  It's late - I say we let him lock up!  I gave all of you a set of keys.  I am heading home."
     So the three piled into their cars, and drove down to the gate.  The eldest brother shut the gate and wrapped the chain around it, but did not lock it.  Then they went their separate ways and returned home.  Four years passed by.  They never saw their brother again.
     Four years later they met up once more at the small town and ate breakfast, then picked up their cleaning supplies.  All of them commented on their brother's absence, and as they compared notes, they realized not one of the had hear from him since that day four years before.  They broke up in silence and drove up the gravel road to the gate.  It was still shut and chained, but not locked.  When they opened the gates and drove on up, they saw their brother's car still parked in the drive.  The front windshield had been knocked out by a hailstorm, and there was a nest of raccoons in the back seat, but no sign of their missing sibling.  When they opened the front door, his coat was still hanging there on the peg. 
     In alarm, they fanned out and searched every room of the house, figuring to find his body, at least.  But there was no trace of him.  They climbed the stairs and found the tower room still locked up tight.  After a couple of hours they gave up and began cleaning the place.  There was still some trash to haul out and burn, and many windows that needed boarding up.  They worked hard all day long, not talking much, wondering what had happened to their youngest sibling.
     Around ten o'clock that evening, the three men sat down and conferred at the old dining table.  The eldest brother saw his deck of cards still sitting there from four years before, and he picked it up and began to shuffle mindlessly.
     "Gin rummy?" asked the youngest, so he began to deal out the cards.  They were a few hands into the game when the little brother stood.
    "I know where he is!" he suddenly exclaimed.
    "Where who is?" the middle one asked.
    "Our brother, you moron!  He's in the tower room!  And I think if I go up there right now, I can get the door to open!" he said with excitement.
    "NO way!" the eldest snapped.  "There is something about that room that gives me the creeps!"
    "Look," said the youngest.  "You two can come with me to the foot of the stairs.  I'll run up and try the door one more time.  If it doesn't open, I'll come right back down.  If it does, then I will call you.  Please, I beg you, let me try this!"
    So the two followed him to the bottom of the stairs, and listened to his soft footfalls as he climbed up the four stories.  It was dead calm out, the silence in the old mansion was oppressive.  But it was that silence that enabled them to hear what happened next.  The footfalls stopped, and they heard, faintly but distinctly, the sound of rusty hinges slowly turning.
     CCCRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKK!!!!!
     Silence reigned.  Then BOOM! there came the sound of a slamming door, followed by a long, drawn-out scream that faded to silence.  The two sprang up the stairs as fast as they could, but the door was locked and their brother was gone.  They hammered and pounded and cursed to no avail.  Finally, the older brother heaved a sigh and spoke.
     "I am going to the police," he said.
     "NO!!!" exclaimed his younger sibling.  "You can't, I won't let you!!"
     "Why on earth not?" his brother asked.
     "If they set foot in here, it invalidates the will,' said the brother urgently.  "We lose it all - we have to give all the money back!"
     "Is that all you care about?" snapped the eldest.
     "It doesn't matter to you!"  his kid brother retorted. "You've invested yours, you have more money now than you did when we inherited.  I've blown through three quarters of mine.  If I have to give the rest back, I'll be back on the street.  I can't do that!  I can't go back to how we used to live!"
     They quarreled for almost an hour, but the younger brother would not budge, and finally they parted in anger and bitterness. Four long years passed.  They never saw either brother again.
     By the time the two remaining siblings met four years later, the bitterness of their parting was largely forgotten.  They embraced and were reconciled, and drove up to the mansion together.  They spent the whole day cleaning and repairing windows, mopping, dusting, and sweeping.  Finally, after eleven o'clock that evening, they sank exhausted into the chairs at the dining table.
     "No sign of them anywhere," the eldest said, shuffling the old card deck.
     "Like they never existed.  What do you think happened?"
     "Who knows?  I think there may be a curse on this place."
     "Let's play cards," the younger said, and his brother began dealing out a hand of "Go Fish."
     But suddenly, after fifteen minutes or so, the younger brother stood, his face gone slack.
"Did you hear that?" he asked.
     "Hear what?" the eldest responded.
     "They're calling me!" his kid brother said.  "They are in the tower room, and they're calling me.  They say the will open the door if I come up right now!"
    "Don't do it!" said the eldest.  "It's a trick that's claimed two of us already.  Don't fall for it!"
    But his sibling was already standing, turning, walking down the long corridor.  The older brother grabbed, pulled, pleaded, and begged, but his brother was a bigger man, and simply shrugged him aside no matter what he did.  Finally they came to the stairs and the younger brother began to climb.  On the final round of steps, the oldest brother grabbed him and slapped him hard.
     "This is IT!" he snapped. "I'm not taking one more step with you!  This thing claimed our two brothers and I won't let it have me too!  I beg you - turn around!!"
     "But they're calling," the younger brother whispered in a ghastly voice, and stepped around him, ascending the final flight of stairs. 
     Cowering in the darkness, the oldest brother waited, knowing what he would hear and dreading it.  Sure enough, in the darkness, magnified by the silence of the old house, the ancient hinges turned once more -  CCCCRRRRREEEEEEEEEAAAAAAKKKKKKK!  There was silence for a second, followed by the booming sound of a massive wooden door slamming shut.  A long scream trailed off into the night.
     The brother charged up the stairs, fears forgotten, throwing himself against the door again and again.  Then he realized what he needed to do, and ran downstairs, grabbing his keys and jacket, peeling out of the driveway and down the mountain road to the small town.  He stopped at the first pay phone he saw, dropped in a dime, and called the police.
     When the officer picked up on the other end, he told him the whole story - the will, the inheritance, the creepy old mansion, and the disappearances, culminating with what had happened that night.  When he finally paused, there was silence on the other end for a long time - followed by a long burst of hearty laughter!
     "I have to admit, sir, that's the best Halloween story I've heard in a long time," the cop said.  "But do you know what night it is? Don't you think I have better things to do than listen your nonsense?  Call back when you are sober!"  The phone clicked into silence.
     The last brother slowly hung up the phone and returned to his car.  Four years passed.  He never saw his brothers again.
 
 
PART FOUR - A ROPE IN THE DARK
 
     The last brother slowly drove his car up the drive.  Three abandoned vehicles sat there, slowly rusting away.  Three coats hung on the pegs in the hallway, moth-eaten, dusty, and covered in cobwebs.  Mechanically, he worked through the endless series of rooms, sweeping, dusting, mopping, and doing minor repairs.  Afternoon faded to evening and to darkness, but finally he quit working around midnight.  He slumped into the chair at the old dining table, tears gleaming on his cheeks as he thought of his lost brothers.  He picked up the dusty old deck of cards and began to deal out a hand of solitaire.
    All at once the cards fell from his nerveless fingers.  He turned and began walking slowly, deliberately down the long corridor to the staircase.  Inside his head, his conscious voice was screaming "Stop, you fool, stop!  Turn around! Get out of this accursed place!"  But his body ignored his mind's thoughts, and continued towards the staircase, like a man in a nightmare who sees the edge of the cliff looming ahead but cannot wake long enough to stop himself from going  over the precipice.  Soon he was at the top of the stairs, and staring at the massive, thick oaken door that had defied every attempt to open it for the last sixteen years.  And as he stared, the door slowly swung open, revealing a blackness darker than the darkest midnight.  He stepped forward, and as he did, suddenly his control of his limbs returned.  For a split second, perhaps, he might have managed to run away - but the door was open, and he wanted to KNOW, finally, what was hidden in this accursed room.  He stepped inside, but the blackness was so thick that he could not see a thing.  He was reaching into his coat pocket for his lighter when suddenly it happened!
   A cold gust of wind struck him in the back and he staggered forward, wheeling his arms around for balance.  Even as he heard the boom of the door slamming shut behind him, he toppled forward and found himself falling into nothingness.  He fell and fell for what seemed like an eternity, then hit bottom with a crunch and a thud and passed out.
 
     When he came to, he realized he had landed on a pile of broken plaster - just soft and rotten enough to give way and break his fall without breaking him.  He sat up with a groan, and as he did, one of his hands went over the edge of - a ledge?  a step?  He could not see in the darkness, but he reached down as far as he could and felt nothing.  So he grabbed a piece of loose rubble with his other hand and tossed it over the side.  Then he listened
and he listened
and he listened
but he never heard it hit bottom.
He crawfished back from the precipice, feeling behind him with his hands until he discovered a solid stone wall he could put his back against.  Then he finally remembered his lighter and reached into his pocket for it. He flicked the flame to life and slowly stood to see where he had landed. 
     The ledge was perhaps forty feet wide, but it was not natural.  It had a floor of carefully cut and trimmed marble tiles, with broken off columns every ten feet or so, resting on ornate pedestals.  There were piles of wood and plaster and stone rubble scattered all over the floor.  Behind him, a vertical stone wall stretched up and out of sight, and on either side it curved forward to meet the edge of the chasm.  There were no doorways, passages, or visible openings in the rock face except for a few cracks far too small for him to fit through.  Then he lifted his light up high to see if there was anything on the other side of the void - and there was!
    Directly across from his ledge was another, of the same sort - a marble floor, broken columns, with a stone wall behind it.  But there was one key difference: in that wall was a doorway, standing open.  He could barely make out a flight of steps beyond it, leading upward.  It was as if a once-beautiful underground ballroom had once stood there, until its center section was sucked down into the bottomless pit! The other ledge was only thirty feet or so away - but how could he get across?
    To conserve his lighter, he took a long board and wrapped his jacket around it, then set it alight and jammed the makeshift torch into one of the cracks in the wall to give him some light.  He began pacing up and down the ledge, kicking rocks and boards out of his way, fuming and figuring, trying to discover a way to escape. 
    Suddenly he kicked something soft and yielding, and looked down to see a coil of rope at his feet!  He picked it up and measured it out an arm's length at a time.  It was over fifty feet long, and appeared to be well-oiled and supple, with no dry rot that he could tell. He tied one end around a broken marble column on his ledge, and tugged on the rope as hard as he could to see if it would hold him.  It showed no sign of breaking.  Remembering his days as a rodeo cowboy back in the twenties, he formed the other end into a lariat and began twirling it over his head.  Aiming at the stub of a marble column on the far ledge, he let fly and missed.  He reeled the rope back in, adjusted the lariat, and tried again.  He hit the column but didn't encircle it, but on his third try he dropped the loop gently over the marble.  Once more he pulled and tugged on the rope to make sure it was going to hold him.  Then he looped the slack around his column a couple of times, until he had a reasonable facsimile of a tightrope stretching from one ledge to the other.
    He sat and smoked a cigarette to calm his nerves, then he gripped the rope tightly with both hands, glad that he had been a small, skinny man his whole life.  He slid his buttocks off the ledge and started across, hand over hand, foot by agonizing foot.  By the time he had gone five feet, his body was bathed in sweat.  By the time he had covered ten feet, the sweat was pouring down his face and into his eyes, blinding him.  His palms were slick with it, but he gripped the rope all that much tighter, until there were ten feet left to go . . . five feet . . . four feet . . . three feet.
   He was almost all the way across when he saw by the light of his distant torch that the broken marble edge was steadily fraying the rope on the far side.  Even as he stretched out his hand to grasp the far ledge, the rope parted with an audible POP!
    He grabbed frantically with his one hand, getting a grip on the edge, then threw the other over, getting both hands onto the solid stone. Then, with one mighty surge of adrenalin-fueled strength, he heaved himself up and over, scuttling away from the sheer drop, putting his back against the wall and taking in great, whooping breaths as the ache in his shoulders slowly faded.  After a long while, the sweat began to dry, and he smoked another cigarette to calm his jangled nerves.  Then he slowly stood and started up the stairs.
 
 
PART FIVE - THE COFFIN
   
       It was a spiral staircase, and the older brother counted fifteen rounds as he slowly made his way upward.  Finally, after the fifteenth circuit, he came to a landing, paved with marble flagstones like those far below.  There was a single doorway, and beyond it - more stairs.  A straight staircase, not too long, less than a hundred steps.  At the top, a doorway was framed in brilliant light - SUNLIGHT!  He could see the reflected rays on the ceiling just inside the door!
    Despite his fatigue, he took the steps two at a time - at least at first!  Then, more slowly, believing his long nightmare was at an end, he made his way to the top and stepped through the door.  To his shock, he immediately realized where he was.  It was the old family crypt on the hillside, which he had glimpsed from a distance every time he had driven up to the mansion.  It was a grim stone structure, with coffin slots covered over with blank plates along one wall. Across the chamber was an iron grillwork gate, standing open.  Beyond it, a beautiful autumn sun shone down on the multicolored trees in the distance, and the dying grass in the foreground.  He was perhaps a dozen paces from freedom.  But . . .
     There it sat, between him and the door - a big, black COFFIN, squat and ugly, impervious to the cheerful light that fell on it.  He caught his breath for a moment - after all, it was a tomb, right?  What better place for a coffin?  Then, he stepped forward to walk around it and get the heck out of this nightmare he had wandered into when he accepted his uncle's bequest all those years before.
     With a low, grating sound, the coffin began to slide across the floor towards him. He stopped.  It scooted towards him some more.
     He stepped back.  The coffin moved forward.
     He stepped back again - and the coffin came forward again.
     He stepped back again - not looking where he was going - and his back foot went off the top step, and before he could catch himself he was falling down the stairs!
    He caught himself about halfway down, bruised and battered, one tooth knocked out, but without serious damage.  He slowly climbed back up the stairs until he was just a few steps below the top - and then he sat and thought, long and hard.  What to do?
    He smoked his last cigarette, and then decided.  He was quick for a man in his forties, and had played football in high school.  It was time to blitz, juke, and roll!  He dropped into a three point stance, breathing deeply, gathering his strength, ignoring his aches and bruises.  Then he dashed up the steps as fast as he could, charged towards the ugly black corpse-box, and juked hard right.  As he prepared to spin around the coffin and break for the door, it pivoted on one end, like the flipper in a pinball machine, and smashed into him HARD, throwing him against the back wall of the chamber.  As he scrambled desperately to his feet, the coffin heaved itself up on one end and practically flew across the chamber at him, crushing him against the back wall of the crypt!
    The pressure on his chest was intense - he could not even inhale.  He knew he was about to black out . . . and then, in the last flickering vestiges of consciousness, he got a brilliant idea!  He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a box of Luden's Cough Drops - because Luden's always stops
 
 
THE COFFIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
 
 
THE END
 
 
 
 
 
(please don't hurt me!)



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

WHY I BELIEVE

  I had planned to write another short story for this month (and may do it yet) but I simply haven't been able to sit and focus long enough to do it.  Thanks to the nearly 400 people who read THE FLOWER, though!  That's a great response to a single work of short fiction.
   As I was pondering what to write this week, I got a response to a FB post I made from an acquaintance of mine.  My original post was actually just a musing thought on what makes a "great" day great, but for some reason my friend posted back a rambling comment on "this is why he didn't buy into religion" that concluded with:  "Why do I have to believe in a make-believe person to be accepted?  Why?  People don't have to convince each other that the sun is real, they can see it, plain and simple."

   I thought about that comment all day, and when I got home this afternoon I posted a series of replies to his question, all with the view of explaining why I believe, as I do, that God is real and that Christianity is the only valid path to reach him.  It wound up being a long response, and honestly, I wanted it to be seen by more than the handful of people who would scroll through all the replies on a FB post that was already several days old. So, I am copying, pasting, and editing a bit, and placing it here for all of you to see and read.  I want you, too, to understand WHY I BELIEVE.

  I was not offended at all by what you posted, Brandon, and I can understand when people get frustrated with religion. Of course, most of the time, when Americans say "religion" they mean "church". The problem with churches is that they are made up of people, and people, even the best of us, can be jerks on a bad day - and some people seem to have LOTS of bad days!  But that doesn't stop many folks from thinking church ought to be a perfect assemblage of lovable individuals doing good constantly and never offending or giving offense, and that's just not reasonable. No group of humans could meet the expectations some people have about church.   Churches are not display cases for saints, they are hospitals for recovering sinners.

   Now as far as GOD, the object of religious faith, goes -
Well, look at our world, this remarkable planet we live on. Look at our solar system. Look at our galaxy and the universe that spawned it. There is a precision to it all, a structured, ord
ered plan that simply cannot be a product of chaos. Study things like the "Golden Ratio," or the Fibonacci Sequences, or the fine-tuning of earth for life, or the incredible complexity of the cellular flagellum that one-celled organisms use to propel themselves, and the incredible amount of information encoded in a single strand of human DNA. Individually, perhaps ONE of these anomalies could be coincidental - but when you pile them one on top of another and realize how necessary they all are for the very existence of life - well, they SCREAM that design and purpose were involved. The very nature of creation DEMANDS a creator.


  So if we presume a creator, then we have to presume that He is a being of remarkable intelligence, surpassing the limits of human intellect even as our perception of ourselves and our world surpasses the self-awareness of say, a caterpillar or a slug. And yet, before I disparage humanity too much, look at us compared to every other life form on earth. WE alone write. We alone question. We alone are sentient, self-aware, creating beings capable of complex thought and abstract ideas. The gift of consciousness is unique to humanity. Why would an intelligent creator design an intelligent being unless, at some point, He intended to communicate with us?

  So then, we look at all of human history for signs of divine communication. There are five major religions all around the world - Christianity in all its various stripes, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. There are others, but these are the main contenders. Which one of these gives the most evidence of being objectively true?

  Islam stands or falls on the word of one man, Muhammad, who claims that God spoke to him, telling him that he, Muhammad, was the last and greatest of all prophets. What did Allah then tell Muhammad to do? To make war on his enemies, convert them by force, to mutilate their dead bodies if they refused to acknowledge him as prophet. Allah also told Muhammad that it was acceptable for a man to marry four wives at a time - but then, since Muhammad was the Prophet, the rules didn't apply to him. HE could have fourteen wives, one of them only eleven years old at the time she married Muhammad. Was any prophet ever more patently self-serving? The Quran contains some beautiful verses and a strong moral code, but the God it reveals is a vicious creature who allows his prophet to do terrible things, including murder, in the name of his faith, and encourages the followers of Islam to a never-ending jihad against the infidels (that includes people of all other faiths, or no faith at all). Such a god is not worthy of worship.


Hinduism and Buddhism are strongly derivative of each other, Hinduism being the elder of the two and the childhood faith of Gautama, who became "the Buddha." Both of them propose that we have infinite lifetimes to ascend the Karmic wheel, no matter how much we sin, we always get second chances in the next life, being born and reborn and reincarnated again and again, until eventually, the highest thing we can aspire to is to become nothing - cosmic bits of the universe without individual awareness or existence. As for historic evidence, Hinduism is not linked to any real historical events or founders; it is an ancient mythology with no history to back up any of its claims. The evidence does indicate that Buddha, at least, was a real historic individual who lived around 600 BC, but the earliest account of his life was written some 300 years after his death, so there is simply no way to verify any details about him - there are no contemporary sources.

   Judaism is strongly linked to some real history - although evidence for the Exodus is somewhat sketchy, new details are constantly emerging and events from the time period after that are confirmed more and more by archeology every year. There are some rough passages in the Old Testament, no doubt - the conquest of Canaan was brutal, and some aspects of the Mosaic Code ring harsh to the modern ear.  However, the wars of Israel were temporary in nature, however brutal they may have been in the short term, and the promise was that the Messiah, when he came, would bring a new Covenant that corrected the shortcomings of the old one. 


   So that brings us to Christianity. The existence of Jesus of Nazareth is a historical fact, verified by multiple sources of His life inside and outside the New Testament. Three of the four Gospels were written within 20-40 years of the life of Jesus, while the eyewitnesses of His life were very much still alive. Every single book of the New Testament was finished by 100 AD - the last few by John, one of Jesus' disciples whom later sources say lived to be over a hundred years of age. The ethical teachings of Jesus have withstood the test of time, the books of the New Testament have been passed down with remarkable textual accuracy, and most of all, Christianity is rooted in an EVENT - the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead in 33 AD. Without the Resurrection, Christianity is a delusion at best and a horrible fraud at worst. With the Resurrection, it is the best and most plausible account of God and His dealings with man. And despite the best efforts of critics to deny, debunk, and disprove it for two thousand years, the physical Resurrection of Jesus remains the best and most likely explanation for the origins of the Christian faith. As a historian, I think the Gospels pass every reasonable test of historical accuracy and I believe them to be the true and accurate record of the life of Christ, as well as His death, burial, AND Resurrection. And THAT is why I am a Christian.