But after John was imprisoned, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying: The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15).
Don’t think, but look! – Philosophical Investigations, 66
It is likely that I have nothing new to add by way of commentary to this text from the gospel. But inasmuch as that is true, I am in the same boat as every Christian since the time of the gospel’s writing. Besides, it would be a mistake to assume that because the gospel text quoted above is so very short that its meaning must therefore be straightforward. Indeed, we often take for granted the things that seem obvious to us, without pausing to realize how strange and unobvious our deepest convictions may be. When we read into a text a meaning that seems obvious to us, we ignore important nuances and fail to ask pertinent questions.
One problem is that we think too much. Normally, I chide people ferociously for not thinking enough. So what can I mean by saying that we think too much? It is related both to Jesus’ proclamation in the passage above, and the quote from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Both, appear exceedingly simple, but conceal (I believe) a very profound insight.
If you read a piece of Christian propaganda, that is, an evangelical tract or website (like this, this, this, or more luridly, this), you will probably notice a specific structure. This structure is typically called “the Roman road” because its contents are drawn exclusively from the book of Romans. It goes something like this:
- We’ve all sinned (done things to displease God). (Romans 3:23)
- The punishment for sin is death (bodily and “eternal”) (Romans 6:23)
- But Jesus paid the penalty of our sin by dying for us! (Romans 5:8)
- Therefore if you repent of your sins, and believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord and Savior you’ll be saved! (Romans 10:9-10; 10:13)
Variations on this theme might include that God is a “holy” creator (Romans 1:20-21) and cannot let sin enter heaven. When we break God’s laws we are sinning against an “infinite” Deity thereby meriting infinite punishment. Which is why it’s such a big deal that we’re sinners – which by the way also happened because we’re descended from Adam (Romans 5:12). We might summarize all such evangelistic tropes by noticing that they present us with a problem, i.e. a dilemma – Either go on living your life (and go to hell) OR believe in Jesus and go to heaven. We are faced with a disjunction – Either No-Jesus/Hell or Jesus/Heaven. We might try to symbolize this as a logical disjunction with D symbolizing “damnation” and S “salvation.” Naturally, damnation is painted in very unpleasant terms, so most rational people (we must assume) would choose against it, so we can negate D. Then by disjunctive syllogism we conclude we have to go for belief in Jesus and salvation.
- D ∨ S
- ∴ S
Even if we were to ignore the difficulties (and lacking premises) of steps 1-4 of the Roman road above, it should be obvious that this seems a little simplistic. We have, at most, symbolized our decision making process. Given the alternatives, we pick salvation through faith in Jesus. But what we would really like to do is to symbolize what we think its implications would be. So perhaps we could say that IF I accept (A) Jesus then I will be saved. IF I reject (R) Jesus (by not converting the minute I read the tract) then I will be damned. We might also like to add that we cannot have it both ways, so we need an exclusive disjunction.
- (A⊃S) ⊻ (R⊃D)
- ~R (MT)
- A⊃S (DS)
- ∴S (MP)
This ought to give us a much better idea of why we can be sure we are saved. Only, it gives us no such idea at all. One natural way to interpret the notion of salvation and damnation is through security. The damned are supposed to be (literally) insecure, while the saved are secure. That is part of what safety (Latin: salus – safety, hence, salvation) means. But this is evidently not the case. Many atheists, lapsi, and hedonists are not insecure – they are very sure of themselves. Christians delude themselves if they think that every atheist’s smug exterior must hide a pitiful, unsure, lonely soul waiting to give in and be saved. If we must fantasize, we need more sophisticated fantasies than that. Neither is it the case that every Christian is secure. Many Christians are racked by doubt, malaise, and uncertainty. Pace the psalmist, the “ungodly” are not chaff which the wind blows from the face of the earth, and the “godly” are not all like trees planted firmly by running waters. Often it is the Christian who is blown like a plastic bag in the wind and the non-Christian who actually flourishes.
We might notice two things at this point. Firstly, we only negated damnation (line 2) because we do not want to be damned. But of course it does not follow that we are not damned simply because we do not want to be. The fact that we may feel damned (i.e. insecure) could very well be an indication that we actually fall on the right side of the disjunction. More horrifyingly, we might conceivably be damned (on the system we’ve constructed) even though we did not consciously reject Jesus! (We mustn’t after all, affirm the consequent). Yet even though it would be a fallacy to conclude that because we feel or seem to be damned, that we really haven’t accepted Jesus, this is what many Christians will go on to do exactly. They will enact a mental ritual in which they “accept” Jesus all over again “just in case” it didn’t “work” the last time. They may even get re-baptized.
The other thing we have to notice is that it is really no use appealing to the afterlife. Someone might say that the damned are only insecure as far as the afterlife goes. They may thrive in this life, but they’ll have a rude awakening when they wake up on the other side. In the same way, the righteous may have afflictions in this life, but are guaranteed to pass the pearly gates once they’ve died. It’s just like the rich man and Lazarus. So on this view, we could all be massively deceived. Things are not as they appear.
But not only is this mass deception implausible. It is not a helpful or healthy way to think, for it eviscerates any criteria we might have for determining whether someone is a Christian or not: the serial axe-murderer child-rapist could very well be a saint while the Sunday-school teaching social worker is thrown into the lake a fire. So our initial problem is exacerbated and we have no reason to think we’re saved at all. Of course, it is not unimportant how we think about the afterlife. But many of the people who are (for lack of a better word) deceived into becoming Christian by means of the “Roman road” do so because of struggles and insecurities they have in this life, not struggles and insecurities they only anticipate in the next.
We may observe the following from all this. If you believe logic to be an accurate indication of how the world is, and you accept our formulations above, you can only conclude that either your experiences are unreliable and you are potentially massively deceived, in which case you cannot be sure if you are “saved”; or else you can only believe you are saved if you both accepted Jesus and go on to “feel” saved. Any feelings of doubt are unacceptable.
I want to argue that this common problem – the problem of doubting one’s own salvation, results from a very strange way of viewing the relationship of logic to reality. It is an alluring and fascinating obsession which has gained strength since the Reformation and Enlightenment, but is ultimately an epistemic illusion. But first let us review another famous dilemma, or actually trilemma: the trilemma of C. S. Lewis.
In Mere Christianity Lewis says the following:
I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open for us. He did not intend to.
What is curious about this quote is that everyone is taken in by it. Most hip, self-applauded, “rational” Christians love C.S. Lewis. And this argument seems to be so much more rational than the Roman road dilemma above. It would appear that Jesus has cornered us and we must make a decision between three options, and two are obviously absurd. Therefore, Jesus must be who he says he is.
Notice that although Lewis has done it with more tact (and almost certainly in a charming British accent), he perpetrates the same thing that the common bible-belt fundamentalist does: he tries to use logic to force us to conclude something. Once we accept it, it appears to be the most obvious and rational thing to have done. We are supposed to have security – yet we are still capable of doubt. Why?
Lewis and the fundamentalist (though probably unbeknownst to the fundamentalist) share a post-Enlightenment obsession with the power of inference. In his book Miracles, Lewis admits as much.
All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like ‘must be’ and ‘therefore’ and ‘since’ is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really ‘must’ be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them – if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work – then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.
Lewis continues his argument in chapter 3 of Miracles. The first edition of this chapter was famously critiqued by the philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe, and she thought her criticisms were just even after reading the revised edition. Fundamentally, Lewis appears to view the human mind as something “internal” or inside of us, while the world of objective realities is “external” or outside of us. Lewis thinks that we cannot trust our “irrational” or “non-rational” “inner” experiences such as feelings, emotions etc. That is why he writes in the quote above “If this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them… we can have no knowledge.” Notice that a “mere” feeling “in” our mind, cannot be knowledge. So on Lewis’ view, the only way we could possibly come to know anything about the external world is if we can believe in the certainty of logical inference. That is, we infer certain conclusions about things around us, and if our reasoning is “valid,” we can be sure that certain things must be the case.
But there are two serious problems with this way of thinking. First of all, it confuses soundness with validity. I might give the following argument:
- All children like ice cream.
- Tommy is a child.
- Therefore Tommy likes ice cream.
My inference is valid, but it does not therefrom follow that it is actually true that Tommy likes ice cream. My reasoning can be valid, but validity is not a guarantee of truth. One must first assume that one’s premises are true – but what are the grounds for this assumption? You could validly prove all sorts of things – “I think, therefore I am,” “There is an external world,” “God exists,” etc. It still would not follow that we are anything more than a brain in a vat – perhaps in God’s own laboratory. For if one is trying to argue from doubt to certainly, one can only reach – more doubt. Because although you can derive one proposition from another – the derived propositions cannot be more certain than the original.
When one says that such and such a proposition can’t be proved, of course that does not mean that it can’t be derived from other propositions; any proposition can be derived from other propositions. But they may be no more certain than it is itself. (Wittgenstein On Certainy, 1)
So one important upshot is that the “dilemmas” or “trilemmas” used by (some) Christian evangelists are epistemic illusions. In order for them to be plausible, you must first assume the truth of all their premises. But if you do that, you’ve already been won over to their position – because actually there was no “soul-winning” to speak of in the first place. If someone like C. S. Lewis, or Jack T. Chick comes to heckle you with the texts of the bible, you must first believe in the veracity of the bible – but why would you do that if you were genuinely an unbeliever? And how could they show it without assuming it?
I want to pause to focus on something important. Notice that this is the necessary order of their evangelistic approach – FIRST you must believe something, and THEN you must do something. First you must conclude that Jesus is God (or the Son of God, or both), and then you fall down and worship Him. First you believe you are a sinner and that Jesus died for your sins, and then you repent. First you “accept” Jesus and only then are you “saved.” In this model, you are always first confronted with a seemingly incontrovertible piece of information, and then you are required to give a reaction.
This leads us to the second important criticism of Lewis by Anscombe.
However, as your argument stands, it says that human thought is discredited unless his answer to the former question (“What, as a matter of history, led you to this belief?”) states the occurrence of reasoning… I should also deny this part of your argument. For though it is natural to use the word “cause” here, the logic of “cause” as used here is different from its logic as used when we speak of causal laws. Suppose someone asks me for such a historical account of the mental process which actually issued in my belief, and I give it to him. And suppose he then asks: “What reason have you for calling the thing that you mention in answer to this question the cases of your belief?” At first I would imagine that he was accusing me of self-deception, saying, “Look into it more thoroughly and you will realize that you have not given a truthful account.” But suppose he makes it clear that he is not suggesting anything of this kind; he does not doubt my account of my mental processes at all; but given that they occurred just as I have related them, and that afterwards I held the opinion which I say resulted from them, he asks why I say that it did result form them, that they did produce it? Would this not be an extraordinarily odd question?
What Anscombe seems to be getting at is that, Lewis assumes that if you belief is to be “valid” your reason for believing something can only be “reason itself.” He seems to ignore that there is more than one way of coming to believe something and assumes that the only right way to come to believe something is if it is the conclusion of a valid inference. This might explain why Lewis resorts to arguments like the trilemma (which he probably picked up from G.K. Chesterton anyway). He imagines that unless we are inwardly “assenting” to the conclusion of an argument that we do not have a rational belief. But Anscombe thought:
It appears to me that if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they are genuinely his reasons, for thinking something – then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements we make about him.
Again, here she is not referring to the “inner mental process” of reasoning. She means here, as she argues elsewhere, that a person can be considered rational if they can provide their reasons in conversation. According to Anscombe, “’Reasons’ and ‘motives’ are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to to explain himself.” We might think here of a classic Wittgensteinian example. If you are teaching a child French and testing her abilities to speak French, say in an oral examination, if she is giving you all the right words, translating everything correctly, it would be nonsensical to say “Well, she can say all the words, but does she really mean them – does she really know what she’s saying?” For Wittgenstein and Wittgensteinians, to “mean” something is not an inner mental activity which we have to do when we speak. Of course, our words do mean something, but their meaning is made apparent in how we use them. Someone who can confidently speak French shows that she can do so by actually speaking French – not by doubting her “inner experience of French” and repeatedly consulting a dictionary. In the same way, someone who can “reason” does so, not by trying to make their “inner” experience match their “outer” experience through valid inference – but by engaging in conversation and argumentation with others.
How does this relate to what I said earlier about these sort of “rational” arguments or evangelism techniques requiring that you first believe and then react. Many Christians are fond of citing the proof-text below.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
These verses have furnished ammunition for centuries for the Protestant doctrine of sola fide, the thesis that we are saved only through faith in Christ and receive salvation as a gift of His grace as opposed to as a reward for our own good works. There is an admirable corrective to the decadent Renaissance Catholicism of its heyday in this doctrine. But it won’t work; and here’s why. Remember that Anscombe criticized Lewis for thinking that our grounds for rationally believing something must be an occurrence of reasoning “in our head.”
In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein provides us with the following thought experiment. Suppose Jack writes down a series of numbers (1, 5, 11, 19) and Jill watches trying to figure out the pattern of the series. If Jill succeeds she exclaims “Now I can go on!” When Jack writes 29, she exclaims “I can go on now!” So what happened that constitutes Jill’s “understanding?” One possibility is that while Jack was writing 1, 5, 11, and 19, Jill was running through different algebraic formulae in her head to see which matched. After Jack wrote 19, she tries a(n)=(n^2) + n – 1. After Jack wrote 29, Jill knows she was right. So one possibility is that “understanding” means going through an inner mental process of finding the right formula. This would fit Lewis’ idea that our knowledge of the world depends on finding the right underlying logical syllogisms of our inferences. But there are other possibilities: Maybe Jill actually was counting the differences between the numbers and found that it was 4, 6, 8, 10, etc, and then says “I can go on.” Or maybe she plays a lot of mathematical games and just says “O I know that series, now I can go on!” Or still, without any effort just feel “That’s easy” and go on to finish the series. Anyone who’s played sudoku, or solved a Rubik’s cube, or done a puzzle knows that these seemingly brainy activities do not take as much “mental” effort as many (like me) commonly assume. It is tempting to insist that Jill only really “understands” the series if she gets the formula. But is that really all there is to “understanding?” It is perfectly conceivable that the formula should occur to her and that she should nevertheless not understand. “She understands” must have more to it than: the formula occurs to her.
Similarly with what we may call “belief,” it is tempting to think that believing something is a matter of “grasping” a proposition in your head and assenting to it. But not so. Even Lewis admits that one belief or thought can cause another by being seen to be a ground for it. But for him to believe this, he’d have to give up the view that beliefs are inner mental processes. To say that “Jack believes some proposition p,” would be equivalent to saying, “Jack sees p to be true” or “p seems true to Jack.” And whether p really appears to Jack to be true, depends on his perception and perspective. When we say “Jack believes that p” Jack seems to be doing something called “believing,” as if believing in this sense was a transitive verb of which Jack is the subject and the proposition is the object. But this is an illusion. Jack is passive here. We can know this because if p does not appear to Jack to be true, Jack is not able to believe it. If believing was reducible to an inner mental process, Jack should be able to “force” himself by exerted mental effort to believe any number of things. He can’t – but what if he could?
Notice that the sola fide doctrine holds that we are saved through faith alone and not works. But if believing was an activity, even a hidden “inner” activity, something we could succeed in accomplishing through our efforts, it would be a “work.” The doctrine would collapse on itself because then even faith itself would just be another work. It might be the only work God demanded of us – but it would still not be true that we are saved through faith as opposed to works, for faith would be just one, exceptionally hard work. And that would mean that those who struggle with doubt would not just be the victims of misunderstanding – they would be sinful failures. Maybe that’s why so many Christians are mental (literally) about their doubts – they feel like failures.
Wittgenstein implored, “Just for once, don’t think of understanding as a ‘mental process’ at all! – For that is the way of talking which confuses you. Instead, ask yourself: in what sort of case, in what kind of circumstances, do we say ‘Now I know how to go on’?” (PI, 154). So now we can return to the gospel quote at the beginning of this blog. When John was in prison, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is near – repent and believe in the gospel.” We have noticed that the rationalistic approach to faith, of which C. S. Lewis and (ironically) many fundamentalists can be convicted with some justice, always assumes you must believe first (have a “mental state” called faith) before you act. But notice that in Jesus’ word order, FIRST you must repent and THEN believe. This may of course be a mere syntactic quibble. Perhaps the word order is accidental. But even if so, I think the fact that the word order is what it is, is important. In Greek the word order is as follows:
μετανοειτε και πιστευετε εν τω ευαγγελιω
Two extremely popular bible translations among Protestants render it as follows:
repent ye, and believe the gospel. (KJV)
Repent and believe the good news! (NIV)
It has become something of a commonplace to know that “gospel” means “good news” but we can see that the underlying verb has remain unchanged in these two translations. Either way “gospel/good news” is presented as something to be believed. And it is hard to imagine belief here as being something other than “assent to” the gospel proposition. There are two important reasons this should give us pause.
It is also a commonplace to understand the gospel (or perhaps the “simple” gospel) as being nothing other than the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (cf 1 Cor 15:1-4). But this is odd – for Jesus is the one proclaiming the gospel in this passage (Mark 1:14-15). Only He hasn’t died, been buried, or resurrected yet. What exactly therefore is this “gospel” He is preaching? And by the way, why is Jesus preaching His own gospel? Isn’t that what missionaries and apostles are for? Yet here at the beginning of the oldest gospel, before any apostles are even mentioned or called, Jesus is preaching a gospel of “God’s kingdom.” It’s contents: The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. What does this mean?
The “gospel” (“glad tidings” is better than “good news”) of Jesus is not a collection of propositions about Jesus that could be true or false. Jesus IS the gospel: and He is not false. But that is the same thing as saying He is trustworthy. The Greek word pistis, which is translated somewhat too frequently as “belief” really means “trust.” To believe the glad tidings of Jesus, namely that the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom is near, would not be to “inwardly assent” via some hidden mental process to some extraordinary information that Jesus is giving. It would be to trust Jesus Himself. To reiterate, the Greek of the reading is πιστευετε εν τω ευαγγελιω. If “gospel” was the object of a transitive verb meaning “believe” we would expect it to be in the accusative. But it’s not – it’s dative. Thus another way to translate this is “Repent and trust in the glad tidings. The word εν is also important (and often ignored) because it shows us that it is more likely that we are being asked to show trust in someone rather than believe something.
And trust is not a hidden inward mental process either. Trust is only intelligible if it is manifested in behavior. That is not because trust comes “first” and is merely “made visible” by behavior. It is because it is only in trusting-behavior that “trust” consists at all. If someone said that they genuinely trusted you, but always looked nervous around you, wouldn’t lend you anything, wouldn’t let you into their house, wouldn’t go anywhere with you, if they did all this but still insisted “I really, really trust you inside my heart,” we should think a person either dishonest or genuinely confused.
So to someone who is doubtful of their faith, the appropriate thing to do is not to consult some inner realm of allegedly “subjective” experiences we may call “faith.” It would be, as Wittgenstein says, to look and see whether you manifest trust. And to begin to manifest this trust, is what Christians know as repentance. For although metanoia can be clumsily translated as “changing your mind” (and some Christians bizarrely think it means changing your mind specifically about your sins), it more accurately corresponds to what we would call experiencing a change of heart. So contra Chick, and on my and Wittgenstein’s view, (and conveniently in the words of Jesus), repentance precedes belief, not vice versa, not just temporally, but logically. And why is this the case?
Let’s return to Lewis’ trilemma. His dilemma (aut Deus aut homo malus) is that Jesus is either God, crazy, or a liar. In case He is a liar or crazy, He couldn’t possibly be a great moral teacher. So if one admits Jesus was a great moral teacher, one must be implicitly admitting Jesus is God. But what is wrong with this dilemma is that it assumes the words “Jesus is God” have an obvious sense which someone can just recognize. But even if someone could understand what this proposition meant, could respond with understanding, that would require that there were criteria established for giving the proposition its sense. As Wittgenstein writes in On Certainty,
Whether a proposition can turn out false after all depends on what I make count as determinants for that proposition.
But if the proposition has never been uttered – has no established use in the language-game of a people, how is it intelligible? It’s not as if when we are confronted with this proposition we can just chuckle to ourselves saying, “O that’s right, I guess he was God after all.” We do not infer that Jesus was God. Such an inference is impossible. For God is transcendent, omnipresent, and the rest. We do not “discover” via a very clever mental trick that Jesus must’ve been who He said He was. If we do come to believe it – it is not through a mental process of apprehending facts or propositions about Him. It is by trusting Him. It brings up something interesting about how Lewis think about miracles. In Miracles he writes:
We see every day that physical nature is not in the least incommoded by the daily inrush of events from biological nature or from psychological nature. If events ever come from beyond Nature altogether, she will be no more incommoded by them. Be sure she will rush to the point where she is invaded, as the defensive forces rush to a cut in our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters her realm it obeys all her laws… The divine art of miracles is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.
Again, we see a desire to rationalize the miracle – the need to assure us that once it “enters” nature, it can be assimilated or “naturalized” by her – as if an “immigrant.” Surely, then, Lewis think part of this “naturalization” is making the facts about such an “event” conformable to ordinary propositional logic. And all this seems neat and tidy. But this is not something an orthodox Christian can believe. At least – if this is how miracles are, we can’t believe that the Incarnation and Resurrection was a miracle – not even the “grand” miracle. For Jesus cannot ever be naturalized by the laws of nature or the laws of logic. Compare Lewis’ neat explanation of miraculous “events” to words by Kierkegaard in Practice in Christianity:
It is 1800 years and more since Jesus Christ walked here on earth. But this is not an event like other events which, only when they are bygone, pass over into history, and then as events long bygone, pass over into forgetfulness. No, His presence here on earth never becomes a bygone event, and ever becomes more and more bygone – in case faith is to be found on earth. And if not, then indeed at that very instant it is a long time since He lived. But so long as there is a believer, such a one must, in order to become such, have been as a believer must continue to be, just as contemporary with His presence on earth as were those first contemporaries. This contemporaneousness is the condition of faith, and more closely defined it is faith.
Faith in the Resurrection of Christ is not an inward assent to the proposition that an historical event, even an extraordinary historical event, “really did” happen. It is already to be confronted with the Living Person Himself. We are not to conclude that Jesus was who He said He was – we are to look and see Him in front of us. Only if we look and see in this way does it even become intelligible for us to fall down and cry “My Lord and my God!” For Thomas did not infer that Christ had risen by looking at His two hands, any more than G. E. Moore “inferred” the existence of the external world by holding up his two hands. It is not the “proof” of the hands that made Thomas fall down in worship but the presence of Jesus which he had denied. If Thomas’ reaction really was an inference, why was it not enough for his valid inference that he conjoin to the apostles’ proposition that Jesus had risen the proposition that they weren’t lying? Could this not have made him more certain? No. Because Thomas was not struggling with the problem of epistemic closure – he was not putting trust in Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead. It was not a problem to be solved, but an illusion to be dissolved. To show trust, Thomas did not need more reliable information – he needed to repent and have a change of heart. He needed to make room in his heart for the resurrection before the proposition of the resurrection could even make sense. He had to have a radical change in way of life.
The gospel is not a warm invitation to increase the storage space of your mental warehouse. It is the Living God, close at hand, prepared to break down the bars of your mental prison. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a logical demonstration – it’s a spiritual deconstruction. To fail to put trust in Jesus is not to be unconvinced, it is to be unconvicted. And to put trust in Jesus is not to understand – it is to be undone. The “event” of Christ’s Resurrection does not become one more historical event which Nature “naturalizes.” The hole He has ripped in the vault of the heavens to come down to you never closes. And so too, the wound your heart must sustain to make room for Him never heals. The Resurrection did not happen. It is happening right now.
Contemplate the painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by François Joseph Navez. Religious art is an important exercise in theology. For in this painting, as in so many like it, Thomas is examining the wounds of Christ. The apostles are all looking on. But their view is all, as it were, horizontal – it is on the plane of mere history. They are mere extras in the story. Jesus’ gaze is vertical, He is gazing directly at you. You are the Doubting Thomas – and He is showing you his wounds. You need infer nothing from them. You are not confronted by information – but the Man.
C. S. Lewis was simply wrong – all knowledge is not knowledge from inference. The time for inferences is ending – for as Jesus proclaimed, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom is at hand. In contrast to the Lewis trilemma – consider these surprising words by Wittgenstein on the resurrection, and do not be discouraged or frightened by your doubt. Don’t think. Just look.
What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought. – If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. It that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation. We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved, – what I need is certainty – not wisdom, dreams or speculation – and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believe even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption. Holding fast to this must be holding fast to that belief. So what that means is: first you must be redeemed and hold on to your redemption (keep hold of your redemption) – then you will see that you are holding fast to this belief. (Culture & Value, 33e)