If We’re Wrong, It’s No Big Deal [Questions That Haunt]

If We’re Wrong, It’s No Big Deal [Questions That Haunt] October 19, 2012

In Tuesday’s Questions That Haunt Christianity, Bill Dahl asked,

What if we’re wrong? What if God turns out to be multi-faceted — one head that has many faces, including the faces of The Buddha, Mohammed, Moses and Jesus, as well as others?…What if religions are human constructs, not reflections of the face, heart, feet and hands of God?

As always, great comments ensued. I particularly liked this thread, because I have feelings like both Ric and Lausten,

What I don’t know about is Rob’s comment. Can someone live in nihilism? In doubt? Peter Rollins seems to abide there comfortably. Kierkegaard did. So have many others.

Doubt is part and parcel of my faith. Maybe for me it will some day abate, recede into faith, be absorbed into complete assurance. But to this point, that hasn’t happened. So I am indeed haunted by questions like Bill’s.

Before getting to the actual question, let me attempt to articulate why I believe in spite of my doubt. At this point in my life, I’d say that I do not believe because Christ makes the most sense. As Ric notes,

I do believe God is revealing Godself in all sorts of ways, including our others. I still think that Christ is the fullest revelation that God has given us. Christ is definitely one of the most challenging revelations, since the revelation of God in Christ pretty much flies in the face of every cultures’ metaphysics, ethics, politics, etc. It’s why we still talk about Christ 2000 years after the event.

I don’t believe in Christ because I have experienced Christ. I think I have experienced Christ, but not in a way so definitively that I could not reasonably account for them by describing any number of other phenomena.

Currently I believe in Christ because of the aesthetics of the Christ event. That is, the who Christ was and is — the life that Jesus led as recorded in the Gospels, the things he taught, and ultimately his death that brought and end to all primitive religious sacrifice — is so compellingly beautiful that I am caught up in it.

Like the greatest work of art ever created, the Christ-event has completely captured my imagination. It is a concept so profound that it demands everlasting unpacking and interpretation. Actually, I would call this “revelation.” In the Christ event, so much is revealed about the nature of God and the nature of humankind that its hermeneutical challenge is infinite.

This may seem like an odd reason to affirm the Christian faith, but its exactly what’s right for me. It’s the challenge that keeps me coming back. It’s interesting and compelling. Where others look for comfort, for answers, and for assurance, I hope for just the opposite.

I’m reminded of a quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky (whose Brothers Karamazov I am currently rereading):

“My hosanna has passed through a great furnace of doubts.” –Fyodor Dostoevsky

But how about Bill’s question? What if we’re wrong?

To me, the possibility that we’re wrong is one of the greatest reasons to approach the Christian faith with epistemic humility (a posture that I think we find in Brian McLaren’s new book). It does not seem unreasonable to me that as a Christian I both affirm the truth of Christ and also maintain the very real possibility that I’m wrong. To be sure, that is a difficult tension to maintain, but not impossible. And that is not a weakness of faith, or a lack of faith, but a realistic faith that entertains the possibility that I am mistaken.

If we are wrong about Christ, then I doubt we’ll know it in this life. While it is conceivable that some new information would come along that would completely negate the life of Christ or the record of his life in the Gospels, that seems very, very unlikely. It might make for an interesting intellectual exercise that Christianity would be proven wrong, but I’m not very interested in trucking in hypotheticals.

So then Bill’s question gets pushed to the afterlife. What if we wake up in eternity to discover that Christianity was merely one of many ways to know God in this life — or, most radically, that Christianity was a lie and revealed nothing about the true nature of God?

Since none of us knows what we will experience in the afterlife, any consideration of this question is pure speculation (Don Piper did not go to heaven). However, if anything from this life can be extrapolated to tell us about the afterlife, then it seems unlikely that the non-exclusivity of Christianity would be a very big deal. It’s hard to imagine that God would somehow be disappointed that several billion of us put our faith in a story that includes teachings about kindness and charity and ends with new life coming from a sacrificial death. Nor does it seem likely that, standing in the presence of the Creator, we would experience embarrassment or shame that we’d committed our lives to following a peasant-rabbi who preached peace and love and who sacrificed himself.

In other words, I’m saying that Pascal was right. If you’re going to push your chips to one side of the table, I honestly cannot imagine a better side than Christ’s. And, if we’re wrong, it’s not the end of the world.

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