ABOUT DAREN REDEKOPP

I can feel it right here, at the back of my neck––the warming current of a past event, like the breath of a deer on her doe, assuring me that whatever night may come, it will relent, eventually, to life. When I turn my head to catch sight of this hope, I see the city’s steel girders, glass windows, black smoke. But still I feel the breath, so I look through the concrete, back in time along the apostolic sightline, until I’m only an arm’s length from the historical lung: the tomb that exhaled the Morning: the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as though it were only yesterday.

When I was a boy a storm knocked out the power one night and the whole house went country-dark, like a coroner’s blanket had been draped over our roof. Nothing but black. Dad worked the night shift back then, so it was Mom and I huddled in the hallway, together on the floor. She spoke softly and said that if I invited Jesus into my heart, I would never have to be afraid of anything again. So we prayed, and it worked: the fear went away.

But did that make it real? Was my faith proven true by the comfort I felt, or was it a make-believe fort to run to and hide in from darkness and death? Why is it if I do not believe in fairy-tales, I do believe in this: that Jesus is God’s Son, that his Spirit is in me, and that he’ll take me to be where he is when I die?  Death is coming––of that I am sure––inching its way closer minute by minute, and there is nothing I can do to keep it away. I don’t know if it’ll be a Monday or a Tuesday, but one day my heart will stop, my eyes will close, and my breath will leave. So whatever I’m going to believe in this life, I want it to be the truth.

Such were the thoughts of a twenty-something university student, reading a daily diet of intellectual skepticism. It seemed like every time I opened a book from my university curriculum, I’d find myself grappling with the pronouncements of scholars who disdained my boyhood faith.

But the real problem was that although my heart had been won for Jesus in the childhood years, what had not been won was my mind. I was divided, split down the middle between the questions of the present and the feelings of the past. Only now, I felt nothing. When I prayed (and I prayed desperately every morning), it seemed that my words lost all buoyancy for heaven and descended unheard into the back alley trash.

I could feel it coming: the moment when I would let go of this faith and just go drifting into the vain entropy of an atheistic universe.

“Is this what it’s supposed to be about?,” I asked myself. “Finding an answer for every doubting question? Untying puzzles and contradictions, always living in fear that one day there will be too many intellectual knots for me to undo, and then snap!––the grounding cord of my faith will break, and the balloons of doubt will carry me off?”

My mom had said that if I invited Jesus into my heart, I would never have to be afraid of anything again. Yet here I was, terrified.

So I turned on myself and asked, “Why am I afraid? Is there something I’m missing, some item of first importance that could ground me, so that even when I can’t unravel a question, even when I feel nothing of God’s presence, I will continue to stand firm?

“Dear God, help me, is there anything like that? Is there something I’m missing?”

It turns out that there was; and it changed everything for me.

That Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

If that much is true, then everything else is secondary. If that man really rose from the dead, then I don’t have to solve every conundrum to have a confident faith. Nor do I have to feel a certain way to be assured of its truth. If Jesus Christ really rose from the dead, then the rest is taken care of.

Why am I a Christian?

Because a first century Galilean really is who he said he was: the very son of God.

How do I know?

Because he got up from the dead, and stepped back into life.

And why would I believe that? What’s more, why did anyone in Jesus’ own day believe it? After all, these ancient people had closer experience with death than we do today. They didn’t need modern medicine to tell them that dead people tend to stay dead. So why did they believe the opposite when it came to the case of Jesus?

Why did Peter change from the man who thrice denied Jesus in his presence, into the apostle who went to prison, beatings, and death for Jesus in his absence?

Why did James, the brother of Jesus, who disbelieved in him while he was alive, believe in him so strongly after his death that he was stoned for proclaiming his own brother as Lord? What would it take to convince you that your own brother was the son of God?

Why did the rest of the disciples not fade back into the woodwork of their lives after their leader had died, but instead dispersed through the world with the news of his resurrection?

Why did Paul turn from hunting Christians as blasphemers to giving everything to make their cause grow––through poverty, whippings, shipwreck and execution? Why did he do that? Why did any of them? Paul’s answer is in his New Testament letter: “He appeared to Peter. He appeared to James. He appeared to the disciples. And he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)

So why is it that although I do not believe in fairy tales, I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that his spirit lives in my heart, and that I will be with him when I die? Because when I look at the New Testament, I simply can’t unravel the mystery of its origins, outside of Jesus being exactly who those letters say that he is: the risen Son of God.

The historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. It means that when I come to the New Testament, I come to a collection of documents that bear witness to the experience of those who saw and heard and died for the risen Lord. It means that in Jesus resurrection, I have a preview of my fate after death, embedded right there in eye-witness testimony. It means that this faith is not some imaginary fort in which to hide away from fear, but a staging point for great deeds and great thoughts, well grounded in history.

This is my ground zero, my anchor of first importance. As Paul himself wrote, if Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, then our preaching is a waste and your faith is a waste. But Jesus really did come back, like the first blossoming fruit after a long winter’s sleep.

And because of Jesus Christ, that’s all that death is: a closing of the eyes into a sleep from which we’ll each awaken to the sight of our Lord, risen from the dead, as though it were only yesterday.