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Is history really what it claims to be?

"... he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time." 1 Corinthians 15. 5-6

What do we mean when we claim that Christianity is an "historical faith"? The obvious answer is that it is based on things that really happened. But that becomes problematic when we consider the nature of history itself: how it relies on evidence that is often disputed and how events can be differently remembered or even misrepresented. Think of the on-going controversy regarding Britain's own colonial history and how those now considered to be guilty of the most heinous, racially-motivated crimes were once presented as heroes of the Empire and pillars of respectability.

If history turns out to be far removed from being the secure foundation we may have assumed, does claiming that Christianity is founded on historical events not expose our faith to the same weaknesses? In a way I suppose it does. But that is not the only risk God has taken in communicating with his faithful people. To come amongst us in the person of Jesus, just as human as he was divine, was a monumental gamble. What if Jesus had baulked at the cross, given in to temptation, called on the legion of angels at his disposal?

God is in the business of taking risks. Yet he also gives grace to those who ask for it. And this is where we find the resolution to the problem of depending on historical verification for what we believe. Seeking God's grace is an act of faith and, as Hebrews defines it, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." In other words, it provides an extra dimension or another leg to stand on. Putting our trust in God and then interpreting history in light of that commitment unlocks the reality of religious truth. That is why, at the time of its occurring, the resurrection of Jesus made all the difference to believers but had no apparent impact on everyone else.


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