“So, is it true that Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead?” My skeptical friend had been peppering me with questions about my Christian faith. The validity and meaning of Christ’s resurrection now became his point of focus. “Yes, that is true,” I said. His voice grew louder, “Well, if it is true that Jesus died and rose again, doesn’t that mean that evil has been conquered?” I just listened and waited for him to finish his thought. “But there is still a lot of evil in this world,” emotion filled his voice, “And if there is all this evil around us, it seems to me that Jesus failed at his job.”
As I listened to my friend’s question and the verbal jabs he aimed at the Christian faith, a sense of indignation grew within me like lava bubbling under the earth’s crust. I was offended, not by the intellectual accusations, but by the way in which my friend charged at my faith on an emotional level.
As a Christian apologist, these are the types of questions that I should anticipate. In fact, these are exactly the kind of conversations a Christian apologist should want because there are not only good answers available, but profoundly beautiful and compelling responses which are rooted in the Christian faith.
What if He Did Fail?
A few nights later after this intense exchange with my friend, I remember waking up in the early hours of the morning and having a nagging question run through my mind, “What if Jesus did fail at his job? What if he did not fulfill his mission?” The thoughts began to topple over one another. “There is still so much evil, so much pain, so much wrong in this world. If Jesus died and rose again,” I asked myself, “why is the world still such a mess?”
By this point, I had gotten out of bed. My wife and children were still sleeping quietly. I walked downstairs to get a glass of water and tried to calm my thoughts. I began to pray, “God, I know you are good. I know you are trustworthy. But I don’t understand the answers to the questions going through my mind right now. I need your help. Please come and help me.” Gradually I sensed a peace fall over me. I walked back to bed and fell asleep.
The next day I wrote the thoughts down in my notebook. In one sense, these were questions that I had been asked before. I had thought through them many times, but this time they were personal. The major concern and worry I had was whether God could be trusted. For, if his death and resurrection were meant to do away with evil once and for all, and if evil continued to wield its power, I wondered whether God could be trustworthy.
Think on the Identity of Christ
As I pondered this question, I began thinking upon the identity of Christ. I reasoned that if I got the identity of Christ right, that would help me understand what exactly he came to do. And if I understood the purpose for which he came, I would then differentiate between what he came to do and what he did not come to do. Once I answered that question, I would be able to answer the primary question on whether or not he can be trusted.
Of course, there is not enough space to explore and discuss the identity of Christ in this short written piece. But let me cite a few significant points that helped me navigate this terrain: First, John’s gospel talks about Jesus as the ‘logos’, the word made flesh (John 1:14). For Greek philosophers, this word ‘logos’ signified life. Life, wrote John, was to be found in Jesus. In Colossians 1:15 Paul writes that Jesus, “…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” To understand something of Jesus’ identity is to perceive him as God’s revelation. God reveals himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. But there is more.
When Jesus spoke of his purpose and mission, he spoke in terms of coming to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19). He also said that he came to offer us life and that more abundantly. In the well-known verse John 3:16, we read the words of Jesus’ mission, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John also wrote, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). So much of Jesus’s purpose was wrapped up in coming to give us life.
As I read through the gospels seeking to understand the nature of a person’s encounter with Christ, there is a noticeable pattern. People move from death to life, darkness to light, from being lost to being found. All these descriptions point to the reality of the work of Christ, the mission for which he came, and thus the power within his identity.
But What About the Problem of Evil?
How then does this deal with the problem of evil we see and know in our world today? Jesus Christ’s coming to earth made a way so that we can trust him in and through the darkness in this world. Ultimately, as Os Guinness has beautifully written, at times, “We may be in the dark about what God is doing, but we are not in the dark about God” (Unspeakable, Os Guinness, p. 151).
As for the here and now, theologians describe our moment as a “now and not yet” type of stage. In the “now” we can know Christ and have his presence living in us. There is real hope in that truth; we are never alone. But we also live in the “not yet”. Revelation 21:4 gives us an indication of what God’s redemptive power will look like in the end, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” Yes, we live in a world in which we know loss, experience pain, and shed many tears. But when the Lord returns, those who are in Christ have the hope that he will make all things new. There will be no more pain, no more tears. Death will be no more.
Far from failing at the job, Christ fulfilled the seismic task of reconciling humanity to God. We can have His presence in our lives today and we can look forward to His life-renewing and world-restoring coming.