Credo: Chapter 4
I want to write about how Jesus existed as a historical figure, the historic reliability of the Gospels themselves, the confirmation of His existence in the historical texts of Josephus and Tacitus, and the correlation of traceable astronomical events to events described in the Gospels.
I want to write about the wisdom of His teaching, how the Beatitudes radically oppose the wisdom of worldly success, and how that unlikely teaching is the true hope for justice and peace and joy in the world.
I want to write about how virtually every culture has a myth that follows a pattern called “The Hero’s Journey,” and how that plot is really an outline of Jesus’ story. The difference is that the other myths are fiction and the Jesus story is history, and the only conclusion is that all of mankind has been searching for Jesus for as long as we can remember.
That would be three chapters, maybe three books, or maybe even three long books. But all of the above mentioned lines of reasoning are not why I believe. They are all confirmatory evidence. I believe because He talks to me.
You may want to stop reading here because you believe me to be delusional, and why listen to a crazy person? You may be a non-believer or a person of a faith other than Christianity. Or you may have been a Christ follower your entire life and not had a similar experience, so you want to discount mine. I get it. I suspect that I am being manipulated when I hear someone begin a pitch with, “The Lord told me…”
But I can only tell you what happened to me. You can decide.
I was about thirty-years-old, a senior resident in neurosurgery, in the fifth of six years of training, at Yale University, married for nine years with two sons, ages three and five. We had no money. I owed $7,000 ($27,000 in 2023 dollars) in student loans for medical school and my $17,000/year salary barely covered living expenses. My long hours made it mandatory that Mary would put in long hours as a stay-at-home, effectively single, mom if our kids would have anything resembling a normal childhood. I worked eighty to a hundred hours per week, spending every second or third night in the hospital.
At the hospital I had a kind of emotional release–I was so busy taking care of sick people I didn’t have time to think about myself or my family or our finances. Work was a totally different reality; I would be one kind of person there and a quite different person back home. This sort of emotional detachment is not all bad. In fact, it is necessary to function in either world. But the trade-off was not equal. I could be a humane neurosurgeon because I had a loving family, but I wouldn’t necessarily be a good husband and father because I was a neurosurgeon. Many nights I got home so exhausted that all I could do would be to eat, sleep, then get up and do it again. Frequently, I would fall asleep reading a bedtime story to my children.
Though I was on the verge of professional success–in another eighteen months or so I would get a real job with a real salary and a real future–I was also on the verge of personal failure. Because of faults that were entirely my own, our marriage had failed. My relative morality was one of convenience–meaning I did the right thing only when it cost nothing, and the wrong thing when it was convenient. I decided. And what happened in one world didn’t have to transfer into another. But separate worlds are an illusion. I had one life, and the clash was inevitable.
For a period of about three months, if either of us would have had the slightest bit of extra time or money, we would have divorced. As it was, we hung on in a state of inertia driven by poverty and exhaustion, mutually uncertain, mutually sad.
The walk home from the hospital took thirty to forty-five minutes, long enough for me to leave the emotional stress of work behind and think about going home, wondering how long I would have that home. I would miss it greatly. I knew my wife to be the wisest and kindest person I had ever met. I loved everything about her, and loved my two sons more than life itself. And yet, I had blown the relationship. In a rare moment of self-awareness I realized that the current crisis was the result of not circumstance but character, and the same character flaws that had gotten me to this point would continue to follow me into whatever relationships I would find in the future. Furthermore–and this was the most damning realization of all–I realized I could not fix it. I could not fix the relationship, I could not fix myself.
So I prayed, possibly the first truly sincere prayer I had prayed in years. I said, “I am so sorry. And I can’t fix it.” That’s all I said and I expected nothing in return.
I was still walking as I said those words silently to myself and the creator of the universe. By that time, I had reached the New Haven Green. I crossed diagonally in front of the three landmark but empty churches in the dark and cold winter silence.
This is when Jesus spoke. He said, “No, you can’t fix it. But I can. Just go home.”
The voice was real enough that I startled and looked around. No other people were visible, of course not. The voice was “in my head” but it wasn’t me talking; I know my own voice. This voice was not particularly warm. The tone was more of disappointment, maybe a bit stern. Resigned, maybe. And that’s all He said. It really could only be Jesus. When you pray and somebody answers, who else could it possibly be?
I went home and told my wife that I would never leave her and never give her any additional reasons to leave me. I couldn’t prevent her from leaving, but I wanted her to know that I did not want her to do that. I didn’t begin with “I had a message from God” because I didn’t think then, and don’t think now, that that is a good approach to a difficult conversation. But maybe I ended with it, because I wanted her to have more reason for hope in the future than I had given her in the past.
And nothing changed. Except that I felt more at peace. Whatever happened, God Himself had assured me He would fix it.
A few days later an issue arose about a time conflict involving getting the children to appointments. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the conversation.
“I’ll take care of it,” I said, even though I had some reason to expect some work-related demand may come into play. I determined that I would find a way to fulfill this one family need.
Mary looked at me in that way that she has when she needs to remind someone that she is no fool. “I don’t think I can trust you,” she said.
Immediately I was angry. I formed the words in my mind: What do you mean, you can’t trust me? You’ve got trust me! If we’re ever going to make this thing work, you’ve got to trust me. But the words that came out of my mouth were: “I know. I haven’t given you reason to trust me. But I plan to be here and do what needs to be done. For as long as it takes for you to trust me again.”
She looked back at me with the the same I’m no fool look, gave it a beat, and said, “We’ll see.”
I don’t know what I looked like to her, but inwardly I was stunned. Those were certainly the right words to say, but not what I had intended when I opened my mouth. This was God “fixing it.” That moment was the first building block of a new relationship. Other blocks followed, and eventually other crises were faced together, other adventures, another child. That was a few decades ago and we’re still having fun.
There is a kind of before and after thing following an experience like this. Before, it was okay to believe that God existed and created the universe and all and we should all try to be nice and good whenever it is convenient, and hope for the best. After, you realize that the God who created a hundred million galaxies or so is not so big that He does not pay attention to every thought, word, and deed that comes out of your puny little life and is standing by waiting for you to ask Him for help.
There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance in the idea of a big God understanding and intervening with a small man. It’s easier to imagine that God talks to me in the form of Jesus Christ, the form of God that took on flesh and bled real blood and walked and talked on the Earth. He did it once in ancient history, and He did it in my life. In my After experiences, I have discovered that I am not the only one. For many of us oh-so-less-than-perfect people, Jesus has intervened and called us in very real ways, including His words.
So, I believe in Jesus Christ, not only based on historical fact and our finest philosophy and the fulfillment of our collective consciousness, but mostly because He talks to me and other sinners when we are still helpless and lost.