The above song by country/folk singer-songwriter Kate Campbell was performed at the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Honolulu on July 30, 2010. (The song also appears on her 2008 album Save the Day.) Perceptive and judgment-free, the song moves through a few different approaches people take in their search for Jesus. Some look for him in archaeological records or in other lines of historical evidence. Others travel to the Holy Land as pilgrims, seeking spiritual proximity to Jesus via physical proximity to the places of his birth, ministry, and death. Some seek supernatural signs of his existence in the everyday, right where they’re at. And still others seek nearness to him through the use of devotional images or objects—icons, relics, and the like.
In the chorus, Campbell references two specific Jesus encounters that are recorded in the Gospels: Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector who sought forgiveness for his corrupt business practices (Luke 19:1-10); and the woman with the issue of blood who, with desperation and faith, pushed through a crowd of people in pursuit of Christ’s healing power (Luke 8:40-48). In both passages, Jesus is described as bringing salvation to these individuals. Countless others too were captivated by this man who spoke with such authority and performed miracles unlike those of the magicians. They followed him up mountains (to hear sermons, to receive mystical visions) and “down to the sea” of Galilee (for baptism, for feasting). Even two thousand years later, people are still pressing in to see and to touch him—and to be seen and touched by him.
“We all want to believe.” So goes the refrain. In spite of all the influence that atheism seems to have these days, all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, want to believe that there is something out there bigger than ourselves, that we’re here for a reason, that transcendence is possible, that death isn’t final. We want to be able to hope in something. We want to be able to see and feel the divine. We want to feel accepted and loved.
Having said that, though, I would caution people against wishful thinking (and toward sound critical thinking): your faith has got to have something stronger to stand on than good feelings. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes,
It is amazing how many people seemingly cannot tell the difference between “X is true” and “It is desirable that people should believe that X is true”. Or maybe they don’t really fall for this logical error, but simply rate truth as unimportant compared with human feelings. (353)
I wholeheartedly agree with this observation and would condemn such an approach to spiritual investigation. Just because we want God to exist doesn’t mean that he does. (Truth is truth, regardless of who believes it or not.) But while I concede that, I do disagree with Dawkins that all Christians suffer from imaginary-friend syndrome. After all, there are several things about Jesus that make him an inconvenient friend to have around. (He wants me to suffer for his name’s sake? He castigates me for having more than two coats in my closet? He calls me a murderer?)
Many atheists are guilty of wishful thinking themselves. They want a belief system that supports their lifestyle and priorities. They want to be in control of their own lives and not have to answer to anyone. They usually say that it’s because of their rationalism that they’re atheists. But atheism has its holes, just as Christianity has its supporting evidences.
I “found Jesus” at the young age of twelve—the summer before I entered seventh grade. I wasn’t actively looking, per se, but he revealed himself to me gradually through my hearing and reading of his Word. I had grown up in the church and had heard the gospel preached repeatedly, and I guess one day it just all came together and made sense to me, and I felt an internal prompting to respond in obedience to God’s call. After that, I was so thirsty for more revelation—I was so into the Bible. I’d spend hours reading it after school, because I wanted to find out more about who God is, how he acted in history, the plans he has for this world, what he loves and what he hates, and what he asks of me.
As I read, I was struck by how the God of Israel declared himself to be the only true God, and how Jesus declared himself to be the only way to God, and it made me wonder about all the gods and truth claims of other religions. Why does God say that he is angry with those who worship other gods, when they have such similar value systems? Did I make the decision to follow Christ simply because that’s what I was taught was the right thing to do? So then I started reading up on other religions, checking books out of the library and lurking in Internet chat rooms. This interest in faiths outside by own coincided with a seventh-grade social studies curriculum that included the study of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. How convenient! In class we read excerpts from sacred texts and watched documentaries. I memorized the Five Pillars and the Four Noble Truths, and a few other doctrinal lists, and I considered them all in my mind. While I saw some truth in them, I did not see the Truth. And I felt (and still do) that no worldview other than the Christian one can adequately answer all five of life’s major questions:
- Where did we come from?
- Who are we?
- Why are we here?
- How should we live?
- Where are we going?
That same year, I also made a few friends who, I soon found out, were atheists. I learned a lot just from listening to their objections: for one, it forced me to develop stronger defenses and to become more informed of the history of my own religious tradition.
For me, getting to know Jesus has been an ongoing process of asking more questions and falling more deeply in love. I think of him as both my Teacher and my Bridegroom. He continually leads me into a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with himself. I’ve never felt Jesus physically move through my body, or had my soul lifted into heaven, or seen him in my pancakes, but I have felt awe, and I have felt conviction. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to reveal Jesus to us, and to lead us into all truth (John 3:31-36; John 15:26; John 16:12-15). This must have been what happened to me. And since meeting Jesus for the first time in Scripture, I have come to see him in other places as well, like in nature, in art, and in other people.
The song “Looking for Jesus” raises the question: Where does Christ’s Spirit reside? Where can we find his face?—Is it in forensic evidence, brought forth by scientists and historians? Is it in a certain place, like a church, or in Palestine? Is it in his burial shroud and in the surviving fragments of his cross? Is it best found in private revelation, or in a communal setting? Is it in the painted images we make of him? Is it in my bowl of cereal?
Where have you looked for Jesus? How do you try to connect to him? If you’ve found him, how? If you’re not looking, why not?
Here’s a beautiful promise from Jesus, given to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion:
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.
If you find yourself wanting to believe but unable to, I encourage you to just cry out your doubts and your fears and your yearnings. It may seem like you’re just talking to the air, but I truly believe that God’s Spirit answers those who are sincere.
If you want to know more about why I am convinced of the truth of Christianity, feel free to comment below, e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit the website periodically, as I plan to discuss that topic in future posts.