Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 26:24-32

Festus, who did not believe in Yahweh (God's personal name, given to Moses), told Paul that all of his learning had made him crazy. (This was a statement commonly made to philosophers of this time period who claimed to believe in things the listener found outlandish.)

Paul asserted the opposite: that his words were rational and true, based on events and teaching that could be openly observed, examined and tested. (v.24-26)

Paul then cuts to the heart of the issue by asking Agrippa whether or not he really believes in the Scriptures (meaning the Tanakh, or "Old Testament"). If Agrippa doesn't, Paul's argument is a waste of time (not to mention Agrippa probably wouldn't appear to make a very good Jewish king!). If he does, the logical consequence, given what the scriptures had already revealed about the Messiah, would be to believe that Jesus is God's unique Son and that all Paul has said is true. (v.27)

Over the years, as I've interacted with non-believers in the sci-fi fan community, I've run into a number of atheists who speak very sarcastically and harshly about Christianity and the claims of the Bible. If you've spent any time with the sci-fi community (especially online where everyone is more "brave" with their words), you've probably run into some folks like that, too.

It's been said that the most significant difference between Christianity and every other religion in existence is the idea of grace. Specifically, that we do not "earn" our forgiveness and passage into heaven for eternity.

I would add to this that Christianity is the only faith that invites and encourages investigation of it's truth claims, from beginning to end. This isn't to say that every point of curiosity you might come up with has an available answer. But there is not a single point at which Christianity says "don't ask that question" to those considering the validity of its truth claims. There is no point at which the Bible says "stop using your mind and just have faith". Every other religon I can think of, at some point, prohibits or looks down upon a logical investigation of its claims.

We see this aspect of Paul's faith played out here, as he asks his listeners, not to "follow their hearts", or pray for a spiritual experience, but to examine the evidence and base their conclusions on the information available.

Some circles of Christianity have forgotten about passages like these, encouraging non-believers or struggling believers to "just have faith". This is partially why, in atheist and secular circles, Christians have a reputation for checking their brains at the door. But there is no reason for this stereotype to persist unchallenged if we remember, as Paul did, that the truth claims of the Bible are at their best when under thorough examination.

There is dispute over whether Agrippa's response is a sarcastic dismissal of Paul's question or an admission that Paul's argument is convincing. Either way, Paul expresses his heart. That everyone listening to his words would become a follower of Christ like him. (v.28-29)

When Festus, Agrippa and his sister had a moment in private, they all agreed that Paul hadn't done anything to deserve execution, as the Jewish leaders were requesting. In fact Agrippa, armed with his knowledge of Jewish law, said that if Paul hadn't appealed to Caesar, he would be a free man. (v.30-32)

We might cringe and say, "Oooh, Paul! You should have kept your mouth shut about Caesar!" But in fact, Paul now had free transportation and an audience before the highest authority and most influential office in the world, before whom he could explain who Jesus is.

Jesus said Paul would testify about him in Rome. Not only are we seeing this come true, but Paul's ticket is paid for and Paul has an appointment to talk to the most important person in the Roman empire.

No matter how many times I remember that God's agenda may not be my agenda, I forget twice as often. I become discouraged when my day, my week or my life isn't playing out like I think it's supposed to. But once again, hopefully for a little longer this time, this passage reminds me of the truth. Yahweh may not do things the way we think he should, but we can trust that he gets things done better than anyone else.

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