On Sunday evenings this spring, CNN is airing a new docudrama series entitled “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery.” The series is based on the book of the same name by David Gibson and Michael McKinley.
CNN markets this series as discovering “fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest state-of-the-art scientific techniques and archaeological research.”
I have seen the first few programs and the show is somewhat interesting. Perhaps it will spark some to watch Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” which NBC will begin running on Easter Sunday.
The series focuses on identifying the historical Jesus by analyzing six relics left behind. Was the Shroud of Turin truly Jesus’ burial cloth? What about a burial box that seems to have Jesus’ name on it? There is a papyrus “gospel” that purports to refer to Jesus’ wife. Is that gospel genuine? Do scientists truly have a piece of Jesus’ cross, or a bone from John the Baptist? Or are all of these items frauds?
Using modern-day technologies, scholars weigh in on the authenticity of these so-called relics. Of course, you can always find some scholar somewhere to find the opinion you are looking for, but that is not the concern I have.
My concern is that for those wondering what faith is all about, this series implies that faith is a judgment based on who has the most evidence, the scholar with the most compelling case. And following close on the heels of that dynamic is the implication that it is this type of “evidence” that Christians rely upon for their own faith. And nothing could be further from the truth.
That scholars accept or debunk the shroud or some purported burial box has not been a vital part of my Christian faith, or anyone else’s who I have known in 54 years. For Christians, our faith has never relied on whether or not historical or scientific aspects of the gospels could be proven to anyone’s subjective standard.
Rather, as Christians we have always relied on our personal experience with the risen Lord. Sometimes this comes following a difficult time; sometimes it comes in worship or prayer or scripture reading; sometimes it comes at the hands of someone God has placed in our paths. But it does come, just not because a scholar has identified the date of an old piece of wood.
It is power of an experience with Christ that our faith is forged and strengthened. And when that happens, we are changed; we can no longer be the same. Through faith, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives.
So, it seems to me that this series is only of passing interest, and relatively irrelevant, to Christians, who never needed scientific justification for the reality of their encounter with Christ. And for those looking for a way to justify not believing, well, my guess is they will find what they are looking for in this series as well.
Faith, and the mystery of it, has never been based on a person’s adherence to some standard or ascent to some scientific or even historical understanding. Faith comes to us in a supernatural way. And it is through this faith that we grow to grasp more and more of the mystery of the living God.
As St. Augustine said centuries ago, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.