(…continued) I like to read stories of people who kept an open mind, changed their mind, and were converted; people who for years did not believe in the Christian message, but then, for whatever reason, did come to faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, risen from the dead. The difference in their attitude before and after their conversion is often the same difference that we see in the text between Peter and the rest of the disciples. For years, these people are like the disciples in verse eleven. Christianity, the Bible, the story of Christ’s resurrection, and the hope of eternal life, all “seem like nonsense to them,” not even worthy of the time and effort required to look into it all. Then one day, like Peter, they decide to be more open-minded, take a look for themselves, and then come to believe in Jesus.
This may not happen all at once. It is not as simple as Peter running over and finding the tomb empty, or like the unmistakable appearances of Jesus that would come to the disciples later. But just as Peter ran to take a look at what he could, there are places one can look today: things to read, people to ask, and, testimonies of people who for years did not believe, and then believed. There can be many obstacles to belief, not the least of which is the firm belief that what is dead stays dead. Being a Christian does indeed all come down to what we are told in Luke 24, which says that what is dead doesn’t necessarily stay dead; not if God has something else in mind. One should keep an open mind about such an important matter. If Christ was raised from the dead, then the Christian message is true, and all of our other questions will find their answer in Christ. But if Christ has not been raised, then as the apostle Paul said, we, of all people are most to be pitied. Paul himself was one who had a most incredible conversion experience. He came to believe in Jesus after being struck blind as he was being confronted by the living Christ, whose followers Paul had been persecuting.
Blaise Pascal had an interesting conversion from atheism to faith in Christ. Pascal was born into an upper class family in France in 1623. His father was an attorney who was intensely interested in his children’s education. He hired tutors for the personal education of each child, giving them every opportunity to learn. He had decided he would start by focusing on languages and then later go on mathematics, so as to not confuse the two. Blaise was a gifted child and learned his language lessons so well that, even before the math lessons began, he taught himself geometry by the age of 12. By the age of 16 he had written a book on geometry that attracted the attention of the world’s top mathematicians. At the age of 19, he invented a mechanical calculating machine, the principles of which remained in use for 300 years. In the field of physics, he discovered a principle known as Pascal’s Law, which is the foundation of modern hydraulics. Blaise Pascal was a very smart man, and for 31 years he considered himself too smart to believe in any sort of religion.
But then, bored with success, accomplishment, pleasure, and life in general, Pascal began to apply his powerful intellect to the spiritual questions that he had thus far ignored. Over the course of several months he, with an open mind, took another look at the claims of the Bible which he had earlier dismissed as nonsense. While his intellect brought him to a certain point at which his objections to faith became over-ruled, he later described how it was that the spirit of God had come upon him and overwhelmed him, and he became a believer. At the time of his death at the age of 39, he was working on an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. He did not live to bring it anywhere near completion, but his many scraps of notes were assembled together in a book called Pensees (French for ‘thoughts’), and that book has become a philosophical and religious classic.
This matter of the bodily resurrection from the dead was at first a problem to Pascal’s scientific mind and a barrier to his coming to faith. But he worked through this problem, and later, in the notes for his planned book, he wrote this regarding atheists:
“What grounds have they for saying that no one can rise from the dead? Which is more difficult, to be born or to rise again? Which is more impossible, that what has never been shall come to be, or that what has been alive, should be made alive once more? Why should we think it easy for a life to come into existence, but impossible to come back? It is simply past experience that makes the one look easy, and it is only lack of experience that makes us find the other impossible.”
We are alive now by whatever means it was that made us alive. Why should we think it not possible for whoever gave us life in the first place to give us life again?
In the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead we hear what we do not usually hear. We hear the story of a dead body being raised from the dead, and the life and soul and spirit put back into it. ‘But why should that seem so impossible?’, asked Blaise Pascal, one of the smartest people who ever lived. And with his mind thus opened to that possibility, and with what he had come to know and love about Jesus, Pascal became a Christian.
Blaise Pascal opens our mind to the possibility of resurrection. Pascal, a scientist himself, helps us to think beyond the narrow-minded confines of believing only in what the scientists can see and measure. Pascal became convinced that there is much more to reality than just that.
In faith, there is enough light for those who want to believe and shadows to blind those who don’t.
Luke 24:36-39 — While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Luke 24:45-46 — Then Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…”
II Peter 1:16 — We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob (and not the god of the philosophers and the scholars):
I will not forget Thy Word. Amen. –Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)