Christ calls us to be credible and not credulous
Cows are more dangerous than sharks. I already knew that, having been attacked 28 years ago by a cow while on a run through fields near our vicarage in Rochdale. Even today I bear the emotional scars. However, an excellent article on this morning’s BBC news website by science correspondent Pallab Ghosh seems to demonstrate this truth. He writes: “Seven people per year, on average, die from attacks by British cows. In comparison, on average, six people are killed in shark attacks per year globally.” That’s an amazing statistic, two in fact. Because the gist of his article is the creative use of statistics. It’s just a case of bringing the two together so that they can be compared side by side. Here’s another one for those of you who fear flying but happily go to bed every night. In reality, you have a one in 2,067,000 of being killed in a plane crash while the probability of you dying from falling out of bed is one in 423,548. But there again, as always you need to be cautious in drawing any conclusions from statistics. Every day nearly everyone goes to bed while over the whole world just 8 million people take a flight. In other words Disraeli was right. "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
(Like you I’ve no idea where this blog is heading – but you have the advantage over me of being able to glance at my final paragraph!) As Christians we value truth and in this era of fake news we need to be wary of any statement presented as fact. In fact, there is a whole industry of spin in giving information as fact using disingenuous, even deceptive, statistics. We need to be alert. In the New Testament the apostle Paul is adamant that the crucified Jesus rose from the dead as a fact of the first order. Not an opinion but an event which happened, whether it fits in with your scheme of things or not. So as he writes to the church in Corinth some 20 years after the resurrection he invites anyone who is understandably cautious, even suspicious, to check it out for themselves. And he tells them how. So having said that the risen Jesus appeared to Cephas (aka Simon Peter) and then to the Twelve, Paul adds a resurrection appearance which is not documented in any of the Gospels, “that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:6). That is, there are still a lot of people around who encountered the risen Jesus, ask them. Similarly John the beloved disciple begins his first letter with an astonishing claim: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1). Again, this is no opinion or personal interpretation. He is presenting the incarnation as fact. He was there, he encountered Jesus face-to-face. He was with the risen Jesus as they ate barbecued fish together on the shore of Lake Galilee. This was an event in history. So John continues: “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (1 John 1:2). As Christians we may be confident of the Gospel as truth. Not your truth or my truth but as an objective truth, something which sits uneasy in our postmodern age. This is the week, of course, when Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, declared “Truth isn’t truth.” It is because of his confidence that the apostle John warns us of being credulous. So four chapters later he writes: “My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.” (1 John 4:1, Message translation). The Gospel can take the weight and so we invite, even encourage, careful scrutiny. Certainly as Christians we are called to check things out and ask uncomfortable questions. This is not being disloyal to Christ, the very opposite in fact. So we ask “Is this true?” rather than “How does this make me feel?” “Did this really happen?” rather than “Does this fit in with the way I think?” We are called by Christ to be credible and not credulous. After all Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his refusal to believe, his unwillingness to accept the witness of his fellow disciples. The very opposite as he gently speaks to the astonished apostle: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” (John 20:27. Christians are not meant to be soft touch, too much is at stake. And there’s no way I’m going to jump into any sea with sharks.