Has the Gardener showed up?

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Beginning in the Renaissance, the belief in the non-existence of a personal God grew in an unprecedented way.

Provoked by the methodic doubt of René Descartes, to the attack against the miraculous by David Hume, to the impossibility of attaining a real knowledge (noumena) by Immanuel Kant, to the questioning of the objectivity of language by Ludwig Wittgenstein, and on and on – many are convinced that the belief in a personal God is withering. Or perhaps, as what the renowned German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined: “God is dead.”

Although the objections are epistemological ones, that is, objections to how we can have knowledge about something (e.g., God), nonetheless, many confuse it with ontology, that is, whether that something really exists or not. And the former has no causal connection with the latter. For I may not know whether a pizza exists in my neighbor’s fridge, but if the pizza really does exist, its existence is not dependent on my belief of it (or the lack thereof). It continues to exist even I do not know about it. Unless of course if someone eats it.

No gardener at all?

Early in the second half of the previous century, in his skill as a scholar and his treatment on language, the most notorious atheist of the last century Antony Flew made an unforgettable critique against the belief in a personal God:

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagrees, “There is no gardener.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves. At last the Sceptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”[1]

But the evidences…

But there are facts that are widely agreed by historians (especially the New Testament ones) – even those who are skeptical about the Christian faith. Facts that are undeniable in result of their investigations. And please allow me to iterate some of those.

First, the tomb was empty. The body of Jesus was nowhere found. Where was it?

In trying to discredit Christianity, an objection rose in popularity that the disciples must have stolen the body. This objection, however, is not new. But as old as Christianity itself (Matt. 28:12-13). Nonetheless it proves the point – the tomb was empty!

Second, the disciples of Jesus believed that He bodily appeared to them three days after His death by Roman crucifixion. This is what John – the last disciple of Jesus among the twelve who died – meant when he said that this is what they have “seen with [their] eyes, which [they have] looked upon and have touched with [their] hands concerning the word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1). This, according to the multiple-attested accounts, provoked them to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus. Even to the point of martyrdom.

Third, the skeptics of their day came to believe that Jesus is God and risked their lives for it. Among those is James, the skeptical half-brother of Jesus who once believed that He was out of His mind for going into a mountain to appoint twelve disciples to preach and cast out demons in his name (Mk. 3:21). Another one is Paul, who wrote the thirteen letters of the New Testament and whose life is well documented by Luke in his second account to his friend Theophilus (c.f., Acts). Paul used to be an enemy of the faith. He was the one who ordered the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:53-8:1).

These people turned from their old beliefs, that is, from believing Jesus to be a joke into believing Him to be their Lord. Even to the point of their deaths.

And as what the historian Gary Habermas concluded: “these are established historical facts accepted by the majority of critical historians – including the most skeptical.”[2]

So, we are left with one question…

What now is the best explanation?

The best explanation is nothing short of this – Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Proving that He is the Son of God. Who paid the penalty for our sins because of His love. And regardless of one’s past, those who will come to Him He will never cast out (Jn. 6:37). Or as John Montgomery said:

In Christianity we do not have merely an allegation that the garden of this world is tended by a loving Gardener; we have the actual empirical entrance of the Gardener into the human scene in the person of Jesus Christ (John 20:14-15), and this entrance is verifiable by way of his resurrection.[3]

[1] Atony Flew, “Theology and Falsification,” in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, eds. Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre (London: SCM Press, 1955), n.p.

[2] Gary Habermas, “Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What Are Critical Scholars Saying?” in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3/2 (2005): 135-53.

[3] On the issue of theological verification, see John W. Montgomery, “Inspiration and Inerrancy: A New Departure,” Evangelical Theological Society Bulletin 8 (Spring 1956): 45-75.