During a long walk in the woods with me several years ago, my father made the shocking observation, “If I weren’t a Christian, I’d worship trees.” He has always admired their strength and majesty, and I still enjoy playing the game where I ask him to identify all the varieties of trees along our path.
Over the years, I’ve reflected on his statement and appreciated it. I’ve wondered to myself – If I weren’t a Christian, what would I be? I can’t imagine being anything else, because I don’t think that any other religion or philosophy is true.
Even so… what if?
If Christianity weren’t true, I would probably allow myself the wildly unfettered enjoyment of all that seems beautiful in this world without thinking about the consequences to myself or to anyone else, much like my father, and much like St. Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Cor. 15:32)
If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not true, then why bother believing in any other Christian doctrine?
Paul’s alarming statement comes as the culmination of a series of “if”s that challenge those who say that the dead will not be raised, and who say even Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead. His logical and eloquent argument bears repeating:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(1 Cor 15:13, 17, 19)
If the dead are not raised, and Christianity is not true, then let us worship the trees.
However, Paul hints that all his “if”s – like those of my father and myself – are false. He demonstrates the futility of this kind of disbelief in the face of the unassailable truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is no fairy tale, no mere theological construction, nor is it the wishful thinking of his grieving disciples. Nothing less than a supernatural, earthshattering miracle could have turned those cowardly first disciples into the fearless men and women of faith that we read about in the book of Acts.
As Christians, we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ not simply because of the earthly benefits of hope, comfort, community and forgiveness of sins. No, the truths of Christianity are eternal. They affect both our life on this earth and also our eternal destiny.
Like Paul, my father and I could never settle for a “church-ianity” that was devoid of the truth of God’s one-way love to us through the death and resurrection of his Son. We say to Jesus those words of Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
The Word of God to us through Jesus Christ tells us that we are forgiven of our sins through his death on the cross, and that at the last day, we will be raised from death to eternal life.
And so, although they are lovely, I will leave the trees for the birds.