Our recent (and ongoing?) discussion with Kevin got me thinking about truth and the supernatural. By definition, the difference between a true story and a false one is that the true story is consistent with reality and the false one isn’t. This consistency has two aspects: negatively, consistency means the true story does not contradict reality, and positively, it means that there’s a connection between the events in the story and the events in the real world, above and beyond what’s reported in the story itself.
The the first aspect is fairly clear, and I think most of us think of consistency as non-contradiction. The positive aspect of consistency is just as important, however. Let’s look at an example. In the summer of 2009, a mob of vigilantes demanded that police arrest a goat, on the grounds that he was really a car thief who had transformed himself into a goat upon being apprehended. Was their story true? If it was, then we ought to find connections between the story and the reality above and beyond what was reported. For example, car thieves don’t typically walk around naked, looking for cars to steal, because that’s a sure way to attract unwanted attention! So was the goat dressed in human clothes? If not, where are the clothes?
Goats are easy to lock up, and legal to kill. If this story were true, then it’s describing a suspect who used black magic to make himself more vulnerable to the retributions of the mob. And why would he be stealing cars when he could be using his magical powers to become an overnight celebrity, changing from human to goat and back for astonished audiences around the world? And so on.
In other words, the implications of the story go far beyond the immediate report in the story itself. If the story were true, then there would be a number of other things that would be true as well. Thus, we can check the validity of the report by following up on all the implications of the story. If people report a supernatural occurrence, and their story implies the existence of other facts that ought to be present in the real world, then it’s reasonable and reliable to assess the veracity of the story by checking for the existence of the implied consequences. And that’s what I referred to as “the 7th criterion,” in my review of the six criteria William Lane Craig claims to use in assessing the historicity of the resurrection.
If we look at the New Testament accounts, we see stories about a world of supernatural forces and powers. Chief among these powers is a God Who allegedly loves each and every one of us personally. According to the NT, He loves us so much that He is willing to surrender His divine prerogatives, become human, minister to us, suffer for us, and ultimately even die for our sins. The goal of all of this effort is to remove the barriers that separate us from Him. He wants us, as His beloved children—not just creations, but actual children—to be with Him forever, with no obstacles between us. And the resurrection is supposed to mark the success of that effort.
To be true, this story has to be consistent with reality. That means not only that it must not contradict what we see in real life, but also that its implications must extend into the real world as verifiable facts. If there’s a God who loves us enough to die for us, that implies that there’s a God who loves us enough to show up for lesser events also. If there is a God who was able to raise Himself from the dead and to remove the last obstacle creating a barrier between us, that implies the absence of continued barriers separating us from Himself. In short, if the resurrection is true, that implies a God who is both willing and able to show up, in person, in the real world, not as some rare and miraculous event, but just because He loves us and wants to hang out with us.
We can assess whether or not the resurrection story is true, therefore, by looking for the consequences that ought to result. If a real, loving God shows up, non-subjectively, for the important events in our lives (including both good times and bad times), then it’s reasonable to conclude that the resurrection story is true. If no such God shows up outside the stories, superstitions, and subjective perceptions of men, then it’s reasonable to conclude that the resurrection was also limited to the stories, superstitions, and subjective perceptions of men.
It all boils down to a question of what Reality itself happens to vindicate. Do we see God showing up to participate in the close, personal relationship He allegedly wanted badly enough to literally die for? Or do we just see believers superstitiously giving God credit for things He did not actually show up to do? Can we objectively examine the real world and find non-subjective evidence of His existence? Or do Christians need to maintain a subjective “worldview” in order to give God a place to stand? And if God actually were showing up in reality, would believers need to object to making reality the basis for judging the historical authenticity of the resurrection?
I think the question sort of answers itself.