When I was a kid, I thought that “believing in Jesus” meant that I had to believe that he was a real person who lived 2000 years ago. Did anyone else think that? I had this idea in my head that the substance of faith was just believing that a guy named Jesus had actually existed. I thought it meant believing despite questionable evidence, and that the Bible told me to do that, that even Jesus told me to do that.
I think that started to change in junior high and high school. The fact of Jesus’ existence, I concluded, was beyond question. It’s a foregone conclusion anymore: A Jewish man did live 2000 years ago who went on a 3-year speaking tour around Israel. Having faith, then, no longer meant believing in the historicity (or “historical-ness”) of a person. So I had to figure out what faith did mean. If it didn’t mean believing, in spite of inconclusive historical evidence, that a person really existed, then what did it mean?
When the Bible talks about “having faith in the unseen,” it doesn’t mean trusting in historical events that I didn’t see with my own eyes (after all Descartes recognized that experience couldn’t be conclusive either). Instead, the sort of faith I was being encouraged to have was the same sort of faith required of those who saw, heard, and touched Jesus. My separation from that time wasn’t what my faith needed to overcome. It was believing in Jesus’ connection to God, something not even those who knew Jesus could see—at least, not with their eyes.
I think, even now, I’m still working it out a bit. I think it’s about who I believe Jesus was, and not about whether he existed. It’s not about believing in history but about believing in, well, whether Jesus was God. It’s about deciding whether he’s another figure to stand in history’s line-up with Socrates and Confucius, or whether he’s also the God who made the timeline.