Too good to be true


by Leroy Garrett

It is another Harvard story. It was a class with the late Professor Henry J. Cadbury, at the time a world renowned New Testament scholar. We were discussing the resurrection narratives in the gospels, and even the beloved professor, who was not a believer in the divinity of Christ, seemed impressed with the weightiness of the evidence. We had noticed that on Easter morning no one believed that Jesus would rise from the dead, not even his most devoted disciples. Even when trusted women reported that they had seen Jesus alive they did not believe. But in time his disciples came to believe with such conviction that they were willing to give their lives for their faith, as were thousands of others. It is difficult to account for this other than their own testimony, that they too had seen the risen Christ.

I was impressed with the professor’s respect for the evidence, and for his reluctance to disparage the testimony of the witnesses, even while remaining an unbeliever. He at last said to the class, “Something must have happened.” Years after his retirement from Harvard and into his 90s the dear old professor died from a fall down a stairwell in his Pennsylvania home. When I heard the news I thought of what he had said in class that day — “Something must have happened” — and I sad to myself, “Now he knows what happened.”

I simply loved that anecdote and wanted to repeat it here and now for my readers.  Leroy continues, relating that there was another student in his class — likely a Unitarian — that took a different view.

Neither did he attempt to discount the evidence, but rejected the whole resurrection story on the grounds that “It is too good to be true.” The class as a whole seemed willing to accept that explanation, including the professor. It was their way of saying that the resurrection story is illogical, anti-natural, and fantasy because dead men don’t rise. It contradicts human wisdom!  I at last had my say, and I was probably the only believer in the class, and I agreed that the Easter story might well be too good to be true, but that I was pleased to believe that what is too good to be true is indeed true.

That was not particularly heroic on my part, and if I had it to do over I might have better said, “Isn’t the resurrection of Christ a grace story, and isn’t ‘Too good to be true’ a good definition of grace?  Grace is illogical, anti-natural, extravagant, supernatural, even nonsensical. We‘re talking about the grace of God, which reaches beyond human wisdom.” But that probably would not have impressed that class!

Thank God for His indescribably illogical, extravagantly merciful, world-changing gift of life.

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