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Vail Daily column: Easter’s truth refutes fake news

Jack Van Ens

Like a dust storm that blurs vision, fake news swirled around the first Easter.

Religious governing officials masked what happened to Jesus’ body by branding reports about his physical resurrection from the dead as fake news. Stunned guards at the tomb told Jerusalem’s officials the grave was vacated. After bribing these guards who reported Jesus’ tomb empty, religious officials concocted a cover story. “Tell people,” they instructed the guards that “his disciples came by night and stole him away while they slept” (Matthew 28:13).

If listeners didn’t accept this tale, the guards probably blurted, “Believe us!” in the face of non-existent evidence that a heist had removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb.

Such false news, of course, clashed with verifiable facts about how Christ’s disciples witnessed to his resurrection. Repeatedly scripture reports them announcing that Jesus had been raised from the grave. If this were a deliberate lie, these disciples wouldn’t have put their lives in jeopardy by telling of Christ’s resurrection.

New Testament historian Daniel P. Fuller buries fake news regarding grave-snatchers who removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb. He says disciples “preached the risen Jesus at the risk of their lives,” and “men (people) don’t risk their lives for what they know to be fraud.”

The Bible doesn’t give an eye-witness account of how God resurrected Jesus. There is evidence from Jesus’ ministry, however, that makes plausible an actual physical resurrection.

Jesus prayed to a higher power he addressed as “Father,” in the Lord’s Prayer. He directed his words to a source of strength and love, a center of consciousness, who was beyond him and yet nestled within him. This “Father” radiated boundless love, unrestrained by a birth day and death day. Such love given by the “Father” was eternal; that is, without finite limits. Since God, revealed to Jesus as “Heavenly Father,” has no time constraints, it’s plausible that such an eternal power might raise Jesus from the dead.

Did Jesus’ resurrection really happen? Or, is it a baseless claim?

We are captive to fake news like religious officials imagined about a grave theft to explain Jesus’ empty tomb. We hear about record inaugural crowds, record voter fraud, record popular presidential vote count “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” and record emerging job growth in moribund industries such as coal mining and steel production. All fake news.

“Facts are stubborn things,” observed John Adams in 1770 in his defense of British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or our dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Adams didn’t envision how persuasive fake news is, whether in reporting a grave robbery or convincing us that a former president had an illegitimate presidency because he held a birth certificate from Kenya.

When repeated, fake news gets a life of its own. In 1967, philosopher Hannah Arendt told how fake news reinvents itself. She wrote, “Since the liar is free to fashion his ‘facts’ to fit the profit and pleasure, or even the mere expectations, of his audience, the chances are that he will be more persuasive than the truth teller.”

Lies feed on themselves and roll on like tidal waves after earthquakes rock sea-beds. Jonathan Swift described this phenomenon in 1710: “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men (listeners) come to be undeceived, (informed) it is too late.” Or a shorter version by Mark Twain: “A lie is halfway around the world while the truth is putting its boots on.”

Easter offers a choice: either accept Jesus’ physical resurrection as fact, or treat it metaphorically. Then, say some Christians, those followers of Jesus at the empty tomb started thinking of him with such intensity that he felt to them as if he were still with them. He was “alive” in their vivid memories. They placed higher values on his deeds and dared to act as if Jesus walked beside them.

Remember how architects depend on what they dub “ghosts,” to refurbish old houses to their original look. Guides at James Madison’s Virginia plantation, Montpelier, recount how architects restored this dwelling after several 19th century additions compromised its colonial identity. Stripping wallpaper, they found shadows of former staircases on walls or outlines where torn down walls once stood. Architects call such secondary forms or outlines “ghosts.”

Were “mental ghosts” resurrected in disciples’ minds who longed to revive experiences with Jesus? Were recollections of him so vivid that disciples felt as if he had been resurrected in their memories?

Because Jesus’ actual resurrection from the dead occurred in a way that defies our ability to fully understand, death isn’t the final word in the script of our lives. Hope is. Because Jesus lives, it’s possible to rebound from dire circumstances. We can reconstruct messy lives and make them purposeful.

Easter is a celebration that Jesus arose from the dead. However inexplicable and mysterious this event may be, don’t dismiss it as fake news.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministrie, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.


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