In today’s Globe and Mail, there is a review of Philip Pullman, the famed author of The Golden Compass, a self proclaimed atheist, who now takes on the challenge of writing his own “gospel story” of the life of Jesus Christ, a retelling of the central story of Christianity in a book called The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. I am waiting to read the book, to be published this week in North America, and already published in the UK. Many Christians of all kinds of denominations have reacted to this book in shock, anger and dismay.
In reading the review, I could not help thinking about the words of the journalist doing the review. The writer speaks of Mr. Pullmans childhood and how he came to no longer believe the sermons and stories of Jesus that were preached by his grandfather, a Christian minister of the Gospel. I found reading these words sad to contemplate and reflect upon:
“In this version, Jesus’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane becomes a bitter railing against a silent God: “You’re not there,” he says angrily. “You’ve never heard me.” This, Pullman cheerfully admits, is actually a representation of his own teenaged journey to atheism, when he’d concluded that his clergyman grandfather’s wonderful stories during Sunday sermons were just that – stories.” – Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe & Mail
I grew to love Jesus Christ, through my very own journey with my father and mother. Both of my parents were radically converted to Jesus Christ in their late teens. My mother had been raised Church of Ireland (Anglican) while my father was raised Presbyterian, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Both of their conversions were through the evangelical efforts of the Elim (Pentecostal) Church, who sent out people to all kinds of public places, including midways, carnivals, beaches, and the streets, all over Northern Ireland. Both suffered a degree of ostracism from their own historical churches for embracing the solidly evangelical and missional message of Jesus Christ through the Elim missionaries and evangelists.
Their encounter was life transforming. So much so, that my parents themselves decided that they wanted to follow the will of God and become missionaries for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. They left Northern Ireland for England where they trained at an independent Baptist College, where upon completion they went to France as missionaries. I was born two years later, when my parents went back to Belfast for my birth as it would not cost them anything under the National Health coverage they had as UK citizens.
My parents served as missionaries in France in the late 1950’s and into the mid 1960’s. They came to Canada as missionaries in 1967, just before the Centennial celebrations. In my early years and throughout my life with my parents, I constantly heard of the wonders of Jesus and His love, power and grace. We had instances where my father should have died in several car accidents but he was miraculously raised up. I personally experienced Jesus’ healing power when I was twelve and had burned my right hand where my two middle fingers melted together. When I was told by the plastic surgeon I would need radical surgery to repair the damage, including a skin graph, I asked my Dad, “Dad, we need to pray. I don’t want a skin graph. I know Jesus can heal me.” He prayed a simple pray, aligning his faith with that of a child, and simply asked Jesus to heal my hand. There was no splitting of the clouds, and massive rays of light. There were no singing choirs heard from the skies. There was only peace, a true sign from God.
The next day, the surgeon looked at my hands, and demanded that my father bring the real son to the hospital, for this is not the hand of the son who had burned his hand! My hand was completely healed, and every area that was burned had brand new pink skin! Jesus had heard our prayer and healed my hand. The surgeon brought in seven other doctors, and they all marveled at what they called “a miracle of God”! The senior surgeon wrote those very words on the medical record that he gave to my father for his keeping. So I know Jesus cares for me, and He has never, ever failed me, throughout my entire life.
I have seen Jesus manifest His presence through the peace He has given me, even when my eldest daughter, Carragh battled cancer for seven years. She suffered multiple relapses, each time being raised from certain death, only to suffer again a relapse that would take her life in December of 1993. Carragh was nine years old when she graduated to glory to be with Jesus. Carragh is the one person I have known in my life, who drew closer and closer to Jesus as her life progressed, and who was resilient to the moment of her death, that Jesus could raise her from her death bed, or He could take her home. She was at peace with Him, and that peace drew us in even more into the presence of Jesus when she died in our midst. I knew beyond the shadow of doubt how Jesus is the Lord of Life and the Resurrection, and that one day, He would take us all home to be with Him and all those who know and love Him, like our own little Carragh. So I know Jesus is alive, and that is why I pity Mr. Pullman, that he has been blinded to the truth of who Jesus is.
Mr. Pullman is most to be pitied. I am an evangelical, but I am a thinking one, an avid reader of history and philosophy and theology. I take seriously the faith which I have in the living Christ, Jesus Himself, who has risen from the dead, and is more alive than any of us could imagine. That aside, my comment that I wish to stress is this.
All of us are limited by the experiences of our childhood and especially the journey from childhood to adulthood. If Mr. Pullman really wanted to write a story as he puts it, a story that would hold the attention of many, including evangelicals like myself, it is the story of his journey from childhood to adulthood, from belief in the stories his grandfather told about Jesus, to the journey into disbelief and faithlessness, which he now champions.
Mr. Pullman is also to be be pitied above all men, for the lack of tact he has taken to disguise through literature, an attack on the beliefs of millions of Christians around the world, through the writing of this new book. To attack any other world faith founder, such as Mohammed or Moses would cause such an uproar in the nations of the world that it would not be safe for Mr. Pullman to walk the streets. Salman Rushdie wrote his Satanic Verses, which I read out of interest, and it awoke many in the Muslim world and incited many to violence. I would think that those militant Jews out there are not as violent as others, and would more than likely want to debate and perhaps even legally challenge the author for his portrayal Moses, should Mr. Pullman ever write such a book.
Christians constantly have their Lord and Redeemer drawn through the sewers through books like Mr. Pullman’s, as well as Mr. Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and movies like Mr. Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, which scandalize the name, and the very character of Jesus Christ, much to their shame. Jesus doesn’t need anyone to defend Him. The testimonies of lives changed by Him are the only evidence one needs. I am one.
I only wish Mr. Pullman, while he has breath, would be awakened by God, to see Jesus as He truly is, and that even now, Jesus’ hand is outstretched toward Him. Though despised and rejected of men, Jesus is still reaching out to people like Mr. Pullman. Please join me in praying for Mr. Pullman, crying out to the Lord to have mercy on his soul and to redeem him, while there is still time.
1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.