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DID THE RESURRECTION HAPPEN ... REALLY?A DIALOGUE ON LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE
By JOSH MCDOWELL DAVE STERRETT
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2011 Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTENSION ON CAMPUS
TENSION ON CAMPUS was thick. The administrators of Opal University could not remember a more volatile season. Factions among the student body were growing militant, and violence seemed a real possibility.
Politics and social issues were always volatile topics among students, but strained relations had boiled over when one of the Opal instructors presented a strong case for the historical Christ during a debate with two visiting scholars—an atheist and an agnostic. The ensuing weeks had seen nonstop confrontations, sometimes ugly, between religious and atheist groups on campus.
Jamal Washington, the instructor who presented the historical Christ at the debate, was a doctoral student who taught several undergraduate courses in the school of religion. He was also thought to be responsible for the faith conversions of emeritus religion professor, Dr. William Peterson, and several students from the atheist club.
One month after the debate, Dr. Peterson delivered a stirring lecture on the deity of Christ, and even more students came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. It was after Dr. Peterson's lecture that Jamal received his first piece of hate mail.
The unsigned letter was on his office floor one morning, evidently slipped under the door. Jamal didn't seem too worried about it. He viewed the controversy as harmless "hot air" stirred up by a few opinionated student leaders. While the atheist club members certainly didn't agree with Washington and Peterson, they weren't hostile.
Brett, an agnostic and former leader in the atheist club, was beginning to question his own skepticism. His family, well educated and academic, had a history of investigating new ideas before embracing them, and Brett was taking his time with this Jesus thing. No one would ever accuse Brett of an emotional conversion to anything—especially religious faith.
Earlier in the week, at Nick's invitation, Brett had attended a class taught by Dr. Peterson. Though emeritus, Dr. Peterson frequently filled in for his former colleagues in the religion department. The topic of Jesus' resurrection had come up in class, and Brett decided to stop by the religion hall to ask Dr. Peterson a few questions. The resurrection was a key issue in his pursuit of truth.
Brett was within a block of the religion hall when he noticed students running from the building. Must be afire drill, he thought. But something wasn't right. Nobody runs during fire drills. Then he heard screaming. Brett was a premed major and wired for action, and the screaming kicked him into response mode. "Gotta go!" he shouted as he flipped his phone closed, shoved it in his pocket, and took off at a run toward whatever was happening.
Students were pouring from the religion hall, screaming and running in every direction. As Brett approached, one girl stumbled and collapsed on the lawn not twenty feet in front of him. It actually looked like there was blood all over her T-shirt. Brett crouched beside her. She was breathing in short gasps and seemed frantic to get back up.
"Where are you hurt?" Brett shouted amidst the chaos. "What happened?"
"I'm shot!" she screamed. "He's shooting everyone!"
Brett immediately grabbed his cell phone, dialed 9-1-1, and with a shaky voice yelled for help. The call took under a minute, and then he lifted the girl in his arms and, as fast as he could, moved her to a safe place across the street. She was crying hysterically.
"Where are you hurt?"
"My shoulder!" She seemed to be slipping into shock.
Now there were sirens everywhere and police cars were arriving from all directions. Police officers poured out and ran toward the building. It was all happening so fast it seemed like a dream ... a bad dream that didn't make any sense.
The girl in Brett's lap passed out.
SLOWLY, THE STORY unfolded. Dr. Peterson and his wife, Susan, clung to each other and sobbed as they watched the nonstop news coverage, now on every channel. Nine students had died in a shooting at the school of religion ... including Jamal Washington, Nick Ridley, and the shooter, who eventually turned the gun on himself. Dr. Peterson was wracked with grief and guilt. He couldn't stop berating himself for not seeing this coming. Why had he not pressed the administration or police to investigate all the hate literature and threats?
"Bill, don't put this guilt on yourself. There is nothing more you could have done to stop it. You reported every one of those notes to the authorities," said Susan Peterson as she tried to console her husband.
So far, the news coverage had revealed that the shooter was a student. Like so many similar campus killers, he was a troubled young man. A loner with few friends. His roommate said in an interview, "He never even talked to me. We sometimes invited him to hang out with us, but he always said 'no' and acted awkward around us. We had no idea he was planning to kill anyone. We just thought he was weird."
Another student, a member of the atheist club, commented that he had seen the suspected shooter attend several of the atheists' meetings. "He rarely spoke up, but when he did he always seemed angry about the Christians. Definite anger issues."
"Bill" Susan said as she turned back to the TV coverage, "this student being interviewed looks familiar."
"Yes, you're right," Bill replied. "That's Brett. Nick brought him over here after my lecture. In fact, I was supposed to meet with him this morning."
"Okay, I remember. Was he the one with the motorcycle?"
"That's him. A premed major, and a very bright boy."
The reporter turned to face the camera and said, "We're talking with Brett Wilson, a senior at Opal University, who was on his way to meet with a religion professor when he saw a young coed, covered in blood, running out of the religion building. Brett, tell us again what happened."
"Well, students were pouring from the building, and one of them, a young woman, collapsed in front of me as I approached the front doors. I noticed she had blood all over her shoulder, so I called 9-1-1 and within minutes the police arrived."
"You also mentioned—before we went on the air—that you had indeed met the suspected killer several months ago."
"That's right. I don't remember his name, but he showed up a few times at the atheist club. He didn't fit in very well and seemed awkward in a group setting. He said things that made people uncomfortable. But he sure was intelligent. I remember arguing with him at one point."
"Why did you argue with him?" the reporter asked.
"Like I mentioned earlier, he was pretty angry most of the time. He came to one of our meetings saying that, if there's no God, there's no right or wrong. Since we're merely the result of a deterministic evolutionary process, we should get rid of all religion, people with genetic defects, and inferior races. That's what we argued about, and we asked him not to come back since we don't put up with racism in the club. We never saw him again after that."
"Why didn't you report this?" asked the reporter.
"Honestly, none of us took him seriously. We figured he was taking freshman philosophy and trying it out on our group. We never assumed he was for real about getting rid of people. You meet a lot of racists on campus, and mostly they don't come back once they realize we don't share their views. We had no idea this guy was serious, and until yesterday none of us knew Mr. Washington had received death threats."
As the Petersons continued watching, they cried and prayed that despite the horror, God would somehow be glorified in this senseless tragedy. They prayed for Nick's parents, for Jamal's family, and for all the others impacted by the event. Especially Nick and Jamal's close friends, Jessica, Mina, Andrea, and Brett.
Chapter ThreeVALENTINE'S DAY
A DOZEN WOMEN from the campus ministry sat around the table laughing. It was February 14, and they were enjoying dessert at the Cheesecake Factory. Andrea was telling hilarious stories, and the new girls appeared to be fitting in well. While the girls laughed, Jessica noticed roses on the table of a nearby young couple. She had been thinking about Nick all day and missed him terribly. Almost three months had passed since he was taken, and even though she believed God allowed the tragedy, she was still hurting.
As the conversation drifted down the table, Andrea leaned over and said, "I feel for you, Jessica. I know that today is very hard for you."
"Thanks, Andrea. I'm sorry I was zoning out. Somehow, even in the company of my very best friends, I still feel lonely."
"No, you're fine. Nick was wonderful and courageous, and I know you miss him."
The news media had reported that Nick actually died trying to protect Jamal. Remarkably, the networks had cited Jesus' words, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends," in describing Nick's heroic action. The shooting catalyzed many of the Christians to be bold in demonstrating and explaining their faith, and the Christian campus ministries had doubled in attendance.
Several of the girls had heard Jessica and Andrea talking, and now the whole group was quietly watching them. Fighting tears, Jessica responded, "I'm so thankful for all you girls. I love you all and there's nowhere I'd rather be than right here with you."
"We love you too, Jessica, and one day we'll all get to see Nick and Jamal again," Andrea said.
What? How do we know that? Lauren thought to herself as Andrea comforted Jessica. Lauren, a medical student, had met this group of girls through her friendships with Andrea and Brett on the atheist club. Though all three had since left the club, she remained agnostic and didn't share the others' convictions about heaven.
* * *
Each Wednesday night the campus ministry leaders met for coffee and discussion at the Caruth Haven Coffeehouse. Though their meetings were very difficult in the weeks following the shooting, they kept meeting, and now they'd regained their easy rhythm. Jessica especially looked forward to their time, despite missing Nick.
When they'd all settled in the Wednesday after Valentine's Day, Lauren was the first to speak. "Okay, you all know I have a lot of spiritual questions. Here's my first, and I apologize for the insensitivity of it, but I can't stop wondering about heaven. You've mentioned it often since the ... um ... since last fall when ..."
"Since the shooting," said Andrea.
Lauren nodded, glancing at Jessica and Mina. "Why are you so sure about the idea of heaven, and what do you picture when you say it?"
Jessica replied first. "Lauren, Jesus often spoke of heaven. One of my favorite passages is in John, chapter fourteen, where Jesus told His disciples, 'In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.' I memorized that verse because it reminds me that Jesus wants to spend eternity with us. There's another passage that I love from the book of Revelation, but I don't have it memorized. I have it on my phone. Hold on a second."
Lauren just listened even though she inwardly disagreed. I really shouldn't break it to her, but many other religions refer to the afterlife. Christianity isn't unique in making heaven claims.
Jessica found her verse. "In the book of Revelation, God gave John a vision of heaven. Here's how John described it:"
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Amy, another agnostic who came with Lauren, spoke up next. "Okay, does this mean our friends who died are in heaven right now? Or is that in the future?"
Jessica responded, "I think they're in heaven right now, but maybe Mina has some insight here."
Mina, a law student at Opal, spoke with more confidence than Jessica. "That's a good question, Amy. Actually, it's both. We know God will create a new heaven and new earth because the Bible says so in 2 Peter and Revelation. I also believe our friends are in a real place called heaven right now because there's biblical evidence for this as well. Jesus told the thief on the cross, 'Today you will be with me in Paradise.' And Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that he 'would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.'"
Chapter FourJESUS TALKS ABOUT HEAVEN
ANDREA JUMPED into the conversation. "I just read that story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. He describes both men dying and going to ... well, Lazarus goes right to heaven."
"I'm not familiar with that one," said Lauren. "Tell me more."
"Okay, give me a minute. Let me see if I have my Bible in my purse ... nope. I don't have a Bible on me. Jess, can you read that story? It's in Luke sixteen."
"Sure." Jess was still learning her way around the Bible, so it took her a few moments. "Okay, this is sort of long, so hang with me."
Jesus said, "There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man's table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
"Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.
"The rich man shouted, 'Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.'
"But Abraham said to him, 'Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.'
"Then the rich man said, 'Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father's home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don't end up in this place of torment.'
Excerpted from DID THE RESURRECTION HAPPEN ... REALLY? by JOSH MCDOWELL DAVE STERRETT Copyright © 2011 by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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