Category Archives: hope

Do Ghosts Exist? Oh Yeah.

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But they aren’t what you may think they are.

So on this All Hallows Eve, let me speak to one of the most common questions I used to get from people all the time while serving on a pastoral staff. Do Christians believe in ghosts?

Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy was talking about this last night on Twitter–which got me thinking about the subject.

***

First, a couple of stories.

1. About 10 years ago, I was having some work done on a shotgun by a gunsmith whom someone had recommended to me. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was a master at his craft. We got to know each other over the course of several weeks, and I came to like him very much. He was quiet, absorbed in his work, not chatty at all. But we did talk about our backgrounds. I found out he had an M.Div. from Gettysburg Seminary, and when I asked him if he believed in ghosts–given the fact that 25,000 people suffered violent deaths there in the space of 3 days in 1863–I’ll never forget his response. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me over his glasses right in the eyes, and said, if you didn’t believe in ghosts when you got to Gettysburg Seminary, you sure did when you left. He didn’t elaborate. Then, he simply returned to his work.

2. My grandmother moved into a new house she had built shortly after her husband had died in 1969 on the outskirts of Gordonsville, Virginia. I remember visiting that house when I was little, and finding it fascinating. She died when I was only 6, but for years, I had a recurring dream of being in the pasture across the road from her house. In that pasture, I would meet my grandmother and my uncle, who died in a tragic car accident. My aunts told me that my grandmother believed the house was haunted, and they thought so, too. They lived in the house for two years after my grandmother died, and they thought there was a connection between the house and my recurring dreams.

Thirty years later, my wife and I found ourselves living in the same community as my grandmother had lived at the time of her death. I took my brother on a drive to her house one afternoon, because he hadn’t seen it during all that time. I said, why don’t we drive up the driveway and see if anyone is home–maybe they’ll invite us in when we introduce ourselves. This being rural Virginia, the people who lived in the house were very friendly and welcomed us inside. We had a great deal of fun going from room to room, and experiencing a flood of wonderful memories.

After visiting for about an hour, the owner of the house said to me, “This may sound strange, but did your grandmother ever say anything about this house being haunted?”

I was speechless.

3. My great aunt and uncle lived in the same house in Ennis, Montana for almost 60 years, but they weren’t the original owners of the house. My Aunt Joan always said that the house was haunted. She surmised that the “ghost” was the spirit of a young child, because she would find random toys on the floor of the house as if a little one had just gotten up from playing. After so many years of being in the house, Aunt Joan and Uncle Chet just got accustomed to sounds of laughter, lights coming on or off at random, and the little marbles and jacks that would show up on the floor in the night or while they were out. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the prospect of their house being haunted, but I didn’t take it all that seriously.

One evening at about 10, I was sitting in the dining room of their house writing a letter to a friend. I was all alone in the house at the time, and concentrating on my letter. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a small person running up and down the upstairs hallway.

Out the door I went, and slept in the bunkhouse that night. I never finished that letter.

***

So what’s the deal, at least from a theological perspective? Hebrews 9.27 states, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Jesus said in John 5.28-29, “an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” Jesus’ words are consistent with Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 12.2–“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”

It would appear that Scripture teaches that, after death occurs, we are all held accountable for our lives before God, the only One to whom we are ultimately responsible, since he is our Creator. Those who put their trust in Christ arise to the newness of eternal life. We see this throughout the entire Scripture, but a couple of passages in particular serve as examples of this teaching–

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16.10-11

“Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.” Isaiah 26.19

“Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.” Ezekiel 37.13

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11.25-26

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” I Corinthians 15.22

So, if there is no intermediate state by which spirits of the dead roam the earth, how do we explain the myriad and diverse accounts of apparitions? Many of us have had direct experiences of encountering apparitions–we’re not simply relying on History Channel episodes. Some of us have seen or heard things that have no rational explanation except that of an encounter with an apparition.

Scripture itself suggests that such encounters are possible. One of the strangest stories in all the Bible is found in I Samuel 28. Here we have Saul going to the witch of Endor, and asking her to bring the prophet Samuel up from the dead so that he might consult with him (I Samuel 28.13-25). To Saul’s utter shock and awe, Samuel appeared and sternly rebuked him, reminding him of his sins and of the fact that God had chosen David in his stead to be king of Israel. My own position (and that of St. Augustine, I might add) on the identity of the personage brought up by the witch of Endor is that it was indeed Samuel, and God brought him up to rebuke Saul for his sins (as well as the witch herself, for her spiritualism, which was, and remains, a grave sin.)

But we must remember another key passage from the New Testament, a passage that sheds light on the true identity of apparitions that the living sometimes encounter. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 11.14-15, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” To be sure, Paul is talking about living false prophets and apostles, who go about spreading heretical teachings. But clearly, the Apostle Paul is warning his readers that the devil and his servants have great power to deceive we who are among the living, and draw us away from some of the most significant truths of the Scriptures, namely, that all have sinned (Romans 3.23), all stand accountable to God upon their deaths, and there are no second chances for the dead to get it right on earth after their deaths.

Jesus told the Pharisees that Satan is a liar–“Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” In that same verse, he said that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.”

What better way to deceive and murder then to draw us away from the truth of the gospel by convincing us that there is no sin, no hell, no heaven, no accountability to God, no atonement for sin, and no eternal life united with Christ?

Ghosts are real. But they are not spirits of the departed. They are demons, attempting to deceive, and draw us away from the gospel. They can strike fear into our hearts, but there’s no cause for all that. The glorious Christ declares, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1.17-18). He who has life in and of himself gives life to those who put their trust in him. Those who are Christ’s need have no fear of the grave, or of those who would have us believe they are among the dead.

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part IV

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Let’s summarize our findings in this last part of the series on whether or not the gospel accounts of the resurrection are contradictory.

I am going to list all the events that are pertinent to the resurrection in chronological order. You can use the key below to reference each event as narrated in the gospel accounts.

Directions: Each event is listed in chronological order according to the gospel accounts. References are cited by the following code

a—Matthew 28

b—Mark 16

c—Luke 24

d—John 20-21

e—Acts 1

f—I Corinthians 15

g—Acts 9

The appropriate citations that correspond to the specific reference are given in superscript following the event.

  1. Mary Magdaleneabd, the other Maryab, Salomeb went to the tomb at early dawnabcd on the first day of the week.abcd

2-4 occur while the women were en route to the tomb.

  1. There was an earthquake.a
  1. An angel descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it.a
  1. The guards were afraid and became as dead men.a
  1. As the women were drawing near to the tomb, they wondered who would roll away the stone for them.b
  1. They saw that the stone had already been rolled away.bcd.
  1. They entered the tomb and did not find Jesus’ body.bcd
  1. Mary Magdalene left the tomb to find Peter and John and tell them that Jesus’ body was missing.d The other women stayed behind while Mary Magdalene left in despair, confusion and grief.

9-11 takes place while Mary Magdalene is absent from the tomb, looking for Peter and John.

  1. At the tomb, while they were still inside, they were perplexed,c and saw two angels,c one of them on the right side.b
  1. One of the angels spoke, and said, a) Fear not,ab b) I know you seek Jesus,ab c) why do you seek the living among the dead,c d) Jesus is not here,abc e) He is risen,ab f) just as He said,a g) remember how He told you that He would be crucified and rise again,c h) come behold the place where they laid Him,ab i) go, tell the disciples,ab j) He is going before you into Galilee,ab k) you will see Him there.ab
  1. They left the tomb quickly in fear and joy going to the disciples, saying nothing to anyone.abc

By this time, Mary Magdalene had found Peter and John and told them the tomb was empty.

  1. Peter and John arrive at the tomb, John having outrun Peter.d
  1. John did not go in, but stooped down and looked inside—he saw the linen cloths by themselves.d
  1. Peter went inside the tomb and saw how the linens were arranged.d
  1. Neither understood the Scriptures, which said that He must rise again.
  1. Peter and John went to their own homes.d
  1. Mary remained outside the tomb weeping, and she stooped down to look inside the tomb. She saw the two angels, one at the head, and the other at the feet of where Jesus had lain.d
  1. The two angels reappeared.d
  1. They asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She replied that she did not know where the Lord’s body was.d
  1. She then turned around and saw Jesus, but she thought He was the gardener. He asked her the same question, and “Whom do you seek?”d
  1. She answered again, and Jesus said her name, at which time she recognized Him and worshiped Him.d
  1. Jesus told her to go and tell the other disciples that He was alive.d
  1. Jesus met the other women as they were going—they worshiped Him and He told them to proceed on to the disciples.a
  1. Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they did not believe her.bd
  1. Jesus appeared to two other believers on the road to Emmaus, who did not recognize Him at first. They told the disciples that Jesus was alive.bc
  1. The disciples did not believe them either.bc
  1. At evening on the same day,bcd Jesus appeared to the disciples.abcd They thought He was a ghostc until they touched Him and gave Him something to eat.c
  1. Christ expounded to them in all the Scriptures and opened their understanding.c
  1. After eight daysd Christ appeared to Thomas in order to disspell his doubts.
  1. Christ appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, whereupon He asked Peter three times if he loved Him.d
  1. Christ appeared to five hundred at once, of whom Paul said several were still alive in his own day.f
  1. Christ gives the Great Commission to go into the world making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.abc
  1. Christ appeared to James, as reported by Paul.f
  1. Over the course of forty days, Christ appeared to the disciples, and spoke to them concerning the things of the kingdom of God.e
  1. Christ commanded the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they had been endued with power from the Holy Spirit.ce
  1. Christ led the disciples out as far as Bethanyc and then was taken into heaven as they worshiped Him.c
  1. Two angels told the disciples that this same Jesus who had ascended would return in like manner.e
  1. Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.g

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part III

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We have considered the questions about what the angels were doing and saying on the morning of the resurrection. Let’s take a look at the troubling apparent contradictions found in Mary Magdalene’s activities, and also those of Jesus himself.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels. New Testament scholars call them by that name because they are very similar in their content. Anyone who has given a cursory glance at these three gospels can readily see how similar they are.

But John’s gospel is different than the others. It does not contain any parables. And it is more theological than the Synoptics. So, we would expect to see wide agreement between the Synoptics concerning the details of the resurrection—which we do, especially in the sayings of the angels to the women as they perplexedly stood in the empty tomb.

John says that “on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb” (John 20.1). That comports with what the other gospel writers say—except that John does not mention the other women. Does not that lead us to a necessary contradiction? Not at all. All the gospel writers have Mary Magdalene going to the tomb very early in the morning. Just because John does not mention the others does not necessarily mean they were not there.

But then John says that Mary ran off to go and get Peter and John. The Synoptics do not mention Mary running off. Does that mean that a necessary contradiction exists here? Again, not at all. We can reasonably infer that all the women went together to the tomb, and when they found it empty, Mary Magdalene was so stricken with grief and perplexity, that she left the others to go and fetch Peter and John. Luke does say that the women were very perplexed. Mary Magdalene must have left the women there at the tomb, before they saw and heard the angels telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

So while Mary Magdalene was gone, the angels declared to the other women that Jesus was resurrected. The other women left the tomb in great joy before Mary Magdalene had returned with Peter and John. By the time Mary Magdalene had returned with Peter and John, the tomb was silent and empty, just as it was when all the women had arrived there at the first.

There is an interval of time and events between John 20.1 and John 20.2. From Mary Magdalene’s perspective, the tomb was empty and Jesus’ body had been taken away, by whom she did not know. Peter and John arrived at the tomb to see it was empty. Luke has Peter at the tomb, but not John. But again, if Luke reports that Peter was there but did not mention John, that does not leave us with a necessary contradiction. Remember that Peter was the first to confess Jesus as Messiah, and thus Jesus gave Peter the pre-eminent position among the disciples (Matthew 16.17-19). It was logical for Luke to mention Peter, but not to mention John.

After Peter and John departed the tomb in confusion, John says that Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, weeping. It is at this time that Mary looks into the tomb and sees two angels. Remember that Mary had not seen the angels yet, because she was not present with the other women when the angels appeared previously. So they ask her, “Why are you weeping?” She answers that she does not know where Jesus’ body is.

It is at this time that Jesus himself appeared to Mary, but she does not recognize him, but thinks he is the gardener. But he reveals himself to her, and tells her to and tell the disciples that he is alive.

Then Jesus appeared to the other women while they were en route from the tomb to Galilee to report back to the disciples, as the angels had instructed them from inside the tomb. How did Jesus get to them so fast, you ask? We know that Jesus had a glorified body—he could appear in unrecognizable forms; he could move through locked doors; and his body still bore the scars from the nails and the thrust of the spear as he hung on the cross three days earlier. So his speedy appearance between two places does no violence at all to the narrative. In fact, it lends it further credibility.

Thus, we see no necessary contradictions in the resurrection accounts in the gospels. As long as we can provide reasonable alternatives to resolve the apparent contradictions, we can demonstrate that no necessary contradictions are present. In fact, we can have reasonable certainty that the gospel accounts offer a coherent narrative of the events of the resurrection.

This means that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord and God, we are making a reasonable epistemic choice. We are not taking an irrational leap of faith into the darkness. We can affirm, with the Apostle Paul as he was reflecting on whether or not Christ was raised: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep, for since by man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead” (I Cor. 15.20-21).

In Part IV, we will summarize our findings.

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part II

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In Part I, we considered several apparent contradictions in the four gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. To recap, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the Scriptures have no meaning to us whatsoever, according to the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15. If the accounts of the resurrection are unreliable, then we have no reasonable basis to believe the resurrection occurred. So the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ are central to the Christian faith.

An apparent contradiction is not the same as an actual contradiction. To have an actual contradiction, you have to have an assertion that takes the following form:

  1. There is a tree growing in the pasture ten yards from the southwest corner of the fence.
  2. There is not a tree growing in the pasture ten yards from the southwest corner of the fence.

Either there is a tree at the specified location, or there isn’t. Both cannot be true. So these two statements are contradictory.

What makes a necessary contradiction? A necessary contradiction occurs when there are no possible alternatives except the contradiction. The example above is an example of a necessary contradiction because the details are so precisely defined.

Apparent contradictions come along when there are hosts of details that are not specifically enumerated. For example, Matthew’s account of the resurrection does not include every single, solitary detail of the events of that morning. Neither does Mark’s; or Luke’s; or John’s. The gospel writers include certain details, and leave others out. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that. You can report on an event truthfully without enumerating every single detail of the narrative.

For the gospel accounts to be necessarily contradictory, there must be no alternative except that a contradiction is present. But as we will see, there are no necessary contradictions. As long as there is a reasonable alternative to a contradiction, it is not reasonable to assume a necessary contradiction. In fact, it is more reasonable to posit the alternative than to posit the contradiction.

Let’s consider Matthew’s account of the angel rolling the stone away and sitting down on it. No other gospel accounts have this detail. And Matthew does not report on the women’s reaction to the angel moving away the stone and sitting on it.

We can infer that the women were not present when the angel moved away the stone. We can infer that they were en route to the tomb, but that they had not arrived yet when the earthquake occurred, the angel moved the stone, and stunned the guards. We can further infer, that by the time the women did arrive at the tomb, the angel departed from the mouth of the tomb, so that when the women arrived, they found the stone rolled away—which is exactly what Mark, Luke, and John affirm.

So how many angels were inside the tomb? Was it only one, as Mark says? Or were there two, as Luke says? Well, if there were two, there was certainly one. Luke saying there were two does not necessitate only one. Mark only mentions the one, presumably because there was only one angel speaking to the women, while the other affirmed what he said by his silence.

What did the angels say? Here we have striking agreement between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here is what they said:

  1. Fear not (Matthew and Mark)
  2. I know you seek Jesus (Matthew and Mark)
  3. Why do you seek the living among the dead? (Luke)
  4. Jesus is not here (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
  5. He is risen (Matthew and Mark)
  6. Just as he said (Matthew)
  7. Remember how he told you that he would be crucified and rise again (Luke)
  8. Come and see the place where they laid him (Matthew and Mark)
  9. Go, tell his disciples (Matthew and Mark)
  10. He is going before you into Galilee (Matthew and Mark)
  11. You will see him there (Matthew and Mark)

Now obviously, not all three include every single one of these affirmations. But when we look at the flow of these affirmations, they all follow one from another. There are no contradictions here in the statements of the angels to the women as they stood inside the empty tomb.

So, we have considered the questions about the angels—how many there were, what they were doing, and what they said to the women. Not every gospel writer includes every detail of the event. But the details they did include fit together nicely. Do we need to infer a few things that none of the gospel writers include in their narratives? Yes, but those inferences are not unreasonable. And if we can infer a reasonable explanation resolving an apparent contradiction, then we have shown that no necessary contradiction exists.

But we are not finished yet. The most troubling difficulties lie ahead.

Let’s consider Mary Magdalene’s role in the narrative, and most important, let’s consider what exactly Jesus was up to. Moving on to Part III. . .

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part I

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The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that every assertion of the gospel rests on the truth of Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead on the third day. He wrote, “. . . if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. . . . For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15.14, 16-17).

In other words, if Jesus did not, in fact, rise from the dead, then nothing that is affirmed in the New Testament is true. In fact, nothing in the Old Testament is true either, because as Jesus himself said, “[the Scriptures] testify about Me” (John 5.39) and “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5.17). So, if Jesus is not raised from the dead, the entire testimony of God found in the Scriptures is worthless, because the Christian faith rests on that very foundation.

So it stands to reason that the gospel accounts of the Resurrection are not only important; they are indispensable. Everything is riding on the accuracy of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

But do those four accounts present us with a coherent narrative? If they do, then it is reasonable to believe them, and to accept that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead on the third day, as each of them assert. But if they contradict one another, then their reliability is questionable. If they are contradictory, how would we know which details in the narrative were accurate, and which were not? We would be left guessing, which is a bad place to be.

When we carefully consider the four accounts, do we find a coherent narrative? Let’s consider these details in particular:

  1. Matthew reports an earthquake, and an angel turning the stone away from the tomb and sitting on it. He also has the guards freeze in terror and become like dead men.
  2. But none of the other accounts include these details. In fact, Mark relates that the women who were on their way to the tomb early that morning wondered who would roll the stone away for them. If an angel rolled the stone away, why would the women wonder who would roll it away for them?
  3. When the women arrived at the tomb and found the stone rolled away, Luke says that they saw two angels—but Mark says there was only one.
  4. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each report that the angels the women found declared to them that Jesus had been resurrected. But John does not report this at all. In fact, John says that the angels only asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying.
  5. John says that he and Peter went to the tomb, but Matthew and Mark do not mention their journey to the tomb; Luke says that Peter was there, but says nothing about John.
  6. The biggest difficulty with the Resurrection accounts has to do with Mary Magdalene. She is mentioned as being with the rest of the women—the other Mary and Salome—who all went to the tomb together that morning. But John says that only Mary Magdalene was there at the tomb. He says that the angels were there to ask her why she was crying. And then John says that Jesus appeared to her, that she did not recognize him but thought he was the gardener. But then he revealed himself to her as Jesus, and told her to go and tell his disciples that he was alive. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is the angels that tell the women to report back to the disciples.

Matthew has Jesus appearing to the women as they are en route to report to the disciples, but it was after they had departed the tomb that he appears to them. So Mark and Luke do not mention Jesus at or near the tomb; Matthew has Jesus appear to the women while they are heading back to tell the disciples about the empty tomb; and John has Jesus appear only to Mary Magdalene at the tomb itself.

It would seem that there are serious contradictions in the gospel accounts as to what exactly happened on Resurrection morning.

  1. How many angels were at the tomb? One or two? Was the angel on the rock, or inside the tomb?
  2. What did the angels say to the women? Did they declare the resurrection, or did they wonder why Mary Magdalene was crying?
  3. Who was actually present at the tomb? Was Mary Magdalene with the other women, or was she by herself? Did Peter come to the tomb by himself, or did he come with John?
  4. And what about Jesus? Did all the women see him? Did they see him at the tomb or en route back to Galilee? Did they recognize him? What did he say to them? Was he present at the tomb at all?

These questions reveal what appear to be fatal contradictions in the gospel accounts. The stakes are very high. If the resurrection accounts are contradictory, then their credibility is seriously undermined.

The good news is that the four gospel accounts of the resurrection can indeed be harmonized. We can indeed have confidence that the gospels do not contradict themselves, that the accounts are completely reliable, and we can know that Jesus did indeed rise again from the dead.

Let’s look at Part II to see how.

Failure the Secret of Success

Rejection and failure are a painful part of everyone’s life. Every one of us can relate story after story of experiencing some painful rejection, despite having done all the right things: showing up, working hard, meeting the right people, etc. Success and failure are not necessarily paths going in opposite directions, and failure is not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, reflects on failure and rejection in this article. Adams writes a funny and helpful piece in Saturday’s WSJ on how to make failure the road to success, rather than a brick wall blocking the way.

Here is a taste of Adams’ good word:

Nietzsche famously said, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It sounds clever, but it’s a loser philosophy. I don’t want my failures to simply make me stronger, which I interpret as making me better able to survive future challenges. (To be fair to Nietzsche, he probably meant the word “stronger” to include anything that makes you more capable. I’d ask him to clarify, but ironically he ran out of things that didn’t kill him.)

Becoming stronger is obviously a good thing, but it’s only barely optimistic. I do want my failures to make me stronger, of course, but I also want to become smarter, more talented, better networked, healthier and more energized. If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertilizer again. Failure is a resource that can be managed.

Before launching Dilbert, and after, I failed at a long series of day jobs and entrepreneurial adventures. Here are just a few of the worst ones. I include them because successful people generally gloss over their most aromatic failures, and it leaves the impression that they have some magic you don’t.

When you’re done reading this list, you won’t have that delusion about me, and that’s the point. Success is entirely accessible, even if you happen to be a huge screw-up 95% of the time.

TR’s Life a Testament of Hope

     John Fea of Messiah College has invited me to contribute a post to the Hope blog relay begun by Ed Blum, religion historian at San Diego State University. Dr. Fea is a gentleman and a scholar, and an engaging and incisive historian as anyone can see in his books. In the introduction to his most recent book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, he asserts that the study and practice of history “has the amazing potential to transform our lives” (xxvii). Keep an eye out for his next project, forthcoming in the next year or so, in which he will develop this helpful theme more thoroughly.
     In that spirit, allow me to share a personal anecdote as I begin these thoughts on hope. I am trying to teach my oldest daughter, aged 7, about overcoming doubts and fears. Over the summer, she set her sights on the high dive at our pool. She would climb the ladder to the top of the diving board, and then find herself terrified, unable to jump. She then would miserably climb back down the ladder, defeated.
     She didn’t want to be defeated, but she was. I told her that it was OK to be scared. Everybody is afraid of something. The difference between courage and cowardice is that the courageous person overcomes her fears while the cowardly person allows her fears to control her. A few days ago at the high dive, my little girl climbed that ladder and ran off the diving board into the pool without hesitating. She found out, in her small but significant way, how to overcome a fear that had previously gripped her. She found hope in the face of the yawning chasm of fear that was before her.
     One of my heroes is Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth president of the United States, 1901-1909. (By the way, his name is Theodore, not Teddy. Few dared call him “Teddy” to his face.) His life contains one story of hope against adversity after another. As a young boy, he almost didn’t survive violent bouts of asthma. He lost his mother and his first wife on the same horrible night, February 14, 1884. His younger brother Elliott became an alcoholic and committed suicide at the age of 34 in 1894. But Roosevelt looked past these and many other adversities and is known as one of the most courageous—and hopeful— men ever to lead this country.
     Everyone knows about Roosevelt’s leadership of the First US Volunteer Regiment, the Rough Riders, in the Spanish American War. Most know also that Roosevelt was the first president to invite an African American, Booker T. Washington, to dine at the White House against the howls of Southern Democrats. He saved the nation from disaster by negotiating the end of the 1902 coal miner’s strike. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the warring Japanese and Russians together in 1905. His list of accomplishments is overflowing and inspiring.
     He said in his autobiography that there were two types of successes. The first type of success comes to a Washington, a Nelson, or a Lincoln, he said. This type of success is rare, and comes only to those with exceptional gifts. But the second type of success comes to ordinary people, and Roosevelt included himself in this group. He said, “It is the kind of success which is open to the average man of sound body and fair mind, who has no remarkable mental or physical attributes, but who gets just as much as possible in the way of work out of the aptitudes that he does possess. It is the only kind of success that is open to most of us.”
     Herein lies the essence of hope seen in Theodore Roosevelt’s life. He wrote further, “Having been a rather sickly and awkward boy, I was as a young man at first both nervous and distrustful of my own prowess. I had to train myself painfully and laboriously not merely as regards my body but as regards my soul and spirit.”
     One of the methods of this training was the discipline of overcoming fears. Roosevelt’s way of finding courage was to consider that of which he was afraid, then act as though he was not afraid. Then, he acted decisively. “There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first,” he wrote, “ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”
     Owen Wister, the great Western novelist and author of My Friendship with Roosevelt: 1880-1919, described the kind of man Roosevelt was with these words:
In 1912, he is shot close to the heart on his way to make a speech, nobody can stop him, he speaks for an hour and a half, and then goes to the doctors. In 1913, he wins a libel suit for ten thousand dollars against an editor who had published the favorite falsehood of his drinking. He waives the damages. Defendant in a libel suit brought by a political enemy during the Great War, and with a jury containing Germans, he denounces the sinking of the Lusitaniawhich happened during the trial, regardless of how this may affect the verdict. At the Convention of 1912, approached by the emissary of thirty disgusted Taft delegates with an offer that would put the Republican nomination in the hollow of his hand, he sends the emissary back, explosively. “This is a crooked convention,” he exclaims, “and I don’t touch it with a forty rod pole.” In 1912, upon our entering the Great War, he offers to raise a division himself, and go over and fight. Cannot many who knew the man, match these instances with a score of others?
     Roosevelt’s hopeful perspective is seen in something he said to Wister just shortly after the death of his youngest son Quentin in the skies over France in 1918, and a few weeks before his own death. “It doesn’t matter what the rest is going to be. I have had fun the whole time.” This perspective, defined by hopeful expectation, brings out the meaning of hope as a certain expectation of something wonderful to come. Christian theology teaches us about that kind of hope. History does too, through those who lived hope’s meaning in a myriad of ways, and overcoming legions of fearful challenges.
     Now, I pass the baton on to my friends and colleagues–
Rich Holland, philosopher and theologian who is a friend of wisdom
Tom Foley, intrepid Christian missionary to Eastern Europe and one of the wisest men I know
Evan Lenow, ethicist and dear friend and colleague at Southwestern
Josh Bush, chemical engineer who deftly shows connections between faith and science
Nathan Finn, insightful historian and theologian at Southeastern