Tuesday morning brought no resolution to his hopes. The assailant was reasonably coherent but had no intention of assisting the police. Neither Varella nor Brinks were in the best of moods that day. The more Varela thought about the man who had tried to kill him, the more he was convinced that the man was just a hireling. I mean wasn’t it that way in all the movies. The man probably knew nothing. It’s the Tall Man that we need to catch. He’ll have some answers. The thought of the Tall Man sent chills down Varella’s spine. If the Tall Man had figured out where Sandy was staying…..
* * *
They were sitting together in the downtown coffee shop. It was called the Phoenix and was full of college students. Some were studying some were reading and a whole lot of them were just sitting and talking. They had chosen one of the big tables upstairs. Varella liked this place, it was closer than his other favorite coffee shop, which was ‘Mr. Toots’ down in Capitola and it served just as good coffee. He’d taken some time to find out what Josh did for a living. Apparently the man was in charge of technical support of printers and systems and other things that Hewlett Packard made. Josh spent most of his time in his car driving back and forth to customer sites and could be contacted anytime on the car phone or by pager or by voice mail. Apparently if anyone left him a message on his voice mail, it would immediately page Josh. It was a very convenient set up, thought Varella, one could pretty much set up one’s own schedule and was free in between calls.
Josh and Varella had been here an hour now, going over and over the books that Carl had checked out of the library. There just wasn’t anything here that would warrant a murder.
“OK, so far this is what we have.” Varella started to write it down as he spoke. “One, about 5 books that prove the existence of a man named Jesus.”
“That indisputably prove his existence.” added Josh.
“OK, about 4 books that indisputably prove the existence of a man named Jesus…, one that is questionable….”
“Jesus who was crucified by Pontius Pilate, under the reign of Tiberius and later people claiming the he rose from the dead started to change the world” responded Josh.
“Ok, that’s given.
Two: A missing Quran/Muslim holy book.
Three: Some information on ankhs.
Four: A cut across the chest, the stomach and the throat.” Varella did not like thinking about this.
“Five: A house with everything about Egypt missing or broken in two.”
“Six: A man who tried to kill you, who just came out of a coma.” said Josh.
“Yeah, Six: An attempted murderer who refuses to talk and probably knows nothing.
Seven: A list of things that Carl said before he died, whatever they may mean.” Varella had written this down earlier so he wouldn’t forget it. He now copied it on to his new list.
“Not, ankh, free my son, my son, gramkey el sheeba, farther in to hands”
Josh indicated that he wanted the list. Varella handed it to him and took a sip of his third Caffe’ Latte. There was a momentary lull, Varella stared off into space. Josh started mouthing the last phrase. He tried it a couple of times, saying it softly and tentatively “Father in to hands, Father into your hands” suddenly a light bulb lit up, Josh sat bolt upright. “Father, into Your hands”, then he smiled “He was a Christian when he died”
“This last thing that he said ‘Father into your hands….’” Josh looked up at Varella, his eyes bright. “That’s what Jesus said just before He died on the cross. He said ‘It is finished,….. Father into your hands I commend my spirit’ and then he died.”
It seemed suddenly quiet in the coffee shop. Varella shook his head. This was so unreal.
“Listen do you really believe all this stuff? I mean I understand how people can get fanatical and emotional about things. But from what I’ve seen of you these past few days, you seem like a very level headed guy. What makes you so sure that there is a God? What makes it seem so real to you?”
Josh smiled, the real question here was not “Why is Josh Nunsson a Christian,” the real question here was “Why the heck did Carl Wassau, my best friend, who is very sane, become a Christian?” And in a sense he’d been waiting for this. “I totally understand where you are coming from because I know of a lot of great Christian Theologians, like CS Lewis who also approached it with a total skeptics attitude. And while I did become a Christian in Junior High, when I grew older I did a lot of re-evaluating. I’d decided that if I was going to continue to believe in some sort of religion it would have to be because there was something provable about it. I’d seen the other religions. Including Christianity. Most of them were just blind rituals. Most of them were just traditions. They did these rituals because somebody somewhere decided that they should do it. Nobody knew the real reasons. I decided if there was a God and he really cared, he would show us a reasonable way to prove that he was really there. And tradition and rituals would have nothing to do with it, because after all, just because you’ve been doing it for a few thousand years doesn’t make it right. They’ve had slavery for thousands of years, that doesn’t make slavery right? Does it. I wanted a God who was real and genuine and based on logic and not on feelings.”
Varella agreed whole heartedly.
“Because if feelings were all I had to go on, how did I know that it wasn’t something I ate. Besides how often have you felt very strongly about something and then later found out that you were dead wrong? Further more, the KKK and the Nazi’s sure felt that they were doing the right thing. And I bet they felt very very strongly about it. Did their feeling that way make what they were doing right? NO, it had nothing to do with that. Just because it feels good, it doesn’t mean it is good. Just because it feels right, it doesn’t mean it is right.
“But nobody seemed to be able to offer me any proof that there was a God. Then for a while I thought that maybe all religions could be right, they were all ways to God. But the more I studied about the different religions the more I realized that a lot of them contradicted each other and a lot of them contradicted themselves. And some of them are intolerant of each other. So it would be ridiculous to say that they were all ways to God. I figured only one of them could be right. Christianity claims that not only is it the only correct religion but that all other religions lead to hell. Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. If you believe in me you shall have eternal life. If you don’t believe in me you are already condemned.’ So either Christianity was all right or it was half right and half wrong. Which would have made it all wrong as far as I was concerned. There was also one other major difference. You see in almost every other major religion it was not important if the founder of the religion existed or not. It was his teachings that counted. For instance, it doesn’t matter if Buddha really ever existed, to the Buddist it’s the teachings of Lord Sidhartta Gautama aka Buddha that matters. It is not important if Krishna ever existed, the legends of his time and his theology is what is important to a Hindu.
“But in Christianity, if Jesus Christ did not exist, there is no Christianity. You see Christianity is based not on the teachings of Jesus, but on the person of Jesus. In Christianity if Jesus did not live, die and rise again physically, Christians of all people are fools.
“But that’s just your opinion” interjected Varella.
“Actually,” smiled Josh, “it isn’t. That’s right out of the Bible, it’s in first Corinthians Chapter 15 verse 12 onwards.”
That surprized Varella. He hadn’t known that was there, plus growing up in the Catholic Church, as far as he knew everything was based on tradition. He recovered “Well, so how do I know the Bible is correct?”
Josh smiled again, he wasn’t going to get sidetracked. “I promise I’ll deal with that later. The point I am trying to make is that Christianity is not based on ideas, it is based on facts. Douglas Groothius who works with a group called Christian Research Institute says and since I’m quoting this from memory it may not be word for word, but he says in effect: ‘Christianity has always been a historical religion and any serious challenge to it’s legitimacy must attend to that fact. Its central claims are rooted in events, not ideas; in people, not principles; in revelation, not speculation; in incarnation, not abstraction, in facts and not concepts.’ You see Christianity is based not only on the teachings of Jesus, but on the blood of Jesus, if there was no blood, there is no redemption of sin, if there is no redemption of sin,” Josh hit the table with a loud thump, “there is NO Christianity.”
He was really getting warmed up to this, thought Varella, starting to understand something very basic about Josh. Not only did this big football player not feel that you could define your own religion, but he was sure that his religion was logical and provable and based on reality and history. This was the first time someone had even suggested to Varella that religion should be based on reality. Varella agreed with that fact, but he’d never heard anyone say it before. Further more he’d never have even imagined that Christianity of all religions would be based on reality. In his experience it seemed to based on emotions and feelings and rituals. This was definitely charting new ground for him. Maybe this Josh guy was creating his own religion. A logical historical religion. But the guy kept quoting right out of the Bible. Maybe he was interpreting it wrong.
Josh continued with passion. “So then I came to the claims of Jesus. CS Lewis said that Jesus had to be one of three things, he was a either lunatic, or he was a liar, or he was what he claimed to be, the Lord God. At first I thought that that was stupid, because in talking to various people I could see that as far as they were concerned, Jesus was a very good man, or maybe even a prophet, nobody thought he was a lunatic or a liar.”
Until that day in the library Varella hadn’t really put much thought into whether Jesus existed on not. He had been more inclined to think the man was just a legend. He remembered reading some of Joseph Campbell’s views on the matter. That acclaimed author had claimed that Jesus was just a metaphor. In fact even the well known philosopher Bertrand Russell had claimed that there was no proof that Jesus ever existed. That goes to show that you shouldn’t blindly believe everything you read. Now he felt he had sufficient proof that Jesus did exist and he had photocopies of historical works to prove it, so much for Campbell and Russell and their opinions. In fact now that he thought about it, Varella was wondering if he could trust any of their conclusions. These so called “men of learning” had been so intent on pushing their own biases that they hadn’t given a hoot it seemed, about reality or authenticity or accuracy. It was like propaganda. Say what you want to achieve your own ends. While he didn’t think Jesus Chirst was anyone overly special, his historicity seemed indisputable and something even a 10 year old could prove. Had these ‘great’ men of philosophy failed in elementary history? It seemed that way.
Maybe it was the vestiges of his Catholic upbringing. But as a result of the historical evidence he had to amend his opinion. And the only conclusion then was that Jesus had existed and thus he must have been just a great and wise moral teacher. In this Varella found himself agreeing with what Josh had found.
Josh was still speaking “But there’s a fundamental problem with saying that Jesus was just a wise man. You see as CS Lewis says in effect, ‘let’s get one thing clear. Jesus Christ claimed that he was God and there is no doubt about that.'”
Varella wasn’t sure about that though “How do you know that that wasn’t added later? Besides his disciples could have misunderstood him.”
“Well, remember that conversation in the library?”
Varella looked blank.
Josh explained “When you asked me if Jesus ever claimed that He was God?”
It was coming back to him. He nodded.
Josh continued “Well besides Jesus claiming to be the I AM, the old testament prophecy claims that he is God, the book of Isaiah chapter 9 verse 6 says: Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, Prince of Peace.”
Varella dimly remembered that verse from various Christmas plays in his youth. This football player seemed to know his Bible by heart.
“Jesus also forgave sins, only God can forgive sins.”
“No, my priest used to forgive my sins when I was a young boy.” interjected Varella remembering the smell of a small wooden dusty curtained room.
Josh shrugged “Not really, he was acting as the mediator between you and God…, and actually that’s a whole different can of worms that we’ll talk about later. But Jesus also said ‘I and the Father are one, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.’ The man claimed that He was God, and he claimed that he would die, and in three days rise from the dead.
“I’ll prove to you later why we can be sure that it wasn’t added later. But knowing all that, let us study the alternatives. Let’s first make the assumption that he wasn’t what he said he was. That is, he wasn’t God.”
Varella was following, but he wasn’t sure where this was leading.
Josh wrote down the word ‘Lunatic’ on a blank piece of paper. “If he wasn’t God then maybe Jesus was just a bit off his rocker, because he was claiming all this stuff! Maybe he had illusions of grandeur and just thought that he was God. You know like Charles Manson, who interestingly enough thinks he’s Jesus Christ.”
O.K. that was a possibility, though Varella didn’t quite buy it.
“Well he couldn’t have been just a bit off his rocker, he had to be totally insane! You see as I explained in the library, claiming that you are God in a fiercely monotheistic culture like the one the Jews had in 30 AD, would be equivalent to commiting suicide. It would seem that the man had a death wish. Not exactly what you’d expect from a good and wise teacher is it?” Josh was getting into it again.
“But the more I studied the man’s life the more convinced I was that he wasn’t mad. His sayings and teachings are sane and wise, he seemed to portray a total knowledge and understanding of human nature, he seemed to know exactly what people of all walks of life needed. I couldn’t detect any madness in the way he acted or in what he said and did. There was only one thing that seemed to indicate he was mad. He really and truly and genuinely believed that he was God. Maybe he was only mad on this one point and totally sane elsewhere. But it seems very unlikely. Interestingly, this is the man that has singularly affected the entire world for good more than any other man living or dead! Everybody says this man was a wise teacher, or a prophet, or as the twisted New Agers would put it ‘an enlightened master’.”
Twisted New Agers, that was the second time he’d heard that name.
Josh was still going strong. “So that brings us to 2. If he wasn’t God as he claimed to be, then maybe he was a liar.” He wrote ‘Liar’ under the word ‘Lunatic.’
“Well if he was a liar, then he was also a filthy hypocrite because he told others that whatever the cost they were never to lie. He was also a fool because when asked repeatedly by Pilate and the High Priest to recant his claim of being God, he, fully knowing that the penalty was death still claimed to be God. If he was a liar then he must have been lying because he was a con man, but what a useless con man he was, he died penniless & powerless. Most con men play their con games for money or power or for an easy life. Jesus had none. He didn’t get rich like Rajneesh in Oregon or Rev. Moon of the Moonies nor did he amass an army around him like Rev. Jim Jones or Hitler or even Saddam Hussein. He didn’t gain anything for himself and he didn’t try! I couldn’t figure out what sort of con man was that?
“Josh McDowell in his book, The Resurrection Factor says ‘And so I ask you how in the name of logic, common sense and…. experience could an impostor- that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man – have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end of his life, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality?’
“The man who even today changes lives of the most hardened criminals into the most kindest of people. No, there was no way that he was a liar of a con man, unless deep down inside he was really convinced that he was God” Josh stabbed at the word ‘Lunatic’ with his pen “which would mean that he was slightly mad – but I’d already eliminated that option!! And even when I went back to it, it didn’t jive. I was stuck.
Josh paused and then continued softly. “I had to decide if he was a Lunatic or a Liar or maybe he really was what he claimed to be. Maybe he really was God.
“And that is a decision I had to make! I couldn’t just ignore it any more, I couldn’t pretend that he was a great moral teacher or a good and wise man! It just didn’t work.
“I have a close friend who says ‘Christianity ain’t no blind faith! It’s a solid faith built on a solid foundation.’ And he’s right. Christianity ain’t, I mean isn’t a blind faith. It’s based on facts and history and logic. Not on traditions, not on concepts, but on reality.”
Varella thought about that for a while. “What about if he was a very good man at the start but over time the power went to his head and he started getting twisted and started claiming he was God?”
“Ah” said Josh “but that’s not possible if we study his life in detail, as far as anyone can tell, he maintained consistently the same teachings and the same saneness and kindness throughout.”
“And that was what convinced you to remain religious?” asked Varella.
“Oh no, that wasn’t enough, besides that’s really all philosophical. I wanted something real, something solid. Something provable.”
“And did you find it?” there was a pause. “Obviously” said Varella rolling his eyes, answering his own question.
Josh smiled. “Yes, I did. You see there was something that happened two thousand years ago that changed the entire course of history. Something so unusual that mankind has never been the same since. In fact it was so impossible that mankind is still trying to figure out how it happened.”
“And what was that?”
“It was an empty grave… but I have to tell you about that later, because I promised I’d meet someone over at my house in a half hour. Actually, I have a book, or a couple of books that you might be interested in. One directly discusses what I’ve been talking about. Would you like to swing by?”
Varella hesitated, he was starting to trust Josh a bit more, but he wasn’t sure. The Luger was in the car under the seat. He could put his jacket on and stick the gun in his belt before he went into Josh’s house. “Ok, but it’ll only be for a minute.”
“Great, follow me over.”
They gathered their stuff up and headed out. The big man’s limp didn’t seem as noticeable today. When Varella reached his car, he put his coat on before he got into the vehicle.
Josh lived in Willow Glen, one of the many suburbs of San Jose and the ride took only about 15 minutes. Before he got out of the car Varella pulled out the Luger from under the seat removed it from it’s holster and stuck it in his belt, right above his rear pocket. His jacket would cover it well and since he didn’t plan to sit down, he figured that he’d be OK.
The house was a nice cheerful looking place and as far as Varella could see it was impeccably furnished and had all the trimmings. The words that came to mind was “comfortable” and “class.” It was the kind of house that portrayed a very country and trim sort of classiness, and it smelled very nice. It was a “woman’s” smell.
Josh noticed him admiring the place. “When I got married I figured that I should let my wife do all the decorating and keep my opinions to myself. Looking at it now, I am very glad I did. I have friends who got married and insisted on hanging on to their favorite bookshelf or couch or whatever and as a result ended up with some very tacky setups.”
Varella smiled. And I was worried that he was going to try and kill me.
Varella followed him into what looked like a den. The first thing that struck him was the number of books in the room. Oak shelves lined every inch of the perimeter and rose up to within a foot of the ceiling, yet the books in them were overflowing. There were books stuck on top of books. Some were novels, many were reference books. There were a couple of sets that looked like encyclopedias but said “Commentary” on the spine. Either the man was an avid reader or he just tried to impress people with his library. Josh went to one wall and picked out two books and handed them to Varella. Varella looked at them, they were both by the same author. One of them was the one that Josh had mentioned twice, once in the Library and once at the coffee shop. The other was new to Varella. The author of both the books was Josh McDowell, one of the books was blue and was called Evidence that Demands a Verdict, it had a gavel striking a table on the cover, the other book was a reddish orange and was called The Resurrection Factor.
Varella thanked him, left the sweet smelling house and got back in the Mustang. He wondered if he’d ever get around to reading these books. They sounded interesting but he wondered if they really were. He’d seen other religious books before and they’d been so trite and unrealistic or they’d been so esoteric or mindlessly repetitive that he’d quickly bored of them. Most books went on and on about vague uncertainties or strange feeling and aura oriented claptrap that you could tell that the lunatic who’d written the book was off on some weird trip, or was just out to make a fast buck. He didn’t doubt that these two books would fall under the same category.