As a student, I read a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Neither the story nor his philosophy impressed me, but I was impressed by one thing. One of the characters in the story was Maugham himself. This wasn't autobiographical. The story was pure fiction—created by Maugham. And Maugham created, along with his other characters, a (minor) character that was Maugham himself. Maugham-the-character had conversations with his other characters. He had opinions—which, of course, were those of Maugham-the-author.

I believe that the Creator of the universe did very much the same sort of thing. He made one of his creatures to be Himself—and that one is Jesus. I can't prove this to anyone. I take it as an axiom—something assumed as a fact and from which other things follow and make sense. On the other hand, to say that God couldn't do this is nonsense. If Maugham could do it, God could do it. One couldn't say that God wouldn't do this either—without knowing God very well. And the only sane person to claim that he knew God that well was Jesus.

This axiom makes an interesting starting point. If God intended to make a creature that was to be Himself, that person would have to have a certain sex, belong to a certain culture and period of time. What would be appropriate? Although God may have chosen some of the particulars for reasons of which we know nothing, there are some things of which I think we can be confident. For example, if the culture were polytheistic, that wouldn't say much. On the other hand, if Jesus were one of the unique, emphatically monotheistic culture of his day, the Jews, then it would have much to say. Of course, I don't believe that God chose the Jews because they were monotheistic, I believe that God made them monotheistic, in order to provide an appropriate culture.

In contrast to all this, someone in the math department once referred to a joke that he liked as "the best practical joke since creation." The comparison was intended to be witty, which I suppose it was. The idea of creation as a practical joke means that God creates beings that live and die—and know they die, but have no idea of where they came from or why they are here. Some joke.

The axiom (Christians call it the incarnation) has a lot of consequences that make sense. For one thing, the universe is not just some terrible practical joke.

I believe in the death by crucifixion and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection is extremely strong. His followers went from few and discouraged to a large, growing number that proclaimed the good news of his resurrection to the world. The few discouraged ones were down-to-earth people like fishermen. No philosophy or emotional or psychological state—nothing but Jesus' bodily resurrection, which they witnessed themselves, would have changed them so.

Of course, if it is known in advance that there is no God, or if the universe is merely a practical joke, then the resurrection is not digestible. But if the incarnation is true, then we are open to whatever God might do.

I have never found, afterward, that what Jesus has asked me to do was not the best thing to do. He is always right. Some of the things he asks of us I have found possible only by praying for his strength. One particular thing, a need to forgive someone, I was deeply unwilling to do. I couldn't want good things happening to this person. But when I admitted my willingness to be made willing. God gave, not only the willingness, but a heart overflowing with forgiveness. I truly wanted all the best for the person.