What's in a biography?

I noticed that Sir Alex Ferguson is the latest to bring out an autobiography that, no doubt, makes much of his success. It may well talk of difficult times and so on but ultimately it will celebrate a life that became one of the most successful as far as the world is concerned. Love him or loathe him, there are many who would be happy to be as successful in their chosen careers as he was.

Yet the most influential biography is of a man whose total public career was only three years and ended in the ignominy of a criminal’s death, a public execution. By the time of his death most people had misunderstood what he was saying, and most still do. Few of his original followers were left and those that were had fled into fearful hiding. No premier league stuff, eh? No dizzy heights of political success. Yet two thousand years later he has followers all over the world. I am, of course, talking about Jesus.

But have you noticed something else about the biographies that we know as the Gospels? They are written by his followers (in the case of Matthew and John) or a friend of one of the disciples (Mark) or one who talked to all the eye-witnesses (Luke). Now if I was writing that kind of story, and I was in it, I would big up my part as much as possible. I would tell how I was the most faithful and most intelligent of those who followed him. The last thing I would do is what the actual authors did. Universally they portray his followers, themselves included, as clueless and baffled and ultimately as being prepared to desert their master. Why do that? Only one reason; that’s what happened! In other words here is a reliable biography from people so changed by the man they were writing about, and especially by his resurrection, that they had no concern for being seen as successful. They had seen something, or rather someone, special and they knew it and wanted to let everyone know it.

Now I know you can come up with arguments and explanations for almost anything if you try hard enough. And I know that when it comes to Jesus people seem to want to do that more than with anyone else. They will buy into the most sanitised, gooey eyed portrayal of a pop star, footballer and so on, sooner than accept that Jesus really was who he said he was. But here is a thing. If whenever you hear good things about Jesus you want to rush off and find an explanation that allows you to carry on ignoring him, perhaps you need to stop and ask yourself why that is. Why, given the weight of evidence (which admittedly doesn’t prove the case beyond all conceivable doubt) , which is considerable, for the veracity of the gospels do we suddenly become more sceptical than we are about any other historical figure? We accept the truth of what happened in Caesar’s Gallic War on far less evidence.

Perhaps we like biographies best when they can entertain us, but don’t confront us, ones that may make us envious of the individual’s success but do not call upon us to really change anything about how we live. You see, you cannot read the biography of Jesus and remain neutral. If it is true it changes everything. If you think it changes nothing, it is because you do not think it is true. That kind of thing doesn’t happen when we read the biographies of football managers.


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