By Darryl Budge
“My heart ached over the cruelty in the world”
As a paratrooper in the Australian Army a deep desire to curb injustice and cruelty motivated Michael F. Bird to explore the spiritual beliefs he had once mocked.
In his youth Michael was convinced religion was a crutch due to the instruction of his secular home and education in suburban Brisbane.
He echoed the belief of those around him that Christians were "morally deviant hypocrites" and later wrote poetry mocking belief in God.
As an Australian Army paratrooper and intelligence operator he was brought face-to-face with the moral problem of evil, which challenged his beliefs.
"I felt conflicted when my heart ached over the injustice and cruelty in the world," he says.
As an atheist, Michael says, "I 'knew' that ethics were nothing more than aesthetics, a mere word game for things I liked and disliked."
He then developed "an acute suspicion there might be... something supreme", a God who has given mankind objective moral laws.
In all those years when he mocked those who believed in the Bible, Michael admits he had never studied the life of Jesus in the New Testament. He recalls being immediately surprised when he finally did.
"The Jesus I encountered was far different from the deluded radical, even mythical character described to me," Michael recalls.
"This Jesus... of history was real. He touched upon things that cut close to my heart, especially as I pondered the meaning of human existence."
As he studied textual and historical evidence for Jesus' divine identity and resurrection, Michael says that "faith grew from seeds of doubt".
This was liberating, he recalls, because "I came upon a whole new world that, for the first time, actually made sense to me."
Doubt gave way to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of the Universe, which Michael says "opened a constellation of meaning, beauty, hope, and life that I had been indoctrinated to deny".
This new liberty spurred Michael on in a lifelong quest to study the Bible and early Christian history to the doctorate level. He is now a lecturer at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia.
Michael describes himself as an "anti-type of Bart Ehrman" – another New Testament scholar with a university doctorate who rejected his early faith and has argued that Jesus never claimed to be God.
Michael flatly rejects Bart's assertion, saying, "A careful look at the Gospels shows that the historical Jesus explicitly claimed to exercise divine prerogatives [or characteristics].
"He (Jesus) identified Himself with God's activity in the world. He believed that in His own person, Israel's God was returning to Zion, just as the prophets had promised. And He claimed He would sit on God's throne."
Michael also points out that these de facto claims to divine personhood were "the reasons religious leaders of the day were so outraged."
And he adds, "Within 20-some years after His death and resurrection, Christians were identifying Him with the God of Israel, using language and grammar of the Old Testament to do so."
Michael says it is not scholarship but a false sense of superiority that kept him from seriously investigating Christianity.
Taking a leaf out of Philippians chapter three, Michael writes: "If anyone thinks they are assured in their unbelief, I was more committed: born of unbelieving parents, never baptised or dedicated; on scholarly credentials, a PhD from a secular university; as to zeal, mocking the church; as to ideological righteousness, totally radicalised.
"But whatever intellectual superiority I thought I had over Christians, I now count it as sheer ignorance. Indeed, I count everything in my former life as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing the historical Jesus who is also the risen Lord.
"For His sake, I have given up trying to be a hipster atheist.
"The real story of Jesus Christ is good news, and it transformed my life. That's why I'm fighting to tell it amidst a cacophony of misguided voices."•