Empty Office; Empty Tomb
There is an empty room in Clearwater, Florida. The room is an office. It sits fully equipped and ready for its occupant to return and begin working should he ever do so. However, the office is empty and it has been that way for years. It will be empty this weekend.
The Church of Scientology has made Clearwater one of its world headquarters. Their downtown building often referred to as the Flag Building, houses some of its most important leaders and it was where Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard often stayed and worked before he died.
Among the tenets of Scientology is a belief in reincarnation. When Hubbard died in 1986, his followers would hardly speak of his death, instead they issued a bizarre statement that Hubbard (LRH as he his often called) had merely “discarded his body” so that he could continue his important work on a higher plane.
The truth is that Hubbard died a sick and pitiful recluse. His body was found in a small motorhome tucked away on a ranch in California, near the small town of Creston. His family wasn’t there. His wife (his 3rd) was in prison and his estranged son believed he was either dead or insane.
His fingernails and toenails were long and unkempt, and there were traces of the drug Vistaril in his system, a psychiatric drug used to reduce anxiety and tension.
But the Church of Scientology downplayed his death, believing as they do that he had simply passed on to other realms and could look forward to future reincarnations.
Scientologists believe that LRH will return. They believe this so strongly that in outposts in numerous cities, including Clearwater, they keep an office fully furnished and ready for his return. Some of their apologists will contend that it is simply kept as a memorial. Perhaps, but the conviction about reincarnation and thus his potential return, is undeniable. According to some reports, an entire living space is kept ready for his return including his favorite foods and drinks. Yet, they still sit empty just like the office in downtown Clearwater. This Easter weekend it will be as quiet as ever.
The world has seen false prophets and false Messiahs come and go. Hubbard fancied himself a great teacher who revealed transformative spiritual truths about life. The truth is that he was just a massive con artist and his lies continue to haunt and bring destruction to many.
While many devout Scientologists await his return and keep his office ready, the truth is that LRH is dead and he isn’t coming back. There is only one who did that.
This weekend in Clearwater, Florida and indeed around the world, millions of Christians will gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We, who follow Christ, believe in that fact and ultimate truth which Jesus confirmed, both who He is and what He can do. There are, of course, many who will scoff at such a notion, and many others who will hold to a respectful skepticism. But this much is sure, something monumental must have happened over 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.
Something happened that caused thousands of Jewish people to suddenly convert and begin worshiping Jesus. Something happened that turned ordinary, common men into passionate preachers who carried the message to thousands more and eventually around the world.
Christianity is not primarily a set of ethical guidelines, an ethnic or national tradition, a philosophy of life, or even merely a set of doctrinal convictions. Christianity is a belief that Jesus died, Jesus was buried, and Jesus rose again from the dead. It is to be convinced that He was, and is, who He claimed to be, and thus came to do what He said He would do. It is the belief that He is the only begotten Son of God and that he came to die for our sins, rose from the dead, and he will save those who call upon His name. The truth of Christianity rises or falls on this one thing, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”
To paraphrase a C.S. Lewis quote, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is unimportant and deserves to be rejected; if He did rise from the dead, it is all important and Jesus should be worshiped. The one thing it cannot be is somewhat important.
In so many ways, false Messiahs try to emulate the one who millions truly believe was and is the Messiah. Hubbard tried. He criticized Jesus and those who follow Him, yet he tried to exalt himself as a kind of Messiah. While Scientology is largely shrinking around the world, there are still thousands who view Hubbard’s words as sacred and authoritative. In reality, they are nonsense.
Hubbard’s view of life is completely at odds with the biblical worldview that we are given one life and will one day answer to our Creator alone. In places like Clearwater, there are still Scientologists who look to Hubbard for hope and meaning. Many believe, as he taught, that they have lived before and will live again. But his office is still empty.
The empty office is a sad testimony to a failed philosophy of a man who is gone and is not coming back. It is a reminder that all false Messiahs eventually end up the same.
There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. However if you wish to account for that fact, it remains that something monumental did happen. You must account for the empty tomb. You must account for credible eyewitness accounts. You must account for changed lives around the world.
There is an empty office in Clearwater, but the churches will be filled across our city and around the globe. Literally hundreds of millions of people, perhaps more than a billion, will gather in crowded places this weekend to worship the one we believe has risen again. An empty office. An empty tomb. Take your pick.