I want to share an idea that’s becoming more and more dear to me...
The Christian God is hard to believe in.
Yes, I’m still a pastor. No, I haven’t lost my faith. In fact, I think that statement is an important one for all Christians to acknowledge. In fact, I think it’s becoming increasingly important in our shifting culture. Christian doctrine asserts some pretty extraordinary things. If you’ve been around church long enough you may have started to take them for granted. So here's a quick review:
- Virgin Birth. This is medically impossible. Virgins don’t have babies, and if you went around claiming that they did, we would put you in the loony bin.
- Resurrection. Again, impossible. Dead people stay dead. One hundred percent of the time.
- Creation Ex Nihilo. This is the uniquely Christian idea that no matter existed before God created it. God didn’t fashion the world out of raw materials or a piece of his celestial body, like many ancient religions imagine. The Christian God pulled a rabbit out of a formless hat.
- The God-Man. Christians don’t believe that Jesus was just sent from God, or just the son of God, or just chosen by God. We believe that he is God. One hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. This, along with the Trinity, is a doctrine so outlandish that it defies not only common sense, but basic arithmetic. In the Christian story, one plus one plus one equals one.
This is only a sampling. There is much more. The Christian God insists that his followers symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood. That they give away their money. That they suffer and surrender their rights. The God of the Bible seems hell-bent on making himself hard to believe in and even harder to follow. Jesus himself famously said, "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” And he didn’t seem interested in a road-widening project to add any lanes.
At this point, many of my readers may be worrying for my eternal salvation or my job security. Let me allay those fears. I am not saying that the Christian story is untrue. I am not saying that it’s unreasonable to believe these extraordinary things. I’m simply suggesting that we ought to acknowledge how extraordinary they are. I think this is important for two reasons.
First, it will help us connect with an increasingly disbelieving culture. In a culture of Christian majority where faith is intertwined with cultural mores, the church could get away with making some assumptions. When people grew up hearing about Noah’s ark and an empty tomb, they lost their incredulity at these claims. The church can’t keep making those same assumptions. As the dominant metaphor for Western Christianity shifts from Christendom to exile, it will be increasingly important for us to acknowledge the outlandish nature of Christian belief; to connect with shared assumptions before we assert miraculous exceptions.
If I were to relate a miraculous story to you from my own experience — say, a time my fishing buddy walked on water — I would likely start with some sort of disclaimer, an acknowledgement that I’m not crazy. I would say, “You’re not going to believe this but…” or “This is going to sound crazy but…” As the claims of Christianity begin to sound more and more strange to our neighbors’ ears, it will become more and more helpful for us to begin our stories with the same prelude.
Secondly, I believe we should acknowledge the unlikely nature of Christian belief because it is precisely its rarity that makes our story so beautiful. We believe in a God who seems to take delight in the remarkable and miraculous, a God who shows up best when the chips are down. It is neither stirring nor beautiful to believe a likely story. It takes no great faith to believe that the walk-on didn’t make the team or the Cubs didn’t win the pennant. These are not stories to celebrate. But a God who deals in rainbows and resurrections, a God who enters the muck of our sin-stained world to redeem us from the inside, a God who loves us enough to take our punishment — that is a story worth believing in, no matter how unlikely.