Christians believe an unlikely story. So unlikely, in fact, that our unbelieving neighbors think we’re a bit crazy. And you can’t blame them. Virgin birth? Resurrection from the dead? The most foundational tenants of our faith are not only unlikely, they’re medically impossible! So why are there so many of us? Are there really that many gullible people on the planet? Have there really been that many gullible people in every generation and every corner of humanity for 2,000 years? Or is there something else going on?
Last weekend, my church hosted an apologetics conference. Four world-class speakers gave their best shot at defending the Christian faith with evidence from the historical record and scientific data. But those kinds of talks always seem to me to miss the elephant in the room. I think there are two arguments for Christianity that are more obvious and more compelling than minutia about the carbon dating of ancient writings. These two arguments arise not from science or history, but from logic.
1. Just because something is unlikely, that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
Several years ago, my brother was driving to a family gathering with his girlfriend. There was a thunderstorm and the highway where they were driving went through a wooded river bottom. At just the right time, just as they were about to drive under one weak tree, the wind broke off a dead limb. It fell at just the right instant to hit their windshield. But rather than falling in horizontal attitude, it nosed down a little as it came and the butt end of it went through their windshield. As if that weren’t remarkable enough, the limb crashed through their windshield at almost exactly the midpoint. It shot between them and reached all the way to the back seat - a limb about as big around as a coffee can. If that limb had fallen a second later, it would have missed them entirely. If it had fallen in a horizontal attitude, it might have just pounded in the top of their car and fallen away. If it had fallen a foot to the right or left, it would have very likely killed one of them. But, as unlikely as it was, it shot right through their windshield right between them.
What are the chances of that happening? They’re astronomical. Now, I’m not saying that God sent the limb or saved them from the limb. Either of those is possible, but they don’t relate to my point. My point is simply that unlikely things happen. Just because something is unlikely, doesn’t mean it’s not true. It means it’s less likely to be true. It means that it might not happen every day. But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.
Ironically, this is the same logic evolutionists use. They say that, yes, it is very unlikely that all the ingredients for human life coalesced at just the right time and in just the right way to create sentient beings. It must have taken billions of years and trillions of combinations. But, as unlikely as it seems, they have seen enough evidence in the fossil record to make them believe that that is exactly what happened.
This is what we believers say as well. We have to admit that it’s a lot to ask for people to believe in an invisible all-powerful being who conquered death. But we have seen enough evidence in the historic accounts of Jesus of Nazareth and in our own personal experiences with the unseen God to overcome the unlikelihood and make us believe that the unlikely has happened. That the biggest, most beautiful story is also the truest story. And that leads to my second point.
2. The most beautiful stories are the most unlikely.
No one ever wrote a bestseller about the walk-on who didn’t make the team. You’ve never watched a blockbuster about the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who stayed poor on the wrong side of the tracks. The most compelling stories overcome the longest odds. And whatever God may be, he is most certainly a storyteller.
So let’s compare stories. Philosophers say that there are three big questions for mankind: origin, meaning, and destiny. Where did we come from, why are we here, and what happens when we die? Every philosophy and religion that has ever existed has sought to answer these questions. So what do the world’s most popular worldviews tell us about these quesions?
The science story tells us that we are cosmic accidents, the coincidentally sentient products of millions of years of random chance. It tells us that our existence and that of every living thing is ultimately meaningless. There is no transcendence. No deeper truth or larger story. And it tells us that we are destined for nothing. Oblivion. One day we’ll get cancer, or the tree limb will fall 12 inches to the left, or a meteor will crash into our planet and then it’s over. Nothing else. Empty nothingness.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t believe in the science story because it’s not attractive. If it’s the truth, then we should embrace it. I’m not advocating for intentional delusion. But all things being equal, this should clearly be our least favorite story. This should be the one we’re looking for every excuse not to believe in because it’s just so darn ugly.
What about other religions? It helps a little to believe in the Hindu myth, or Buddhist or Islamic. At least in those stories, we have a chance. We have to just try harder. Obey better. Sacrifice more. Be kinder. And if we are good enough, and the planets align, and our ancestors were good too, then maybe — just maybe — we can move up a rung between this life and the next. At least in these stories, we matter. There is a destiny beyond oblivion. We still don’t have much meaning beyond what we can do for ourselves, but at least we aren’t accidents.
But what if we can get to another level? What if there’s an even more beautiful story? What if the truth is that we are adopted heirs in an unseen kingdom fighting a pitched battle against evil over the souls of our fellow men who will live forever? What if it’s true that we were created in the image of ultimate Good; that we aren’t left to fend for our own morality, but we have been rescued by an act of ultimate sacrifice; that we are free to choose sides in the cosmic, invisible scrum between good and evil; that our suffering matters; that beauty, hope, joy, and love are more than chemicals in our brains but signposts in an epic, eternal story; and that our destiny is more glorious than the biggest fanfare Hollywood can muster?
All the possible stories are unlikely. There is no proof to anyone’s best guess about our origin, meaning and destiny. If the Muslim story is true, our only hope is to be perfectly submissive. If the Bhuddist story is true, our only hope is to be perfect in wisdom. If the science story is true, we have no hope at all. But if the Christian story is true, we live in the most beautiful and compelling possible story. Everything is better. Everything is more meaningful. Everything is more hopeful.
We all choose a story to live in. One story may be easier to believe than another. But just because it’s easy to believe, that doesn’t mean it’s true. Nor that it’s worth believing in.