At Christmastime it's hard to avoid religious iconography. It seems just about everywhere you look is a baby Jesus or the Christmas star, while everyone's singing or blasting old hymns about the Child, the Virgin, the curse of sin or the Angelic Host. From a cultural standpoint it's actually pretty fascinating we Americans allow ourselves to get so blatantly religious for one month a year (or longer, depending on the state of the economy), when the balance of the year we pride ourselves on our tolerance and inclusivity (real or imagined). But December belongs to the Christmas spectacle, to the trappings and traditions of the Christian holiday. Granted, what we celebrate now is often more commercial than it is Christian, more Santa than Christ, but the observation stands.
|I always forget the part where the baby Jesus is visited by Santa.|
It's actually a little surreal, a bit disorienting to see the Christian story, the story in which I find my life's meaning, stretched out, twisted and draped over the world like an iridescent, pine-scented blanket. It's not that I mind; I can appreciate the hope and cheer Christmas brings, and I imagine Jesus feels the same way. Still, it's weird. Because this is all so real to me. Christmas isn't about the lights, the presents, the nog for me, at least not mostly. It's about the God who truly, actually came down to be with His kids.
But how? How can something so fantastical, so reminiscent of fairy tale, be true? And how did I come to believe it?
See, this is a hard question. Harder still to provide a single answer that will satisfy all the diverse types of people asking it. Some beg the question, "how can you believe a story so intellectually untenable, so irrational?" Others see the profound pain in the world and ask "how can you believe in a good, loving God when stuff like this happens?" And some of these questions really resonate with me (particularly the latter). It's not a cut and dry thing for me. It's complicated, and messy, as faith is wont to be. Yet I believe. I'm committed to loving Jesus.
As I think on it I'm having difficulty identifying any particular, core reason why I believe in Christ. It's not as if my beliefs all hang on one point. My faith is more a tapestry of a thousand threads. But if any of these threads holds the whole thing together it is how God has touched my own life. My own experience. My own story which bears the fingerprints of a guiding, loving, protecting Father God. The story where I was sick, depressed, broken, drowning, and God showed up and told me He loved me, and has stayed with me ever since.
Here I hit a roadblock with some of my unbelieving friends. "How can you base all your knowledge and belief on something as nebulous and unreliable as personal experience?" they ask. And I don't blame them. It makes perfect sense that those committed to belief in a world where only that which is scientifically verifiable is true would chafe against my decision to build my life on the promises and revelation of an unseen God.
How can I not, though, when this God has spoken to me? Granted it's not often in audible syllables, more often in circumstance or transcendent peace, but it's real, and it's beautiful. Whenever I take a step back to look at the bigger picture I see Christ in every square inch of it. If you're interested in hearing more about my own, personal moments of transcendence I will gladly share them with you over coffee. I've also written a handful of them down on this blog over the last three years. None of it's very scientific or forensic but it's as real as anything to me.
Anyway I have no interest in living in a world of pure matter, unaffected by higher things like Beauty or Love. It's not that I don't value science for what it's worth, I'm just not willing to equate truth with literal, scientific fact. We can't prove or disprove Freedom. We can't quantify Love. We can measure Creation, but we cannot own it with our measurements. Truth is bigger than we are.
And I believe that Truth is Christ. I believe in the Jesus story. I believe it uniquely speaks to the particularities of the human condition, and answers the big questions best. The drama of creation, fall and redemption makes sense of the way humans treat each other, treat the world, better than any other I've encountered. I also believe more than almost anything that this Gospel story uniquely possesses the power to heal and transform lives. I've seen it. I've experienced it. I've witnessed lives changed, hearts transformed, brokenness undone.
I believe in the beauty of a story where God stoops down to experience intimacy with His beloved creation. I believe in the mystery of grace, and in the promise I will be loved in spite of my performance. It is all too beautiful not to be true.
I believe in the holy and the void, the transcendent and the mired. I believe that human beings are precious to God, were made for a better world, and that every human soul aches for restoration to the order of design. I believe things ought to be better than they are, and we all on some level know it. Sometimes, though, by God's grace, we see the light shine through the cracks and know some day we will live and remain in that light.
I believe in Jesus: God who couldn't remain far off but was compelled by love to draw nearer to us. God who revealed Himself to and included the lowest, the outcasts, the shepherds, prostitutes, the sick, the poor, the lonely and hurt. God in the slums, God in the cells, God in the dirt. God who promised to set things right some day, and died on a plank of wood to prove He is on the line for us. I live in that hope because it gives my life meaning, brings me joy, transforms me into the man I was made to be. And I've seen it do the same for countless others.
I'm not sure this story is true. I don't have certainty. On a good day I have a little faith. Faith that the Jesus story is the best one, the true one, the most loving and beautiful one. In the words of Rachel Held Evans, it's the story I'm willing to risk being wrong about.
It would probably be easier to cast off the burden of belief and live according to my instincts and desires. It might even be fun for a while. But it wouldn't last. Having known life in Christ I could never be satisfied with an empty story. The hard work of abiding in the beautiful Gospel has proven more than worth it. So I believe, even when I don't. Even in doubt, in fear, in weakness, I believe.