I know a lady who was on track academically to become one of Britain’s leading medieval historians. She based her life on the philosophy of existentialism. One of her friends, a Christian, was dying from cancer at a relatively young age. On one of her visits to the hospital the historian asked “why are you a Christian?”. Her dying friend replied “do you really believe a medieval peasant with no education could understand your existentialism?”. “Anybody can understand a baby who grew to be the person Jesus became and why he came into the world”.
So Christmas comes and goes and we hear the carols somehow; on the TV in the supermarkets in the schools. At the heart of the evidence for Christianity is a great conundrum. Here is a man claimed to be God yet who lived a life so great that he became the only person to convince a sizeable part of humanity that he was. How do we account for that?
The American writer and church leader Tim Keller in a recent book Making sense of God argues that we can’t be indifferent to such a claim. We can’t say he grew to be only a great teacher, because his declarations don’t allow that. We can’t respond that he never made such claims because of the historical evidence. We can’t be content with the explanation that he was deranged or a fraud because of the evident wisdom, greatness, and impact of his life on his followers and because of the case for the Resurrection. This leaves us with the final possible explanation, namely, that he is who he said he is. As hard as it is to believe that he is God come to earth, it may be just as difficult not to. Is it really impossible for God to become human? Why, if God is really all-powerful, could he not have done it? And why, if God is really all-loving, would he not have done it? True, a good number of very powerful objections to the Christian faith have been posed over the years, and they require thoughtful, extensive, and well-worked-out responses. Perhaps the strongest is the argument against the loving, all-powerful God of the Bible based on the presence of evil and suffering in the world. Another has to do with both the record within the Bible of God’s commanding holy war, as well as the record of religion and Christianity promoting violence in subsequent world history. Another objection is to the biblical teachings on judgment and hell. Other objections arise around the Bible, including its relationship to science. Many volumes that can be consulted on this latter topic. While these books may not be ultimately convincing to all readers, I believe demonstrate that it is quite rational to believe in God and Christianity.
Christmas reminds us that Jesus still comes to every individual and every culture and offers to fulfil their deepest desires and best aspirations. But in the same stroke he also fundamentally challenges our beliefs and practices; his teaching informs us we go about seeking the fulfilment of our desires in profoundly wrong ways. He offers us all we want— meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, and justice— but at the same time calls us to repent and seek our all in him. This is his basic message, and it makes sense of the magnitude of his language. CS Lewis in his book God in the Dock said “This is the truth about the universe. This is the way you ought to go.” Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He said, “No man can reach absolute reality except through me. Try to retain your own life, and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away, and you will be saved. … Finally, do not be afraid. I have overcome the whole universe.”
May you truly find the child of peace this Christmas.