I admit it.
I don’t always like being a Christian.
That may surprise you – especially since I’m a pastor of a wonderful little church. I believe I have personally tasted the love and power of God in Jesus Christ. I’ve been in tight spots – and time and time again God has rescued me – mainly from myself.
But yet there are times when I have to scratch my head at the things I read in the Bible. There are even times when Christianity bothers me. It’s not, frankly, what I expect or what I want.
Now why do I admit this? Partly because I’d like to be honest – and I appreciate you letting me be honest with you. We don’t gain anything by pretending that Christians always have everything figured out. But it’s more than that.
Consider this: could our struggles with the Christian faith actually be an indirect sign of its truth? I know that sounds a bit paradoxical. It’s like making “doubt” the evidence.
But here’s an analogy:
Scientists find it difficult to prove the existence of a black hole. It’s impossible to directly observe one. Black holes suck in everything, including light. They’re “black” for a reason. But there can be secondary effects, like escaping gamma radiation, that reveal the existence of a black hole. So you can “see” a black hole – indirectly.
In the same way, our struggles to believe may show that we are grappling with something that really exists. They may show the Christian faith is not just a figment of our imagination, molded to our own desires. Perhaps there truly is a God, and there is salvation in Jesus, different and greater than even our grandest thoughts and ideas.
First of all, Christianity is different than what we might expect.
Take the Trinity, for instance. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons, but only one God. Thomas Jefferson said the Trinity was simply bad math. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense if there was just one God and nothing more? Some, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, make this very argument.
Or take the existence of the soul. No one has ever seen a soul or put it in a Petri dish. You may wonder how a soul, something non-material, could be connected to a physical body. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Truth is stranger . . .
This sort of thing is actually relatively easy to deal with. C.S. Lewis noted that in this regard spiritual things are much the same as physical things. They both are more complex and bizarre than we first expect.
Ever seen the geyser pools at Yellowstone? Or watched The Blue Planet and seen mysterious creatures from the ocean’s deep? The more we know about our world the stranger it seems to be.
Scientists can hardly explain reality at an atomic level. Even something like everyday matter is not so “everyday.” Would God be any simpler? Scientists now postulate the existence of extra dimensions and other strange stuff. Why can’t there also be strange stuff within ourselves, body/mind/soul? We have a saying – “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Just like the world around us, Christianity also involves mysteries we can’t easily solve or explain. That’s not a sign the Bible is made-up – but the exact opposite. We should be cautious in hastily dismissing these things, as if they are merely relics of primitive superstition.
A tell-tale heart
Christianity is not merely different than what I might first expect. It’s also different than what I want.
I think that this, too, is a tell-tale sign of the truth of Christianity. We’re prone to paint our own picture of reality. We like to see things “our way.”
It usually happens in two places, I’ve noticed. First, when we’ve got a vice we don’t want to let go. Or when there’s friction in a close relationship. In these situations, we become masters of spin. “If only you hadn’t . . .” “I can handle a drink now and then.” Lickety-split, we’ve justified our choices, our behaviour. Someone witty once said, “De-nial is not only a river in Egypt!”
Calling a spade a spade
So when the Bible confronts us with our moral failures and tells us that even the most decent of us have a broken relationship with God, I expect myself to bristle.
Who really wants to talk about their sin? I mean hard-hitting talk. Not just something trite like “to err is human,” but that at the core I’m selfish and self-absorbed, warped from day one, intent on leading my life on my own, without God? Who wants to hear that we’re prouder than a peacock, unable to face the music, that our problems are not first of all due to others or circumstances or systems around us, but due to our own brainless choices and actions? Who wants to be told that we aren’t god, that he doesn’t have to answer to us, and we don’t have a leg to stand on before him?
Who wants to hear that the sin I enjoy (I admit this, too) is the ultimate addiction, worse than any drug? And that it makes us repulsive in God’s sight, like a spiritual leper, horribly diseased in soul?
There are other hard hitting words in the Bible, too. Jesus tells us, for instance, that if you seek to find your life, you will lose it, but if you lose it – think nothing of it, and give it to him and to others – you will find it. Who wants that kind of command? That’s a tall order. I’d like to keep something, even just a bit, for myself. Who wants to hear that we have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God? I would prefer to think things aren’t that bad. I admit I might need a little tune-up. But not a complete overhaul.
All of these “issues” I might have with the teaching of the Bible betray me. They are just the sort of issues I would have if I was a sinner alienated from God, in need of some serious salvation. They ring of the truth – the truth I don’t want at first to hear – but the truth I must hear.
The kinds of things we hear in the Bible are just the things we “spin masters” would never dare say. They are the words of someone standing outside of us – God.
So my struggles with the Bible may not be about problems in it – but the exact opposite. About problems in me.
Wonder of wonders
But we’re not done yet. Because the gospel, the good news of God, is also radically different than you might expect. Or want.
Here, too, truth is stranger, more wonderful, than fiction. The Bible also shows us that the very God whom we’ve offended comes and dies for us, in our place. He takes on himself the ugly truth that we are unable to even admit.
That’s shocking, really. Imagine a trial where terrible abuse has taken place. When the judge sentences the guilty person, the victim suddenly jumps forward and says they’ll do the time. They’ll take on the life sentence. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen. But it has happened for us in Jesus Christ.
How could anyone love us – when we’ve done things worse than we like to admit? How could they love us enough to die for us? How could God love us – when our sin assaults him and his world in so many ways?
We read in the Bible that angels longed to look into the way God would save mankind. They knew this was his plan, but they couldn’t figure it out. The Creator becoming a creature? The King of Glory becoming a humble slave, hanging naked on a cross? The Author of life experiencing death in all its horror and finality? This is a mystery even beyond that of anything in creation.
An embarrassment of riches
And look at the promises we have in the Bible, too. They, too, are also beyond our imagination.
In one place in the Bible, Jesus gives a parable, an illustration with a challenge. He talks about how servants need to be faithful also when their master is away. When the master comes back he will reward them – or punish them. The reward is unbelievable, though. “The master himself have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” (Luke 12:37) A master serving his servants? Where do you ever see this? And this is even more astonishing when you realize this is speaking about the master, Jesus, and his servants, those who follow him.
God promises that one day he himself will serve us! The point, of course, is not that we are so great. This is about how great God is – in love, in generosity and goodness. God will give nothing less than himself to us, tiny creatures, who deserve nothing – nothing but his wrath. We were made to serve him – but he will also serve us!
A good friend of mine likes to remind me that in Christ we receive an “embarrassment of riches.” Clearly, God is at work here, again, beyond all my expectations.
Christianity can certainly be challenging. But truth is so often stranger than fiction.
Do you need to face hard truths about yourself, as a sinner, a rebel? That’s the way to find more wonderful truths than you can imagine, too.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not what we might expect – or want.
It’s better, far better!
Thanks for reading,