They ask why I should believe that the Story of God was not composed by a man. The world has seen the rise of a thousand mythologies, the poetic forging of a thousand gods. How do I know the Scriptures were not just another misguided offspring of human thought?
And so I tell them – this is why the God of the Hebrews must be the true and living God, why His story could not have been made up by men:
Because when His most beloved creatures first chose to turn away, in the very breath of cursing them He promised hope and redemption, and clothed their nakedness in exile.
Because He came to a childless old man in the wilderness, hated by tribe and family, and made him a father of nations.
Because He wrestled with a con-man in the twilight and wounded him in blessing, having shown him a ladder to the stars and a glorious destiny for his kin.
Because despite having annihilated pagan nations for their corruption, He yet desired the depraved people of Nineveh to repent of their wickedness and taste forgiveness; He even chastised His own prophet for wanting the city to burn in the fire of wrath.
Because He called a man to love a broken woman without condition, to take her in from the wayside and show her forgiveness, in hopes that His beloved people may know such grace and return to Him even in the midst of their shame.
Because He did not show himself to the cowering prophet in the Fire or the Storm or the Earthquake, but rather in the still small voice.
Because of whom He chose to appoint for His purposes – the smallest son of Jesse, the boy prophet who wept for his insecurities, the brother who used dishonesty to gain an unworthy inheritance, the Prince of Egypt who killed a man and lived as a failure in exile, and the young scholar who hated and persecuted the nascent Church of Jerusalem.
Because of those who will inherit His Kingdom – the peasant, the prostitute, the tax collector, the shepherd, the fisherman, the leper, the Samaritan, the widow, and the orphan.
Because He spoke in thunderous paradox – that one must die in order to live, claim strength through weakness, achieve victory through defeat, overcome a hating world with love.
Because He taught, like no other teacher, that we should carry a sword but not live by it; we should be ready to leave the dead unburied or bear the scorn of loved ones; we should carry a cross but cast our cares on Him; we should follow Him, even when we know the road is named Suffering.
But above all because He descended into our story and died so that we may live. Across the chasm of mystery, the people of every age of this world have constructed gods, carved idols – false deities that have always demanded obedience, toil, meditation, pillars, “ways”, paths. In any case, the major faiths of the world’s present and past deem it fitting for man to build his ladder to the gods. But in the case of the True God, the striving has finished – He has climbed down the ladder and dealt with injustice, cured us of our incurable condition.
This is how I know Jesus Christ reigns, and His story is real – because we could not have imagined the True King would come to us clothed in rags. We could follow a Messiah who wielded such power as the world respects – the power of the sword, or of political demagogy. But a homeless carpenter, dying in agony and humiliation, while praying for His enemies? That is too much.
We could perhaps believe in a god that shared our flaws and desires, like the Olympians of Ancient Greece. We might even go the other way and worship a being of pure, unadulterated spirit; an entity of non-matter that completely transcends the dirtiness of the physical world. But it’s quite another thing altogether to believe in a God who nursed at a woman’s breast, spits in the mud, weeps with the bereaved, fasts in the desert.
We have long exalted our good moral teachers – Socrates, Confucius, the Buddha. We listen to their wisdom and moral discourse with a desire for personal reformation, and we appreciate that their advice often appears practical, even achievable. If religion means moral education or the way to living a “good life,” then such teachers and philosophers have done their job well. But what of a teacher that scolds moral leaders for their hypocrisy, or commands the wealthy to sell all their possessions to the poor? We grow uneasy and uncomfortable when He begins His radical talk of hellfire and being born of water and the spirit. We struggle to understand His strange stories about seeking lost sheep or welcoming home the prodigal son or preparing for some sort of wedding feast. We scratch our heads when He calls Himself the Bread of Life, the True Vine, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Way and the Truth. We cringe with all His politically incorrect nonsense about embracing the marginalized or forgotten or “unclean”.
And just when we’ve decided that there might be more to this crazy man than meets the eye, this zealot of zealots who claims to be God and King, He is betrayed by a friend and killed like a common criminal. The finality, the banality of it all! Crucified at the Place of the Skull, hung between the thieves. But so be it – we can stomach a martyr. There have been many of those who have died for their beliefs, and we can respect that. Then the rumors begin to circulate about Him rising from the dead. Not only this, but appearing to women first. And if He has risen, maybe then He will sound the trumpet and become the celebrated Hero of the ancient songs – but alas, all he chooses to do is cook breakfast with his disciples and then vanish into thin air.
You see, friends, why we could not have made this up. It is not the sort of story we wish to tell, but it is exactly the type of story we need to hear, from the bottom of our cynical souls. Not with all the imaginations of humanity could we devise such a tale that twists and turns, that satisfies the deepest longings of the heart in mysterious ways. And just as soon as we’ve read the tale and begun to think we’ve figured it out, unmasked the symbols, determined the motifs, the story defies us – it shatters the paradigm, undoes the pattern, strikes remarkably at our existential heart of hearts. No, not even the most venerable religious scholars, ancient or modern, could have invented a Creator God who fulfills His own covenant, the “Deep Magic”, all by Himself – becoming fully man to be man’s perfect representative, and yet fully God so as to die a perfect sacrifice. There have been many stone-age deities, but which one pays the price of justice and offers redemption, adoption, and the forgiveness of guilt to His worshipers (who have never once worshiped rightly)? Those who believe and those who don’t can both agree: it doesn’t make sense. And yet, why do I get the feeling in my very bones that because of its strangeness, because of its unprecedented variables, because of its willingness to deal with the brute, painful, and beautiful things of real existence, that the story must in fact be true?