Sometimes, as I consider that I might be a complete fool believing in Christ, I contemplate the utter improbability of Christianity. The faith is so full of paradox, so alien to our understanding, so utterly unsatisfying to the natural man that it is not something that could be fabricated. If it were not true, it would be absurd. If it were not true, it would be dismissed.
Skep-tik’s Blogging the Qaran tells us of Islam, a faith we can grok. Allah, we are told, is the one god, presumably all powerful. Humanity isn’t so much fallen as of variable quality, either offensive to Allah (and consigned to Hell), or sufficiently faithful to achieve paradise. Muhammad is a man but without weakness or flaw, the prophet. The faithful are to fight against those who are not faithful, either to conversion or to death. Death leads to damnation or a sensuous paradise.
The message is clear – that Allah is aloof and mysterious but will reward us if we are good enough. That it is through our faithfulness that we can reach paradise. That past sinfulness can make it impossible for us to do enough good to reach paradise. That we have to fight for what is true – fighting in the literal sense. That man is rather bad, but not bad enough that he can’t get better if he tries. That evangelistic effort can cause conversion.
Straightforward, satisfying. So compare to a few of the doctrines of Christianity. If you look, almost all Christian doctrines contain paradox, richness, surprises (think about how the hosts of Heaven must have reacted when they first realized that Christ was going to DIE for humanity’s sake?) The doctrines of Christianity are many and deep enough that I will only touch a few lightly here. Perhaps there will be room for more in another post.
Consider the trinity. We understand Allah, the epitome of monotheism, all-powerful, creator, a single strong leader, but all alone. We understand polytheism, many gods, none all powerful, with the rich social interaction that we know from human society. The trinity is not something that we can understand. You can’t be three and one at the same time, and if it was really three, how could you have three all-powerful beings with the potential for disagreement? When we think of the trinity our thinking bifurcates; either we think about the unity of the one God, or we think about the personhood of the three members of the godhead. We can’t think of both, and all the work of Athanasius is left to mystery. As Christians we all know of the triune godhead, but none of us can really understand. It’s mystery and paradox and makes no sense, it’s nothing a man could make up and yet and it’s blazingly obvious right there in Genesis 1 where God says “Let us make man…”
Or consider the condition of man. In Islam, some are faithful, some are not. By doing your tithing and your prayers, even better by fighting Jihad, you are increasing your probability of going to paradise rather than Hell. That is a natural thought for the world, that man should choose his destiny. With Christianity, the story is different. Man is sinful. All men are deserving of immediate and permanent condemnation in Hell. Man doesn’t earn paradise by doing good works; there are no works he can do that could repay the offense, and his heart is completely foolish and corrupt so that he could not desire it. He can’t of his own “invite Jesus to be his savior.” It’s all about God – God’s choice of who will be justly condemned, God’s choice of who will be graciously rescued, God’s action of performing the rescue by putting faith in the human heart. Like a bubble on the water, we are helplessly carried by His choice. And why does God save? In Islam, the virtuous and faithful are the ones to be saved. But in Christianity, God might well have flipped a coin to determine whom to save; it’s certainly not because of our virtue or wit or good looks. God, God, God, all the way. God is what it’s all about.
One more? Consider the mechanism of salvation. For Islam, it’s straightforward: my faithfulness, my prayers, my alms, my jihad. My, my, my all the way. Christianity is strangely extreme; it’s not so easy. God, utterly holy, utterly just, required that the price be paid. And it was a terrible price, terrible enough that no purgatory could pay for it. And so Christ became man, and suffered, and laid down his life. Who can understand what it is for God to become man? For God to suffer for man? For God to die for man? And really, why all the fuss, my sins are bad but not that bad, right? Is it really necessary for God to go out of his way to save me? The teaching and thinking of Christianity is not the teaching and thinking of man.
And so we’ve touched a lot of Christian doctrine: the trinity, the holiness and justness of God, His mercy, the depravity of man, incarnation, propitiation, forgiveness, steadfastness, sovereignty, election. The doctrines are highly charged, they are obstinate and would conflict except in one great, consistent chain: Because of man’s depravity, the offense against God’s holiness and justness would conflict with His mercy and election, except for the incarnation of Christ, his humiliation, death, the propitiation of sins; the incarnation would not have been possible save for God’s triune nature; and despite Christ’s actions, election would fail were it not for God’s sovereignty expressed through the work of the Holy Spirit in grace through faith infused into man. Like a huge jigsaw puzzle, the doctrines of Christianity are an incompatible jumble until they come together in this unique, magnificent fashion as laid out through the dozens of authors and several thousand years of Bible writing. It’s groundwork is thoroughly constructed in Genesis and follows like a well-written action movie through the end of Revelation. “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
When I ponder the sanity of Christianity and consider whether the non-believers might be right, I remember the teachings of the Bible and know that only God could conceive them, never men. They couldn’t make this stuff up.