Thursday, July 20, 2006

“I believe in Christianity because it’s absurd!” The Hidden God vs. The Revealed God

I believe in Christianity because it’s absurd!” Would you ever say such a thing to a non-believer? I doubt it. Most of us would be asking God’s forgiveness for even thinking it. The early church father Tertullian is said to have expressed his belief in Christ’s crucifixion with these words: “...it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.” He also said, “And He [Christ] was buried, and rose again, the fact is certain, because it is impossible”.* These statements sound preposterous. But Tertullian had something deeper in mind than nonsense. These assertions are more profound than the first glance reveals.

Look out your window. It may be a bright sunny day, with birds chirping and flowers blossoming. If it’s nighttime, perhaps you can look up into the sky and see the stars shining like diamonds against black velvet in a jeweler’s case. As Christians, we see the divine artist and His brilliant handiwork: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

But non-Christians also look out their windows. Scripture tells us they know God exists (Romans 1:18-23). They see the same profound beauty and wonder you do. But rather than praising the true God of the Bible, they create god as they imagine him to be. Seeing a sunny day, a man may realize he enjoys life. His god is probably the grandfatherly image of the ‘good guy’ with a long beard who sees that the good in his life outweighs the bad (or so he thinks). Through the window though he may see a torrential storm, thus his god may be powerful and angry. When things go wrong in his life, he wonders exactly what he did to deserve his fate from the hands of angered providence.

Because human creatures want to make it on our own, because we ultimately want to feel responsible for our ultimate well being, the gods we fashion demand performance and accomplishment. The fallen creature cannot even imagine what God is really like, so his god is largely a reflection of his feelings, failings, and fears. This is the god that makes ‘sense’ to fallen humanity. Martin Luther called this humanly fashioned deity the “hidden god.” This is the god that sinners can’t see; yet they know he’s there. It’s easy for them to believe in this god, in fact it’s ‘logical’.

Tertullian’s words should be coming a little more into focus. If one were to ask you what is the best description of God you could come up with, what would it be? How has God most clearly revealed Himself? The answer should be obvious: God has revealed Himself to us most clearly in Jesus Christ. But think about the “revealed God” for a moment. How was he first revealed? He came to us as a baby in a manger. God almighty, creator of the universe revealed Himself as a weak, fragile infant. Then the infant grew, and took on a vocation: carpentry. God almighty, creator of the universe revealed Himself as a hard working “blue collar” guy, a man without the financial strength and greatness of kingly riches. Where do we find God a few years later? We find him beaten and bruised, dying in weakness on a cross, abandoned by friends and followers: a succinct picture of helplessness.

Paul brings Tertullian’s words sharply into focus. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:9. Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Indeed, the Gospel message must seem utter foolishness to non-believers. In Christ’s weakness on the cross, one actually finds the God of the universe. And how is it that mankind can know God almighty? “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” The “foolishness” of preaching becomes the highest wisdom!

Paul expresses these paradoxes succinctly: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” And whom does God choose to enjoy the riches of His wisdom and strength? Paul explains: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” God primarily chose fishermen and tentmakers to spread His Gospel. Likewise, you Christian, feeling insignificant and inconsequential by the world’s standards, bear the power of God contained in the Gospel. However weak you may feel, our Lord states in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that His “strength is made perfect in weakness.”

You will probably never explain to a non-Christian that you believe in Jesus because it’s absurd. But maybe you’ve been embarrassed or ashamed in front of the world because of your Christianity, and haven’t been able to understand why. The reason is quite simple. You have probably been evaluating the Gospel with the wrong worldview. Maybe, like all of us, remnants of the hidden god (the god that makes “sense”) clouds your understanding of the revealed God. Paul explains that in weakness, he was strong (2 Cor. 12:10). It is only by embracing God as he has most clearly revealed Himself: “in the crib” and “on the cross”, will you be strong, in actuality. Don’t be afraid of your weakness, boast in it, that the power of Christ may rest upon you (2 Cor.12:9).

*Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 5 as cited in Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker reference library (Page 721). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. Geisler points out that Tertullian probably used the word "foolish" rather than "absurd."

2 comments:

FM483 said...

Christianity may actually be logical by human standards, but it is usually the opposite of commonsense. It is logical, as for example: the Father says He is God; the Son says He is God; the Holy Spirit is God; therefore Father=Son=Holy Spirit=God and the concept of Trinity is logical. But it is not commonsensical, and hence all the heresies the Church has confronted on this issue. Consequently, the Church adheres to truth as God has revealed it to man: the Holy Scriptures. Some things the Christian Church confesses, unable to fully explain to the satisfaction of our human senses and reason, as this recent post illustrates.

Everyone is born sinful and is naturally a Theologian of Glory. We understand everything through our experiences. Consequently, we imagine a Creator Who operates similar to an employer in the world system: when we perform well we are rewarded and we are punished for poor behavior; a Theology of Glory. The concept of Grace is foreign to the human mind and when God refers to Himself as our Father and believers as His adopted sons, this is radical indeed. All the religions of the world are based on the the Theology of Glory. Only Christianity is the exact opposite. World religions, appealing to human reason and logic, concentrate upon Law: a man is measured by the extent that he does good or evil. A man who thinks in this fashion is referred to as “living under the Law”. The Christian, on the other hand, sees everything through the Holy Scriptures and,as the recent post described, views everything through the cross of Christ. Such a man is a Theologian of the Cross. This man understands that God has revealed Himself to humanity in Grace: the underserved, unmerited, unasked for kindness of God. This is shown in the Incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God Himself has declared all men guilty and through Grace has laid upon Himself the punishment for sin. Justice is getting what a person deserves. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting the opposite of what you deserve. Jesus Christ is the gift from God that defines Grace. Christianity is so radical compared to all other belief systems,for Christianity says that what a man believes determines how he is viewed by God, not what he does! This is the exact opposite of human commonsense. What many fail to see is that good works are a natural product of what a person believes, but are not the cause of how he is evaluated by God. Even many Christian sects fail to see the connection between good works and faith and consequently are confused by believing that somehow good works are important in salvation. This is where adherence to God’s Word is so critical: God explains that all good deeds merit reward in the temporal realm, the world. But the only good work meritorious for salvation in the spiritual realm is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross. This is where Christianity is so radical: Christians are credited with this sacrifice of Christ by merely believing it is credited to their account! Just by believing that Christ died for your sins, a man is legally declared Not Guilty! and Righteous by God. The world has never been able to comprehend this viewpoint which is clearly stated through Scripture, especially in Paul’s letter to the early Church in Rome. This single book had the most dramatic influence upon Martin Luther, and hence the Reformation was the consequence.

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

Frank-

Well said. I'm hoping to to have more posts on glory vs. cross.