I have an agnostic friend named Ben who regularly peppers me with politely-antagonistic questions about my faith. For example, the other day, he asked me whether I really believed what the Bible said about Jesus’ life.
“Shoot straight with me, Joshua,” he said. “Isn’t there at least some part of you that wonders whether this stuff really happened?”
My first instinct was to respond that I didn’t have any doubts, probably because I was trying to assure myself that I was solid in my faith. But instead, I decided to search my heart and see if there was a doubting Thomas in there.
“Let me get back to you,” I said.
Later on that day, after I had an opportunity to think it through, I saw Ben and reminded him of his question.
“Ben, I’m being completely transparent when I say this: I seriously believe that God was born into a human body, grew up, and rescued everyone by dying and coming back to life.”
He looked at me with a smirk and said, “So you’re basically saying that you believe in an alien superhero?”
I paused, thought for a moment, and then said, “Yeah, that’s right. I believe in an alien superhero named Jesus — kind of like Superman, but with a beard and a robe.”
Ben seemed amused, but I was inspired.
I’ve spent my life overexposed to Bible stories via Easter musicals, manger scenes, and pictures of Jesus doing miracles. As a result, I’ve effectively lost touch with how far-out the Christian faith is. Ben’s question brought me back to reality: If I believe the biblical account of Jesus is actually true, I necessarily believe that at least one real superhero existed in human history.
I mean, think about it: Christians actually believe that here, on this planet, an invisible Spirit supernaturally impregnated a teenage girl, her baby grew up looking like a human, but He had superpowers. He could control the weather (Mark 4:39). He could heal damaged eyes with His spit (John 9:1-7). He could call out to dead bodies and make the dead person’s soul go back into it (John 11:38-44), and He could fly(Acts 1:9-12). Oh yeah, and He was God (John 1:1, Colossians 2:9) — that, too.
Atheists and agnostics recognize how wacky all this sounds, and they choose not to believe it. On the other hand, Christians like me develop an immunity to it and forget how scandalous our beliefs are — until we run into honest skepticism from someone like Ben.
To be clear, I really do understand why the biblical account sounds ridiculous to Ben — it’s much easier to believe in a Jesus who’s limited in the same ways we are, and besides, believing in fairy tales and superheroes, that’s baby stuff, right?
Well, everyone’s entitled to their beliefs, and to those who decide that Jesus’ followers were gladly martyred for a Man who merely inspired them, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. It makes more sense to me to conclude that His followers were heinously martyred for believing in a Man who freaked them out so badly that they couldn’t deny what they had seen.
The whole debate reminds me of the classic scene from C.S. Lewis’s book The Silver Chair, in which the Emerald Witch of the Underworld traps the four protagonists underground and nearly convinces them that nothing else ever existed — not even Aslan, the lion deity of the story. In an interesting twist, the typically-pessimistic Puddleglum replies,
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things — trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
Here, here, Puddleglum. I’ll see you at the manger-side this Christmas, right next to the alien superhero Baby who saved my life.