“If you were God, how would you have come into the world?” This question from one of my Young Life leaders has stayed with me for years.
He said he would have gone the dramatic route of having the Navy’s Blue Angels precision flight demonstration squadron do a fly-over at the biggest sports stadium in the world. He would parachute out and land in the middle of the field, dressed in a black leather flight suit that had zippers everywhere. He’d silence the cheering crowd with a wave of his hand and say, “Now that I have your attention—it’s time you listen to me…”
The world has changed a lot since I first considered this question. James A. K. Smith gives a sobering portrait of our religiously-disinterested culture.
Your “secular” neighbors aren’t looking for “answers,” for some bit of information that is missing from their mental maps. To the contrary, they have completely different maps. You’ve realized that instead of nagging questions about God or the afterlife, your neighbors are oriented by all sorts of longings and “projects” and quests for significance. There doesn’t seem to be anything “missing” from their lives – so you can’t just come proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who fills their “God-shaped hole.”
Smith describes how our neighbors have no idea they are failing to ask some very important questions.
They don’t have any sense that the “secular” lives they’ve constructed are missing a second floor. In many ways, they have constructed webs of meaning that provide almost all the significance they need in their lives (though a lot hinges on that “almost”)… No, it seems that many have managed to construct a world of significance that isn’t at all bothered by questions of the divine – though that world might still be haunted in some ways, haunted by that “almost.”
(James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014, p. vii-viii).
I realize these are meaty quotes, but I encourage you to read them again slowly. They describe both our toughest challenge and our greatest hope. The hope is in that word, “haunted.”
Scripture assures us that all people have an innate sense of that there’s “Something” or “Someone” more out there. They try to ignore it or dismiss it (see Romans 1:18-20), but it lingers. The preacher in The Book of Ecclesiastes says,
God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 New King James Version NKJV).
The wonder of Christmas, of the incarnation, of Jesus coming as the Word of God in flesh, is that God gives us much more than an argument for his existence. God gives us much more than a dramatic, coercive confrontation. God stirs that internal, eternal longing.
God’s strategy leaves us in awe because it so very “down to earth”—literally!
God’s response to human longing was more than a sentimental message.
Yes, God continued to give his message through Jesus, as he had through his prophets;
But in Jesus Christ, God gave (and gives) his Living Word– a message not only to hear, but one humans could touch and watch and know.
God’s response to human longing was more than a philosophical proof.
Yes, there are many reasonable proofs for the existence of God.
But in Jesus Christ God gives us much more than a reason to believe; God gives us a person to trust.
God’s response to human longing was more than a show of power.
Yes, God showed his power through Jesus’ miracles: water changed into wine, loaves and fishes multiplied, bodies healed and, above all, his own resurrection.
But Jesus’ powerful acts point beyond themselves to what the fullness of love and the gift of salvation in him look like. God hates suffering and evil and death. Jesus shows us how much more God intends for us.
You see, God gave us nothing less than his very best: God gave himself.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 English Standard Version)
The message of Christmas is this: God exists, and God’s strategy is to win the heart– and with it the whole person through faith in Jesus Christ.
Pay attention to that inkling. Doubt your doubts and follow them to faith.