Thursday, December 9, 2010

Faith in the Impossible

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37

Read verses 34 to 38 for the story behind this statement. I must admit Mary’s incredulity vanished far quicker than mine would. That Mary would become pregnant without male assistance was impossible enough, but that God the Holy Spirit would make her pregnant seems sacrilegious to say the least.

Of course, as a man, it is highly unlikely that the angel would come to me with that message. But much as I can, I put myself in Mary’s place, and try to imagine my reaction. Perhaps the devil played some cruel hoax, I dreamt in very bad taste, or entered some twilight zone? I probably would have reacted this way.

Note Mary’s reaction. She did not question the reliability of the message; clearly, Gabriel had some guarantee of his credentials that allayed suspicion. Even as a dream, the force of the event would have probably made it authentic. But the intangible twilight zone makes authenticity hard to validate, even counterfeiting Gabriel’s credentials.

Mary simply trusted God, not only for the message, but also for its legitimacy. After all, a year would establish the truth of the message. In addition, Gabriel provided some circumstantial evidence. Her elderly cousin Elizabeth was already six months pregnant; a repetition of the earlier promise of a son to Abraham, conceived beyond Sarah’s childbearing years.

However, my sceptical bent needs evidence; I don’t want to be considered naive. But matters of faith do not produce ultimate evidence or they would not be faith. Both theists and atheists base their positions on faith, so their conflict can never be resolved. Mary just preferred to believe God, perhaps in spite of misgivings.

What if she hadn’t believed Gabriel. Would her lack of faith have prevented the birth of the Saviour? We don’t really know. Rather, I believe God chose Mary because of her willingness to believe. An innocent faith in God is not naive; innocence does not assume ignorance, but trusts in spite of arguments or events ranged against it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Virgin Birth?

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. Luke 1:31.

Ah! The virgin birth; butt of jokes and derision, and even a sacrilegious excuse for an embarrassing pregnancy. I’m sure Mary suffered the barbs of contempt and scorn for her state; it was hardly a common occurrence. In fact, she would most likely have been an outcast in her community for this seeming infraction of religious mores.

But it’s not as if miraculous births were not a part of Jewish history. Sarah was past childbearing age when she gave Abraham his son Isaac. And for the observant, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was sufficiently “well along in years,” that her husband couldn’t believe she would have a son. She was already six months pregnant at the angel’s announcement to Mary.

Then as now, understanding God’s signs in time and space requires humility and faith. Jesus complained that those who could read signs to forecast weather were blind to the evidence of God’s activity. As I get older it becomes clear to me that belief in God’s involvement in life is a matter of what we want to believe, not necessarily evidence.

It is possible to explain away anything miraculous. In fact, for many, believing the miraculous does not exist is a prerequisite for assessing truth! Mind you, a healthy scepticism is a useful tool to avoid impostors and frauds, but to discard God or His intervention completely seems shortsighted at best and at worst plain ignorant.

Christ, as God, becoming a man is a stroke of genius I would expect of God. His virgin birth conceived by God the Holy Spirit set Him apart as God, and his birth from a woman completed His credentials as fully God and fully human. Only this way was He able, not only to take the punishment for human debt, but also have the authority to acquit the guilty.

The first wonder of this world for me is the virgin birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It assures me a place of release from my sin and guilt. It doesn’t absolve me from the consequences of my sin, for which I must make amends where I can, but reassures me of final acceptance by God, now and for eternity.