I confess. I have no apologetic.
There is no defending God. There is no proving his way is right. To do so would require that I understand God, that I can substantiate the claims of truth my faith calls me to hold.
I can explain what I believe well enough. I can demonstrate to a certain degree that my faith is reasonable and not the delusions of a crackpot. But I can’t prove anything. I can’t argue an airtight case. I can’t campaign for Jesus on a platform of certainty.
You see, all the “evidence” is ambiguous. It is capable of being interpreted in a variety of ways. What convinces one person to believe may lead another to have serious doubts.
Even the bedrock occurrence in the story of our faith — the resurrection of Jesus — was not what you would call a public event. It was unexpectedly discovered by a few common people in the hazy dawn of Easter morning. All of Jesus’ appearances were reserved for people who became his witnesses. It is their word we have to trust. I happen to be convinced that they were trustworthy and that they had no reason to invent a story so fantastic, but I can see why people might have doubts.
I suppose this is why some Christians feel the need to posit an inerrant Bible, a fully trustworthy revelation directly from the mouth of God that demonstrates in incontrovertible terms that it is TRUTH™. Thus, all we have to do is open up the book and — there it is! — a sure and certain foundation for our beliefs. However comfortable that might make believers feel, in reality it just creates another proposition Christians must defend. Proving the divine perfection of the Bible requires herculean efforts and, as centuries of dispute over Scripture’s nature, meaning, and interpretation show, the evidence here is muddy too.
So, I don’t really have an apologetic. At best, it’s ambiguous.
The other day I was thinking about the shepherds in Luke’s Christmas story. Surely they had a sense of certainty. Surely what they experienced was so unambiguous, so transformative, that they lived the rest of their lives in the assurance of faith. Surely God had proven himself to them. They beheld the angel hosts! They heard the gospel announced directly from heaven! They saw the baby Jesus in the flesh!
However, sometimes I wonder what happened next. The Gospel tells us they went back to work later that night. We never hear from them again. What was it like for the shepherds a week later? a month? ten or twenty years? I don’t know if they were around when Jesus went throughout Judea proclaiming the Kingdom. I’d like to think their faith was confirmed and strengthened over the years, perhaps by personal encounters with Jesus in his ministry.
On the other hand, it is possible they didn’t hear much about Jesus again, perhaps for the rest of their lives. If so, what would that long silence have communicated to them? Based on the angel’s message they would have expected, somewhere along the line, a Son of David to ascend the throne in Jerusalem, bringing lasting peace and relief from their enemies. An unambiguous fulfillment of God’s promise. But even if they did become part of the crowd and followed Jesus around Judea and Galilee, they never saw that happen, did they? How might they have reconciled that grand birth announcement with reality on the ground years later — an itinerant rabbi with nowhere to lay his head? And then, the cross? Some king. Some throne.
All this is pure speculation, of course, but I think it makes a point: In my opinion, Christians (and I include myself) have been far too cocksure in talking about Jesus and our faith. As though it’s about having a sense of certainty that carries us blissfully through life. As though what we believe and the reasons we believe are so clear, so transparent, so unambiguous that we just can’t imagine others being unable to see it.
I had a spiritual awakening in high school, and it was prompted by relationships I developed with a group of Christian young people in school and church. What I liked about them was that they were real. I saw their imperfections and could blow holes through their arguments. But I couldn’t get past their joy, their belief that life was worth living in spite of problems and doubts. There was something that kept them moving forward to embrace the goodness of life and faith and hope and love. They were pitiful at trying to explain it, but it was there. Ultimately, I found I couldn’t resist the song their lives sang to me.
So this is what I keep coming back to. Sometime long ago, on a dark night I heard angels sing. I saw the face of the Savior. And it was real.
My experience wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the show the shepherds witnessed. However, it just as effectively got my attention and caused me to change direction in ways that I suppose were as crazy as leaving your job in the middle of the night to go see a stranger’s newborn baby based on a heavenly vision.
But then, like the shepherds, I had to return to life, plain old life, everyday life.
Through the years I’ve had reason to doubt over and over again whether that experience was real. I have wondered whether the promises I received were genuine, or whether it might not all have been some adolescent fantasy born of hormones, naiveté, and group dynamics. It can get awfully ambiguous at times.
Whether or not the shepherds ever saw Jesus again, I can testify that since my epiphany, every once and awhile along the way I have encountered him. Thing is, he’s never what I expect. He constantly confuses me and makes me scratch my head. The more I try to define what he’s all about or what he’s doing in my life, the more mixed up I become. And when I go to speak, I fumble around for words to explain him, to express what he means to me, to put my finger on the gifts with which he has so graciously filled my life.
He’s real, and that’s about the best I can do.
And there you have it. My ambiguous apologetic.
Maybe you were hoping you’d read something today that would nail it all down for you, relieve your doubts, answer your questions, make it all certain.
Sorry. Just a shepherd here.
Most nights are pretty quiet.