[In this post I wonder out loud about some basic fundamentals of the nature of our belief. Two weeks ago I wrote Praying and Practicing the Faith, in which I questioned what I really believe about the power and purpose of prayer. Not quite a year ago I wrote Believing in Something Real, in which I explored prayer and the radical reality of God in whom I profess to have faith.]
Saturday’s Washington Post carried an Associated Press article entitled Seeking a Star in the East.
It tells of the research of Notre Dame astronomer Grant Mathews who
posits that the star described in the Gospel of Matthew was actually an
alignment of planets in the constellation Aires. Mathews believes
(quoting the article)
the wise men were Zoroastrian astrologers who would have recognized
the planetary alignment in Aries as a sign that a powerful leader was
"In fact, it would have even meant that [the leader was] destined to
die at an appointed time, which of course would have been significant
for the Christ child and may have been why they brought myrrh, which
was an embalming fluid," Mathews said.
is interesting, and makes for some intriguing speculation. And we’ve
heard scientific explanations before in relation to the flood, Sodom
and Gomorrah, Jesus’ walk on water, and more. But does it matter?
The article lacked any comment from religious leaders on the
relevance of attempts by researchers to scientifically verify stories
of faith. For me, science neither proves nor disproves religion. I
think there is much shared by religion and science, and there is much
in science to which we people of faith should pay our attention. But I
couldn’t give a rat’s rear end what scientists say about Biblical
stories. If Biblical stories are somehow proved, does that give more
credence to our faith? If Biblical stories are somehow disproved, does
that detract from my faith? The scientific explanation of Biblical
stories is, at best, an interesting parlor game and nothing else. So,
what do I believe about that star?
In liberal protestantism it is fashionable to talk of the Christian "myths" and be more interested in the meaning
of a story rather than to be concerned with its literal veracity. We
don’t care if the star of Bethlehem was a real star as much as we care
about the light of Christ to which it points. We don’t care if
Creation actually took place in six days, and on the seventh
day God rested. Rather, we ask what that story tells us about our
relationship with God. And I generally go along with this allegorical
interpretation of Scripture, for surely our holy book was not written
with attention to modern notions of scientific or historical accuracy, but rather to
tell a story of a people’s encounter with God.
But if we interpret our holy book as a series of stories of a
people’s encounter with God, when does allegory end and reality begin?
Is the whole darn book just a series of allegories? Do we really
believe that Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, or is that an
allegory? Do we really believe that Jesus multiplied the loaves
and fishes? And what about the Big Enchilada, the resurrection itself? Is
Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension another allegory, a la the
six-day Creation story, or do we really believe that the God-with-us
suffered and died, was buried, and rose from the dead a few days
later? Where do we draw the line between allegory and reality?
I’ve been inclined to profess ignorance about the historical or
scientific veracity of most of the Biblical stories, choosing to focus
on the allegorical value of those stories rather than argue for their
literal interpretation. And truly I continue to read Scripture that
way. But I’m concerned about a slippery slope that turns miracles into
allegories and power into parables. Does this not turn us away from
belief in an incarnated God who truly came and continues to come to be
with us, a God who is really and radically present in the person of
Christ? We profess to believe in an incredibly tangible God, an
incredibly real God who is Emmanuel, God with us, a God who comes to us
in Word and Sacrament, and who promises to show up in the least
expected of places of our lives and world.
Stories and allegories are good, really good. But at some point,
our God and our faith ain’t allegory any more. It’s reality. In this
season of the Incarnation I’ll be pondering anew the radical and real
experiences of the witnesses to
the Incarnation: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds . . . saints of all ages . . . and me. In what ways have I witnessed the Incarnated God in my life? This is the season to ask such a question.