We all want to be certain, we all want proof,
but the kind of proof we tend to want —
scientifically or philosophically demonstrable proof
that would silence all doubts once and for all —
would not in the long run, I think,
answer the fearful depths of our soul at all.
UNBELIEF IS AS much of a choice as belief is. What makes it in many ways more appealing is that whereas to believe in something requires some measure of understanding and effort, not to believe doesn’t require much of anything at all.
THE HIGH PRIEST Caiaphas was essentially a mathematician. When the Jews started worrying that they might all get into hot water with the Romans because of the way Jesus was carrying on, Caiaphas said that in that case they should dump him like a hot potato. His argument ran that it is better for one man to get it in the neck for the sake of many than for many to get it in the neck for the sake of one man. His grim arithmetic proved unassailable.
The arithmetic of Jesus, on the other hand, was atrocious. He said that Heaven gets a bigger kick out of one sinner who repents than out of ninety-nine saints who don’t need to. He said that God pays as much for one hour’s work as for one day’s. He said that the more you give away, the more you have.
It is curious that in the matter of deciding his own fate, he reached the same conclusion as Caiaphas and took it in the neck for the sake of many, Caiaphas included. It was not, however, the laws of mathematics that he was following.
Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within, and if ever we are to find true shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start.
Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, your are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.
The legend of Solomon’s ring, the adventures of Dr. Doolittle, the attempt to decipher the dots and dashes of dolphins, and the attempt to teach chimpanzees to type out their thoughts on computers all reflect our ancient dream of being able to talk with the animals. As fascinating as a message from outer space would be a message from the inner space of a great blue heron or a common house cat sunning herself on the kitchen linoleum. Their mute gaze suggests a vision of reality beyond our imagining. What do they see in their ignorance that we in our wisdom are mostly blind to? In the book of Numbers, Balaam’s ass sees an angel of the Lord barring the way with a drawn sword in his hand and thereupon lies down in the middle of the road with Balaam still on his back. When Balaam clobbers him over the head with a stick, the ass speaks out reproachfully in fluent Hebrew, and then Balaam sees the angel too. This is perhaps a clue to the mystery. Whereas people as a rule see only what they expect to see and little more, animals, innocent of expectation, see what is there. The next time the old mare looks up from her browsing and lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think. (Numbers 22:22-31)
A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, “I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something different about His eyes and His voice. There’s something different about the way He carries His head, His hands, the way He carries His cross — the way He carries me.
Science is the investigation of the physical universe and its ways, and consists largely of weighing, measuring, and putting things in test tubes. To assume that this kind of investigation can unearth solutions to all our problems is a form of religious faith whose bankruptcy has only in recent years started to become apparent.
There is a tendency in many people to suspect that anything that can’t be weighed, measured, or put in a test tube is either not real or not worth talking about. That is like a blind person’s suspecting that anything that can’t be smelled, tasted, touched, or heard is probably a figment of the imagination.
A scientist’s views on such subjects as God, morality, and life after death are apt to be about as enlightening as a theologian’s views on the structure of the atom or the cause and cure of the common cold.
The conflict between science and religion, which reached its peak toward the end of the nineteenth century, is like the conflict between a podiatrist and a poet. One says that Susie Smith has fallen arches. The other says she walks in beauty like the night. In his own way each is speaking the truth. What is at issue is the kind of truth you’re after.
If you do not hear in the message of Christmas something that must strike some as blasphemy and others as sheer fantasy, the chances are you have not heard the message for what it is. Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell, which is Hebrew for “God with us.” . . . [T]he claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy.