Are you proud to be a Christian? Do you ever feel embarrassed by Christianity, and feel disturbed that it might be nonsense? I certainly do on occasion. A sermon I heard recently claimed that, once you’ve resisted the devil for the first time, he may tempt you again but will never fundamentally challenge your relationship with God. Well, either I’ve not resisted him for the first time, or that’s absolutely false. I often question the foundations of my faith. But as a result, I often spot new rays of hope, such as the one I’m writing about.
I was walking round Baltimore harbour the other weekend, wondering glumly what Christianity has in its favour. Then I realised that there was a way of thinking about it that’s quite positive, and which I don’t normally think about. I’m usually thinking from within Christianity, worrying about the things it says about God and humanity. Or I’m thinking from within atheism or agnosticism, thinking about how these views attack and question Christianity.
But what about another point of view: ask the question, “What does Christianity ‘do’ to God?” In other words, step outside thinking from within Christianity for a moment, but don’t go as far as committing oneself to an opposing view. Just look at the concept of God, and the concepts of Christianity, and ask how Christianity deals with, modifies, and operates on the idea of ‘God.’
What does Christianity do to God? When I think about it like this, I realise that Christianity is quite exciting, because it does all the sorts of things to God that I find attractive, the things I feel desperately need doing to ‘God’.
Firstly, it makes God into a human. Not totally; Christianity doesn’t claim that Jesus is only a human, or simply God wrapped in a human-skin rug (“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” as Frank the Rabbit from Donny Darko might say). But still, it takes ‘God’ – a distant, all-powerful, terrifying concept – and makes him comprehensible, touchable, near. He has taken on flesh. He knows how we feel, and feels it himself.
Next, amazingly, it kills God. Many people see this as scandalous, once it’s taken out of its familiar setting in Christianity. Christians are shocked when Phillip Pullman kills God in ‘His Dark Materials’; but the God there is almost relieved to die. Christians are shocked when Russell T. Davies poisons the Son of God in ‘The Second Coming’; but his girlfriend in that drama feels that she’s doing the right thing, killing God for all the mess he’s caused.
I don’t want to criticise Christians for being upset by these modern writers, as there is something very dark about what they’re doing. But equally, we should realise that Christianity, seeing it as an ‘operator’ for a moment instead of committing ourselves to its truth, does the same thing to God. We could say that, when people wish that God was dead, they may be wishing something wicked, but nevertheless their wish is jiving with Christianity, which kills God. Christianity says that the Son of God has died, shouldering all that is wrong with the world. All the things we (wrongly) blame God for – injustice, suffering, wrongdoing – are pinned on him (or him on them) at the cross with which Christianity kills him. Christianity doesn’t rejoice in killing him – it sees it as a tragedy – but kill him it does, and sees that as universally important. Perhaps Pullman isn’t as far from the kingdom of God as he’d like to be.
Finally, we may wish that God would take the blame for our terrible world, we may wish to kill him… but then what? Do we really want to live in a world without him? Where can we get a sufficient yardstick for good behaviour, for what we should do with our lives? Where can we get any affirmation for our belief that love is real, that reason is reliable, that choice is not an illusion? How can we beat the answer that Ted Hughes’ crow gives to almost every question as to who is strongest – death? (The fact that crow thinks he’s stronger still doesn’t really help us – it may be true at the womb-door, but not at death’s door).
Christianity does another thing I approve of to God here. It brings him back. It raises Jesus from the dead. He bears all of the darkness, and overcomes it. A God made human, made to share the bitterness of our darkness, nevertheless survives and is glorified. This is good news – Christianity has made ‘God’ into something that is truly sympathetic, but still far above us and deserving of our worship, devotion and life, and giving us hope of a life raised up with his.
The ‘God’ that many people hate is indeed a God in a very ugly form. Christianity does a lot to this ‘God’, and changes his shape in a very attractive way. A billion questions are left about whether the resulting ‘God’ is good – but I can’t fault the directions in which Christianity shapes him. Perhaps after this exercise I, with you, can now re-enter the mentality of commitment and relationship to this God, no longer seen as a concept to be operated on by a set of concepts, but as the one true God who has not been changed by Christianity, but who has engendered it as a true description of who he is and what he is like. Perhaps, after all, I am proud to be a Christian.