Category Archives: Popular Theology

Theology for Believers

Christmas…Apart from the Resurrection it’s Just Winter Solstice

Judging by the length of the season and the visibility of the signs and celebrations, one would think that Christmas was the center of the Christian faith or even the essence of the faith. Yet there is no Christian sacrament that refers back to the virginal conception and birth of Jesus. Baptism re-presents the death and burial of Christ, and the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist makes present the body and blood of the Lord. Paul does not use the special manner of the Jesus’ birth to make a theological point; nor do John, Peter, James, or the writer of Hebrews. The sermons in Acts never mention it. The New Testament focuses overwhelmingly on the death and resurrection of Christ as the saving events. Even Matthew and Luke place the central emphasis on Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. So, as we celebrate Christmas—if you do—we would do well to remember this:

The birth of Jesus would be of no more significance than the birth of any other human being had not God validated his claims and reversed the court’s verdict of blasphemy and sedition by raising him from the dead. We probably would never have heard of him. And if we had heard of him, he would be just one more Jewish prophet martyred for preaching against injustice, one more apocalyptic fanatic deluded into thinking God would come to his rescue if he acted with enough faith. Indeed we gentiles would probably never have heard of the Jews or the Hebrew Bible; for the Jews became a world historical people only because of Jesus’ resurrection, and the Old Testament is the Old Testament because of the existence of the New Testament. And the New Testament exists because Jesus was raised.

Apart from the resurrection, the miracle of the virgin birth loses its significance as a sign of the incarnation of God. Isaac’s birth was a miracle and so were those of other prophets. And Isaac did not become the savior of the world. Islam teaches the virginal conception of the “prophet” Jesus but denies that Jesus is the incarnation of God. Ironically, Islam, which denies that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, can teach that Jesus was born of a virgin only because Jesus was raised from the dead. Otherwise the story would never have been told in Arabia.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Son of God into the world, but we must remember that that Advent was hidden and ambiguous, as was the true meaning of the life and death of Jesus, until the resurrection. We know that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the union of God and man, very God and very man only because, contrary to all expectations, God raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. If God had not raised him from the dead, he would not be the Son of God or the Savior of the world, even if he had been born of the Virgin Mary. And we would not be celebrating Christmas.

If Christ had not be raised, this Christmas would be just another winter solstice, and we would be would be celebrating the birth of the New Year rather than the birth of the Savior.

Give Me a Sign! Or Discerning the Will of God in a Complex World

It’s a question serious Christian young people often ask. And perhaps older people ought to ask it more than they do: how can I discover what God wants me to do and where God wants me to go? Asking this question is a good indicator that you are on the right track. Many people never think to ask whether they are living their lives according to God’s will. They have no comprehension of what this means or why they should seek the divine will. They follow the crowd in seeking pleasure, fame and wealth without any awareness of an alternative. They sleepwalk through life. They are possessed by the demon-spirit of the group.

But not you! You are awake. Desiring to know and do God’s will shows that you are aware that we were created for a purpose and that we have work to do. You are aware that only by doing God’s will can we accomplish anything lasting. And that is good, very good.

But sometimes we become anxious because we don’t receive clear sign of what to do next and where to go. We fear that we might fail to discern God’s will and make a serious mistake. We might major in the wrong subject, take the wrong job, move to the wrong state, buy the wrong car or marry the wrong person.

Anxiety about the consequences of our decisions is understandable; it plagues everyone. But for those who want to do God’s will there is no real reason to be anxious. For God is able to lead us to where he wants us to be and use our lives to accomplish great and lasting things even when we have no clear sign from God. God can do this even when we are anxious and confused. What matters is that God does his will in our lives, not that we know exactly how God is doing this. Perhaps, then, our anxiety about knowing the will of God is more about desire for psychological tranquility than passion for God’s will. So, keep this truth clearly in mind: we may fail but God will not. And even in our failure God accomplishes his will.

Does this mean that I stop seeking God’s will? No. Not at all! It means that we should seek it in complete confidence that God’s working his will does not depend on my finding it. How then may I seek God’s will in this new way of confidence? (1) Get clear that you really want God to guide your life according to his will. Pray that God will purify your heart from all double-mindness and hypocrisy. Make sure that it is God’s will you want and not merely relief from the anxiety of life’s decisions.

(2) Determine to do good and right in whatever situation you find yourself. Don’t allow dreams of future great deeds blind you to the opportunities of the present. We know that God wills us to love our neighbors. Do what is clear now and allow God to take care of what is obscure. (3) God created you and has been preparing you for his work since before you were born. You have God-given abilities and interests that will fit the tasks God has assigned you. If you are not good in math, it is not likely that God wants you to become an engineer. (4) God also works through reason and common sense, which are also his gifts. Use them.

Next week will conclude the first year of ifaqtheology! I’ve posted 57 essays for a total of 48,700 words. I will celebrate that milestone by reviewing the past year and announcing the theme for year number 2.