What’s so Merry about Christmas?

Recently I had the chance to crash a Christmas dinner dressed as Santa Claus, and after being exposed by the kids, embark on a short but thought-provoking discussion about Christmas entitled What’s so Merry about Christmas?  A friend videoed it all and since it fits with this series of Christmas posts I thought I would share it in this one. (15 min)

 

For more in-depth treatment of historical and prophetic aspects of the Christmas story see the following posts

Where does ‘Christ’ in Jesus Christ come from?

Jewish Rabbinical Testimony: The Son of a Virgin from the line of David

Hold the Eggnog Christmas is in trouble!  Considering Dawkins’ claims against the Gospel accounts of the Christmas Story

The Subsequent Life Lived: Signature of the Virgin Birth

 

 

Pinocchio: Demystifying the Gospel End-Goal

I have been thinking of the creation and fall of both man and angel. A question that has always puzzled me is: Why would God go through with it? In other words, the fall of man,  in the Biblical-view, would have been foreseen by God. If I could foresee the fall of man that would be comparable to that of elves degrading to orcs, with all that unfolding misery and death, I would have probably not created them. But God went through with it, knowing what would happen.  He thought it would be worthwhile for some reason. What was that reason? What did He see that I do not see?

Pinochio parallels

It was actually the story of Pinocchio that gave me a glimpse into what God was doing in the creation of mankind, still foreseeing the Fall. I am not sure if it was intended that way or not, but the story of Pinocchio has remarkable parallels with the Gospel.

Pinocchio was made as a sentient being, one who was alive and who could freely choose. But his nature was not like Jepetto’s (the carpenter who made him); Pinocchio was of ‘wood’ and Jepetto was human flesh and blood.  Jepetto’s longing from the beginning was to have a boy – a son – after his own human nature. Pinocchio, the alive but wooden puppet, was an interim stop-gap remedy. The goal all along was to have a ‘son’. Somehow that longing portrayed in the story (I saw it in the Disney classic animation) is so natural, so ‘normal’ that we hardly question it.

Pinocchio did not become a flesh-and-blood son. He failed in temptation and rebelled and went his own way. The innocent, but untested Creator-creature relationship that Jepetto and Pinocchio had was destroyed. Pinocchio was corrupted and was transforming into an ‘ass’ (of the donkey kind). Here is another picture of the Fall.

However, Pinocchio was redeemed and he was won back. The Fall to ‘ass-hood’ was stopped. But his salvation did not revert him back to being a wooden puppet. His redemption resulted in him becoming a real flesh-and-blood son of Jepetto – precisely what Jepetto had wanted all along.

God made Lucifer intelligent, beautiful and powerful, and he could have doubled these qualities into Lucifer’s essence.  But no matter how many of these qualities God endowed him with, the chasm between the omni-Creator and that of his creature would remain infinite. A Super-Lucifer enhanced ten-fold would still have nothing that would compare him with God. God would still have no ‘son’, with the very ‘genes’ of God in him. Their natures would always be entirely different, the ‘wooden’ creature nature would always be infinitely removed from the Divine Nature.

With the redemption in the gospel it is different. It is not mere creation of enhanced but ‘wooden’ features  – fundamentally remaining of different essence from the Creator. Read this invitation of the gospel:

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

The Gospel is not simply an account of a reversal of the Fall or a way of ‘getting into heaven’. If you think of it primarily as a deliverance from Hell you have missed the main point. It is all these – but they are the minor incidentals in the much bigger plan of God. His intent is to get ‘children’ – not creatures. If we think of the gospel as primarily ‘going to heaven’ it would be like thinking that having a dog in your house is the same as having a son or daughter in your house. It is not being in the same house that is the main objective, it is the nature of the person that is sharing the house with you that is the most important goal. A dog is fundamentally different than a human. You may share your house with it, but the dog cannot be your son.  Children have the very genes – that is the nature – of their parents. This is a bond that reaches well beyond sharing a house (sharing a house is my analogy of God sharing heaven with his creatures).

In the Gospel, God is taking his fallen wooden (and becoming ass-like) Pinocchios and transforming them into his very own children.  Then he will share his House with them. How does he do it?

“…We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

So God, in eternity past, planned and orchestrated the creation of man and angel. The Fall did not surprise Him – He foresaw its coming, but He also foresaw past the Fall, through the death, misery and sin – to the day when he would have Children – when his wooden puppets would return to Him as his own Kin. This was something of an entirely new order than created creature – even powerful, intelligent and majestic created creatures.  The metamorphosis was going to happen through a union with created mankind and His Son. Paul caught a glimpse of what God foresaw in eternity past and wrote

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:18-19)

Glory will be revealed ‘in’ the children of God. And even now creation itself is waiting impatiently for that day!

People may reject the Gospel because they think it is not true. They may reject it because they prefer to remain autonomous and independent from God. Or they may reject it because they prefer their petty sins. But it is a real shame when we reject it for the mistaken notion that it is a very small and narrow vision.  One Day the Children of God will be displayed in all their glory to the universe, the wooden puppets of old transformed by a union with Christ. God foresaw it all before Time began. He thought it was worth the tremendous price of redemption that He would have to pay. It is a shame many of us do not think it worth it as well.

In the Image of God

In the last few posts I looked at ‘signs’ in some landmark passages from the Old Testament that allude to Jesus.  I did so primarily because they are clues that point to a Divine Mind revealing Himself through these remarkable allusions. But they are also clues to help us understand ourselves.  And to continue with that I want to consider implications of what the Bible says about the origins of mankind.  Using the Bible to understand our beginnings is considered the height of folly in many modern circles.  However, at the very least, an open-minded recognition of the bankruptcy of ‘scientific’ evolutionary theories shown here, and the recently confirmed genetic fact of interbreeding between homo sapiens and neanderthals – predicted from the Biblical narrative – should allow anyone, believer and unbeliever alike, to have the freedom to consider what the Bible says about our beginnings, and to think about what it means.

So, in this spirit of considering, I want to chart an understanding of what the Bible teaches about us by looking at a passage from the creation account.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

Now what does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc.  Rather at a deeper level it is saying that basic characteristics of people are derived from similar characteristics of God.  So for example, both God (in the Bible) and people (from observation) have intellect, emotions and will.  In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same range of emotions that we humans experience.   We make choices and decisions on a daily basis.  God similarly in the Bible is described as making choices and coming to decisions.  Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God.  We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and we are made in his image.

At a more fundamental level when we consider these aspects of ourselves we see that we are sentient beings, self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because God is this way.  In this fundamental perspective, the God of the Bible is not portrayed as a pantheistic impersonality as understood in Eastern religions, or like the ‘Force’ in Star Wars.  And because we are made in His image, neither are we.

Why we are Aesthetic

We also appreciate art and drama.  Consider how we so naturally appreciate and even need beauty.  This goes beyond just visual beauty to include music and literature.  Think about how important music is to us – even how natural it is for us to dance.  Music so enriches our lives.  We love good stories, whether in novels or plays, or more commonly today, in movies.  Stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories sear these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  It is so natural for us to use and appreciate art in its many forms to entertain, reinvigorate and rejuvenate ourselves because God is an Artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking.  Why are we so innately aesthetic, whether in art, drama, music, dance, or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding cognitive processes, answers from a materialistic perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.”[1]

Why indeed if everything about us as humans must be explained based solely on survival fitness and differential reproductive rates is art, in all its forms, so important to us?  Dennett, probably the world’s leading thinker on this question from the materialistic evolutionary perspective, tells us that we just do not know.  From the Biblical perspective it is because God is artistic and aesthetic.  He made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same.

Why we are Moral

In addition, being ‘made in God’s image’ explains the innate moral grammar or Tao we looked at in Session Two.  Because we are made in God’s image and morality is intrinsic to His nature, like a compass aligned to magnetic North, our alignment to ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ is because this is the way He is.  It is not just religious people who are made in this way – everyone is.  Not recognizing this can give rise to misunderstandings.  Take for example this challenge from Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.”[2]

Harris is dead wrong here.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally.  The difficulty with atheism is to account for this objective basis of our morality –  but all of us have it hard-wired into us (as Dawkins says) because we are in His image.  Dawkins’ speculations about the cause of our innate morality from a materialistic perspective are less than compelling.  Being made in God’s moral image is a far simpler and straightforward explanation.

Why are we so Relational

Thus Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image.  Because of this, as we gain insight into either God (through what is revealed about him in the Bible) or people (through observation and reflection) we can also gain insight into the other.  So, for example, it is not hard to notice the prominence  we place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is a much better experience to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends to share experiences with.  Meaningful friendships and family relationships are key to our sense of well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and/or fractured family relationships and breakdowns in friendships stress us.  We are not neutral and unmoved by the state of relationships we have with others.  Now, if we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same relational tilt with God, and in fact we do.  The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are in fact called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since to function it requires a person who loves (the lover) and a person who is the object of this love – the beloved.

Thus we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Prime Mover’, the ‘First Cause’, the ‘Omniscient Deity’ or perhaps as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is these, He is also portrayed as almost recklessly passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical metaphors of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not dispassionately philosophical ‘first cause’ analogies but those of the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.

So here is the foundation we have laid so far.  People are made in God’s image comprised of mind, emotions and will.  We are sentient and self-aware.  We are moral beings with our ‘Moral grammar’ giving us an innate orientation of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and what is not.  We have instinctive capacity to develop and appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms.  And we will innately and naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  All these deductions are at least consistent with what we observe about ourselves as we laid this foundation.  We continue in the next post to look at some difficulties.


[1] Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43

[2] Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39