On a cold February night in Lake Placid, New York, a few thousand American men and women cheered hysterically in disbelief. So did Al Michaels, a man paid to be stoic and professional as he announced the broadcasted hockey game. “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!” The United States National Hockey Team shocked the world and defeated the Soviet Union, the Goliath of hockey at the time, before going on to win the gold medal. Who would have guessed? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two American revolutionaries, stood divided over how much of the federal government’s nose should be in the people’s business. Disparagement and muckraking ensued. But time healed these wounds, and Adams and Jefferson went on to become friends again, writing letters back and forth for over a decade. Their lives ended five hours apart from each other on the same day. That day was July 4—the very same day their country would celebrate its independence.
I sat down with my family to play a trivia game. The question read, “Which of these state laws is true?” There are four choices. I picked the answer that sounded the most ridiculous, one we all laughed at when we read it aloud, and I got it right. “It was too strange not to be true,” I quipped.
Sometimes, what makes the truth so believable is how unbelievable it is. This is why G.K. Chesterton said, “There is generally something odd in the truth.” It was a sense of oddness that saved my faith some years ago.
MY QUEST FOR TRUTH
At some point, every Christian deals with the reality of doubt in their lives. Maybe it’s a momentary thought or a season of spiritual depression, but we all have a time when we ask ourselves, “Is all of this really true? Is the Bible really God’s words? Is Jesus who he said he was?”
My moment was brief, but very real. It was more than an annoyance or a bother—it shook me. I felt like I was in a spiritual crisis. Would a few questions topple decades of Christian teaching I experienced? I began to read notable Christian apologists and secular New Atheists in tandem. My thought was to weigh the two sides, see which one holds more clout and makes more sense, then go with whichever one made more sense. That was not a foolproof decision, though. After all, my quest revolved around faith—a word contingent on mystery and trust. I soon realized that in order to profess or deny faith in Christ, one must come face-to-face with God’s Word itself and say, “Yes,” or, “No.”
So, I put down Richard Bauckham and Richard Dawkins and picked up the Bible. These words are different, claiming to be the self-professed words of God. They are their own apologist. If that was the case, then I could simply read these words and see what happened.
THE ODDNESS OF SCRIPTURE
As I began to read the Scriptures, I pleaded with God: “Help my unbelief!” And he did. One way he did was by pointing me to the oddity of it all. It was that same strangeness in the truth I had identified over a board game, the unnaturalness that made me say, “That must be the answer…” And I believed.
I read about Adam and Eve. As I read the opening chapters of Genesis, my eyes almost glazed over. Thankfully, the Lord stopped me in my tracks with a sentence I had never noticed before. “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21).
I’m not sure why, but it stunned me. I began to wonder why. Why would God do this, especially to people who just spit in his face with their sinfulness? Why would the author include this detail? This is…odd.
I kept reading. I found more odd things.
I read about Noah, but from God’s perspective for the first time. Mankind had been nothing but a disgrace to his name. God has every right, as holy Ruler of all, to condemn them and go back to the drawing board. But he doesn’t. He gives a sin-stained race a second chance through the line of Noah.
I read about Abraham, who God blesses with a son in remarkably old age, only to ask Abraham to climb a mountain and sacrifice him before eventually preserving his life in the end.
I read that God appoints a man named Moses with a lisp to make one of the most important speeches in all of human history. God called him to go before King Pharaoh and demand the release of God’s people, and pronounce judgment if he fails to do so. This same man receives tablets with laws inscribed by God’s own finger.
I read prophecy after prophecy. I had hoped to catch a contradiction or an unfulfilled anecdote that all of church history skipped over. Nothing. The mercy of God litters chapter after chapter. What in the world? Even the genealogies are bewildering. God uses two prostitutes, an adulterous murderer, and a former pagan from Moab to pave the way for the promised King of all Kings.
Then I read about the birth of this King, whom the Bible calls “the Word made flesh” —Jesus Christ. It’s easy to miss just how odd this is when we’ve read it so much. God became man—that’s odd! He took on human flesh. He drank wine with the worst social class. He was a carpenter that travelled as a rabbi. He made blind men see. He slept. He became sin even then he knew no sin. He died on a cross for a stubborn, stiff-necked people. He was dead for three days, then came back to life. After he resurrected, he wanted some fish to eat. After all that, Jesus told his followers it was better for him to leave, but he promised he would send the Helper to remain with them in their hearts.
God has built His Church and preserved His Word over the course of human history. It’s the clear-cut, number one most widely-read, data-confirmed story in antiquity the world has ever heard, and the race for second is not even close.
I COULD NOT HAVE GUESSED
Little of this makes sense to my brain. If I was writing these stories,
- Adam and Eve would have been dismissed from the Garden naked and perpetually ashamed.
- Noah would have been drowned, too.
- Isaac would never have went to the mountain.
- Human error would have allowed for a prophecy here or there to be incorrect.
- God would have stayed where he was, and it would have been mankind’s responsibility to get their act together to get the benefits of heaven.
- Jesus wouldn’t have eaten a fish dinner.
The complexity, the oddness, of these events, rattled me. There was so much specificity, so much ugly, so much unlike what I could have imagined had I created this story myself. I began to realize that Scripture is not just this ancient set of tall tales, religious platitudes, and allegories. Instead of being old and dead, God’s Word is alive and active (Heb. 4:12). It is historical, and, therefore, visceral. It gets brutally honest and takes turns no one could have foreseen. We could have never written it. It is unpredictable, and therefore, worthy of our attention—but more than attention. If God is who he says he is in his Word, he becomes worthy of our worship.
C.S. Lewis sums this up in Mere Christianity:
“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion that you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”
ODD, BUT GOOD, NEWS
The Miracle on Ice. The friendship of Adams and Jefferson.A state law in Alabama. God made man. Grace for sinners.
The story that God tells in and through His Word is truly unpredictable, not because God governs the world with haphazard hands, but because our minds can hardly fathom the truth of it all.
This year, Protestants everywhere celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a time in which the commitment to Scripture alone was professed loud and clear. As one reads Scripture, he will find that God makes one invitation throughout the text to the reader: “Take me at my Word.”
Perhaps you hang in the tension of doubt and wonder what this means, if anything. Consider the uniqueness, the honesty, the earthiness of the biblical stories. Both Christian and secular apologists will give you everything they’ve got in terms of evidence, but at the end of the day your belief or unbelief will come down to your willingness to take God at His Word.
When you sift through the thin pages of a Bible, you will find a lot that is unlike anything you’ve ever read or heard. And that might be just enough to convince you.
Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University, and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.