A few months ago, I was chatting with some scientists at a university event on worldviews and science. These were atheists and agnostics; they didn’t believe in God themselves but were willing to attend a dialogue with people of various religions. During a break, we had a chance to learn more about each other’s views. I tried to explain how I found the Christian faith to be the best explanation for the human condition. For example, I think Christianity gives a compelling explanation for why we all long for goodness and yet are not able to achieve it. One of them said to me, quite respectfully, something like “Well, if you care about those questions, that’s fine for you. Go ahead and add God on to science. But for me, science and rationality can explain everything just fine.”
I was cut to the heart. I had expected resistance to religion, not apathy. (I’ve heard since from Christians in science who often encounter such apparent apathy.) On the face of it, these smart people seemed to have no interest in some of the biggest questions of life. Other atheists at the meeting did argue that religion was incompatible with science and addressed some of those larger questions. But the people I chatted with during that break seemed to be in a different place. They weren’t railing against God and religion. They didn’t say that science has disproven God. They just saw God as irrelevant.
Perhaps they saw science as sufficient because of the effectiveness of reason and evidence in discovering truths, or the power of medicine to heal, or the ability of science to answer questions about our natural history. I also value those things, but see them as only partial answers to the big questions. Perhaps they didn’t want to be associated with religious people who have done wrong in the name of God. Or perhaps, like all of us, they tended to adopt the views of leaders and peers they respect, which for them included atheist scientists.
And yet…. and yet. Did they really think science provides the answers to all our deepest questions and longings? I doubt that. If we had talked longer and become friends, what might I have learned? I expect they cared a lot about the needs of this world. Perhaps they saw the way science benefits others and had given up looking to religion for those benefits. Perhaps underneath this rational apathy was deep heartbreak – people who had been hurt too many times and saw “a loving God” as a fantasy too good to be true.
At times our world feels so dark. Hatred, lies, loneliness, and racism are thriving. Organized religion hasn’t ended these things, but science hasn’t either. In fact, new technologies often make sins easier to commit. I feel the darkness of sin in my own life too. I desire to do good, but sin is always at the door, tempting me to pride and selfishness. Even when we try as hard as we can to be good people, we never fully achieve it.
All of us long for something better. Light to shine into our darkness. Peace and understanding rather than our sad divisions. Kindness in place of hate. Truth in place of lies. True joy in place trivial entertainment. Hope for the future. Love and deep friendship. Eternal significance. In our culture today, everyday conversations do not often include religious matters, but those deep longings are still there. We long for truth, beauty, and goodness, but we settle for Twitter. Who can we turn to? Where is our rescue?
Two thousand years ago, the Roman world suffered many of the same challenges – oppression, racial hatred, lies, bitter divisions, and wrong done in the name of God. Into that culture stepped the most amazing thing imaginable: the very Creator of the universe. If you’re not familiar with Christianity, the story of the baby Jesus may seem sentimental and perhaps no more real than Santa Claus. But the Gospel of John tells the story from the cosmic perspective. He calls Jesus the “Logos”, the living Word:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(excerpts from John 1:1-14)
John tells of God dwelling among us, inviting us to be his children. God doesn’t instantly fix our problems and we don’t always know why, but he takes on our sufferings as his own. He brings Light. Life. Truth. Grace. Glory. All the things we truly long for are met in Jesus Christ. This is the radical message of Christianity for an apathetic secular world.
It may seem too good to be true. But I would argue that it is too good to ignore. If the Christian message is true, if that little baby in Bethlehem is really the good and loving King of the universe, he holds all that we most desire. Christmas becomes much more than a sentimental holiday. It is a deep truth that can and should radically reorder my life and yours. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life – the light shining in the darkness.