How to handle “the news” these days is challenging, isn’t it? The way the mainstream news outlets interpret events and deliver information is, to say the least, provocative and often challenges credibility. But rather than embarking on a quest to determine whether heads can actually explode from too much exposure to volatile material, it may be more beneficial to endeavor to make a point or two relative to a lesson we might learn about the incredulity we sometimes experience.
Today’s news reports remind me of going through a familiar developmental milestone that most of us experienced as young children. All the “news feeds” at that stage in my life reported a familiar seasonal story in perfect harmony. I had always accepted the whole thing as factual . . . until for some reason, elements of it began to bother me.
An Unusual Character ~
The main character, as you may suspect, was a rather reclusive philanthropist who seemed remarkably agile in spite of inflated body mass index numbers. He reportedly ran a major toy manufacturing operation in the arctic wasteland near the North Pole and was described as a good natured, incredibly generous fellow who loved kids.
He and his team reportedly gathered custom orders received mostly by mail directly from children at shopping centers around the world. He had a staff of diminutive little artisans who were evidently too short to get hired anywhere else. They were overwhelmed with work every year but through their tireless efforts and unusual skills, they always came through in the “nick” of time. All that was certainly interesting, but the focal point of the story was the annual trip he undertook.
The Impossible Mission ~
The toy-making CEO would don his characteristic red and white outfit on the same day every year. He’d sit down to a healthy meal of cookies and hot chocolate, and then set out to fulfill a “Mission Impossible” challenge that Tom Cruise wouldn’t touch. After loading his custom made sport-utility sled with everything from bicycles to underwear, he’d begin a race against time, bad weather, selfish Grinch creatures, kids with drones, surveillance cameras, and homes without fireplaces. Pulled aloft by horny, gravity defying animals, he’d set out to sneak into every residence on the entire planet, and leave gifts for all the kids meeting acceptable behavioral standards. Okay, so the story was a little challenging, but the outlandish nature of it didn’t bother me until I started thinking about what I was really being asked to believe.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if the story had been concocted by our neighbor, who my grandpa said would rather tell lies about stuff than eat chocolate pudding. But this story flowed from the mouths of supposedly honest and intelligent adults, many of whom were directly or indirectly responsible for my welfare. It was also published in print and shown on TV. Purportedly trustworthy people reiterated the bizarre tale with amazing continuity. They emphasized the same prominent characters, repeated the same descriptive words and phrases, projected the same emotions, used the same illustrations, and delivered the same behavioral admonitions. They highlighted the same list of moral imperatives and mouthed it all with the same tone of affirming confidence suggestive of something unquestionably true. Does that kind of pattern sound strangely familiar?
Believe It … or Else ~
The fact that the Santa Claus story disallowed reason, defied logic, and was void of any supportive evidence of its claims apparently made no difference . . . I was expected to “believe” it. Those telling it were purportedly smarter and more informed than I was, and that should have been enough. Detailed inquiries about peculiar elements of the story were sidestepped with vague convoluted double-talk. Openly expressing doubts was frowned upon because such things called into question the integrity of those promoting the story. If questions did arise, they were met with reinforced affirmations of truth and a subtle warning that rejecting the story could be costly.
When questions only generate renewed claims of veracity, obfuscated details, and warnings about personal, social, and material reprisal, we might do well to remember how often we heard the Santa Claus story reinforced. We might want to recall our confrontation with reality and our discovery that nothing under the tree was ever really free.
More Relevant Concerns ~
But what does any of this have to do with us and our life here in the chaos of 2021? A couple of observations are worth noting and have nothing to do with a popular traditional legend or the inflammatory madness of a biased news media. What concerns me most is our response to more consequential allegations of supernatural capacities and demonstrations of incredible power. I’m concerned with how to deal with incredulity in a culture that validates the unbelievable and repudiates the undeniable. A helpful clue or two can be found in John’s report of an incident that some might find as challenging as a report of flying reindeer. The story can be found in John 9:1-4.
John relates an occasion when Jesus encountered a beggar who had been born blind. In response to His disciples’ question regarding the man’s condition, Jesus approached him and without introduction or explanation, spat on the ground, worked it into clay, and put it on the man’s eyes. Then He instructed him to go to a particular public pool and wash it out. The man complied with the instruction, and when he did, light he had never seen, images he had never beheld, and color he had never imagined flooded in. The same creative force that fashioned clay into the shape of a human body and breathed life into it in the Garden of Eden had given the man new eyes.
Predictable Reactions ~
So how was reporting of this incredible incident handled by the caretakers of the social/religious narrative of the day? Not surprisingly, the cultural elites were outraged. The miracle was met with incredulity and the recipient was assaulted with sarcasm, insults, demeaning accusations, and warnings of social reprisal. Rather than herald the story as an indication of hope and redemptive promise, they declared that because it was done on the Sabbath, it was illegal. They impugned the man’s character, insulted his intelligence, and threatened his family. Again, does that kind of response sound familiar?
So how was an uneducated beggar to respond to the ruling elites confronting him? What could he do to dispel their incredulity, silence their accusations, and repel their attacks? There was only one invincible defense for the formerly blind beggar, and we must learn from it. It’s a defense that doesn’t require a course in public speaking to deliver or a degree in theology to understand. With one irrefutable piece of evidence the beggar made fools of the elites and stripped their arsenal bare. He looked at them with his new eyes and simply said:
…one thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see. (John 9:25 NKJV)
When John the Baptist sent a request from prison asking Jesus for confirmation that He was the One he had declared Him to be, Jesus didn’t pen a creedal statement. Like the formerly blind beggar, His response was simple and irrefutable:
Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matthew 11:4b–5 NKJV)
Incredulity Expected ~
When we declare that our lives have been radically transformed through a relationship with the Son of God, who died and came back to life, doubts are not unusual and incredulity can be expected. If we show that the change in our life is real, incredulity can fade into interest, and interest can lead to faith. One of the greatest challenges we face as Christians in this oppositional culture is the temptation to pretend to be something we aren’t and to have something we don’t really have. May God help us to live in ways that foster incredulity and that demand answers. May He enable us to demonstrate a transformation that human effort alone can’t produce, and may we never forget that He proved that the blind can see, the lame can walk, the deaf can be made to hear — and death has been put in its own tomb.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “When questions generate renewed claims of veracity, obfuscated details & warnings of personal, social & material reprisal, recall how often the Santa Claus story was reinforced and discovering that nothing under the tree was really free.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When we declare that our lives have been radically transformed through a relationship with the Son of God, doubts and incredulity can be expected. If they see the change is real, incredulity can fade into interest that can lead to faith.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Among the greatest challenges we face as Christians in this oppositional culture is the temptation to pretend to be something we aren’t & have something we don’t really have. May we live in ways that foster incredulity & demand answers.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “May God enable us as Christians to demonstrate a transformation that human effort alone can’t produce, and may we never forget that He proved that the blind can see, the lame can walk, the deaf can be made to hear and death has been put in its own tomb.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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