Recently an interesting letter to the editor appeared in a Kentucky newspaper called the Lexington Herald-Leader. In it the writer, speaking of Christians, said in part that “these people have been trained from childhood to believe in fairy tales…. From childhood, they were told stories that were fascinating but simply not true. This set their minds up to accept things that make them feel good. Later in life, some people mature, study facts and cause and effect, and start thinking more logically, even if the results are undesirable….”
This writer masterfully captures an increasingly common perspective on how the narratives of the Bible are to be regarded, namely as fantasies that really are not fit even for children. Fairy tales that no thinking adult could possibly believe. People who say things like this are typically thinking primarily about biblical narratives like those of Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lions’ den, and so on. Mostly.
But they are also thinking about the “big narrative” of the Bible and about the message of the gospel itself – the claims of the Bible that human beings are not just accidents of an accidental universe, or even just people who make mistakes, but rather that we are rebels and sinners who deserve the wrath of God, including eternal punishment in an eternal hell. Claims that there is a divine Savior who becomes a man and who dies a bloody death to turn away the wrath of God from sinners who believe on him. The promise of eternal life – glorious beyond imagining – in a world made new, where the wolf lies down with the lamb and from which tears are banished forever. And all of it pivoting on the death – the cross – of Jesus. All too fantastic to believe, many would say, like this letter writer.
It is quite true that the Bible’s claims are quite extraordinary, to say the least. The accounts of Noah and Jonah and Daniel – and many others – do indeed stretch the imagination. And it is also true that the Bible’s account of the death of Jesus is the most extraordinary of all. The Gospel writers would have us believe that he is both God and man, that he has come in obedience to the will of his divine Father, and yet that he dies a death in mockery and humiliation – bloody, painful, terrible in every respect – also at the behest of God the Father. But in his death he achieves a glorious purpose: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
For people like the writer of this letter to the editor, that is all just too much to take. Too primitive, too fantastic, a blood-thirsty god of a sort that can no longer be believed in by 21st century people.
But who is actually believing a fairy tale? Is it the person who believes that there is a just God who must punish sin – even if he bears it himself – or is it actually the person who cannot dispense with the ideas of right and wrong, or good and evil, and who cannot live his or her life without some concept of justice and yet has no sufficient basis for these ideas anywhere in his or her worldview – like the writer of this letter?
The truth is that we live in a world where no one can get away from such ideas. Good and evil really do exist. Every act of evil comes with a cost to someone. Someone is made to pay. Enforcing justice when evil has been done requires that a payment be made. Every act of forgiveness costs the one who forgives. Reconciliation comes through suffering. That is the very nature of the reality in which we live, and it is people who refuse to acknowledge that this is indeed our reality that are engaging in fantasy.
Don’t be swayed by arguments that appear to be based in science and logic and “21st century thinking” but really are nothing more than an appeal to the sinful desires of deceitful hearts and require suppression of things that we know in our hearts are true.
The claims of the gospel cohere with the reality that we know, and in which we live, better than any competing claims. The claim of Jesus that he came into the world to die a terrible death in the place of sinners, giving his life as a ransom to rescue us from spiritual bondage and eternal death is no fairy tale. It is the true story that makes sense of our broken world and – praise be to God – gives us hope.