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“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2019

Once again, it’s time to reflect on the recent holiday season. I’ve mentioned in the past that I love Christmas specials and movies. But while I love the old holiday classics that doesn’t mean there aren’t things about them that bug me. For example, early on in It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence the angel mentions that he’s been an angel for over 200 years. Since the later part of the story takes place in late December, 1945, he must have been an angel since the early-to-mid-1700s. But somehow he has a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which wasn’t published until 1876. How did Clarence learn about Mark Twain? Where did he get his copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? Is there a Barnes & Noble in heaven? Did he pick it up as a souvenir on one of his angel missions to Earth, sometime in the 1800s? After he and George have been recovered from the river, Clarence mentions “the new book Twain’s writing now,” as if he’s unaware of current events on Earth or even what year it is. Is it possible this is the first time he’s been to Earth since the late 1800s? We aren’t told.

I know none of this should detract from my enjoyment of the film—and for the most part it doesn’t—but I’m the sort of guy who wants to know how an angel heard of Mark Twain; and where Bruce Wayne gets fuel for the Batmobile, which is supposed to be atomic powered; and why Junior Bear from the Charmin commercials (the Internet says his name is “Dylan”) wears underwear but not pants. Does he wear it under his fur? I want explanations. And that doesn’t exactly help me fit into a religion where “We’ll understand it better by and by.”

When we read the Bible, there are things that appear to be contradictory or inconsistent. For example, there are two versions of Jesus’ birth: one from Matthew, with “wise men” (2:1); and another from Luke, with shepherds (2:8). In part, we can understand that the visitation of the magi probably occurred sometime after Jesus’ birth, after the shepherds were long gone and Joseph and Mary had returned home. We can also understand that it’s unlikely either is an eyewitness account (Luke’s definitely isn’t, see 1:1-4), and that the two gospels are probably based on testimony by different sets of witnesses. But that doesn’t make either account untrue.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14 New English Translation). In other words, “If what I’m saying doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because you’re unspiritual.” That certainly lets Paul off the hook. He doesn’t have to make sense to people who don’t believe already because only spiritual people can understand him. And the emperor is so wearing clothes, you just can’t see them, so Nyah! I guess to some people that makes me “unspiritual” too but I’m okay with that.

There are Christians who practice what’s called “apologetics,” which means they have detailed explanations for the things they believe. But I’m not one of them because if something can be explained then it doesn’t require faith. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1 NET). Faith is our explanation. Faith is our evidence. Faith is our proof. I don’t have to know how Clarence the angel got hold of a book that was published after he died to enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life, or to understand its message. I don’t have to know why a cartoon bear wears underwear to understand what the commercial is selling. And I don’t have to understand everything in the Bible to believe it. And neither do you. The things—and people—we love often challenge and frustrate us but that doesn’t mean we give up on them. Faith has to do with what we believe and what we do about it (Jas. 2:17), rather than what we know (Jas. 3:13). If we simply live our faith, others will see that we are “spiritual people” (1 Cor. 2:13b).

“God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. . . . Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:10, 12-14 NET.)

Copyright © 2019 by David Phelps