As the father of 2 daughters, ages 3 and 6, I had the good fortune this Christmas season to watch several Christmas movies. Most Christmas movies targeted at that young audience somehow, in some way contemplate the question of “belief” in Santa Claus, whether it is The Polar Express, Miracle on 34th St., or even our family favorite, Elf. As I watched my girls watching those films, I was struck by the themes of belief and skepticism, particularly surrounding the question of the meaning of Christmas.
On the surface, the films examine “belief” in Santa Claus as a matter of evidence or a matter of the will. Either the question is about whether there’s enough evidence to believe – so you don’t get “hoodwinked” or “boondoggled,” or the question is about whether you WANT to believe enough to make it true – the idea being, if you belief hard enough, you’ll get what you’re asking for.
Before I had children, I think I often missed the more subtle idea suggested by these films that views “belief” at Christmas-time as a sort of “gift.” Some people, especially children, simply have the gift of accepting that something supremely wonderful could be true in this world. It’s not so much about a particular description or vision of some particular historical figure as it is about the belief that truth, beauty and goodness – embodied in whatever form – is real, no matter what tragedies befall us and no matter what the naysayers may proclaim. Faith is blessed and beautiful and can so easily be mistaken for naivete.
It seems to me that I’ve often encountered faith in the church and among Christians as analogous to the Christmastime debate about Santa Claus. It’s either about evidence of some truth that I can “prove” (or disprove) to you. Or it’s about the effort to “believe” as if belief is some sort of achievement that can be accomplished by the will – in order to secure an uncertain future in a scary world. I know I’ve struggled with understanding faith in those terms.
But in my wiser moments, I do realize that my faith is a gift – a gift that KNOWS everything in the world comes from God, and that everything in the world will return to God. It’s not about rational argument nor is it about an act of the will. I can’t make my faith more true through argument or effort. It just is.
The gospel that I accept proclaims a reality for the WHOLE WORLD. Everything belongs. Nothing is beyond God’s reach. God gives of Godself in EVERYTHING. As the center of our faith, Jesus Christ embodies God’s characteristic self-giving and self-emptying more fully than I can even contemplate.
In an age where life seems to be turning into a bloodsport competition, where the world tells us that we better get ours before it’s gone, where my opponent is necessarily my mortal enemy, “belief” in a supremely loving God seems like an extravagance. Tragedy and injustice challenge our faith. But our faith is a gift. It just is. It is good news.
So in this new year, as we seek to live out the Christmas story we just told, I hope you’ll join me in my prayer, echoing the desperate father in chapter 9 of the gospel of Mark who cried out to Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief.”