Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Incarnation: The Reason to Believe the Old Testament?

I have a confession. I am not a religious person.

This does not mean I lack religion, that I do not pray, that I do not adhere to the Creeds of the Church. What I mean is that I am not someone who is inherently disposed to religion as a facet of life, although it is doubtless good for me. A great number of people, understandably, what the modern state of Christianity with white knuckles, as if they expect it all to come crashing down, leaving them with the uncomfortable question of "what am I supposed to believe now?", or perhaps "how am I supposed to be now?" This writer, however, has always been more sympathetic to GK Chesterton's aphorism: "If I were not Catholic, I'd have a harem."

William F. Buckley Jr. once commented that should the Resurrection of Christ be disproven, he would immediately begin to follow the precepts of Judaism and the Mosaic Law. Why would one lend much credence to the Old Covenant at all, if not for Christ? On its face, the Old Testament is a mythical origin story of mankind, its Fall, through which we understand our own flaws and our relationship with God, and the "encounters" of some individuals with a mystical spirit bordering on lunacy that they attributed to a God Who demanded absolute obeisance and Who gave precious little in return. The Old Testament tells a long history of Mankind and of the people of Israel by means of a distinct pattern of myth and embellishment. At least that is what this writer would make of it if not for the Incarnation of Christ.

Have you ever visited the tomb of a modern saint? This poor sinner has met the mortal remains of Padre Pio and spent time at his convent in San Giovanni Rotondo. Many will have met St. Therese or the North American martyrs. These saints, nearer to modern scrutiny than the bones of Saint Andrew in Amalfi, worked wonders in our own times. Padre Pio was, in many ways, the most recent "old fashioned" saint, a miracle worker and a simple man madly in love with Jesus Christ. He, and a host of saints, point their modern fingers so that our modern eyes may look back to Bethlehem twenty centuries ago. Their deeds bother us not because some northern Italian friar could exorcise a demon, but because if he could, then the entire world of Original Sin, Christ, Heaven, and Hell are all quite real. They are John the Forerunner, a saint we consider deeply during Advent, for our time.

And so we do turn our eyes back to the cave in Bethlehem and to the mount outsider Jerusalem and embrace the supernatural as the real. Those stories and narratives from the Old Testament, probable in scope and implausible in detail on their own merits, suddenly take on an air of great credulity if they speak of God becoming Man and Man rising from the dead. All of history tends toward this point and all history since is a result of it. And I, a man not naturally disposed to religion, find myself in religion.

1 comment:

  1. My current read-through of the Old Testament is offering a very different perspective than my childhood exposure to the text. There are some textual oddities that lend themselves to skeptical dismissiveness, and the narrative roughness is confusing to any post-classical reader. I do not think I would have found the Old Testament compelling on its own if I had discovered it in adulthood.

    The temperament (if you will) of God as depicted in the Hebrew texts is not quite as dissonant with the New Testament as many people think. Christ threatened his listeners with eternal hellfire multiple times even in the Sermon on the Mount, and when you consider the moral horrors perpetrated by the Jews' heathen neighbors, the terrifying punishments visited upon their adulterous worship of foreign gods become more understandable. Perhaps one of these days I will understand the prophets better than I do.