Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dropping the Ba'al

One of the larger challenges we have as Christians is telling the world about who Jesus is, and why we feel he's important. As important as John 3:16 is to all of us from this side of the looking glass, I think that unless we can unpack that a teensy little bit the rest of the world just hears us talkin' loud and sayin' nothing.

"He's the Son of God," we say, sounding much like Uhura on that Star Trek episode most Trekkers would rather forget. What, you mean like Hercules? Is Jesus the demi-god offspring of divine canoodling? Has the Holy of Holies, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, just become the Jewish Zeus as a goose, coming down to do the humpty hump with an underage Judean Leda? No, of course not. That's not what we say at all, but I'm not sure that most of us have an adequate grasp on the depth of what orthodox Trinitarian theology actually says to be able to fend off that sniping.

"He died for our sins and was raised again, so that we might have eternal life," we say, and we really mean it. But then some jaded former Christian with a chip on their shoulder asks us how that's different from the Canaanite Ugaritic stories of Ba'al the lifegiver, who dies in battle with Mot, the god of sterility and death. In his death, the hold of Mot over the earth is shattered, and Ba'al is then resurrected, restoring life to the earth, giving a great harvest and hope to humanity. "It's...different...,"we stammer, but they're hardly going to be convinced if that's all we have to offer. There are plenty of distinctions, but to really surface them, we have to both know the witness of Scripture and tradition.

Then...and I think this is the hard part...we have to be able to tell the story of who He is in such a way that a world that no longer is steeped in Bible stories can understand it. If all we can offer are what amount to terms of art, the language of our own in-group conversation, I think our ability to show the world who Jesus was and what He meant will fade to nothing.