Tuesday, December 02, 2008
The Pagan and Prophecy
When I was about 16 I attended a the "Ultimate Youth Camp" at the Lake of the Ozarks where, during one of our break-out groups I heard a Duke University Student discuss how disturbed he was to learn that some of the "Jesus story" and rituals of the church had their roots in non-Jewish or early church customs. I was probably a pretty annoying teen so afterward I went up to him and started peppering him with questions and finally ended with, "So how did you get over these things?" He simply answered, "I realized that it was just a matter of faith."
Not a satisfying answer for a young mind that wanted to know he was not wasting the years he could be partying in pursuit of a god that may not be true.
If we were to read through the Old Testament (all the books of the Bible prior to Matthew) we would find over 360 prophecies or foretellings of a "Messiah"- everything from how he would look (Isaih 53- "unpleasing") to how he would die (Psalm 22).
Feel free to cross check most/all of the prophecies here.
When critics of Christ rise up they usually fall into one of two camps: first, that Jesus' life was crammed in to fit the Old Testament prophecies and that he did not, in fact, do everything the church claims or; second, that "Jesus" is a myth and the entire story is plagiarized from other Hellenistic, Buddhist, and Jewish traditions.
Simply searching www.google.com for "Jesus", "Horus", "Osiris", "Buddha", etc. will provide one with scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) resources drawing comparisons between Jesus and any and all Messianic figures throughout history. However, while good questions are asked, the right question never gets asked: why does the story of a Messiah ring so true?
And furthermore, why does Jesus, of all the Messianic figures prior to his death, during his life, and after him still draw more people than any other?
Truth is recongnizable by the human spirit. We are hard-wired to see and understand truth in some capacity. For instance, it is true that the Hammurabi Code very closing resembles the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God in the book of Exodus (recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as divinely inspired). Why is it that those rules and laws seem to transcend culture and time and ring true still? Because truth rings true.
The thing is that all truth is God's truth- whether it is found in a church, a conversation, a book, a movie, a synagogue, the mouth of a saint or a killer, or even in other religions. We are not abdicating a faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ but rather saying that the Father God that Jesus came from and was part of has been trying to get his truth across to the world for thousands of years, through thousands of stories (take for instant the story of the Great Flood that is told from Old Testament all the way to Native American stories), and thousands of teachers (even Ghandi said he really like Jesus and his teachings but couldn't get over the problems of the Christian church).
"Pagan" traditions such as Christmas (derived from the Roman "Saturnalia") and All Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day) should not, as either Christians or non-Christians bother us. It should show us, at the very least, the catholic church's ability (at least in the past) to be culturally relevant and sensitive and enlighten us to the fact that the Bible is the story of what God was doing at one point, in one place, with one people group- not an end all to everything He was trying to accomplish in the world during or after that period.
Satan does not have a copyright on creativity or "coolness". Anything that is good is of God. Therefore the community that comes with communion (the taking of the bread and wine) and the celebration of Christmas with family, the generosity towards neighbors and children that Halloween promotes, and beauty of Christmas trees and the sun- all that, is of God.
The only thing that Satan can do is take what is God's a pervert it: take the beauty of music and use the lyrics to rage against God, take community and bring people together for the wrong reasons, take Christmas and make it materialistic (since Saturnalia didn't work out for and it is not Christmas).
If I could I wish I could go back to that Youth Camp and tell that little, goofy, annoying Devin that just like the church took the organ, drums, rock, and bar music back from a world attempting to pervert God's good and baptized it to be their own so were some of these early practices "baptized" to speak to certain people groups and places. It is an act of faith... and love... and pragmatism... and wisdom.
God is huge, His love is big, His grace beyond understanding. He wants us all to come to the feast, everyone is invited, His truth for every people, and able to be recognized by every people, everywhere. Let's celebrate the good God has given to us.