“I Believe because it is Absurd.”

I think the Reverend Doctor James Voelz’s book What Does this Mean? which heralds itself as an answer to interpreting the Bible in these postmodern times is a concession to them. I think the 2nd century Tertullian had more of an answer than the 21st century Voelz with his words that I am using for my title.

If you read his comment as translated in The Ancient Christian Commentary I think you miss this point. It’s translated there, “’The crucifixion was indeed a shameful event, viewed humanly. Yes, the Son of God died! This is to be believed precisely amid its being an offense to humanity. The Son was buried! He rose from the dead! This fact is made all the more poignant by seeming all the more absurd.’” To be fair the footnote says, “This is the famous sentence sometimes translated: ‘It is by all means to be believed just because it is such an offense to reason’ or ‘I believe because it is absurd’” (II, 108, fn. 26).

More powerful and pointed is the 19th century translation in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. “The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.” Their footnote to absurd is Ineptum which the Latin dictionary says means “unsuited, having no sense of what is fitting, silly, foolish” (On the Flesh of Christ, ANF, III, V, 525, fn.10).

The compiler of this volume of The Ancient Christian Commentary is Reformed and he must back away from the absurdity because his ultimate principle of authority is human reason. Think of all the doctrines among the Reformed that “make sense.” There is dual predestination, the real absence of the Body and Blood, decision theology, believer’s Baptism, and no communication of the divine attributes to the human nature of Christ. All of these “make sense”.

The postmodern world, unlike the modern, embraces the absurd. From Brian the talking dog and Stewie the maniacal baby of Family Guy to time travel, parallel universes, and the seeding of Earth by extraterrestrials the absurd is acceptable today. Unlike moderns who were willing to suspend belief and so were able to enjoy Lassie barking that Timmy fell in the well and father knowing best the postmoderns are unwilling to suspend belief in order to escape the reality of their pain. But they will accept the absurd that at least dulls it.

Enter the Baby who knows all yet grows in knowledge. Enter the God who dies. Enter the resurrection of the dead. Enter the Bread that is Body and the Wine that is Blood. Enter the Water that is not only a Fountain of Youth but a fountain of eternal life. Enter words written and spoken by men being the very Words of God.

I believe because it is absurd. So absurd that no one could make it up. So absurd that no human mind can plum its depth. So absurd that it is unprovable scientifically but believable and seeable to the blind.

The answer to interpreting the Bible to postmodern people is not to make it believable or palatable to them but to embrace its absurdity and therefore its divinity.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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