Everyone loves a good mystery. As I was reading Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass for my review I kept waiting to hear some dramatic attack on the person of Christ and the doctrine of the incarnation. In fact, the series rarely mentions Jesus at all, and certainly never substantively. Several hypotheses occur to me: Perhaps Jesus is in Pullman’s mind the ‘good teacher’ that CS Lewis so forcefully objected to in his Trilemma. Perhaps the failure to incorporate the incarnation in his re-mything has to do with his failure to grasp the basic claims that Christians make about God and consequently does not comprehend the significance of the Incarnation. I would like to know why Pullman failed to speak to the incarnation because the incarnation ought to have been a powerful counter-balance to some of his arguments, suggestions, and insinuations.
Perhaps another kind of example will help show what I mean. It is common among atheistic circles to take jabs at the ‘Absent God’ that Christians are said to believe in. God never shows up in the real world which drives Christians to generate excuses for why that is goes the patronizing line. When Christians attempt to give an answer atheists resort to Invisible Pink Unicorns, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, and Dragons in the Garage to show what they think of that answer. How could anyone maintain that God is all good when he is all absent, even in the face of horrific manifestations of human wickedness, like the holocaust?
The irony of this whole line of attack is that the incarnation answers it all. To read atheistic writings, though, you’d think that the Church never speaks about God’s coming to earth as a man to suffer as we suffer and to take the agony and sins of all of the world’s history onto his shoulders on the cross, defeating death and offering us a piece of his victory. Yet Dawkins hardly speaks about Jesus and the incarnation in his tirade against theism- in the main, Christian theism- and Pullman has two of his main characters working to defeat death and emptying Hell almost as though the Church would never have thought of such a thing.
To add insult to injury, many atheists offer arguments against the existence of God based on the problem of pain… the absent God thing (or at least, an absent good God) …. as though they’d invented it. Hello, McFly? Ever hear of Job? And they also ignore that the incarnation is alleged to be God’s answer to that problem… he participated in it.
This is not to say at all that I am minimizing pain or suffering or evil. I think Christians feel it more deeply than maybe nonChristians understand. It’s like if you see another person’s dad standing by while some tragedy befalls his children… it isn’t quite the same as if your the child whose father is letting you suffer. But we Christians know that God has done something and he will do something again.
The Incarnation moves the whole argument. The Christian God is not an absent God who is indifferent to the plight of humanity and the wicked things humans do to each other. The Christian God is a God who took matters into his own hands and stepped into human history and shook it so that we’re still talking about it today. The issue becomes… not that God is absent… but that he is delaying… and that is a completely different question altogether.