As I have mentioned elsewhere, my dear C is a biologist with the Dept. of Conservation. Our children call her “Captain Planet”, and describe her as a “nature geek”.
Such is not my background.
I am a deacon in The Episcopal Church and happily serve at St. John’s – Tower Grove. Our children call me “The Deacon of Dibley”, and some street people in Tower Grove simply call me “Deek”.
So, the Geek and the Deek sit at their breakfast table every morning, sharing coffee and each other’s unique perspectives on all things scientific and theological.
For example, I once mentioned in passing to a friend that our neighbor owns about twenty acres of land. Next morning at the table, I heard, “Why did you tell Joe that Doug owns twenty acres? It’s ten. “
Me: “I did? I misspoke. So?”
C: “But you lied to him. It’s ten, not twenty. It was not the truth.”
Me: “Why do you think the facts are the truth?”
I smile as I write this, for we have many variations of this same conversation quite often. My dear geek, C, sees facts as that which best reflects reality, and I do not. Facts are wonderful things and I use them as much as the next person, but I think they have their limits and certainly do not define “truth”.
I have experienced many things in my life that transcend facts, and are as real as any data collected in a lab – transcendent things like love, beauty, and God’s presence. They are that which transcends the natural world and reveals a larger reality.
Like my relationship with facts, C thinks the transcendent in a wonderful thing, too, and she herself is quite attuned to it, but…on many occasions, the geek in her raises an index finger at the breakfast table and starts a new chat with the words, “Let me play devil’s advocate for a second…” She then proceeds to challenge a notion that is bereft of hard facts, pricking holes in it with the skill of an Italian assassin wielding a stiletto.
The virgin birth came up again during Advent last week, which we have discussed several times over the years. The notion of a conception without a biological sperm donor rails against all her science and good sense, so she occasionally pokes at it, looking for chinks in its armor.
C: “Let me play devil’s advocate for a second. What real need was there for the virgin birth? I mean, if Jesus was conceived in the biologically normal way and God decided that Jesus still was the Messiah, would Jesus be any less than the Messiah?”
Now please understand, I graduated from ESM, not Sewanee, so some of her questions are a real stretch for me. I try my best, though.
Me: “Well, that’s a good question. I think that, if God had deemed it okay, it would be okay. After all, God is God.”
C: “So, why did he? Why did God make it that much harder to believe in Jesus Christ with the whole virgin birth thing?”
And this post-modern deek thinks, “Harder? Why is it harder?”
Not being a geek who sees God in the wonderful puzzle of facts this world is, but rather being a deek who finds God in the music of Vaughn-Williams, I’m not interested in the facts of the story, but the truth of the story. For me, the virgin birth is true because the story and the wisdom therein are so immediately wonderful and irrational that it must be true. It can only be true.
It is true like a poem by Basho or Rumi is true. It is true like a painting by Van Gogh or a hymn by Gustav Holtz is true. They transcend facts, yet pose a great truth. So, how do I respond to my wife and her wonderfully scientific frame-of-mind, a frame-of-mind created by God that discovers all these facts that have done things like cure cancer and invent cell phones? I answer C, going for the good old, safe, multiple-choice answer.
Me: “I don’t know why. It was written in a time when folk-heroes were supposed to be sired by a god, which made them semi-divine, like Hercules. It validates their authority to speak for God. For many people, it also fits a way of reading the Old Testament; it fulfills what some people consider a prophecy, and validates Jesus as divine. Or it actually happened, like we read in the Gospel of John. You know – a miracle? Miracles are, at base, unusual events that create faith. Some events are small, others huge. Just remember that no one is going to require you to believe in the virgin birth as factual; that’s between you and God. And consider that it points to something other than hard facts.”
C: “Which is?”
Me: “Jesus Christ is a unique person, favored by God like no other. In fact, we believe he is God.”
C: “Ok…just checking…leaves a lot of questions, though…”
Me: “Yes, dear. That’s why we’re Piskies. We can rest comfortably in paradox and not always require an answer.”
C: “Uh huh………………but let me ask you another question: why do you used the present tense about Jesus…’Jesus IS a unique person’, ‘he IS God’….”
Sigh. The Geek and the Deek have many chats such as these. They are a delight, even if they never end.