His problem was that he actually believed it, this bizarre tale in which a virgin gave birth to a miracle worker who died a gory death and came back to life. He just couldn’t buy a version that said the prophesies had been misread and that the virgin was not so pure as her biographers claimed. He couldn’t fathom that the prophet’s body had been eaten by dogs, or that the rabbi had survived Roman execution to cement his reputation, then steal away to raise children in the south of France. Least of all could he accept that perhaps it was all a ruse to begin with, Babylonian mythology rewritten in Jewish terminology for an Ancient Greek audience.
He could see that these alternate renditions were feasible. He was no fool, though even a fool could find a dozen rational explanations for this legend and its impact on history. He knew that the version he bought was the pop culture favorite, and perhaps less believable than those alternate explanations. In ordinary thought it would take a great leap of faith to accept it. This was not an act of faith, for he could not bring himself to pretend to know anything. Belief, he determined, is an involuntary act, like trust, an opinion forced upon people by the circumstances of their lives. Ordinary thought would never bring anyone to accept it, but his was no ordinary thought.
If he could be said to have any faith at all, his seed faith was not in God, but in the Novel. He was reared on Creationism, weaned on Evolution, and fattened on a cosmology that had to posit something constant, like an Aristotelian Steady State in which patterns repeat and matter flows, or Saganesque Bang Bust cycle in which creation is sparked again and again as the Big Bang decays and gravity resets everything to center. These were comforting views, patterns of Newtonian Natural Law in which the Divine is not required, where strength is Darwinism and variety Marxism, a universe that was not Novel, but ordinary and repetitive, universal and ultimately uniform.
Sadly, a bit of dime-store research revealed that objects in the universe are being hurled away from the center at an ever-increasing rate of speed, the extremes growing farther apart more rapidly now than moments ago, no matter which now and ago one chooses or how close now and ago might be. There would be no Big Bust to follow the Big Bang, else objects would have to be coasting to a stop in preparation for the collapse. Judgment Day, if any, would come only once, just as Creation happened in the beginning and never again, each a one-of-a-kind event with no pattern to follow, no prototype. His faith in the ordinary was shaken; his faith in the Novel was beginning to emerge. What logic and intelligence rejected, factual observation forced upon him.
What could all this mean? It could only mean that all things came into being suddenly, in a flash of light, in a phenomenon that need not and indeed could not be repeated for this particular wad of stuff. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the very next scene is not of that God ordering the universe, but rather bringing order to the chaos of a fiery ball of smoky mud on which life as we know it is as we know it. The plot thickens; the Novel proceeds.
And so, he decided, if this Novel universe could come into being once and for all, and if scripture could perfectly describe the cooling of a planet, the evolution of its life, and its observable simultaneous decay in completely non-scientific terms, then the once-and-for-all incarnation of God via virgin birth, God’s death and God’s resurrection in human form were not so far-fetched after all. He didn’t want to believe it; he spent most of his life running from it. But daring to embrace it as obvious seemed the easy way out — and a Way that held profound consequences.
For instance, if he believed that this God-in-flesh had actually existed, then it was relatively easy to accept its most documented rendition. Given that, he was forced to deal with the teachings of this God-in-flesh, meaning that self-preservation became an exercise in counter-intuition. To save his life, he had to lose it. To gain his freedom, he had to become a bond servant. The Novel became more novel by the minute as his life cascaded into a new order of behavior and motivation.
In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning and at the ending. Alpha and Omega. His life became an imperfect reading of that Word-filled Novel. It was not an ordinary life, nor an easy life, nor a particularly successful life by most measures. But it was a Novel life. Was … and is, for it is a life in progress, unfolding, twisting, turning, like a good read.