On Mary: Faith and Doubt

Whenever I spend time reading the biblical story of Mary, the mother of Christ, I imagine her to be like me, a sincere believer who can still find a way to doubt, to say yes, then run. This Advent season, I haven’t been able to get past Mary’s doubt. It’s not that I can ever know she was a doubter, it’s just that I sort of hope she was. The more I know Jesus the more I grasp my need for what John chapter one calls “grace and truth,” a spiritual rescuing of those of us (all of us) who fail to live up to genuine goodness.

I can’t imagine— knowing who Jesus spent his time with, who he chose as his disciples, who he ate with, associated with, designed his messages for—that in the choosing of his mother, he would have gone with the most beautiful, most gifted, most outwardly holy woman on earth. I imagine that Mary, a young girl, could hardly have known who she was, let alone who God was. I imagine her earnest faith in the midst of utter fear. The angel asked her to do no small thing. And her immediate answer in the angel’s presence revealed the reality of her heart: a love for God, a longing to obey, an obedience to her role in the coming of the Messiah. But, I can’t help but imagine all those minutes and hours and days and months following the angel’s visit, when she wished she could have taken a few days to think through the consequences of such a sudden obedience.

How could she have known what it would mean to be to the Virgin Isaiah wrote about, who would bear the One who came to save her people? Could she have envisioned the rejection of her friends, her family, and the utter embarrassment she would have caused Joseph, her betrothed, whom I imagine she respected (I’m sure he was much older) if not admired? And what about those images she must have had of her own death? Surely she considered that she’d be accused of adultery, the consequences of which were (still are, in some places) death by stoning. What is faith except the choice to act on a belief you can hardly grasp, despite that possibility that if you’re wrong, your life (and possibly the lives of those you love?) is ruined.

We love Mary because she is like us, unremarkable, yet asked to fulfill a task she could not help but complete, knowing if she was right, she’d live; if she was wrong, she’d die. We love Mary because she reminds us that faith is always courage.

Her story is extravagant. If it’s real it should be celebrated. We don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s necessary to get excited about something in the dark winter months, because we need to celebrate warmth in the midst of lifelessness and cold. If we want Christmas to be that for us than we should just celebrate Winter Solstice. We should bake warm cookies and give presents on the shortest day of the year. It would make a lot more sense.

Instead we’re invited to celebrate a story that has the power to change everything about our world. If we really believe in Christmas, we believe that God created a world and then came into it, to rescue it from itself. We believe that all our destructive patterns, from our individual inability to show mercy on the broken around us, to our collective craving for violence and war, can actually be undone by the reality of a God-given “grace and truth.” We believe that Jesus changes us, that he changes the world.

I feel like my life has often been like my imaginary Mary’s: moments of spiritual insight and power, my Yes, followed by my running, my fear, the torture of my brain’s accusations against the possibility of such power. Believing in Jesus is never logical. Since when do virgins become pregnant with God’s child? Since when does a man heal a blind man with a touch of mud on the eyes? Since when does God as man take our punishment through his own death, and then overcome it?

Logic has never been the point. We don’t come to God because of proof, because of mathematical equations lining up and pointing to heaven. We come to God because our souls ache for magic, for a love that greater than our half-hearted attempts at connection, for an undercurrent that can pull us through this world in joy.

I don’t believe in Christmas because it makes sense to me. I believe in it because it doesn’t, because only in its fantastic claim is there something worth celebrating extravagantly over. If God came to earth through Mary’s body, then my body has value as well. If God came to earth to rescue us, then my son’s longing for the magic of Santa is not simply child-like, it’s a picture of our divine longing for love, for laughter, for excessive giving and decadent feasting.

If God came to earth, then everything we think we know is up for debate. That’s sometimes called doubt. But I think we should call it faith.

Comments

  1. Sam says:

    Exactly, Micha! I have said over and over again – there is no logic to faith. For those who try to infuse logic into their belief…it makes no sense to me. It’s what they need, not what faith or belief or even what God is. I love the mystery, the magic, the sheer absurdity. And Christmas is the perfect reason to celebrate a God who came to us as a defenseless baby…sometimes I think God had to have immense faith in us to do so…

  2. Megan says:

    Absolutely refreshing to find a link to your blog this morning. Your thoughts on the Motherhood debate on your guest post were well-thought, balanced, and honest- I thought it was a fantastic post.

    Looking forward to reading your other posts when I have the chance. Just wanted to let you know I appreciated it!

    Megan

  3. Ken Grant says:

    Wow – this explores many of the same themes our pastor covered in his sermon yesterday – if I didn’t know better, I’d swear the two of you shared notes.

    I have to tell you, I’m really not a fan of Christmas, but you’ve brought some great insight to the season this past week – keep up the great work!

  4. stepanana says:

    This is fantastic. I’ve often thought about the Christmas story through Mary’s eyes … and the fact that she is probably more like me is very comforting. God using a regular, run of the mill girl to carry out one of the most well known plans — that’s something. That’s really something.

  5. Andrea says:

    Hey Micha- love this. Wondering if I can repost the last 3 paragraphs on our youth ministry blog over for the church (obviously with credit to you!) let me know. See you next week!

  6. SjG says:

    Best thing I’ve read all this Advent/Christmas season: “I don’t believe in Christmas because it makes sense to me. I believe in it because it doesn’t…” Thank you for these very insightful, encouraging remarks! ~Stanley

  7. kfsullivan says:

    So beautifully and passionate expounded. You bring forth so much of the joy and madness of this season. I am daily exhorted and encouraged by what you have offered up in wonder as well.
    Thank you.

  8. Friends, thank you all for the insightful comments. I’m so glad this post was meaningful to you guys. I’m always grateful to hear back from you! Merry Christmas….

  9. Haley says:

    Great post – I think I’ll share your thoughts with the group of preschool moms I teach. We just talked about what Christmas means to us and our families and this would complemen. Our conversation perfectly. Thanks Micha!

  10. SjG says:

    Quote: “If God came to earth through Mary’s body, then my body has value as well.” Dale Cooper’s blog yesterday expands this point, and I think you’ll appreciate it: http://coopscolumn.org/god-wearing-skin/. ~S.