“Our world is in need of a savior!”
A line we might expect to come right out of a sermon in a church. But, it’s not. If we are paying attention, we can hear it being whispered from different corners in our society.
It’s being whispered in movies like Christopher Nolan’s latest work, Interstellar. With no desire to offer any spoilers for those who have not seen the movie I will simply say the plot-line revolves around humanity’s desperate need to find a new planet to call home due to the fact our earth is spent.
The need for a savior is found in the rising popularity of dystopian literature. This genre has exploded. I haven’t done any official and extensive research to prove it. However, I think it’s fair to say the rise in popularity of these type of novels stems from the existential fears we are facing. Since the advent of nuclear weapons, we have had to live with the realization the destruction of the world is a real possibility. All with the touch of a button. These fears are being magnified as we wrestle with other existential questions like what is the actual number of people our earth can realistically sustain?
And whispers of the need for a savior can even be heard in some of our most advance technological sectors of our society. In February 2011 Ken Jennings, who became famous for the longest streak of consecutive wins on Jeopardy, lost in Jeopardy to an IBM computer named Watson. In recognition of his loss to the computer he wrote on the final question that he welcomed our new computer overlords. A sentiment he does not share alone. One of the greatest physicist of our time, Stephen Hawking articulated this past year that artificial intelligence (A.I.) could be humanity’s greatest creation and possibly it’s last.
In these vastly different circles of influence in our society there is a recognition of the brokenness in our world, in our species, and in each other. There is recognition of the need for a savior or an escape. They may not use this language, as Hawking has declared himself an atheist. At this point, however, it might be better understood as an argument in semantics. As what else can we be saying with the thought being proposed that computers might do a better job of running the world than we as humans have done as Ken Jennings jokingly hinted at.
We need help.
It would seem there is no better time to be talking about Christmas, Epiphany and the savior who has come into our world. As Jesus would say in his common use of agrarian analogies, “the field is ripe for the harvest.” And yet, the church and it’s salvation narrative seem to stand on the outside looking in for so many as a plausible solution for the problems we are facing in today’s society.
I can’t help but wonder why this is. Why is it the message of Jesus, the incarnation, being born into our world dismissed in favor of putting our hope and faith that maybe one day machines might help us better govern the world or perhaps humanity can start all over on another planet?
As I have pondered these thoughts over Advent and Christmas, I believe what inhibits so many from embracing the message of God coming into the world is the way this message is so often misconstrued. Growing up, my original understanding of Jesus coming into our world and the salvation narrative was closely aligned with the Monopoly’s “get of jail” free card. Accept Jesus as your savior, and you have eternally escaped the pain and suffering of hell. Let God take the wheel, and life will be okay.
This popular understanding of the salvation narrative, I believe, misses a vital piece and understanding of the incarnation of God coming in to our world. The incarnation of God, the salvation story, is not at it’s core about the alleviation and/or escaping of suffering, but the fully embracing of it. It is the promise made complete that God will not abandon creation but will forever be intertwined with creation’s fate. As God becomes both fully divine and fully human, perhaps we need to start understanding this as fully created.
God has forever immersed God’s self with creation, born in the flesh of an infant.
The story of Christmas.
The story of salvation can perhaps best be understood in our generation as God’s continued hope and faith in the potential of humanity and creation. Humanity might give up on humanity/creation and turn to a machine or escapism in seeking salvation. But, God has in the birth of the incarnation forever declared “I am” standing with creation. And as the church, we are called to be a witness with our presence in the world to this continued affirmation we celebrate each year with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior.