Years ago, the 7-year-old son of our Roman Catholic neighbors found out Santa Claus was a myth. He was shaken. He confronted his parents: “Is there anybody else we believe in who isn’t real?”
Periodically, unbelievers will claim that belief in God is like belief in Santa Claus. Both figures are taught to children. Neither can be seen or heard. Both have helpers. Both have songs sung about them. Both have many names in many cultures.
But the similarities are superficial and vastly outweighed by the differences. Mainly, of course, Santa Claus in his current incarnation is only a mythical figure (though based on the real, historical person of St. Nicholas), while God is an actual being. Unbelievers dispute this claim, but that has no bearing on its truth. God’s existence is attested by the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, by Scripture, by the life and teachings of Christ, and by the testimony of saints and martyrs who have sung and prayed while their enemies set them on fire.
Think about this last fact: people are willing to die for their faith in God. People are not willing to die for their faith in Santa Claus.
To cite a sheerly empirical fact, billions believe in God. Besides children, probably only a few thousand believe in Santa Claus. And, of course, people believe far more about God than that God exists. The big story about God stretches across millennia, encompassing God’s great acts of creation, redemption, and new creation. In creation, God generously made room in the universe for other kinds of beings and then filled the room he had made. Expending unimaginable resources of ingenuity, power, and love, God filled the universe with billions of galaxies, each a stupendous bonfire of as many as a hundred billion stars. God created more than 750,000 species of insects and more than 250,000 species of plants. And then God created human beings in God’s own likeness, with righteousness like God’s own, and with a calling to superintend the earth and to live in harmony with each other.
When God’s human creatures tried to find happiness apart from God, when they started the long slide into corruption and grief, God showed them justice and grace. God chose a particular people to lead the way in reconciliation and promised them a Messiah to inaugurate a new age of God’s redeeming grace. In the fullness of time, God incarnated God’s own eternal son to be the Savior for the world. Jesus Christ lived and taught among us, suffered for our sins, and was resurrected by God in the central event of the Christian religion and of all human history.
The first message of the gospel from then on, a message with power to straighten the spine of every believer, became simply: “Christ is risen.” This is the platform of everything the Christian faith has to offer the world. Every Christian hospital, college, orphanage, media ministry, counseling service, political party, relief agency, and AIDS clinic builds on this platform. Christian hope builds on this platform because Christians see in Christ’s resurrection that God cannot be defeated, not even by death itself. In fact, Christians believe, in the end, God will reestablish shalom in the earth, drying every tear and making all things new.
The fictitious Santa Claus is only a small story of toys for kids. God has an immense, true story of universal creation and redemption, the biggest story ever told.
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