It’s a Magical World

Vantage Point
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I had just finished explaining Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God to my senior Bible class when I paused to ask them this question: “If you had friends who did notbelieve in God, would you consider usingAnselm’s argument on them?” My students responded with a resounding “No.”

“Why not?” I asked. The reason, they said, was that when faced with theological and doctrinal statements that use reason and logic to make a case, their non-Christian friends would simply shrug and say, “So what?”

While young people may not be very impressed with logical arguments and scientific proof, give them a good story (The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia), and you’ve got them.

The Christian writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) knew this fact well. In his classic work Orthodoxy, Chesterton establishes an interesting and unlikely basis for his own worldview. He writes, “My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery…The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales”(p. 54).

Chesterton believes that our understanding of the world should be shaped not by mechanical scientific laws or logical arguments but by magic. He writes, “When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’ clock. We must answer that it is magic” (p. 57).

We need to be reminded that this is the way the Bible presents the world. In the world of the Bible, supernatural things happen with startling regularity: snakes talk and magic fruit hangs from the trees. The waters part, bread falls from the sky, and the sun stands still. A virgin gives birth to a baby boy, and people come back from the dead. What a wonderful, magical place.

Now, I am not saying that the Bible is a fairy tale or a work of fiction. What I am saying is that God’s written revelation comes to us primarily in story form. And to our postmodern culture this is truly good news.

Maybe our role as teachers and preachers is not to try to convert people with facts and logical arguments. Maybe our job is to point people to the magical story, to proclaim it, and then to get out of the way.

About the Author

Jason Lief teaches theology at Dordt college, Sioux Center, Iowa.

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