Watching Big Fish Again, Ten Years Later

Thursday night I watched “Big Fish” again. I hadn’t watched it in a decade. (Did you forget that the movie even existed?) It was way cheesier and sappier than I remembered. But apparently that didn’t matter: just like last time, I wept through the last twenty minutes of the film. I wept because of the deathbed father / estranged son story, even as it was full of cliches. But I also wept because the film raises a serious question about my faith: Is Christianity just an elaborate story we project onto the sky? As the father character dies, and the luminous glow of the film slowly fades, all we are left with is a faith in the power of human storytelling, and it is a terrifying spiritual darkness. Faced with the prospect that we are truly alone with our stories, I wept. But there is a chance that Christianity is true. There is a chance that we are not alone. The film proffers a set of myths that are so archetypal that nothing in the film is particular, nothing is unique, nothing is incarnated. Perhaps it is in what was missing from the film that our hope lies. In the Incarnation, I believe the preposterous claim that all the hopes of our myths were answered not with another myth, but with a scandalously particular human being. He was not a mythical everyman but a poor migrant Jew with no citizenship papers, living without any promise of food, clothing, or shelter. He probably smelled bad, had a crooked face, or maybe he had an annoying laugh. That this man, this obscure itinerant preacher, would be the revelation of God in his particularity as a human being, this is the Incarnation, and it tears through all of our myths and stories, presenting us with the possibility that God is among us.

Evangelical Christians like to point to the cross as the center of the Christian faith, but the early church was right to see our salvation as consisting of two centers. It is not only the cross, but the Incarnation that is good news for us. Without the Incarnation, all of our myths are a closed loop, a crushing canopy of immanence. Under the weight of that canopy, I wept. But by faith in the Incarnation, joy comes in the morning. There is nothing I can do to prove this, but by faith, I believe.

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two kinds of gods

Warning: this is a very polemical post. Stop reading now if you still want to like me to some extent.

In seminary I encountered two gods, and each member of the faculty worshiped one of them.

One is radically open and immanent, the other sovereign and transcendent (while also being sufficiently immanent).
The irony is that both gods are ‘useless’ to us. The first is useless because it provides us with nothing but a way deeper into the morass of our own broken lament and the chaos of the created world. The second God is useless because we can’t make that God do anything for us; the second God acts in radical freedom to save us. And yet only the second God can save us. The first god will only prove to be an idol of our construction, betraying us until the end. The first god is able to empathize with us because it is us, but is powerless to confront evil, because it is only us and/or structures and being of the universe. The second God is able to empathize with us because he defines and even is our humanity in Jesus Christ, and is powerful enough to confront evil because he also is not us.