I’ll be the first to admit I appreciate satire in light doses, even when the butt of it is religious. Sometimes the truth hurts because you’re laughing so hard at yourself. That was my response when I first read Jonathan Acuff’s Things Christians Like. The book takes swipes at Christian culture, but it’s written by a loyal insider to the Christian faith. You’re supposed to laugh at it, not get hurt.
It works this way in my own family. Over the holidays we’ll be laughing at each other and telling stories about dumb things we did, and poking fun at one another’s weirdness. Nobody is supposed to end up insulted or depressed. And nobody except a Myer is allowed to participate in any of the roasting ceremonies.
But today a ground swell of cynicism and mockery from opponents targets the Bible. It’s calculated to make you feel ignorant for believing in Jesus, and it’s not funny. The Apostle Peter predicted that “scoffers will come in the last days” (2 Pet. 3:3), giving the impression that more than a few individuals will be involved. Smart-alecs and blasphemers have always been around, but Peter seems to be talking about a generational attitude—a certain vogue that catches on like hula-hoops did in the sixties.
Scoffing denotes mean-spirited dismissal, usually with a side of humor to make it go down easier. Over the last ten years or so, the internet has seen a proliferation of these types of messages laced with snide remarks toward faith. They basically sit there in cyberspace, waiting for high school kids to find them. Most come in the form of a two-phrase taunt superimposed over an image.
The creators don’t hang around to argue anything at the substantive level. They don’t want to. It’s enough to throw a rock and then run, kind of like guerilla warfare.
Here’s one of them:
The obvious message is that Christians are silly for making a big deal about Jesus walking on water, when mere mortals by the power of science have walked on the moon. It’s supposed to make us look like we’re a bunch of ignorant natives awed by a cigarette lighter. Huh. Good point. Then you move on, vaguely bugged.
But Christianity has a faith that can yield a lot of fruit if you’re willing to take the time to get reflective with it. Past the immediate shock value of the meme,¹ deeper consideration will sort a few things out.
For instance at face value, both Jesus and the astronaut did something impressive. But that’s where the similarity starts to break down. Consider this:
1. When Jesus walked on water, did he need flotation gear? This astronaut apparently needed stuff to walk on the moon—loads of it.
2. Did Jesus need complex math to walk on water—fluid dynamic equations, or the like? The astronaut needed a ton of astrophysics to get where he needed to be.
3. Did Jesus need a staff of experts and lots of money to walk on water? The astronaut needed hundreds of scientists and billions of dollars to walk on the moon.
4. Did Jesus need years of prep time for walking on water? The astronaut needed a cumulative space program spanning almost a decade to get to the lunar surface.
Looks like the creator of the meme has compared apples to oranges here, and comes to the conclusion that the orange is a better apple because it’s orange! There’s a difference between someone who can transcend physical law at will and a man who only with great effort, time, and expense, harnesses physical laws to achieve a goal.
Consider what we Christians believe about Jesus. We not only subscribe to the historical events of the gospels, but the reality behind those moments. The episode of walking on water is a mere keyhole into something explained later in the epistles—that Christ is “Upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Both the physics necessary to walk on water and those required to walk on the moon are “laws” actively upheld by Him and they are all held together in Him (Col. 1:17).
And of course, “All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col.1:16). In essence, the astronaut managed to walk on something made by Christ and in Christ. It’s a high-five moment for landing on somebody else’s lawn.
Yes, Jesus walking on water is cool. So is a spoonful of reflective theology.
1. The term “meme” is said to have been coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, related to iconic ways of transmitting ideas in culture.