Do you believe in the impossible? Well, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!
Luke 1:37 reads:
“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
The good doctor tells us that these words were spoken by an angel to Mary in explanation of her upcoming pregnancy. There’s a mic drop, huh?
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
I think we tend to read these stories and color them as cardboard people who come from paintings and dusty books, and in so doing we forget that they were flesh and blood, with all the same strengths and weaknesses we have. We want them to be these grand and regal Raphael paintings so we can revere them. But by doing that we rob ourselves of the comfort and understanding their lives provide.
Take Mary in this story, for example. She’s called faithful in the Bible, so you presume that she had some trust in God and belief of His reign at the time. But do you think these words held any permanence in her mind at the time when they sounded so ludicrous? Imagine a stranger walking up to teenage you and saying something like this. Or do you presume this became more digestible to her when her belly started to swell and people started casting judgemental glances? I have heard many scholarly, holy people talk about Mary as this devout and dedicated follower of God who was spotless and pure from birth to death.
At the risk of being attacked: I think those people have gotten churched right out of their minds; I believe, and will show you, people have stayed mostly the same the whole time. We still have Adam’s disregard for authority, Cain’s envy, Moses’ anxiety, and the whining of the wandering Jews. We still have Saul’s hubris and David’s rapture and Abraham’s wobbly but unwavering belief. We have Thomas’ doubts and Peter’s rock-solid allegiance.
The tech with which we clothe our lives has improved, our knowledge of physics and this reality has increased, but we’re very much the same people we always were. So this teenage girl, then, was still a teenage girl. Look at her responses in this discussion for a sec. I’m going to paraphrase the angel’s words, but give Mary’s right out of the King James to highlight them:
Angel: “What up, blessed and highly favored woman of God!”
Mary: *she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.*
Angel: “Don’t be scared, girl; God’s got you! You’re going to have a glorious Son named Jesus who will reign over a kingdom that will never end! Pretty cool, right?!”
Mary: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”
Angel: “Don’t throw shade; the Holy Spirit can do anything”
Mary: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
Angel: “Peace; out!”
I do not read here a girl who is solemnly imbibing this information in awe and wonder from an ethereal heavenly being. I read a girl with a slanted smirk and a crooked eyebrow a half-step from eye-rolling this stranger talking weirdness to her.
Tell me you’re positive there’s no sarcasm in that “how is that, seeing as how I’m a virgin?” I mean really; you can practically see the condescending curtsy that went with “Well, then, behold His handmaid!” We may want there to be this ancient reverence and purity to her, but it’s just unlikely. I know the Catholics out there may hate me for that, but a teenage girl is a teenage girl is a teenage girl; always has been and always will be. Unsure?
Did you know that a few years back they found some ancient graffiti that was covered in Pompeii’s ruins? This was graffiti from prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, so this stuff was scrawled less than 85 years after this very scene with Mary — some of it possibly much closer. In a modern timeline that would put the graffiti today and Mary’s encounter sometime between the 30’s and the 80’s. You know people who lived back to at least the 40s; they’re not some radically foreign group. Neither was Mary so vastly different from the Pompeiians.
This graffiti is pretty bawdy stuff and reeeeally close to the types of things that get graffiti’ed today:
“Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera.”
“Cruel Lalagus, why do you not love me?”
“If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants sex, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii.”
“Aufidius was here”
That’s the tamer of them, but these were clearly people like us. Don’t make the mistake of believing when people say we are of such looser morals or brasher behavior today, or that our humor or desires are so very different. People are people and always have been. Mary was talking a little smack here, and she gained perspective only in retrospect when she realized she really was pregnant.
Stop! In the name of Love!
See, God warns us, but we don’t often hear Him because what He says sounds incredible, impossible, outrageous. It is not, nor has it ever been, standard ability for a human being to believe all things are possible. That doesn’t make us blind fools. In fact, quite the opposite: God gave us this intellect because it is only by agreeing to common and stable facts that we can define the world around us and hold any semblance of understanding. You would never take a bite of an apple if you were convinced it might explode into a komodo dragon in your mouth and kill you. You’d never breathe in air if you were sure it may become water in the act. We can’t readily accept the impossible; it actually threatens our sense of stability and sanity to do so.
It is our ability to hold down facts, even when they are just “facts”, that separates us from the animals. This is by God’s design: it’s why He told Adam to name everything. I’ve covered this before, but in naming you create a definition, and in definition there is stability to build upon. We are where we are and who we are because we know which things are possible and which are not, and every generation has built upon and refined the list from the previous. It doesn’t matter how many times the Book says all things are possible, we are not actually capable of buying it. Once a thing is known and defined we have a terrible time undoing the core rules of it. Think about it.
How did God stop the sun in the sky for Joshua in chapter 10 of that book? Because no one knew how orbits worked Joshua had no reason to think his request impossible. How did Lot’s wife become salt? Well, no one knew it couldn’t happen, just that it probably wouldn’t. Today we have an elaborate system of definitions from the microscopic to the macroscopic. From string theory to galactic clusters we are so very sure we know what’s what and how it works. Shaking some of those pillars can cause absolute terror; anarchy in the minds of men, and chaos ensues.
Even if we want desperately to believe He will reverse the sun tomorrow we can’t. If you’re breathing air right now you have been trained every day of your life that the sun travels east to west because we are on a sphere that orbits it, and that sphere spins in one direction, and that spin creates gravity, and if it were to reverse we’d all fly off into space. We know that. We cannot suspend that. If you think you can you’re lying to yourself.
The angel didn’t say those words — and Luke didn’t record them — so that a human receiving them would say “Oh, OK. ALL things are possible! Got it; thanks!” They are not enlightenment, they are a question. Enlightenment would only lead to challenge: “Oh, yeah? PROVE it, Lord!” And when He didn’t grant the petulant demand it would become ammunition to justify rebellion. That’s not the intent. God isn’t stupid, He knows how your mind works; He built the thing. The intent here is for you to question — not overturn — all those things you know; to try to believe that what you know is not all of it, that no matter how stable the fact seems it may not be so. It is a question asking you to trust Him more than you trust you. Because that is submission; that is reverence. That is the gateway to faith: you listen and obey even when it feels downright stupid to do so, even when it’s so absurd that it couldn’t possibly happen.
That kind of belief is an impossible task for us. We are not wired to accept it, and we can do nothing about that.
But He can do something about it, and that is exactly what faith is. Faith is given to us, not made by us; the Scripture is clear on this point, and it’s what Paul is digging at in Romans 12:3 when he reminds us we are each given a measure of faith. But Scripture also says we are to increase our faith. How can you tend to what you cannot understand?
That must mean that He does the growing, we just make room for the expansion. See, He never meant for faith to be a lightswitch. You can’t go from knowing the possible to believing the impossible in one step. It is a gradual process, like working out a muscle. Eventually you can learn to take off that helmet of intellect and just watch what God will do, but you won’t ever cross your knowledge: you instead map a path to allow digestion of the impossible. This is exactly what the Mad Hatter is talking about in Alice in Wonderland when he is instructing her to believe impossible things, and if you don’t think that scene was Lewis Carroll’s mind working through the truth of faith you’re missing my message completely.
Jesus says an interesting thing in John 12:47:
“And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
He is speaking about the Pharisees, but also about more. He is saying that if what you see and hear in Him doesn’t resonate, then He’s not the flavor for you: go with vanilla, stick with the Law. Why? Why would He say this when a few weeks before He taught that He is the way? That He came so none should perish, but that all should have everlasting life?
This isn’t an idle question: really consider the balance here. If you don’t believe Him then you’re left to the Law. He was comfortable with that. How? That goes against every word He ever spoke about Love, right? If I teach and you don’t understand that isn’t your failing as a student, it is mine as a teacher; the whole of the Bible agrees on this point. The Law tells parents and slave owners to teach their charges, and the New Testament plainly states you will answer for every word you instruct. So how can Jesus possibly escape His way out of that with a clean heart?
If your answer is that the truth hurts: you have been hurt by religion and I want to talk to you and try to heal that. No, the answer is subtle, and woven throughout His teachings, but it is nicely summarized two chapters later in John 14:26:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
So He is saying that if He doesn’t resonate with you it’s because the Spirit has not yet taught you, has not yet made enough room in your mind, for Him to occupy. Your reverence muscle wasn’t strong enough to hold Him up, so wait for the Spirit to train it up. He was comfortable with that because He knows the lost can be found, the blind can be made to see, and the dumb can be made to speak. We have so many we are quick to call unsaved, but He made no such rush curses; that’s our corruption, not His.
When I had no faith His words rang hollow, decrepit, inane. Having the eyes of faith and the instruction of the Spirit I see depth and truth and life and hope unspeakable in those same words. This is what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 1 when he speaks about the wisdom of God being foolishness to men of reason. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: the problem with our lost friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so. As do we all. And that isn’t to be a source of pain, but of hope.
Faith is the gift that makes all that knowledge compatible with all His supremecy. And it is a gift He gives freely as we are ready to receive it.
Give me what I want and I’ll go away
There was a desert filled with people who watched manna come from Heaven, but who believed a God who made food fall from the sky couldn’t provide other kinds of food, too. For real, go read Numbers; it’s hilarious. That kind of stubborn disbelief is just in us, and while it’s not super awesome for us, it is incredibly beautiful from a Kingdom perspective. It isn’t our shame to admit it; admitting it is recognizing who you are, and that is all He wants from us: to be who He made us to be. Every person is given their measure of faith, not someone else’s.
Mull that over. My faith is not your faith. Your faith is not your brother’s, or your husband’s, or your wife’s.
He made us to be an olive tree or an oak, but we spend our entire lives trying to correct Him, because we’d make a much better pear tree. That was Eve’s transgression: “You made me Your servant, but I should be Your equal.” We echo that fight continually. We tell Him constantly that He was wrong and we know better, so we’re going to fix it. Such hubris. But you know what that makes us? Broken vessels. And do you know what type of vessels He exclusively uses? Right: broken ones.
Look at Moses: He told God he wasn’t a good speaker — as if God didn’t know — and the Lord blessed him with one of the most pivotal positions in all of human history. Jonah was a whiny little snot and was used to save the largest city on Earth. David basically murdered a man and yet became head of the earthly bloodline of Christ!
The Lord is not looking for us to attain perfect submission before He uses us; He is looking for the flailing desperation to desire that submission. Said another way: He wants not to see that we can believe, but what we can desire. I wrote before about ektenes, about the stretching forth. This is what I’m saying: the Spirit has to equip you to believe the impossible, and He does that if you show you really want it. Not in a “you have to first do works” way, don’t misread me. He will first give you a new heart, the book of Ezekiel is clear on that, as is Christ when He says He will call His sheep. So the first step is His. You have to accept it. Or, more accurately: you have to want to accept it. So it is with every step, every growth, after. You strain to want, He provides. How stunningly awesome that He can Love us that much, can accept our twisted brokenness so fully.
He doesn’t want us pious and reverential, He wants us thirsting after His heart, desperately straining to grab every bit of Him we can, and He uses that to bring us to the impossible.
Calling all angels
I have so much more He gave me here, but it would become a novel. So maybe 2 or 3 posts. No one asked, but I feel I should explain my absence. I realized I’m going so long in these that I was considering moving to video. But that keeps not coming together, and the result has been this paralyzing thing where I start to write and it’s too long and I get discouraged and stop. I’m breaking through that so going to try and get back to weekly posts. You’ll have to keep reading a lot. Sorry, not sorry.
Father, I again plead that they read what You said, not what I wrote. Thank You for the vision of Mary, for waking me tonight to finish writing it. Thank You for Your grace and Your eyes, and the training of the Spirit. I’m working my way to seven impossible things before breakfast, and I pray every reader can, too. As I prepare to enter new phases of life on several fronts I seek only Your heart, only Your will. You brought me this far, and it’s only by Your hand that I float, so I will trust and believe You will carry me farther than my ruddy heart can concieve. You rock, and I mean that in the most reverential way. I Love You, and I Love Your people. Show us the impossible. In the name of Your Word, my brother, my King, my savior, and Your anointed Christ, Jesus, I pray. Amen.