The Absurdity of the Christian Faith

It’s all absolutely bonkers … and desperately needed.

Blake Nail / 6.16.23

Only one word comes to mind when describing Peacock’s latest limited series, Mrs. Davis: absurdity. How else can one define a show about a nun literally married to the Lord who joins a rebellion against an all powerful AI named Mrs. Davis and is on the search for the Holy Grail that is protected by a secret society determined to keep it hidden? Exactly. The show was created by Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, the latter who also created such cultural hits as Lost and The Leftovers. Both shows, along with the new Mrs. Davis, which are heavy laden with faith-based themes, albeit not necessarily positively, examine aspects of religion, afterlife, and the absurdity of it all. However, it’s Lindelof’s latest show that takes this descriptive term to another level. 

The award for Most Absurd Aspect of Mrs. Davis has numerous contenders, plenty of which haven’t even been mentioned, but the intriguing part of the show is how the characters think each other are crossing the line into Crazytown while possibly being a citizen themselves.

To give you a sense for how insane it all is, Sister Simone meets with Jesus in an abandoned restaurant when she closes her eyes to pray and then proceeds to consummate their marriage, thinks all the users of Mrs. Davis are insane as they attempt to earn “wings” from the app via performing good deeds. Of course, ironic from a Catholic nun. Meanwhile, she finds herself on a quest to find the Holy Grail and destroy it so she can rid the earth of Mrs. Davis. Simone’s mother, Celeste, sees Simone as silly for her commitment to the nun life and resents her past as her husband’s magician assistant. And yet, this straight laced business woman clings to the absurd idea that her husband is still alive even though she witnessed his death right in front of her.

It’s a lot, I’m aware. Each episode of this show requires a slow retracing of what exactly occurred and then a sleepless night of attempting to interpret the narrative. 

One interpretation offered is certainly the absurdity of religion, technology, family relations, and belief in general. While the show appears to end with a message of belief in one’s self versus any of the above, it points out something we often miss in the Christian world — the absurdity of our faith.

In an age of reason and in demand evidence, Christianity has attempted to slot itself in as respectable as the rest of the disciplines. It’s tried to assert itself as explainable as water turning to ice. Apologetics is a field that focuses on defending the faith, spanning from intelligentsia debate panels all the way to sidewalk corners. Speakers travel across the country delivering speeches and selling information for purchase across multiple mediums. There’s an entire market of books making a case for the truth of Christianity. YouTube is chock-full of apologists confronting others on their beliefs and attempting to convince them to the contrary. There are even some who’ve built entire recreations of Noah’s Ark in an attempt to prove there is a modicum of validity to the ancient story we carry within our Scriptures.

It’s a lot, I’m aware.

Sometimes it seems we spend so much energy defending beliefs that we miss the beauty of the foolishness of it all. We’re taught that the gospel will change people, break them and make them cry at the thought of God’s love — which is true of numerous people’s experiences. But often today it’s received with a disinterested laugh. A repudiation of God becoming a man and dying for his creation. The idea is absolutely bonkers.

Mrs. Davis taps into such questions, and many more, depicting the foolishness of Davis’ quest to find the Holy Grail in a nun outfit and all the while mocking how silly her quest is — even when part of it is borrowed from the biblical narrative when she has to go inside a giant whale. 

Perhaps it is my own fault that gotcha moments fill my feed on social media. Thirty seconds clips of one part of an argument to make us feel better. But the certainty of faith has never resided in our ability to defend the faith. The call to “always be ready to give a defense” (1 Pet 3:15) has turned into removing the absurdity of God in attempt to prove something which God meant faith to embrace.

Sometimes it’s necessary to sit in the uncomfortable. To sit in the baffling story of a Middle Eastern man who claimed to be God incarnate, who promised forgiveness for our external and internal brokenness, by means of a physical bodily resurrection two thousand years ago. A story told to us through oral and written traditions of antiquity. (Todd Brewer outlines our absurd tradition here.)

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t sit at the table of philosophers, scholars, and scientists with our intellect well equipped, but shouldn’t there be at least some awareness of the absurdity within our Scriptures? Others most certainly do.

In all honesty, it seems any belief on this giant rock floating in space is quite absurd, whether it be Christian faith, the lack of one, or any of the multitude of others that are out there. We are but specks on the timeline of this universe and yet we have the audacity to stare straight-faced into the eyes of reasonably skeptical listeners and declare that the God of the Universe put skin and bones on to dwell with his people. Our scriptures speak of worldwide floods, talking snakes, and slaughtered livestock’s blood sprinkled on altars. We profess belief in miraculous events such as, but in no way limited to, parting of large bodies of water, men living to eight hundred years of age, creatio ex nihilo, walls falling down from marching orders, the blind receiving sight and last, but certainly not least, an invisible Spirit which indwells our being. The pitch is usually to believe the unbelievable instead of faith in the absurd. It’s the reason elderly Sarah laughed at God’s pregnancy plans. Why Peter tried to stop Jesus from heading to that Roman cross. Why, Jesus’ own disciples disbelieved the whispers of an empty tomb. God’s ideas and movements in the world are rather absurd. A proper response is often laughter over instant faith, angled eyebrows over wet cheeks. 

But even more so than the Scriptures and Mrs. Davis, day-to-day life is filled with absurdity. We ignore our families and those near to us to stare at devices which are meant to connect us closer. My son says he’s starving and eats one bite of his mac and cheese, and yet, we continue to make it for him and continue to get mad about it — which just might fit the bill for the definition of insanity. Fast and Furious is now a ten movie franchise. Cancer rates rise in young people as we eat supposedly healthy food filled with God knows what. We stream entire documentaries about how the government has lied to us and binge shows about the most atrocious, murderous criminals all the while shoving popcorn in our mouths and clicking “Still Watching.” This supposedly rational, modern life is filled with absurdity. 

And yet … It doesn’t appear as if God is worried about the absurdity of his work in the world. In fact, if anything it seems He thrives on it. After all, it was all his idea for a man to be swallowed the giant fish, an old woman to give birth, water to transform into wine, and ultimately, the death of Himself on two planks of wood.

Why should we make reasonable what God wanted absurd? Perhaps in-between our rationalizing and evidence seeking, there’s room for a chuckle like our friend Sarah. Not only does it seem honest to ourselves and skeptics, but it just might be the first step on the road to genuine faith. Allowing God’s acts to be as absurd as they are, while he showers us with the absurd grace we so desperately need. 

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2 responses to “The Absurdity of the Christian Faith”

  1. Shane Gormley says:

    I’m reminded of Tertullian’s response to hecklers: “We too in our day laughed at this! We are from among yourselves. But Christians are made, not born” (Apology 18.4). The absurdity can be embraced and, therefore, becomes a habituating, formative tool of God’s grace.

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