“I’ve read these Christmas books so many times… I know the stories and I know the rhymes. I know the Christmas carols all by heart, My skull’s so full, it’s tearing me apart! As often as I’ve read them, something’s wrong… So hard to put my bony finger on…”
Jack Skellington can’t see the forest for the Christmas trees. We’ve been unwrapping the narrative tapestry of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and our fourth day finds Jack trying to unravel the nature of Christmas. He’s trying to become the master of it, rather than simply receiving it as the wondrous gift that it is. His intentions may not be entirely wrong – he wants to explain and share it with others – but he finds applying the scientific method falls short of full explanation.
“There are so many things I cannot grasp. When I think I’ve got it, and then at last… Through my bony fingers it does slip, Like a snowflake in a fiery grip…”
This is a familiar problem for many, even those who’ve experienced a Christmas-style transformation of heart and mind (by the one who Christmas is really all about). I know many Christians who seem more interested, even obsessed, with mastering their knowledge of God over the sheer joy of his grace and the richness of His presence. This isn’t to disparage studying; it has it’s place, and in proper portion is wondrous, enriching, and useful. Yet some reveal in their embrace of study that they’d rather dissect God than delight in Him. Similarly, Jack Skellington tries to build a Systematic Christmas-ology, believing truth lies in mastery… until finally realizing the true path lies in emulation.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:12
To be fair, theologians who write books on systematic theology aren’t doing evil (they can actually be quite helpful) but the way Jack experiences Christmastown – and the way Christians experience the gospel – aren’t put together in that fashion. If our creator wanted to write a systematic, he could have… but instead he gave to mankind rich scripture of stories, proverbs, poetry and narrative. The hubris of some theologians (and the religious factions and denominations that follow) is that they put the systematic over scripture and fill in mysterious silences with their own explanations. They might even be reasonable extrapolations, but they simply aren’t gospel. Although they’d never say it, deep in their heart they believe they’ve filled a gap in the gospel and “improved” on it… as Jack ultimately decides:
I bet I could improve it too! And that’s exactly what I’ll do… Hee,hee,hee! Eureka! I’ve got it!
This kind of mastery over the mind of God, and his sovereign grace, has led to endless fights and even death over details God leaves in a state of mystery, a space requiring faith. At some point in approaching God and his plans, human reason falls short and, like Indiana Jones staring into the abyss in The Last Crusade, one has to take a leap of trust in faith. Jack isn’t wrong when he suggests “Just because I cannot see it Doesn’t mean I can’t believe it.”
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – Jesus, from John 20:29
Jack’s conclusion – that complete comprehension is not his to own – is correct; reason itself (though a wondrous gift in its own right) only takes him so far, and he must take a leap of faith. Unfortunately, we’ve seen him make two grievous errors along this Nightmare journey that create disastrous results for his subsequent steps… and on the 5th day of (The Nightmare Before) Christmas…