I recently discovered some of the astonishing photos from a recente National Geographic Photo Contest, including this one to the right. I’ve been staring now-and-then at this photo, taken underneath a breaking wave, for the last few days. At times, I’ve felt like I’m in it, engulfed by the heavy weightlessness of the water, feeling the immense tug of the wave as it forms.
There’s just one thing. I’m aquaphobic – I have a totally intoxicating, incapacitating fear of swimming in water. I’ll paddle, as long as it is shallow enough that I can stand up. Any deeper than that, I panic uncontrollably. Last year, on a trip to Hawaii, I nearly drowned, because I’d drifted two metres away from safety. I looked down to see what felt like oblivion. Absolute terror.
So the more I’ve looked at this photo, the more I’ve noticed its endless immensity. Then I panic and look away.
The thing is, this is the Christian life. This is what the Christian practice of baptism is meant to represent. The word “baptise” comes from the Greek baptizo, which originally simply meant “immerse, saturate”. The Bible frequently refers to us being immersed (baptizo) into God (especially His Spirit), and Him filling us (again with His Spirit). Taken to its fullest point, this has been understood as like being in deep water, ever getting deeper, with no bottom in sight, and feeling the water fill your mouth, your throat, your lungs, everything, until you become somehow distinct and yet intrinsically entwined within the water. To drown, and yet somehow live.
It never ceases to amaze me that some people – whether atheists or Christians – think that Christianity is shallow, for the ignorant, stupid, or gullible. While it is certainly true that Christ takes in any people, no matter how smart they are, I would say Christianity is certainly not shallow. But that also means it’s not safe, on one level. The Bible actually describes the process of becoming a Christian as meaning that part of you dies – it’s the part that is confused, lost, aching, but it is still a part you are familiar with. Perhaps a lot of the reasons we give for not becoming a Christian have little to do with reason, and more to do with fear of the part that needs to die.
The great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, wrote:
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with… But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth… we turn away… and with solemn exclamation say, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’
As near as I can see, the only way someone, like an atheist, might say that Christianity is intellectually shallow, is if they haven’t looked hard enough. If they did the research, they would find that great Christian minds, like Augustine or Aquinas, learned that we will always have questions, and there will always be answers… that invite more questions, because there is always more to learn about God. The atheists I respect have done the research, and they do not think Christianity is too shallow. They think it too deep. They have realised that behind every answer is more questions, but they don’t want more questions. They want the answer. They want the pool to have boundaries, so they can stand up in
the water. Christianity does not and cannot offer them that. Our infinite God won’t let us. In this sense, there will never be a “satisfactory” final answer with Him. You either stay in the shallows, or you dive in and go deeper and deeper, with no end in sight.
Spiritually, Christian mystics throughout history, again including Augustine and Aquinas, would tell you that this exquisite immersion is also an experience. They have experienced moments of being terrified by God’s immensity but intoxicated by it at the same time. See, God will let people think He’s small enough to fit in a building, or in ignorant folks with tiny minds and tiny ideas – that’s their choice. But He invites us all into something so much larger, if we have the courage to dive in. He invites us into Him, to be baptised into Him, to dive, to drown, to live.
 CH Spurgeon, Sermon 1, Volume 1, originally preached January 7th, 1855, when he was twenty years old. The full text of this remarkable sermon is available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons01.i.html