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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The way it is is not always the way it "must be"

In the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, little Lucy returns from her trip to this parallel universe bursting with excitement. Her siblings, all older than her, cannot believe her fantastic story. There is a good reason for that, it is a fantastic story. When she claims that she returned to this place (and her brother had also) the conversation became quite uncomfortable. You see the way things are means places like Narnia cannot exist. It "must be" that her claims are fictive. The "old professor" briefly appears on the scene to discuss the situation with the oldest boy, Peter. He is Lewis' teaching moment to open our minds and hearts to a deeper truth about reality.

The problem is Lucy insists that what she said happened is true. It is not play acting. Her other brother, Edmund, who also visited the land (and she saw him there) has told the siblings that it was not true. His motivation is, among other things, spiteful meanness. The professor asks which of the two has the character of veracity. The answer is Lucy. In light of that, he continues, you must ask yourself the question, "is she lying or is she mad?" Those familiar with Lewis' apologetics know that this same line of reasoning underlies his argument for Jesus. Either Jesus is Who He says He is, or He is a liar or a madman.

Now the problem with narrowing reality down to a handful of words is that things are more complicated than all that. There was a sad day in my life when I realized that Lewis was overlooking one other, terrifying, alternative. (It is one that much of modern scholarship is founded on) Perhaps Jesus did not actually say the words. Now through a long, tedious process I have come to see the same must be asked of the apostles' testimony, which eventually leads back to the same premise, either they were nuts or they were liars (misleading and misled). The same process reveals the same conclusion: their lives reflect trustworthiness. What they say about Jesus reflects reality, so is Jesus nuts or a liar? Or the ONE!

Now, the other day I stumbled across a book called God and the Atom. I picked it up and read the cover, which reported that since the Epicureans, for thousands of years, there have been some who believe that the world is not created, it just consists of smaller entitites called atoms. In modern times, it goes on, we know this is true. There is no need for God if this is true, and it is, therefore there is no God....

How did that idea get into the mainstream of thought? The answer is because of silly Christians who advocate things which run counter to the way the world is. The answer is because of even sillier atheists looking for a way to avoid worshipping and obeying God so they construct an alternative. The reason is because we often intuit and assume and then based on our "beliefs" or "feelings" we proceed down a path of reasoning based on how we think "it must be."

An easy illustration: when I was a younger Christian I was once told that IF the Bible is the Word of God, THEN it must share in the nature of God THERFORE it is infallible. Within a few seconds it meant that the Bible excludes evolution and all manner of other things taught in schools. [Hence the motivation of people who write and read books like God and the Atom] Mind you, the basic premise on "how the Bible must be" is not argued out or explained, it is just assumed. Unfortunately, a serious study of the Bible reveals pretty quickly that this idea about "infallibility" (so defined) is simply not the case (or rather, this is simplistically not the case). In fact, by the middle of chapter 2 of Genesis (which is pretty quickly!) one is confronted with the fact that there are two versions of creation which disagree in some details (man is made prior to any plant in Gen 2; in Gen 1 man is last in line of creation). Now, the reality is God is doing the revealing here and our duty is to listen and learn. The sin of Adam is saying, "I am in charge of my own self." That sin is as prevalent today as ever, even among the Christians. So as I have pointed out before, thousands and thousands of 'thinking' Christians have 'thought' their way out of Christianity and become some sort of being called a "spiritual" (meaning they believe in God but not the organzied faith of the church). They do tend to get pretty mushy fairly quickly (being spiritual, after all, does not really define much) but that is not my point  here. Actually, I want to turn back to the premise that "if there are atoms then there is no God."

Our assumptions about the world, believers and non-believers, are often wrong. Humility and faith are virtues and approaches to the world which are much out of style. We are too quick to explain things (and usually in that simplistic way which crosses over into simplemindedness). "What is going on here?" we ask when confronted with some startling behavior of another person (example, a man kills someone). Then, based on our predisposition, we offer an answer. "Why this man is just being selfish and evil" or "Why this
man is a victim of social forces which have shaped him into an angry killer" or "Satan has possessed him." But is reality such an either or proposition?

Does Satan preclude the world and the flesh? Are psychology and sociology wrong while theology is right? or vice versa? Is the world just atoms and that explains it all (leaving out the wonder that a bunch of molecules end up doing theoretical math, writing a novel or opera or playing smooth a shortstop in Yankee stadium)?

Humility and faith say "I do not understand but I trust." The journey of faith is a journey into truth. Many of our pitched battles are based on acting like we have it figured out. Conservatives are not the only ones to do this, either. I remember in the church "discussions" on marriage how the advocates for 'the new way" always sounded so understanding and reasonable. "We may be wrong in this" they would say with (pseudo) humility. I call it false because even as they spoke they acted like they were absolutely right and if in public they sounded nice in private their words were sharper and more decisive. As I told one young priest, "if my wife said she wanted to look at houses and consider moving, I would find it difficult to believe that we were considering the possibility if she had already signed a contract and began shipping our furniture to a new location." The words of one advocate of "the new thing" sum it up for me, "I just cannot imagine that God..." There it is. The limits of human imagination are suddenly the criteria for determining what God "must" be doing.

All of us (even and especially me) have a long list of things that we "can't imagine" or which we believe "must be." Believer or not, Evangelical or Catholic, male or female, etc. etc. For some the existence of atoms precludes the existence of God. (Begging the question what would the world be made of if God did exist?) For others the Bible has to be a certain way (a perfect textbook of science as we understand science today). For some there are clear lines between human and divine causality (there is no weather, God makes it sunny or  makes it rain--or-- there is no God, only dry and moist air, cold and warm air). What if reailty is real? What if our assumptions are generated, in part, by our need to control, our fallen, arrogant nature? What if God is not exactly what we think? What if His ways are as high above our ways as the heavens are above the earth?

What if we opened our minds and hearts in prayerful worship and submitted to Him (rather than expecting Him to submit to our expectations and belief systems)? The one thing that comes through about Jesus is He broke open the expectations of the people of His time. The religious leaders missed the boat, as did the secular authorities. This is often pointed out by simple people, usually as a reminder that such "people in power" cannot be trusted. This is true. Religious and civil authorities make errors. Of course, it was the crowd crying "Crucify Him!" at the top of their lungs which represents the rest of us. Simple people are no more adept at recognizing Jesus, or the truth. We all have a remarkable propensity for missing the point. All of us.

1 comment:

  1. ""I just cannot imagine that God..." There it is. The limits of human imagination are suddenly the criteria for determining what God "must" be doing."

    The fatal flaw of man is arrogance. We refuse to submit to the authority of God. Hopefully many people will have an eyeopening understanding after reading your blogs.

    I am waiting for the book.