Chris makes a helpful comment on the impasse between Andy over at World Wide Rant and myself regarding the existence and nature of God.
Of course, the problem is that while I think Andrew willfully blind, he thinks me delusional. The problem is that neither of us can prove it to the other. When you get to an impass[e] of first principles like that, there's really nothing more that you can do. As another old saying goes, you can't reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into, and no one was ever reasoned into his first principles (by definition).
On one level I agree with Chris. Andy's gone to that place in his mind where many of us have been -- he's tripping all over the contradictions, criticizing problems with extending the logic of religious principles, especially Jewish and Christian ones, and seeing religion as an self-contradictory, confusing mess. And he doesn't really understand why others don't see that.
What Andy doesn't see is that many of us who have developed a faith in God have been through many of the same discussions, said the same things, and argued from the same premises as he has. We do see.
And in many cases, to be fair, Andy has a point. No, I don't agree that stoning children is right, or stoning adulterers, or stoning homosexuals. There are seeming contradictions, or paradoxes, whenever you start talking about the nature of God. Language limits our inquiry, as does our ability to perceive. But at the end of the day, it's not easy to try to get around those words in Leviticus. So why try?
That all said, I'd like to turn back to Chris' comment about first principles.
How can no one be reasoned into first principles? I don't posit that God exists, and thus start from there. I was a non-believer, and I moved inductively, or if you'll permit an inexact use of the term, empirically. My first principles have changed based on the results of an investigation. But my first principle was the same as Andy's: that God didn't exist. In fact, many of the exact criticisms that Andy has made I have made. Yet I believe and he doesn't. Why?
I don't know about Andy, but I made an effort to observe, to test and to experiment. Some things that helped convince me:
If God doesn't exist, then the Christian scriptures shouldn't resonate deep within my heart. They should be just like reading anything else. Yet nothing I've read has ever touched my heart like the scriptures. That told me something.
If God doesn't exist, then prayer should just be wishful thinking. I should pray and maybe feel good about myself if I'm just talking to my imaginary friend. But I prayed and things happened. Things in the external world, things external to me, and beyond my perception. Yes, I suppose that's anecdotal evidence, but the nature of spirituality tends to show it's a personal journey that way.
There was a lot of testing and observing and experimenting on the way.
In fact, I was moving so empirically, inductively and rationally that for 10 years after I became a Christian I never really integrated the concept of faith into my beliefs. It hadn't occurred to me to just believe it. I believed because I tested. I learned based on what happened. But I didn't believe a religion just 'cuz.
I was interested in the truth, not in becoming a Christian. In fact, I started out in eastern meditation and later Buddhism and specifically didn't want to be a Christian, which I thought was an obviously contradictory fairy tale. When the evidence during my journey led me toward Christianity and away from Buddhism I was upset. I was looking for understanding, not Christ. But it was Jesus who showed up. And then there wasn't a lot I could do about that. If Jesus was the truth, then Jesus was the truth, and I'd just have to deal. So I had change my first principles. God exists, and it's the God of Abraham. And yes, God did send His son to walk among us. Praise God for that.
That doesn't mean, at the end of the day, that I have an answer for Andy for every objection. But as I've gotten older, one thing I've found is I'm more okay with the answer, "It's a mystery."
That also means I know the inadequacy of some of my answers to Andy. Does that mean I'm contradicting myself? To borrow a phrase from St. Paul, by no means.
I know it's difficult to hear my mystical argument and believe it for yourself. But no one is asking anyone to take my word for it.
One thing I know is Jesus doesn't sit and argue for long periods of time. Do you want to haggle about the stoning aspects of the Old Testament? Jesus says, "Let he Who is without sin among you cast the first stone." You want to discuss the nature of church and state, especially living under an unjust social system. Jesus says, "Render under Caeser what is Caeser's, and render unto God what is God's." Do you want to know who He is? He doesn't give you a treatise on the Trinity. He says, "Come and see." He doesn't issue you a FAQs, ask you to look at the sales literature, and say He'll come around next Tuesday to see if you need anything. He says, "You, come out from them, come and see Who I am."
The journey is personal. Once the first principles are in place (there is a God, He did send Jesus, He wants me to do this and believe that) then you can take a look at some of the details that are contradictory. There is a lot of brutal stuff in the Old Testament. I don't have an answer for that.
The Eastern Orthodox surprised me a bit by saying that the Jews were wrong in thinking that God wanted David to wipe out the local inhabitants of Israel. If they were mistaken, then whole books of the Bible are essentially wrong. If they are wrong, then what's right? The Orthodox would hold that the Holy Spirit has revealed to the church which is which. And my ex-girfriend Jen would no doubt say, "Well, isn't that convenient?"
Which is why I keep coming back, in these discussions, to the following scripture:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are;
That no flesh should glory in his presence.
In scripture, there are logical traps that our minds fall into, because our minds seek after worldly wisdom. And then we never get out of them. Because faith in God is something that must be sought after first. And then, after baptism in the Holy Spirit, you can see these contradictions (which are real) to be the traps they are.
The Gospel, according to another translation of the bolded passage above, is "a scandal to the Jews" and "folly to the Greeks," but to us who believe, "Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God."
All Andy and many others are saying is they think the Gospel is foolishness. So they're Greeks. We've got our response right there in Corinthians.
It's not like this is a new argument. And it's not like I'm going to convince anyone on this blog.
If you want to know if the Gospel is true, go and see. Listen to the Gospel preached. Conduct your own investigation. Don't necessarily start with the scriptures — as I've discussed earlier on this blog, the scriptures require baptism in the Holy Spirit (or the teaching of the church) to be understood because the carnal mind will find what's written in the Bible to be upsetting, contradictory, annoying or boring. Like the Leviticus passages.
If you want to see, start with prayer. Without putting God to the test, that is, sitting down for some quiet time in good faith, pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ. Ask for God to reveal His truth to you. Say thank you. Ask for help in understanding. And let God take it from there.
If God doesn't exist, if this is all folly, you've got nothing to lose.
If it's not, then you may in time just develop the faith that our civilization was founded upon, the faith the saints contended for, the martyrs died for, and the faith the church, prevailing over the gates of hell as promised, proclaims to all the earth to this day, "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again."