Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The riddle of time

Happy Birthday to me!
My age starts with a 3!
This is the last year I can say that.
How old could I be?

Friday, August 25, 2006


I had a really great chat with Jude tonight sitting outside my house after my "birthday-related" girls' night out. Some thoughts about the searching and the processing became perhaps a little clearer, so I thought I'd write them down and see if they're any clearer to anyone else.

So... this post may have a few apparently disjointed thoughts, but really, there is relationship there. Hope you can find it! Oh, I colour-coded them so you could take them in smaller chunks.

First I want to talk about how we figure out what the "right" or "correct" answer to a question is. That is, the process. Sometimes you just can't outright prove that your theory is correct. Sometimes, I think, you just have to figure out the alternatives and work by process of elimination to figure out what makes sense. That is, what works and explains what "is". It has been suggested that while the details may be plentiful, there are really few basic answers to the big questions - such as the problem of existence dealt with in the last post. Sartre has said that "the basic philosophic question is that something is there rather than that nothing is there."*1 As illustrated, there were really only three basic answers - but only one of them explains what "is".

So... one of the questions we seem to be dealing with is: how do we know that the Bible is from God?

What are the possible answers?
1. It is in it's entirety.
2. It isn't at all.
3. Parts of it are, and parts of it aren't.

I'm not going to feed you any more (at least not right now), but examine the possibilities. Where do they lead you? It's certainly an important question if it's the primary source of information upon which you base your beliefs.

Alright. Second, I want to give you a little bit about Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

"Aquinas held that man had revolted against God and thus was fallen, but Aquinas had an incomplete view of the Fall. He thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view the will was fallen or corrupted but the intellect was not affected. Thus people could rely on their own human wisdom, and this meant that people were free to mix the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of the non-Christian philosophers."

"As a result of this emphasis, philosophy was gradually separated from revelation - from the Bible - and philosophers began to act in an increasingly independent, autonomous manner."

"Among the Greek philosophers, Thomas Aquinas relied especially on one of the greatest, Aristotle (384-322 BC)."

"Thomas Aquinas brought this Aristotelian emphasis on individual things - the particulars - into the philosophy of the late Middle Ages, and this set the stage for the humanistic elements of the Renaissance and the basic problem they created."

"This problem is often spoken of as the nature-versus-grace problem. Beginning with man alone and only the individual things in the world (the particulars), the problem is how to find any ultimate and adequate meaning for the individual things. ... If one starts from individual acts rather than with an absolute, what gives any real certainty concerning what is right and what is wrong about an individual action?"*2

Nutshell? He suggested that you could ignore revelation and figure out all the answers from what you see around you just by observation. This presumes that man is now, apart from his will, intrinsically the way God made him. Definitely problems with that assumption. Know what they are?

Third. I sent this bit out to Jude in an e-mail and she found it a bit more understandable, so hopefully anyone else wading through this will too.

I referred on my blog to a divided field of knowledge. Schaeffer's diagram looks basically like this:

Non-rational (mystical, unverifiable - things such as meaning or beauty)
Rational (what can be seen, measured, discussed)

His premise is that the historic Christian view is that those things put into the non-rational category in fact belong in the rational category and there should be no "upper story". His reason: the revelation of God to man in scripture.

It was Kierkegaard who, in fact, divided the field of knowledge (though there were others who aided the process) by declaring that one could not find meaning by reason, therefore one is required to make a "leap" of faith, because one cannot live without hope of meaning. Essentially, he dismissed the idea of revelation - that is, input from outside of our own, seen experience. Hence it is referred to as existentialism.

Schaeffer would say that the revelation given in scripture is couched in space and time (history), and gives truth about both the world as we see it, and truth about meaning. Thus, there was no reason to divide knowledge. This was understood by the reformationists whose battle cry was "sola scriptura !" (Scripture only) as the authority, as opposed to "the church" being on equal or greater footing in terms of authority as was the case at the time.

Faith, then, in terms of historic Christianity is basically trusting that the revelation is true - which is able to be discussed because it is couched in both space and time - both about the seen things of this world, and hence about the character of God. Scripture is intended to be discussed and analyzed and verified, and faith is standing on the results of that.

Faith, from the existentialist side, is defined as a leap into the unknown. Belief against all reason, if you will. Can't remember the name of the philosopher who said that there was no god, but that people lived better if they believed that there was one. Irrational? That's the existentialist definition of faith, as I understand it. Unfortunately, this definition has not only crept into the general western society but into the church as well.

*1 Francis Schaeffer "He is There and He is not Silent"
*2 Francis Schaeffer "How Should We Then Live?"

Friday, August 11, 2006

Questions, questions...

Alrighty then...

I figured that the questions Jude posted on my last entry would require a post all in themselves - perhaps several. But just to catch you up without you having to keep referring to the last comment section here's her note:

1. Do you think certainty can be a spectrum rather than either/or?

2. What questions do you think that questioners you know are asking (not an exhaustive list, just some examples)?

3. Which of these questions do you feel have certain answers?

4. What are the answers?

5. What do you base those answers on?

And here's the beginning of my thoughts:
1. Do you think certainty can be a spectrum rather than either/or?

I'm not quite sure what you mean by the question. Do I think we must either be certain of everything or certain of nothing? No. I do think that we can be certain that there are answers to be found, though. And I base that on the same idea that modern science was based on - that a reasonable God created the universe and therefore we have reason to believe that there are answers to be found - reasonable ones.

I do, however, think that the word "certainty" by definition implies that on whatever the issue you either are or are not.

2. What questions do you think that questioners you know are asking (not an exhaustive list, just some examples)?

Well, I'm hearing (that is, my interpretation of what is being said) things along the lines of:

  1. Is God really there, or are we just fooling ourselves?
  2. If He's really there, what's He like?
  3. How can we know?
  4. Okay, the existence of Jesus tells me that God is love, but how do I reconcile that with what I see around me?
  5. How does any of this affect who I am? How should it?
  6. How do I know who to trust?

3. Which of these questions do you feel have certain answers?

Ah, now there's the rub! The answers depend on your starting point and your presuppositions. And that's where my concerns lie. It's in the methodology of finding truth based on a methodology of antithesis (that is, as in classical logic: A is not non-A) as opposed to synthesis (begin with a thesis, combine with the antithesis and find the synthesis. This becomes the new thesis and the process continues - thus never reaching any final conclusion. Also known as dialectical methodology - see my first Schaeffer quote) and the presupposition of a unified field of knowledge(that is, that all of knowledge is open to the rational - what can be verified and discussed, without a dichotomy - whether it is grace/nature, freedom/nature, faith or meaning or significance/rational, without any kind of "leap" of "faith").

I have that presupposition of a unified field of knowledge because the verbalized, propositional revelation of God (the Bible) speaks to both matters of the seen and unseen - both space-time history and meaning/significance.

Without that presupposition - that you CAN know, you will always have the dichotomy. Whether you use spiritual words or not, you will still be putting the things of God into the place of the non-rational.

As to the starting point - well, where else can you start but with yourself?

Soooooo... in case I've lost you in Schaeffer 101... I think that all the questions have answers.

4. What are the answers?

Very funny. You really think I'm going to cheat you of the search? Just don't let go of rationality (logic - as opposed to rationalism, meaning that "man begins absolutely and totally from himself, gathers the information concerning the particulars, and formulates the universals.").

I will give you some tidbits, though.

Here's the deal: The universe either came from nothing (that is, nothing nothing - not mass, energy, gravity, or anything else - nothing.), or it came from something impersonal, or it came from something personal.

Schaeffer says that he's never heard the argument for the first option sustained, but that it is, theoretically, the first possible answer.

The second option leaves the particulars ("A particular is any individual factor, any individual thing - the separate parts of the whole") without meaning. "Everything, including man, must be explained in terms of the impersonal plus time plus chance." This leaves us without a sufficient explanation for what is - including the personality of man.

However, if we begin with the personal then we have an explanation for the existence of the personality of man. "But once we consider a personal beginning, we have yet another choice to make. This is the next step: are we going to choose the answer God or gods? The difficulty with gods instead of God is that limited gods are not big enough. To have an adequate answer of a personal beginning, we need two things. We need a personal-infinite God (or an infinite-personal God) and we need a personal unity and diversity in God." "Plato understood that you have to have absolutes or nothing has meaning...but...his gods were not big enough to meet the need."

(okay, I'm just going to quote some passages from "He is There and He is Not Silent" here, bear with me...)

"Second, we need a personal unity and diversity in God - not just an abstract concept of unity and diversity, because we have seen we need a personal God. We need a personal unity and diversity. Without this we have no answer."

"What we are talking about is the philosophic necessity, in the area of being and existence, of the fact that God is there. That is what it is all about: He is there."

"There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. ... There is only one philosophy, one religion, that fills this need in all the world's thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of being, and it is the Judaeo-Christian God - not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He really exists."

Which brings us to ...

5. What do you base those answers on?

Umm... I base them on the sustainable idea that God is there and He has not been silent. He has revealed Himself to us in space-time history with a verbalized propositional revelation. Philosophy requires it in order to truly explain what is there. So I choose to trust the revelation of scripture as being authentic. I think there's enough evidence to support that choice. (Far more than what I've given you here.)

Do I understand it all? Nope. Do I think there's more to God than we can understand? Yep. Do I think that we can know "true truth" without having exhaustive truth? Yep. Do I think the revelation of God in Christ is ALL we need, and we can throw out the rest? Nope. Frankly, I don't even think that's the right starting point - but that's another discussion.

All quotes are Francis Schaeffer, mostly from "He is There and He is Not Silent".

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fish out of water

That's what I've been feeling like lately.

It seems a lot of my friends are in a space in their lives where they're questioning what they believe. Now, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I hope that they're questioning with the purpose of finding some answers, and not just questioning as an end in itself. I've been in the place of questioning myself. And while I'm currently questioning the form and function relationship of what I believe, I do feel like I have some pretty firm foundations at the moment. Sadly, I get the feeling that my "lack of uncertainty" is threatening to some. Some might even consider me arrogant for even thinking I know anything of who God is.


I was sitting around with some of these friends a while ago, listening to some of the things they are questioning, and the processes they are using. I bit my tongue, because I knew I couldn't explain the stuff I've been reading that's been so life-giving to me lately. Part of me wished I could somehow download these books by Francis Schaeffer right into their brains because it's just a bit too much for me to communicate on my own. My fear, from what I've been hearing, is that these friends may be heading down the road of existentialism in order to settle their conflict. And worse, that they may not be able to recognize it or the logical conclusions of that path.

One thing I have noticed is that for several of these questioners, their search seems to have begun out of a place of trauma. A place where God didn't behave the way their theology seemed to indicate He would. And so the search begins for something that will line up with the world as it really is. I've been there. There was a time in my life when the pain of infertility was so bad that I was taking scripture and arguing that God was, in fact, NOT good! However, when I hit the bottom of the agony and had no answers I had to say "I don't understand, but I know too much to walk away." I held on by my fingernails and waited for God to do whatever it was He needed to do. Kicking and screaming all the way.

Kind of like Job.

Which brings me to another point... a little thing that's just been irking me.

A friend posted something on his blog about Job being the personification of faith because" he understands that all theology is blasphemy". And then the quote goes on to reference Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism - both secular and religious. Of course Kierkegaard would say that you cannot understand God! He separates faith from knowledge as though the two can never have any relation. His faith is not in the God who is there, it is in "faith". That's just not a road I want to go down.

Not only are we dealing with a God who is there, we are dealing with one who is not silent. What possible purpose could He have for having communicated with us about who He is and having interacted with us, thus showing His character, if He didn't want us to understand anything about Him? It makes no sense! Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying that we can ever know EVERYTHING about God, but I don't think this is an all or nothing kind of thing.

For instance,(okay, I realize that this is a weak analogy, but it's the best I could do at this hour of the night) those of you who are married would probably say you know your spouse pretty well. I'd like to think I have a handle on who mine is. You spend time with them and notice how they respond in certain situations. You could probably generate some basic principles of how they operate. But every now and then they surprise you. They react differently. They don't follow the pattern you expect. Do you not know them? Do you have to throw out your expectations? I don't think so. Odds are, you probably have a pretty good handle on who they are - but you don't know everything. So... you talk to them. Find out how this new thing fits with the old structure. It probably does - you were just missing some perspective. Where the analogy is lacking is that your spouse is growing and learning and inconsistent as a human being, while God is unchanging. (yes, I realize this can open the debate on dispensationalism - but I'd prefer not to go into that one just now, my brain is already on overload.)

I guess my point is that just because you can't know everything about how God works, doesn't mean you can't know anything. Fact is, Job questioned God. He told Him that he didn't deserve this. He wanted answers, too. And, if I read correctly, it was Job who got blasted by God - not his friends. Yes, there is mystery to God. He is bigger than we can comprehend. But He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Can we just throw that away because it's too big and complicated? I hope that's not what I'm seeing.

Please indulge me in another Schaeffer quote. I hate taking him out of context, but I'd have to publish the entire book to give you the full scope, so I hope this will speak somewhat clearly. This is from "He is There and He is Not Silent", the chapter is on the moral necessity(philosophically) of God being there and not being silent:

"Evangelicals often make a mistake today. Without knowing it, they slip over into a weak position. They often thank God in their prayers for the revelation we have of God in Christ. This is good as far as it goes, and it is wonderful that we do have a factual revelation of God in Christ. But I hear very little thanks from the lips of evangelicals today for the propositional revelation in verbalized form which we have in the Scriptures. He must indeed not only be there, but he must have spoken. And he must have spoken in a way which is more than simply a quarry for emotional, upper-story experiences. We need propositional facts. We need to know who he is, and what his character is, because his character is the law of the universe. He has told us what his character is, and this becomes our moral law, our moral standard. It is not arbitrary, for it is fixed in God himself, in what has always been. It is the very opposite of what is relativistic. It is either this or morals are not morals, but simply sociological averages or arbitrary standards imposed by society or the state. It is one or the other."