The Foundational Question Part 3

Okay, one last run around this idea.

I was jumping around the Internet this weekend, looking at The New Yorker’s Chick-fil-A story and its fallout.  As I did, I came across this:

Image result for ghandi your christians

As I just now looked for this quote, I found this site claiming that Gandhi never said these words.  I don’t know if he did or not.  I do know, though, that many people, from the famous to the infamous and many points in-between, have said this or something similar to this.  Many people have (rightly or wrongly) found fault with Christians or The Church.  And some of those people have used that fault as a reason to not believe in God, as reason not to work through the God equation.

And that, again, is a mistake.  I’m not sure what kind of mistake it is.  I’m not sure if it is getting lost in the middle, as I first wrote about, or refusing to work the equation because of the anticipated answer, as I wrote about second (if I had to guess, I’d say it is the latter).  But I am sure it is a mistake.

It is a mistake because the question of the existence of God is a question of reality, a question of what is real.  And reality is not subjective.  Reality is not altered because you don’t like it.  Adam Savage famously said:

and yet, as he clearly knew, as is clearly implied behind his words and is indeed the basis of the humor of that statement, such a thing is impossible.  Reality can’t be substituted.  Reality is.

The question to ask, then, isn’t whether or not Christians are like Christ (not at this stage of the equation, anyway; I think all Christians should ask themselves that question, and I do everyday; but I don’t think those working the God equation should be asking it at this point).  The question to ask is one of reality.  The questions to ask, actually, are two of reality: “Does God exist?” and “Is God good?”

Oddly enough, “the Gandhi quote” (which is what I’ll call it whether or not Gandhi actually said it) implies that the answer to both those questions is, “Yes.”  He speaks about Christ as if Christ is real.  To be honest, he may be doing that for the sake of argument, the way I might talk about Luke Skywalker as if he is real even though I know he is not.  But he is still talking that way; he is still describing something which could be called reality.  Beyond that, though, he speaks about Christ as if Christ is good.  He says he likes Christ, which I can only imagine a guy like Gandhi would do if he perceived Christ as being good.  The very statement itself, then, implies a reality (or at least some reality) to God and a goodness to God.

And those implications require some sort of response.  They require some sort of personal response all by themselves, regardless of what may or may not be true of the behavior of other Christians.  That is what is at the heart of the issue here: personal response.  To be sure, the Christian faith is a group endeavor; Jesus Himself talked about a church and the necessity of a church (Matthew 16:18), so a church is going to be part of it.  But the Christian faith is simultaneously an individual endeavor; it is something the individual picks up regardless of whether or not anyone else picks it up and/or how well anyone else picks it up.

Jesus, again, stressed this at at critical point after His resurrection.  When He  reinstated Peter in John 21, He told Peter that what would be required of John was not Peter’s concern.  Peter’s concern was solely what was required of him.

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Not only so, but Paul, in teaching us how to handle “disputable matters”, made this insightful statement:

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Both Jesus and Paul agree, then, that what other people do or don’t do, how they respond to God or don’t respond to God, has no bearing on you.  Your response to God shouldn’t be dictated by how others respond to God, whether that be good, bad, or indifferent.  Your response to God can’t be dictated by how others respond to God.  It can only be dictated by the reality of God and His goodness.

Is Gandhi right?  I don’t know.  Seeing as how I know more Christians than he ever did and know them better than he ever did, I don’t think so.  As one who has spent his entire life among Christians, I agree that they can use some work but I also know they are better than most people give them credit for.  Whether or not he is right or wrong, though, doesn’t matter to the God equation, and allowing it into the God equation is a terrible mistake.

The Foundational Question Part 2

There is another way people get tripped up on this foundational question, another way they work the God equation wrongly.  There is a worse way they work this equation wrongly, or, more accurately, a worse way they approach the equation. The guy I mentioned in the previous post simply couldn’t work the equation; he wanted to, but because he didn’t start/didn’t know to start from the foundational truth that God was good, he was unable to.  He got stuck in the middle of the equation somewhere.  He just couldn’t do the math.

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Some others I’ve met, though, won’t do that math.  It’s not that they can’t work the equation but that they refuse to.  It’s not that they get stuck somewhere in the middle but that they get stuck at the end.  They look at the answer (or what they think is the answer, what they think the answer will be), they don’t like it, and they walk away from it.

What I’m talking about here is any kind of statement that beings, “I can’t (won’t, refuse  to, etc.) believe in any god who_____”  Any number of things can go in that blank space.  I’m sure you know that.  I’m sure you’ve heard this before.  I’ve heard it many times before.  Probably the first was in the movie Star Trek 5 which I saw in the theater in my early teen years.

I remember being mildly disturbed by that at the time.  I guess I thought it was pretty sensible, that Dr. McCoy had a pretty strong argument against God.  In the years that followed, I would meet real life people who made similar statements and would be even more disturbed.

I am less disturbed by these statements now (I’m less disturbed by what they might/might not say about the existence of God, anyway; I remain disturbed by what they say about people’s logic and hearts).  I am less disturbed by them because I realize how terribly they are handling the God equation.  There are a few ways this approach mishandles the God equation; it treats the question of God’s existence as a subjective preference rather than an absolute reality, it assumes a morally superiority to God (which is impossible; the created cannot be more moral than the Creator), it is self-defeating (it literally says, “God can’t exist because I don’t like Him,” which is an inherent contradiction), it jumps much further into the equation than it needs to (for more on this idea, see this post).  But, perhaps most fatally, it makes the same mistake my friend from the previous post made: it does not start at the starting point; it does not account for God’s goodness.  To use math terms, it does not “carry” the goodness of God.

And that is what has to happen if we are to work the God equation correctly.  The goodness of God has to be carried into every situation in which God’s actions are being questioned.  To be sure, there are times when God does things which do not seem good to us, times when He seems similar to whatever it was Dr. McCoy and the Enterprise crew encountered in Star Trek 5.  That shouldn’t be as surprising as it is, though.  The actions of superior beings are often confusing to inferior beings.  They often seem not good or even bad to the inferior beings.  Tim Keller has mentioned this a few times on Facebook and Twitter.

I see it in my own home as well.  I do all sorts of things that seem not good or even bad to my grade-school daughter.  And, as we adults all know, the reason those things seem not good or bad to her is that she doesn’t know how to live life like I do, how to pay bills and manage diets and ensure everybody in the house gets enough sleep.  It is an inescapable truth that goodness doesn’t always look like goodness, that what looks bad may in fact not actually be bad (or as bad as it seems).

And that inescapable truth simply has to be incorporated into the God equation.  It has to be taken into account.  To fail to do so is not to be righteous (and Star Trek 5 was without a doubt asserting Dr. McCoy’s righteousness in his opposition to that “god”).  It is not even to be righteously indignant.  It is just bad math.

Extraordinary Claims??

I follow J. Warner Wallace’s blog “Cold Case Christianity”.  A few days ago, the blog featured a video clip in which Wallace responded to the popular statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, a statement often used to argue against the believability or reasonableness of The Faith.

In my opinion, Wallace handled that statement quite well (as you can see here), so there is no need for me to say anything further about it.  What I would like to do, though, is say something about one part of it.  I want to question a part of it, actually.  I want to question the first part, the “extraordinary claims” part.

Obvious, whoever coined that statement took the existence of a god (either a generic higher power or the God I follow, the God of the Bible) to be an extraordinary claim.  Equally obviously, the many people who have repeated this statement over the years obviously agree.  I did as well when I first heard this statement somewhere around 1995-96 (right in the middle of my Bible college career).  When this statement was tossed as me, I immediately reacted by anxiously thinking, “Yes, the existence of God is an extraordinary claim and I must be able to give some extraordinary evidence for it.”

My immediate reaction when I saw the title of Wallace’s blog, though, was very different.  As soon as I saw that title, I thought not, “Yes, the existence of God is an extraordinary claim” but “The existence of God is an extraordinary claim?  Says who?”  I wondered what authority was certifying the existence of God to be extraordinary.  I further wondered if they were correct in certifying the existence of God to be extraordinary.  I most of all wondered if the existence of God is indeed extraordinary.

And I came to believe that it is not.  I came to believe that it is not based on the same idea I offered in the previous post on this blog, the idea that everything I see in the world around me has been created by someone I don’t now see.  If you didn’t read the last post, let me summarize this idea for you.  I live on a city park, and everything in that park was created.  Everything in that park come from someone or something else.  Whether it is the organic elements (the trees and grass which not only came from the seeds of other trees and grass but were purposefully planted where they are) or the inorganic elements (the buildings or ball fields which were clearly built by human hands).  As far as I can tell, this rule is absolute; there are no exceptions.  The organic elements are clearly not the original organic elements brought into existence at the moment the universe came into being but instead the descendants of those organic elements.  The inorganic elements are even more clearly not the product of the moment the universe came into being.  So whether you subscribe to a theist worldview or a materialistic one, you have to admit that everything I see in the park or in any other place I go to came not only to be where it is but to be itself by the agency of someone/something else before it.

That being the case, is the idea of the universe being brought into being by someone that extraordinary?  It is not.  That idea fits the pattern I see in the park and all the other places I go in my daily routine.  It fits this pattern of something being brought into existence by someone/something else.  That’s not extraordinary at all.  What is extraordinary is the opposite, the idea that the universe (the single biggest thing I see) brought itself into being or was brought into being by mindless forces or was never brought into being at all.  That idea violates the clear pattern of everything else I see, everything else I hear/taste/touch/experience.  That idea, in my opinion, is the extraordinary one.

Maybe extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence.  Maybe (as Wallace suggests) they don’t.  Maybe that is a legitimate rule, maybe it isn’t.  I don’t know.  What I do question is whether or not that rule applies to the idea of the existence of God.  I quite frankly think it doesn’t.  I think the idea of the existence of God is an ordinary as the existence of all the other unseen-but-obviously real creators who are behind everything I see every day.