Philosophy Fridays: Considering God in History?

philosophy

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble away on some idea and maybe even interact with it. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it’s Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “Should we consider God’s actions in historical discussions?” in under 700 words. Heh.

History, by its nature, is un-testable. We can’t put it under a microscope. Whenever we in the present study anything in the past we’re necessarily a step removed.

History, as it occurs, reports. In other words, anyone in the future depends on the report of what occurred in the past. That’s not to say that a person reports event-X but it is to say that if event-X occurs, it necessarily affects the future. Imagine being at the edge of a pond. You didn’t hear the splash, nor did you see the fish, but you see the ripple.

We can’t limit conclusions to only what is scientifically observable. If so, we couldn’t even offer natural explanations for common historical motivators: like fear, love, or courage.

Imagine someone studies my today. Sure, I’m not God, but I am a Mind who acts in history. They’d find a bag (near the front door) that has a container (bits of food), keys (they jangle and open things), a parked vehicle (warm to the touch), and a badge with a picture.

P concludes: the badge owner enjoys eating scraps of food from a container that it stores near doors; he enjoyed the music of the keys; and turns on the vehicle for warmth or to heat up small scraps of food currently stored in the container.

R posits: the badge owner works at an office and it uses the car keys to drive the vehicle to and from work; the badge gives access into work; the container holds the remaining scraps of a meal; and the individual has forgotten to take those things out of his bag.

J concludes that: the badge is worn to ward off evil spirits; the keys and the vehicle have absolutely no bearing; the container holds the remaining scraps of a propitiatory sacrifice.

You can’t decide which account is right with 100% precision so you must come up with an argument for what makes the most sense of the evidence:

One: Does the offered account explain the data? J ignores some data.

Two: Does the offered account powerfully support the data? P brings up some information that is not supportable by any data (the enjoyment of music). Likewise J (ie: evil spirits; ignores the keys and vehicle).

Three: Is the offered account plausible?  A largely empty container to store scraps of food while owning a vehicle seems implausible.

Four: How made up is the explanation? It’s hard to decide which one is more made up than the other. I we separated this discovery by several thousand years R would be guilty of reading current experience back onto the evidence.

Five: Do any facts come up that disproves any of these offered accounts? So far, nothing.

Six: Which account best explains the most aspects of the evidence? Or which explanation covers the most data? So if you look at J, the explanatory scope is narrow: it covers only a few bits of the evidence. P needs evidential support for the enjoyment of music. R’s explanatory scope is also broad.

True intellectuals should be able to weigh any proposed account, even ones including God, according to all six criterions without denying it simply because of a naturalistic bias or personal preference. The only way to deny it is to say that (1) it is impossible for God to exist or (2) it is impossible for God’s activity to work in this or that way. Both are outside of man’s ken.

If a proffered historical explanation which includes God powerfully handles the widest range of data then decrying it is historiographically naïve and ultimately mere pseudo-intellectual silliness.

Should we consider God’s actions in historical discussions? Yes.

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Increase Not Decrease: God Grants the Role

“You Yourselves bear me witness that I said ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him’.” (John 3:28)

Of course John’s comment is in light of his ministry. For he says that he was to announce the Christ because he is not the Christ: his role was to prepare the way. John sees that his own life isn’t purposeless but is actually tied up in the work of God by the presentation of the Lamb of God.

He was sent to preach repentance and when he saw the Lamb of God he pointed him out, openly acknowledging that this is the provision that God had made. (John 1:19-34)

To John’s mind, this probably meant something else. He probably thought as Jesus as the Lamb ruler who would forcefully take away the sins of the World. After all, it was only a short time later that he would be imprisoned, still waiting for the Christ to reboot this entire world, and wondering why it hadn’t happened yet.

In Matthew 11, John, seeing that Herod is still in power (and he’s still in jail) sends a message to Jesus via disciples: “Are you the Christ that we’re waiting for?” He spent his life pointing out this person, he could’ve sworn that this was the very thing he was called to do, but things had turned out so differently and dire: could he have been wrong?

Christ responds neither yes nor no but pointing out the work of God. The Lame walk. The blind see. The Gospel is being preached.

The next historical note we have about John is that he’s beheaded at a party for a cruel mother and her daughter. (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9).

You see, Christ explains, John wasn’t merely some spectacle in soft clothes out in the wild—some oddity to ogle. This John was God’s prophet: the very Elijah who was supposed to come (if they would have had him) before the end of the age: the one who prepared the way of the coming of the Lord Himself. This John, in prison who eventually died of beheading, was the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:11a).

Without a miracle. Without a sign. With a backwater ministry in the Jewish outback. John functioned where he was supposed to function doing what all the prophets before him did, but better. Point to Christ.

Every single prophet in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes fuzzily. Sometimes explicitly. But always predicated upon God’s revelation and looking forward to God’s distant promises. John alone, out of all the prophets, announced Him within days, inaugurated him via baptism, and witnessed the descending Holy Spirit upon Him. None of the prophets were given that position (Heb 11:39).

But John didn’t see everything. He was still an Old Testament prophet. He didn’t see  the crowds cheering around the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11:9; John 12). To him wasn’t given the horror of seeing the Messiah rejected and pinned to a tree (John 19). He would never witness the wonder of the risen Messiah (John 20). To him wasn’t given the chance of listening to the risen Lord for several days before he was taken up into heaven (Acts 1). To him wasn’t given the chance of participating in the prophesying in tongues which was a witness of the Holy Spirit being poured out in the last days (Acts 2).

None of those things were given to him; God didn’t grant John that role.

And he knew that at this point.

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Increase Not Decrease: Examining John 3:30

Some years ago, I was at a house blessing with several Christians, an atheistic Buddhist, some agnostics, and some Hindus. The focus, said the Hindu priest was to realize that we were all part of the same faith. We were blessing the house by emptying ourselves and embracing what unifies us all, that which welcomes us all: God.

This upset me. I didn’t know what to say. I wish I had responded better than angry tears.

I couldn’t articulate what was wrong with what was going on (on multiple levels). The Holy Man was being exceedingly spiritual, saying a whole mess of spiritual things to embolden our human selves to yearn for the spiritual; it was all tremendously dehumanizing—making one less than human.

Dehumanizing how?

Unfortunately in a way that Christians today have no problem with.

We look at a passage like John 3:30 and see a perfect quote that is often used to depict that we are to become less as Christ becomes more. The Physical, is taught, doesn’t matter: the Spiritual is what continues. But how does this differ from the Holy Man who called this “God” the “Spirit of Christ”? The only difference is that one has been Christianized.

Note John’s words occur when he is baptizing in Aenon, near Salim (John 3:22). This event, John the Evangelist reminds us, happened before John was arrested. Now of course we know that John wouldn’t have been arrested if he was out baptizing but it is likely because he knew about the accounts of the other Gospels which remind us very early in their text that John was arrested. (Mark 1:14; Matt 4:12-21; mentioned in Luke 3:19).

This John, after the heyday of his ministry, but before being arrested, is faithfully continuing his work. He’s already baptized Jesus (John 1). He’s already pointed him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But John is waiting while he is working.

A discussion gets kicked up about purification and there’s some spill-over. Apparently it had something to do with baptism since the disciple points out that Jesus’ group is baptizing people and all are coming to Jesus rather than to John. Indeed, in the next chapter, the evangelist records that Jesus was baptizing more than John even though Jesus wasn’t personally baptizing anyone (John 4:1).

John’s response is in three parts:

  1. Man Receives From God
  2. God grants the role
  3. Joy is Found in God-Given Vocation

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Spontaneous, Natural, Physical Resurrection

Oh the universe is full of amazing and wonderful things and very few subjects have been the source of more fiery debates than the topic of evolution. But in all the hubbub of debates about creation, or intelligent design, or cosmological origins one major facet of the Christian faith goes unnoticed: the explanation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Though the evidence for evolution is vast and far reaching and applied to origins, none of the same thinking has been weighed and married to this oft-neglected field.  If we as Christians are failing in our embracing evolutionary models in regard to Creation, we have been woefully neglectful in explaining the resurrection of Jesus Christ in terms of modern science.

In this post, I wish to posit a few possible reasons why the resurrection was not a miracle, but actually quite natural, spontaneous, and purely physical and why the Church must embrace this explanation to prepare for the future, especially in light of the overwhelming amount of data in support of biological evolution.

The proof I can offer is not as nebulous as it may seem. We Christians often supply a few proofs that the resurrection happened so we don’t have to belabor the point. He was seen among witnesses. His grave was indeed empty. His death was sure. And the actual resurrection accounts for the apostolic beliefs.

But this in no way implies that God couldn’t have used spontaneous and natural processes to ensure that this resurrection would happen. We must not allow magic or miracles to discredit the very reasonable faith that we Christians embrace!

First we have to admit that Jesus was fully man so he was limited by the knowledge of his day. He didn’t have a clue how he would live again or even if he would live again. He was under the impression that the “glory” was the process of dying (read the entire book of John) and then he cried about it when he was going to die. That’s not the reaction of a person who knew that they would die and come back.

Second, the disciples were surprised by the resurrection. They didn’t have a clue he would do what he did and that would only make sense if it was in fact spontaneous and natural.

Third, we have perfectly good explanations for a physical, random, non-miraculous resurrection. For example, we know that there are an infinite amount of Earths. Given an infinite amount of Earths, there are an infinite amount of circumstances. Just like our Universe came into being because in an infinite number, the chances of something happening are sure to happen, then the chance of a person dying and coming back from the grave most definitely would happen. In fact, I’d bet in this infinite series of worlds, there’s a good chance that each of us get our chance at resurrecting randomly.

Even if we didn’t posit infinite Christs, we can posit infinite physical universes where the laws of death and life are different.  With science firmly in our grip we can conclude that God used processes—like an infinite multiverse or infinite Christs—to arrive at a natural, spontaneous , physical and non-miraculous resurrection from the dead.

We haven’t even looked at Quantum particles which can be in two quantum states at the same time until observed. So Christ, while observed, w as in an alive state (a binary position of 1) and then he was in a two simultaneous states of dead and alive (0 and 1). If the quantum vacuum can bring something in from nothing, then the chance for Christ going from one binary state to a second one is infinitely possible. Heck, this could be a midichlorian process for all we know.

Fourth, we Christians need to stop being afraid of scientific explanations especially since Science is God’s hands. The very smart people (who incidentally are much smarter than us) have told us that the impossible is just that and if it’s physically possible it’s infinitely more probable than the impossible. We need to stop being unscientific, embrace the sciences which are also God’s revelation, his second Bible as it were, and teach that Christ’s resurrection was natural, spontaneous, physical even if ultimately belonging to God.

In conclusion, we must embrace this lest Science, and the world, moves on in their Copernican revolution leaving us behind mumbling about our magical myths. If we truly want to engage the world and not be relegated to a position of non-importance, we must employ robust scientific thinking with the defense of our faith proving that God is not only reasonable, he is constant. We cannot allow Christianity to become a cult—but this is what will happen if the Church continues to turn its head from scientific explanations!

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