Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Believe When We Find Some of the Beliefs Repugnant?

How can we have a mature, honest, and sincere faith when certain aspects of the package – eternal judgment and the destruction of the Canaanites, for example – are confusing or even repugnant? One faith-wrestler confessed, “I’d like to be able to believe in Christ, I don’t see how I can believe in the things He endorsed.” This is understandable. Jesus affirmed the eternal judgment more than anyone else.

The Pick-and-Choose Option. Many simply choose those aspects of Biblical faith that feel right to them. Today, this usually amounts to taking the loving teachings and rejecting the judgmental teachings. While at first, this faith might be comforting, in the long run, it fails to deliver. Essentially, this tactic places us in charge. We become the authors of our own faith. This undermines any sense in a genuine trust in God and places it on our own judgments. How can we choose some of Jesus’ teachings and reject the others? Doesn’t this amount to saying that we don’t trust Him? Instead of trusting in God’s judgments, we require God’s words to submit to our own judgments. We’ve made ourselves the captains of our own ships, where we’re in charge and not God.

This option also stands in opposition to the Biblical warnings against adding or subtracting from the Word (Deut. 4:2; 12:42: Rev. 22:19) and abiding in all the teachings of Christ (John 15:14; 14:21-24).

The Rejecting the Mind Option. Many simply will say, “I’m just not going to worry about these things. I know what I believe, and nobody is going to take that away from me.” Both positions represent denial. This position represents a rejection of our God-given minds (instead of rejecting some of His teachings) and leaves us vulnerable to rational attacks. As a result, we respond with defensiveness to questions or opposing opinions and also fail to maturely integrate the faith into our lives. This can only happen as we deal honestly with the challenges.

Besides, this option also violates many Biblical teachings. Jesus taught that we have to love the Lord with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37). Furthermore, we have to be able to make a defense of the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). Thought is also the doorway to renewal (Romans 12:2) and just about everything else in the Christian life (2 Peter 1:2-3).

A Responsible Faith. Essentially, Christians need to be rational and consistent in our use of the Bible. We therefore can’t pick and choose to suit our own prejudices and tastes. Nor can we do this in regards to our faculties and just close one down – the mind – because it presents us with problems. Instead, we need to look squarely at this problem of God’s alleged evil – the toughest problem of all.

The atheist Robert Ingersoll (1833-99) had boldly proclaimed, “Eternal punishment must be eternal cruelty…and I do not see how any man, unless he has the brain of an idiot, or the heart of a wild beast, can believe in eternal punishment.” We can place Ingersoll’s charge into a logical form:

1. If God is perfectly good, just, and omniscient, he must have adequate reasons for doing those things that seem to be morally repugnant – the destruction of the Canaanites and eternal judgment.

2. There are no adequate reasons for God to do these things.

CONCLUSION: This idea of God is incoherent and needs to be modified!

The only questionable premise is #2. If it stands, then the conclusion is logically established. However, it faces several formidable challenges. For one thing, making this assertion exceeds our ability. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga had reasoned that if he was sent to determine of a horse was inside a tent, he would be able to confidently say that it was. However, if he instead was sent to see if there was a microscopic spider mite inside, he would not be able to make such a judgment with any confidence.

This is precisely the problem that we encounter when we come up against God. One seeker asserted, “I will not sign on the dotted line of any statement of faith until I understand all of its stipulations and find them all satisfactory.” This is certainly a good policy when entering into human contracts, but is it so when we’re dealing with God?

Even when engaging science, this policy proves unrealistic. While I believe in science, my knowledge of it is very limited. However, my faith in science doesn’t depend on understanding and approving everything about it. Instead, my trust in science is based upon my very limited experience and understanding of it, even though science has confronted me with some very counter-intuitive conclusions – relativity, the indeterminacy of sub-atomic particles.

Likewise, my faith in Christ need not depend upon my full understanding or comfort with all His teachings. Also, consistent with my faith in science, my faith in Christ can rationally find its basis upon what I do know about Him, even if many things remain unknown.

At this point, the seeker may well counter, “Well, science doesn’t impose on us any offensive moral judgments, as your God does! Besides, if we have a duty to judge Hitler, why not also your God?” This is true. Science doesn’t declare what ought to be, but simply what is! However, there is an element of logical incoherence here. While we do have a duty to judge Hitler, judging God presents additional problems. God is the only possible source of moral absolutes. Without God, each of us is left with our own subjective and pluralistic moral standards and inclinations. Only if there exists a standard of judgment higher and truer than Hitler’s own judgments can we judge him. His actions don’t simply violate my personal standards; they violate truth itself!

Without God, we lack any basis upon which to conclude objectively that we’re right and Hitler is wrong. We’re left only with molecules-in-motion and a multiplicity of moral judgments, none any more authoritative than the others. In other words, we need the God of the Bible in order to judge the God of the Bible. This realization should prevent us from rejecting God.

Besides, if we are truly concerned about countering what is morally repugnant, we can only confront it if we come armed with the moral absolutes that only our God can make available. The poet and atheist, W.H. Auden moved to Germantown in NYC from his Ireland in the early 1930s. While he was watching a news clip in the movie theater about the Nazi invasion of Poland, he was horrified to see the audience rise to its feet, applaud and cry out, “Destroy the Poles.” Auden wanted to take a strong moral stance against their response, but he realized that, as an atheist, his values were merely self-constructed. This sent him into a moral tailspin, resulting in his becoming a Christian.

His conversion and the cognitive rest that it brought not only required a faith in a God with absolute moral standards, but also a God who cared enough about these standards to do something about them. It required that God also be a God of judgment. Only a God of judgment is able to provide an adequate moral basis and foundation for our own punitive and corrective response against injustice.

Perhaps God does have good reasons for those things we find morally offensive? Sometimes, we find that there is a good reason for many things that we thought possessed no value. Baboons need fleas and tics. Without these “valueless” tormentors, baboons wouldn’t groom each other; without grooming, baboons wouldn’t bond and develop social cohesion.

Butterflies require the life and death struggle entailed in attempting to escape their cocoons. One gentleman, observing this struggle, helped the butterfly from his cocoon. However, the butterfly died because it had been deprived of its struggle.

Perhaps we also need death and other severities of life so as to not take life and our relationships for granted. Do you remember the great joy and tears shed when their loved ones had been subsequently rescued from the rubble of an earthquake? Such joy depends upon the reality of death.

Of course, against whatever reasons I might give to justify God’s judgments, the skeptic can always respond, “Couldn’t your God have done things in a better, less painful way? Couldn’t He have created humans who don’t sin?” However, this objection fails to appreciate the limitations of our knowledge. Even in questions restricted to this material world, we are severely limited in our understanding. We are unable to understand the essence of things, although science might be able to describe how they respond relative to their circumstances. However, we can hardly begin to fathom the nature of light, mass, time, space or the laws of physics, no matter how many experiments we might run.

While we are very accepting of the limitations of our knowledge regarding this created world, we become very demanding when it comes to a justification of God’s ways. We indict Him when His behavior doesn’t conform to our standards, our culturally determined tastes. We deem that eternal punishment is something that is simply unacceptable, although there is so much about our own comparatively small lives that we fail understand or even see.

At this point, the seeker might respond, “OK, I realize that my knowledge is very limited, but this doesn’t mean that I have to jump into the arms of your God either.” The Psalmist answers,

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10).

I know God. I might not know everything about Him, but I know enough to know that He isn’t a sexist, a racist, or a sadist. I know that He is just and will reconcile everything into a just and merciful conclusion, when every knee shall bow and confess that “Jesus is Lord.”

Similarly, I know my wife. If the police call and inform me that she was arrested in a sex-slave trafficking scheme, I know that there must have been some mistake, even though there are things about my wife that I don’t know.

Well, how can we know Him? He’ll reveal Himself:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

At least, give Him a try:

• “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
(Psalm 34:8-9)

No comments:

Post a Comment