Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Hiding Place of Paradox

People – even smart ones – say paradoxical things. Take Albert Einstein for example:

  • The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation…There is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. (The World as I See it, 29)

While Einstein regards “the harmony of natural law” as a reflection of “an intelligence of such superiority,” he dismisses moral law as “a purely human affair” – a thing we made up! Why this sharp distinction?

The moral law is also harmonious. Just consider several observations:

  • When we live according to the moral law we find written on our hearts (Rom. 2:14-15), we are healthier and happier, as indicated by many surveys.

  • When we violate this internal law, we suffer from guilt, shame, and alienation.

  • When we confess that we have violated this law, we feel relieved and relationships are often restored.

Even atheists or agnostics have traditionally recognized this moral law. Buddhists call it “the law of karma” – what goes around comes around. However, they lack an explanation of any mechanism that explains how justice is fairly delivered. (The delivery of justice is no easy thing. It requires understanding and an appreciation of all the facts.)

Also, we can defy physical laws. While flying in an airplane doesn’t cancel out gravity, it certainly allows us to defy its natural consequences. However, morals laws seem to be even more coercive. It would seem that God is investing them with His own transcendent authority, since there isn’t any way to defy their impact. We not only know that rape is wrong, we also know that there is no remedy, like an airplane overcoming gravity, that will overcome the damage that this act inflicts on us (and others).

Even though Einstein was only willing to attribute “an intelligence of such superiority” to the physical laws, why did he fail to follow through with the implications of his observations? In other words, “What kind of intelligence is necessary to account for these incredible, harmonious laws? Do impersonal forces like gravity possess this kind of intelligence!”

Clearly not! As great and awesome as gravity might be, it can do only one thing – attract! It can’t tie my shoes, write a line of poetry, or even scratch my back. In other words, the laws of nature do not seem to be the place to find this intelligence. Instead, as rain comes from clouds, intelligence comes from personal, willful minds.

Why do we often experience an aversion to thinking further about this subject? A dear cousin told me a story that continued to profoundly trouble her. Ironically, it was a story about a miracle, which she had initially attributed to God, even though she’s an agnostic. Initially, she felt great joy that her problem had been so miraculously solved and also that there was a God who was looking out for her. However, immediately after this, she was overcome by a feeling of great dread. It was this feeling that she couldn’t explain. I gave her my interpretation:

  • You immediately understood that if there is a God who loves you, He also has expectations for you, and we want to remain the captain of our own ship.

The explanation hit home. She recognized that she had been fleeing from God. Her discomfort was the background radiation.

We live paradoxical lives because we prefer paradox to an encounter with a morally demanding, sometimes even punitive God.

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