“Just Ask”

In the last couple months, I got myself back into counselling and also joined a recovery group (before lockdown called a halt to the group meetings). Both were intended to address my struggles with depression. The recovery group is for general recovery of any kind, but it’s typically attended by those in recovery for addiction. (I joined up to assist in my depression-recovery because, TBH, I really don’t plan (or want) to completely give up any of my addictions.) The two strains of depression-recovery came together for me recently with a little mental experiment I’m trying. I call it “just ask.”

The cognitive behavioural therapy I’m working on in counselling doesn’t appeal to the “Higher Power” of the recovery group (or the God of the Bible in the one I attend as it is a Christian recovery group), but I’ve always seen the principles of CBT as helpful and effective because (I think) they are based (unintentionally perhaps) on biblical principles. Which, being in line with reality, work! Freud (happily) seems to have generally been put in moth balls and replaced by the cognitive-behavioural approach. Since the first time I learned anything about it, I associated CBT with Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.” CBT starts by working on one’s thinking, trying to keep it balanced. At its heart, it’s a search for truth (that’s how I see it, anyway). Very biblical!

The problem I’ve run into with the therapy is that I don’t always know what’s true and balanced. I can almost always, however, predict when a particular thought train will be unhelpful. When it will lead me away from the health that is the goal of the exercise. Still, sometimes the thought trains that seem unhelpful in the short run still need to be ridden for long-term results. Some truths need to be faced even if they’re not pleasant. (Notice that “pleasant” didn’t make the list of Philippians 4:8.)

This is where my “just ask” therapy comes in and forms the intersection between my counselling and my addiction recovery group. “Just ask” is a principle God’s been (gently) beating me over the head with for years now, so I guess it should have occurred to me sooner that I could try to utilize it with both my CBT and my addiction recovery. While I’ve admitted I don’t want to recover fully from all my addictions, I have noticed that a couple of them that seem harmless (and probably are in small doses) are getting a bit out of hand.

I decided I had to ask God every time I wanted to have a cup of tea or watch something on YouTube (my substitute for TV and Netflix and all other viewing services). Yes, that sounds a bit over-the-top, and I remember reading somewhere years ago the curious case of the lady who, before she could get dressed in the morning, had to pray over what she should wear that day. Then, which stocking, the left or the right, to put on first and how best to button her top, etc. And then the rest of her day carried on in this fashion. It sounds agonizing! Of course, I don’t plan to make myself more neurotic with my little mental experiment, so I will be on the lookout for signs that I’m heading in the same direction as this curious case. But we are talking about actual addictions here which had started to take over too much of my day. I think tea and YouTube are legitimate concerns for prayer when they begin to reach bona fide addiction-status.

When I remember to stick to it, I’ve noticed that I’m watching less YouTube and being a little more productive with my hours. Plus, I’m being a little more careful about what I’m watching and welcoming in a little less garbage into my mind. (I’ve also noticed that, suspiciously, “God” always seems to say “yes” to a cup of tea whenever I happen to feel like one.)

It may, in fact, seem like the value in the experiment is really just slowing down to do mindfully what I was accustomed to doing mindlessly. And there would likely be some value in the experiment if that’s all there was to it. However, given that I do, in fact, have some solid reasons for believing in a “Higher Power” (aka: the God of the Bible) who cares, there’s much more value in the experiment. It changes everything when I believe I’m not accountable only to myself.

That brings me to the third addiction (not such a small and harmless one this time) that I’m also trying to subject to this experiment. This is a step beyond what I’m trying with the official CBT but so far, proving to be the most valuable part of the therapy. It’s demanding and somewhat exhausting, but when I notice myself climbing aboard any particular thought train that I’ve climbed aboard many times only to arrive at a destination where I don’t want to be, I’m trying to remember to stop and ask God if I should be climbing aboard that particular thought train. Sometimes, I anticipate the answer being “yes.” Sometimes, I’ll need to think about things that aren’t pleasant and don’t appear helpful. But still need to be faced. Sometimes.

Sometimes (or most times), I anticipate the answer being “no.”

In the past, I haven’t had much success getting off my circular thought trains that (like the train in Disneyland but much less fun) run around and around and around the same old territory. There does seem to be something different in the act of asking God about them in the moment that is helping break the cyclical thinking where I wasn’t able to break it on my own. I feel like I’m seeing some progress. Finally!

2 Corinthians 10:5 talks about bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. And yes, that is as exhausting as it sounds. Who wants to think about their thinking all the time? (Eventually, I expect it to become more automatic and habitual and less exhausting.) It’s just not as exhausting as trying to bring every thought captive to the obedience of myself. The Higher Power in the picture really does make the difference.

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On a different tack (but the same one, really), I have a saying I’m fond of. (I think I invented it which might explain why I’m fond of it.) I like to say that faith is knowing who is really God and who God really is. By that, I mean, the first step in faith and a relationship with God is acknowledging that I cannot be my own god. I am no longer accountable only to myself. I am not the boss of me. God is really God. The One in control. Of me. I bow to His sovereignty in my life. (This is the heart of the first commandment of the ten biggies in Exodus 20: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”) This is the only starting place for what God asks from us, the very necessary first step in being restored to a relationship with Him. Knowing who is really God. And it ain’t me!

Knowing who God really is is at the heart of the second commandment of the ten: not creating any false images of the One True God. Learning to know enough about the One True God that we get the important details right. Knowing who God really is involves acknowledging some of the basic facts the Bible reveals about Him: that He came to earth as a man to die for sin and come back to life on the third day to be seen by eyewitnesses who passed on to the rest of us the vital information about who God really is.

In these two, ginormous, little acts lies the entire message of the Bible and all God asks of us: knowing who is really God and knowing who God really is.

These are the only steps that we must take to enter into the Christian life and be put back into a right relationship with God (knowing God in a relational way–loving God, then others) that is the essence of living the Christian life. But these two steps really encompass the whole of the Christian life. The life of faith is a life spent constantly growing in the knowledge of who God really is (growing in that relational knowledge that leads us to love God that leads us to love others) and growing in turning the controls back over to Him. It’s so simple, really! But so difficult at the same time!

I got onto this thought train today (yes, one I did ask God about, and I think He said “yes”) not only because of this mental experiment in my three different areas of addiction but because it’s struck me lately how easy it is to neglect the first basic of the Christian life. As Christians, we tend to put a lot of focus on knowing who God really is but weaken the focus of knowing who is really God. But it is the daily business of the “Christian walk.”

The Bible has various ways of describing what I’m calling “knowing who is really God”: taking up one’s cross and denying Self, dying to Self, being filled with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, walking in step with the Spirit. As far as I can tell, they all boil down to intentionally seeking God’s control over my life. While this description may make those who don’t understand it a little uncomfortable or even downright huffy, they need to understand that God is the God of freedom. Which is why He requires that we intentionally choose His control for ourselves and that this state is the only true freedom. Running one’s own life is a guaranteed recipe for the disaster and captivity to which all the millennia of recorded human history (and our own personal histories) can amply attest.

The problem for us as Christians, however, seems to me to be that we give lip-service to the truth of who is really God but so often are in the habit of doing our own thing, anyway. It’s so habitual that we’re blinded to it. Instead of keeping in step with the Spirit, or a half-step behind, letting Him lead, we always seem to be out in front. A good idea seems to us to be a God-idea. So rather than ask first, we run out ahead of Him and expect Him to catch up. We ask Him to bless a new venture rather than asking Him if we should undertake it in the first place. As I do with my tea-drinking, we assume His blessing on the things we want to do instead of first asking if we should do them.

I’ve called this principle that God’s been teaching me for years “just ask” because that’s really the only responsibility I have in His guidance (other than to follow it once I think I have it). I seldom have any sense that I’m being given a direct answer. So, as in the case of my frequent cups of tea, I often assume the answer to be “yes.” And that’s okay. After I’ve asked. Not before.

My responsibility is to ask. His is to guide. And He’s promised to fulfill His if I fulfill mine. So, having asked and waited to see if there is any sense of hearing an answer, I am free to step out in whatever direction seems best to me. The difference is, I’ve asked! I’m trusting that there is a truly Higher Power leading and directing my steps once I turn them over to Him. I can tell you from my own experience that this little act of “just asking” has made a huge difference in my life. It frees me from indecision, knowing that I’m not capable of irrevocably screwing it up once I’ve simply asked. And to tell you the truth, on every occasion where I know I did remember to “just ask,” even though the results haven’t always been pretty, I’ve never regretted those decisions. At least, I have the confidence that things went the way they were meant to, even if they weren’t the way I wanted them to.

Now, I’m trying this “just ask” principle as part of my cognitive behavioural therapy/addiction recovery journey, and I expect good things. I think I’ve started seeing them already.

In Illusion We Trust

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the subject of freedom vs. safety which I deleted the next day after deciding it had far more to say about the subject of the present Corona-crisis than I wanted it to say. As I said in the post, I’ve been avoiding saying anything publicly that could come back to bite me on that subject because a) I don’t know what I’m talking about, and b) everyone else is talking about it. Why add my ignorance to the mix? I wrote the post because I did want to comment more broadly on the subject of freedom vs. safety and the general trend in our modern culture to chase after “safety” at the cost of our freedom and how that trend relates to the present Corona-crisis. It’s been a discussion that’s risen to the surface often lately in the political-commentary world with the extreme measures being taken on account of this latest pandemic. And it will be interesting to watch the results of the Swedish experiment in the months that follow.

From what I understand, Sweden decided on employing less extreme measures than other countries, allowing most businesses to stay open and trusting to its people to abide by social-distancing recommendations voluntarily. Will Sweden regret its COVID-19 strategy? Will it decide that the higher number of fatalities early on (getting the “second wave” out of the way in one, fell swoop) was not worth keeping the economy alive and its people leading relatively normal lives?

We were told at one time that the purpose of all our various lockdowns was not the for the sake of eradicating the virus (which wouldn’t work, anyway) but for the sake of “flattening the curve,” keeping the hospitals from being overwhelmed all at once and giving the health-care system time to make adequate provisions. If that really was the (sensible) point to the lockdowns, I would speculate that Sweden will have no regrets in not participating in them. From what I’ve been hearing, Sweden’s curve seems to have levelled off without its health system reaching swamping-levels. Life has carried on for Swedish citizens. They seem to have weathered the worst of the crisis and now have no fear and uncertainty of what will happen once people finally do begin to creep out of hiding in their houses. And they still have an economy.

And that is the point that the “freedom” side in the freedom vs. safety debate tends to focus heavily on. I’ve noticed that “freedom (plus the economy)” is the argument made by the side pushing to end the lockdowns. Which is interesting. It occurs to me that (for some) the debate is not really “freedom vs. safety” but “safety vs. a different kind of safety.” And when I couch it in those terms, I realize that a more accurate re-wording of those terms would be “the illusion of safety vs. the illusion of a different kind of safety.”

I’ve fallen into that illusion-trap myself with my own worries about the economy side of the argument. I’ve been reading and thinking about a story from the Bible today that has me seeing this illusion-trap for what it is.

In the story of the fall of the Babylonian empire from Daniel 5, Belshazzar (whose name means “Bel,” a.k.a. Baal a.k.a lord or master, “preserves the king”) hosts a drunken bash for his nobles on the very night that the Medes and the Persians invade the kingdom, killing Belshazzar and upending the Chaldean domination. You may be unfamiliar with the story from Daniel 5, but you’re no doubt familiar with the common expression that comes from the account: “…saw the handwriting on the wall/saw the writing on the wall.” In Daniel 5, Belshazzar was given supernatural warning as to his impending doom in the form of an apparently-disembodied hand that appeared as an uninvited guest at the party and wrote the words, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” on the wall for all to see. It would be enough to make a man swear off strong drink then and there.

No one except the exiled Hebrew prophet, Daniel, a courtier from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, could decipher the meaning of the words. When Daniel was eventually called for, he interpreted the message to Belshazzar to mean that God (the God Daniel worshipped) had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom, that Belshazzar had been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and that his kingdom would be divided between the Medes and the Persians. The margin notes of my Bible may not be the equal of the prophet, but they interpret the words to mean, “Literally a mina (50 shekels) from the verb ‘to number.’ Literally a shekel from the verb ‘to weigh.’ Literally and half-shekels from the verb ‘to divide.’” Very, very interesting.

I didn’t need either Daniel or my Bible’s margin notes to interpret the shekel for me. I knew that the shekel was then (and still is today, I believe) the name of a currency. Money.

On some earlier occasions, I underlined four verses on the pages in my Bible where this story is found. I underlined Daniel’s words to Belshazzar in Daniel 5:23, “And you have praised the gods of silver and gold…” I underlined Daniel 5:30 which records, “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.” And on the facing page I underlined a verse from Daniel 6, the account of Daniel being thrown into a den of lions. “[…] he [Daniel] knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Dan. 6:10). That act got Daniel into trouble and a lion’s den, but I also underlined Darius’, king of the Medes, words to Daniel in 6:16 as he (Darius) reluctantly carried out his own unbreakable law of the Medes and Persians by throwing Daniel into the aforementioned den of lions. “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.”

I don’t remember when or why I underlined all the bits I underlined when I underlined them, but taken all together, the message jumped out at me from the pages. Are you seeing it?

Belshazzar (“Bel preserves the king.” Except, uh, no, he doesn’t) praised the gods of silver and gold. Yes, technically, he likely worshipped idols of silver and gold, but in a wider sense, his greed and love of “filthy lucre” was emphasized repeatedly throughout Daniel 5. I don’t think it was any coincidence that God spoke through the handwriting on the wall to Belshazzar in a language he should have been well-familiar with: the language of money.

But the gods Belshazzar praised did not and could not deliver him. All the wealth he had amassed and was showing off at his great feast did nothing to keep him from the disaster that overtook him that night. The gods of silver and gold are dead and helpless. They can’t deliver anyone, even themselves.

Daniel, on the other hand, praised the One True God. Did that God have the power to deliver Daniel as Darius fervently hoped in Daniel 6:16? Well, you remember the ending to the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, I hope. Yes, Daniel’s God certainly did have the power to deliver him and did, in fact, choose to deliver him.

On the U.S. currency are written the words, “In God we trust.” Atheists need not cry, “Separation of church and state,” over the design of the dollar. The statement is simply truism. One’s god (or God) will be what one trusts most. What one trusts most will be one’s god (or God). Sadly, the gods many, many, many trust are the dead, helpless pieces of paper on which the truism is written, the gods that populate their wallets.

Even Christians are prone to sliding into this idolatry in a thousand, subtle little ways. We will all carry around little pockets of idolatry with us that need conscious combatting till the day we die. For most of us, one of those pockets of idolatry we carry around with us is the idol we carry around with us in our pockets.

It’s not that money itself is an evil. It’s not that having money is an evil. It’s the replacement of the One True God with money that is the evil. It’s our misplaced trust in the gods of gold and silver rather than the One True God that is the idolatry. And it is misplaced trust because money provides only the illusion of safety.

I find myself combatting my own slide into this little pocket of idolatry constantly. Many people see it as crass to discuss one’s finances publicly (after all, that which is sacred shouldn’t be dragged out into common daylight for all to see), but I tend to be crass, anyway, so here goes the public discussion of my finances (the public declaration online that I have none should at least help protect me from online scam artists): I quit my most recent job at the end of December 2019 with no cushion of savings as a safety net. This may have been partially due to misplaced trust (or at least misplaced hope) in the illusion of online work but also due to the decline in my mental health that I noticed after going back to work in 2019. (I’m also crass enough to be very open about my depression.) The online work did not materialize as hoped, so for the five months of 2020 that have elapsed, I’ve had no regular income and no savings to live on. I also wasn’t eligible for the Canadian government’s bailout of workers who lost their jobs due to lockdowns, seeing that I quit my job before the lockdowns. And with the lockdowns still in place, I have no likely prospects of going back to work any time soon (even if my mental health were ready for a return to the workplace). To the general observer, I would imagine it looks like I am in dire financial straits. I wouldn’t ordinarily bother to mention all this in a blog post (and believe me! I’m not asking for money! I never have! I didn’t need to! And please! No more! I can’t sufficiently thank those of you who gave without my asking, but it’s time to stop!). Except that I feel I must mention it. I feel I must mention my finances in order to praise the One True God who promised to meet all our needs if we seek first His kingdom. I’ve had no savings and no regular income for five months, and yet, I’ve had all my needs met (and all that without even any conspicuous, strenuous effort on my part to seek first God’s kingdom. Sometimes, He meets our needs even without us meeting His conditions, I find.) . I have all my bills paid and never once lacked food in my cupboards or fridge. These needs were met in various, unexpected ways. A generous gift here and there. The odd job that landed in my lap. The sale of items I didn’t need anymore. It’s been so spectacular to watch these needs be met right when they needed to be and just exactly how they needed to be that it’s astonishing I should still be capable of falling into the subtle idolatry of worrying over silver and gold, as though it has any power to deliver me.

For those who shake their heads over my laziness and irresponsibility and lack of regard for my future, you’re probably right. I have been lazy and irresponsible and careless of my future. But many who worked hard and valued their jobs have now found themselves out of work. Many who were prudent with their money may find that the stocks and bonds and portfolios and 401ks (and I am not speaking my own language now, so I have no idea what I’m saying here) can’t deliver them. Many who are trusting in the government to find the solutions may discover that the government doesn’t have the solutions, and we are now heading for a different kind of crisis. I don’t want to be alarmist, but I don’t know. We just don’t know. The future is always uncertain. Failing to recognize that fact is always illusion. It wouldn’t be the first time the gods of silver and gold have let us down. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend setting about decreasing one’s trust in the illusion of safety and increasing one’s trust in the One True God the way I inadvertently set about it, I would recommend the end result of decreasing our trust in the illusion of safety and increasing our trust in the One True God.

And that’s about it. Those are really the main COVID recommendations that I would recommend. It’s up to you, though. Those recommendations must always be taken on-board freely or not at all. The only true safety we can find, the safety of trusting God, is never about coercion. In the end, true freedom and true safety are not “versus” each other at all.

My New Favourite Bible Verse

Today is Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter (or, as some of us like to call it, “Resurrection Sunday”). On this day every year, there’s a little mental exercise I like to try to engage in as a sort of tradition of my own. I like to try to imaginatively enter into the dregs of despair the disciples of Jesus must have been feeling on that day almost two thousand years ago that this day commemorates.

I don’t know if this little, private tradition was the reason I found myself breaking down in tears watching a show (that has nothing to do with anything relevant to this post) when the main character in it was weeping to herself in the bathroom.

Okay, Idiot! Why are you crying?” I asked myself. “It’s just a fictional show. She’s not really crying. She’s just an actress. And, anyway, you know it will all have a happy ending.” And I answered myself with, “Yeah, but I’m crying for all the real pain out there, like the pain this character is going through.” Fair enough! That shut me up. Self had no come-back to Self on that one. That’s a legit reason to tear up because of a fictional show and fake tears. Life isn’t fiction, and there are plenty of real tears to go around.

There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my head lately, and I’ve now decided it’s my new favourite Bible verse. That’s not only because it’s the shortest verse in the Bible (a whole two words) and easy to rattle off when someone asks me to recite my favourite verse but also because it’s incredibly profound.

John 11:35. “Jesus wept.”

I want to give that verse some space and just let it bear impact for a second.

Like the crying scene in the show I was watching, this verse makes me tear over every time it’s occurred to me lately.

If you’re unfamiliar with its context, it describes Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. A man who was on the verge of coming back out of that tomb. And yet, Jesus stood at it and wept, knowing full well what He was about to do. Raise Lazarus from the dead.

But that ending didn’t negate all the pain He felt in that moment. He wept for the very real pain and desperation that Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, (who didn’t know what Jesus knew) carried due to their (temporary) separation from a brother whom they loved dearly and who may have been their means of support. Jesus wept along with all the other mourners who wept for the temporary separation that is death—a necessary evil in order to escape the fate of living on this sin-stained planet forever with no end in sight and no hope of perfection and a fresh, new start. But still, a natural evil that tears us apart when torn apart by it (temporarily) from the ones we love. He wept for all the millennia upon millennia of suffering and death resulting from the sin-stain that has permeated our planet. He wept for the suffering that we inflict on each other. He wept for the suffering that our sin and suffering inflicts on God Himself. He wept for the death that we inflict on each other. He wept for the death that our sin and suffering and death would inflict on God-in-human-flesh in approximately a week’s time. He wept for the great drops of mingled blood, sweat, and tears soaking into the soil of a certain garden He’d be taken from under armed guard with the kiss of betrayal stinging His cheek. He wept for what was past. He wept for what was coming.

That’s what I see now when I read those two, simple, unutterably profound, little words. “Jesus wept.”

They’ve become my favourite Bible verse because, in a way, they sum up the entire story of the Bible. There is a God. There is a God who created us for relationship with Himself. There is a God who could not remain distant and unmoved when we cut off that relationship by our rejection of it. There is a God who weeps over that rejection and all its natural results. There is a God who did more than weep from afar. He came to weep with us in our midst and join us in bearing all the natural results our rejection of Him had created. Yet somehow, that bearing would be the means of defeating what He bore. Somehow, humanity’s ultimate rejection of Him would turn into humanity’s ultimate redemption. It was the plan all along. (What a fantastic plot the Author of the Book came up with!) He would weep from a cross, using the last remnants of the air left in His lungs to gasp out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” to show us that we are not God-forsaken, however it may feel. God Himself would be God-forsaken so we could understand that we never are. Not by His choice, anyway.

Jesus wept” is a microcosm of human history with the main weeping-event at its centre, that event that divides our calendar into “before” and “after,” that event that is the ultimate example of God weeping, that event that we commemorate and then celebrate this weekend.

I wept today (a little) not because I don’t know how the story ends. Not because I don’t know that the main character (even this main character) gets her happy ending. Not because I don’t know that the disciples’ dregs of despair would be turned into wild, exuberant, scarcely-believable, over-the-top rejoicing. But I wept because weeping over the process is an appropriate response. John 11:35 shows us that.

But John 11:35 is followed (eventually) by John 20:1. “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” And we must never forget that outcome. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Happy Resurrection Sunday, Everybody!

Why I Believe What I Believe: the Spiritual

From the series, “Why I Believe What I Believe” from the blog: ccbiblestudies.com

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The fact that Christianity and the Bible teach the reality of an unseen spiritual world may put the worldview out of the running for potential acceptance by those who hold the preconception that the material world is all there is (all there was, and all there ever will be, to loosely quote the bold and unexamined assertion made by Carl Sagan in “Cosmos”). If this is your belief, then the Christian claim that a spiritual being called “Satan” is “the ruler of this world” (according to Jesus—John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) sounds like conspiracy theory on steroids. So let me start by challenging the assertion and assumption that a belief in the invisible is not a viable option for an adult with a normal, functioning brain.

It’s the contention of the Bible that there’s more to reality than the merely material. The world is made up of more than just the physical, and we are bigger than our bodies. If you happen to be an atheistic materialist, of course you won’t accept this description of reality just on my say-so or the Bible’s, but let’s talk about it.

For starters, once we really stop to think about it, we all know that there is more to reality than the merely material. Do you believe in the reality of abstractions? Do you believe in love, beauty, truth, justice? If you’re a hard-core materialist, you’ll have to say “no.” To stay consistent, you’ll have to deny the objective reality of these abstract concepts and say that all abstract concepts are just products of the human mind (or rather, the human brain because your worldview will not allow you to accept the concept of the human mind as somehow differentiated from the brain.)

But now let’s talk about an abstract concept we all believe in. You won’t be able to deny the objective reality of this abstract concept because its product is the human brain. And all other organs. And all other organisms. This is an abstract concept which bears very tangible fruit in the material world. It is the very foundation of life. I’m talking about the abstract concept of information.

Information is really nothing more than an abstract concept. If a person speaks no English or is completely illiterate but somehow stumbles onto this blog post, to such a person these words that I’m typing are nothing more than unintelligible shapes and designs just like Thai or Arabic writing is to me. The information I’m passing on has no material value. It is apprehended as meaning only in the mind of the sender and of the receiver. As a physical reality, words are nothing more than vibrations in the atmosphere or ink on a page or a series of electronic ones and zeros. Meaning and communication are abstracts that exist only in a mind (or a brain, if you must!).

Now, here’s the crazy part. We are entirely made up of this abstract concept called information. Information (in the sense in which I’m using it here) must be functional. It cannot be mere recognized order or pattern that means nothing like the Thai alphabet is to me. I can recognize that there is pattern and order to it, but I can’t decipher it. In order for information to be information in any real way, it must do something. It must produce results. It must communicate. And functional information is exactly what our DNA code is. It turns into something. In nature, it does not have the (to me) unintelligible quality of Thai writing. Life know what to do with it. Living bodies know how to read and interpret the DNA code correctly to create the proteins that are needed to turn into cells, just as the computer I’m typing on correctly takes the words I’m typing and turns them into ones and zeros that again turn into words for you to read.

Our bodies are made up of the material, just as the words I’m communicating use a physical medium. But our bodies are also made up of the abstract concept of information just as you’re understanding the meaning of the words I’m typing (or so I hope).

In fact, information is the most basic example I can give of a word I finally want to introduce into the conversation now that I’ve given it a build-up. That word is “spiritual.” In its most basic understanding, “spiritual” is referring to realities that are invisible (not just because they’re too small to be seen like the atom) but, in fact, intangible. Immaterial. Non-physical. Incapable of being apprehended by the senses.

With the illustration of information, you may be surprised to learn that you probably already to some degree believe in the spiritual, even if you (as the materialist I’m addressing in this post) would never use the word as something you embrace.

But there you are! Now that you’ve realized that you must acknowledge one intangible reality because of the undeniable nature of information, maybe you’ll open your mind (yes, mind! Not just your brain!) to the possibility of other spiritual realities. Like the mind.

And there are certainly good reasons for believing that the mind is more than just the brain. Believing that there is no such thing as mind, that all is matter, has given rise to the necessity of determinism. If we are nothing more than our atoms, then we are all just dancing to our DNA (according to Richard Dawkins). We have no free will. We make no choices in any kind of real way. Matter has no will of its own. It perfectly obeys natural law.

But anyone with an ounce of sense can see that we simply cannot live consistently with this philosophy. We hold people accountable for their actions. We expect people to understand the difference between right and wrong and feel justifiably angry (at least, the anger feels justifiable to us) when we see the wrong in action. Out of one side of the mouth, we may spout the idea that love, beauty, truth, justice are nothing more than chemical tricks the brain plays on us, but no one can live as though this is fact. We all feel these abstractions to be much bigger and more powerful realities than the tangibles.

And if our thinking is entirely predetermined by the shapes our brains take on, thanks to the information in our DNA, then what’s the sense in trusting any human thought, anyway? We couldn’t discover truth by the random actions of our brain circuits. What is truth? Just a chemical illusion. A trick of matter.

So we’ve seen that information is a real thing. It produces real results. It is verifiably objective. But this is the interesting thing: in all observation, information has ever only been the product of Mind. My computer can generate information, but only because some mind programmed it to do so. We have never, in the history of anything, witnessed information come about through something other than thinking. Intelligence. Mind.

Now, all this has obvious implications into the origin of life question, but I’ll save that for another post. I’m just trying to open your mind here to the possibility of the reality of a spiritual world.

If you can wrap your head around the idea that believing in a spiritual world is not akin to believing in fairies but is a sensible, adult position to take, you can begin to understand that maybe all Christians aren’t quite as crazy as they may seem at first glance. Yes, because it’s out of our visible, tangible experience, the reality of unseen worlds and unseen beings proclaimed by the Bible is hard for us to swallow. But understand that “spiritual” just means “intangible” and that our minds (as distinct from our brains) are intangible, and you’ll be on the right track, I believe.

The Bible does teach that there are spirit-beings who aren’t restricted to the limitations of a physical body as we humans are. God is one such. He is a person, but not a body (in His eternal nature). He is spirit. Or if you prefer, He is mind. Not brain, but mind. Then, the Bible tells us, He created lesser but very powerful spirit-beings (or minds) who were also not restricted to a body in the same way we are. The Bible calls them angels (or messengers). And God also created other spirit-beings who are also bodies — restricted to the boundaries of matter and time and space. We call them humans.

Reading between the lines of some hints the Bible gives us, some angels rebelled against their Creator (because the God of freedom had to create free minds capable of free choice to freely serve Him or not. He is not the God of determinism. At least, that’s how I read the Bible.). These fallen angels became absolutely evil and are the spirit-beings the Bible calls “demons.” (Satan, or “adversary” or “enemy”, being chief among them.)

Although they can never be considered science proper, speculations now abound about multiple universes. It’s a fascinating idea. And try this one on for size: In a sense, that’s really what the spiritual realm is. It’s a spiritual universe that intersects with our physical universe. It’s an entirely different mode of existence that we can’t quite grasp in physical terms, but we have ourselves and our minds and the information they carry to show us an illustration of that spiritual universe and its intersection with the physical. If you like, the spiritual is the fifth dimension.

If the Bible is a true story (and at some point in this series about, “Why I Believe What I Believe” I hope to explain to you why I believe it is), then this utterly debased and fallen, completely evil spirit-being called Satan is the ruler of a spiritual kingdom of evil that intersects with our visible, tangible world and is at constant war with God’s kingdom of right and light.

I know I’ve said the spiritual world is invisible, but as we’ve seen with the invisible concept of information, it can have very visible effects on our visible world. And when I look around at the world as it is, the only thing that makes sense of it for me is this doctrine that the spiritual world is real and there is an evil side to it–that there are powers and intelligences that are intent on our destruction. Once you open your mind to the idea of a real spiritual reality, that’s all you’ll be able to see in our world, and you won’t be able to unsee it.

There’s no other explanation I can think of. Why is our world so infiltrated by evil? Yes, survival of the fittest can be brutal. Yes, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yes, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. But the animal kingdom acts on instinct and does what it does to ensure survival in some form. No animal kills or injures for “fun.” Animals fight and kill to eat or to mate. Humans are the only animals (because we’re more than animals and are the intersection between the physical and spiritual in a single entity) that are capable of pure evil. Only humanity produces serial killers and Holocausts and torture chambers for no reason other than because we can.

Looking around at our world, I sometimes feel that I can’t go on believing in a God. I’m never tempted to stop believing in a devil.

I know humans. I am one. And I don’t think we could get this bad all on our own without a little help from the dark side. But once I recognize Satan’s reality, I am brought back to the reality of God. Without good, there can be no true evil.

And good and evil are abstract concepts which are spiritual realities that are hard to deny. We all, on some level, know the that they are objectively real. And that brings me to the abstract concept of absolute truth — absolute right and wrong — and how we come to our beliefs about them that will be the topic of next post.

Why We Believe What We Believe: Truth

From the series, “Why I Believe What I Believe” from the blog: ccbiblestudies.com

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I’m always interested in why we believe what we believe. If the subject interests you as well, let’s explore together. As much as I can in this and the next two posts, I’ll give you that little glimpse into my inner workings and analyze for you why I believe what I believe. But a lot of why I believe what I believe will apply generally, so let’s start with the generalities that apply across the board. Why do we believe what we believe?

First off, let’s define the word “believe.” Can we agree on, “To think to be true”? It’s a nice, simple definition, but it covers all our bases. We don’t need to complicate it further. If we believe a thing, we think it’s true.

Now, the first generality I want to tackle regarding why we believe what we believe is the subject of belief vs. knowledge. Could we also agree that none of us can truly know anything beyond all unreasonable doubt? All we really have is belief. We make decisions about what we think is true. I don’t imagine we could find one single belief regarding which every person on earth would agree. (Flat earthers ruined our perfect consensus.) If there’s room for disagreement, there’s room for doubt. I may think the doubt unreasonable (as in the case of flat earthers), but if the doubt looks reasonable to someone else, who am I to say that my way of looking at things must be the one right way? We’re all human, after all. Very high IQ individuals may be right about more things than the rest of us, but they’ll be wrong about some things. They may be wrong about some things that a lower IQ individual happens to be right about.

Even if we could have perfect consensus on any particular, we could all be wrong. There was a time when perfect consensus could see that the earth was flat. Most of us would now say that consensus was wrong back then. So there’s no way to really know what we know. We use the word “know” but what we mean by “know” is really “believe without doubt.” And what I “know” (or believe without doubt) someone else will disbelieve or doubt. Being fallible, non-omniscient beings, we can’t know anything absolutely. But we will all believe some things and disbelieve others.

So why do we believe what we believe? And here’s the second generality I want to discuss: Authority. All sane people bow to it somewhere, sometime. All of us (if we’re sane) believe most of what we believe because of authority. We all decide what authorities we’ll deem reliable and where and when we deem them reliable. Those beliefs are the foundation for the rest of our beliefs.

I’ve made a few decisions about what I think is true based on my own personal experiences, but my experience is very limited. So is yours. Even if you are some kind of authority on something, you’re no kind of authority on everything. You may be a specialist in something and “know” (I know I just said none of us can know anything, but, well, I mean that we think we know things) more than anyone else on earth about your special subject, but you won’t know as much as someone else on some other subject. Our brains are limited. And even if you are that specialist authority, you’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before. You still must build on the knowledge of others and interpret your own research through it. Otherwise, you’d be reinventing the wheel time after time after time, and that wouldn’t make you the most knowledgeable person about anything. So we take most things on authority. That’s just how it is.

The third generality in our choice of beliefs is evidence. True, we believe most of what we believe based on what some authority or other tells us, but we choose which authorities we’ll believe based on the evidence of their reliability (at least we should. And to some degree, we all do. Another generality we all share is bias in our beliefs. We all have various desires that push and pull at our beliefs, but all of us have some kind of reasoning, evidence-evaluating capacity if we’re not severely mentally deficient. Of course that capacity varies from person to person. And some place more importance on it than others. But it’s there for all of us.)

It’s interesting to me to note that, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we all seem to cling to one authority or another (and sometimes first one and then another) as largely infallible. Our first authorities are inevitably our parents or the adults who raised us, and we start off with the unconscious assumption that those authorities are infallible. Kids believe whatever they’re told. But this is sensible at that level of understanding. When you don’t have the experience to know that those who’ve lived longer than you can be wrong about quite a lot of things (or that they might be lying to you), you’re basing your beliefs on the best evidence available to you. Not having a great deal of evidence at hand yet, you’re doing the best you can.You’re believing what you’re told by those who’ve lived longer and have more experience and knowledge. Generally, when you’re a kid, you don’t have much acquired knowledge and very little first-hand experience, so your best option for starting off that life-long process of choosing your beliefs is to believe what adults tell you.

However, most kids begin to question what they’re told when they begin to notice that they may be hearing quite contradictory things from the adults in their lives or after they’ve caught out those adults in an untruth or two (either an intentional untruth—a lie—or an unintentional untruth—a mistake). This is also sensible. Kids, at some age when critical thinking starts to develop, begin the process of deciding which authorities they think are reliable and which they don’t. Still very sensible.

Back in a day, religion was the next infallible authority. There are still those of us who do, in fact, believe that there are infallible authorities in this realm. And though I’ll touch on it in this post, I want to save explaining my rationale for the particular authority I hold to be infallible until I get to my last post in this series. For now let’s just say that this is no longer the majority position, at least not in the culture from where I’m writing.

Instead, my culture has replaced that infallible authority with a different infallible authority: Science. Now, again, the assumption of infallibility is largely unconscious, and that’s because if it’s admitted and examined, it shows itself as a false assumption within seconds. We talk about “science” as though it’s an impersonal entity, but what we usually mean when we talk about “science” is scientists. And once we call things by their right names, we realize that we’d be very foolish to elevate any scientist to the pedestal of infallibility. Scientists are humans, after all. And we opened this discussion by agreeing (at least, I hope we did) that no human is infallible and omniscient.

But the dogma that “science” may not be questioned once it’s settled as “science” by the majority is pervasive. No one may tell us so, but it’s in our cultural atmosphere that we’re constantly inhaling and exhaling. “Science” has become that parent that tells us, “Because I said so! That’s why!” And those of us who are non-scientists generally accept the dictum without challenging it. After all, I can’t even understand what these people are talking about half the time. Who am I to disagree?

But then, as in our early days, we may begin to notice that our infallible authorities contradict each other. Scientists don’t all agree. How should I know which one to listen to? And what they apparently all proclaimed ten years ago on some piece of settled science or other they may call a science myth today.

We look at the amazing advances “science” has made in today’s world with a smart phone in every pocket and DNA testing solving crimes left, right, and centre, and we accept this as evidence that “Science knows best.” But we should be adults who can see that “science” can’t possibly be infallible. (If it were, those smart phones in our pockets would be infallible instead of constantly glitching out.) We can begin growing up and recognizing that “science” is no more infallible (okay, maybe sometimes a little more infallible, depending on the parent) than our parents were.

But what are we to do, then? How are we to decide what we believe? If our parents and scientists aren’t to be trusted implicitly, how can we know anything at all? The simple answer is, of course, that we can’t know anything at all. We can only decide what we believe.

But (and here’s my fourth generality) there are different degrees of importance when it comes to truth. Sometimes it doesn’t much matter what we believe. To be fair, how much practical difference does it make to our everyday lives to believe that the earth is round or to believe that it’s flat? But the truth about which side of the road to drive on in the UK is going to be an important truth to believe if you ever plan to drive in the UK. Some truths and some beliefs about those truths may not make much difference to our experiences. Some truths and some beliefs about those truths may make a life and death difference to our experiences. And some truths and some beliefs about those truths may make an eternity of difference to our experiences.

And here’s my fifth generality to close with: While we may not know absolutely what’s true and what isn’t, none of us can get by without the reality of a truth somewhere out there for us to believe. Belief may be our only access to absolute truth, but there must be absolute truth to believe, all the same.

There’s a reason we unconsciously make some authority or other infallible. Without some infallible authority or other that we can turn to, for us there is really no such thing as absolute truth. We know that none of us (parents or scientists) are infallible and omniscient. Yet without some infallible and omniscient Mind out there to know all truth and to tell us some of it, then all we would have available to us would be our own different sets of questionable beliefs. All we’d have would be all our different perspectives and varying perceptions. The folks who tell us, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” would be 100% correct. At least, if absolute truth exists in some form, for us it would have no existence. If we have no access to it.

But that is a premise that is essentially unlivable. We’ve tried it embracing it as true (seeing the problem?) for a number of decades since we decided that religious sources were nonsense. We’ve unconsciously elevated “science” to those vacancies, but that just doesn’t work, either. Without accepting some sort of authority as infallible, we are adrift on a sea of speculation and ignorance. And some truths are important. Some truths must be believed in order not to smash ourselves up on the motorways. And some truths may be more important still.

All this leads me to embrace the option that there is an infallible authority available for us to believe. No, we can’t know the truth of it beyond all unreasonable doubt. But a solid belief based on good evidence for what authority we’ll choose to believe is enough to get us through life. And with that, I’ll leave it there. Until my next post and my reasons for believing in a God.

Why I Believe What I Believe: God

From the series, “Why I Believe What I Believe” from the blog: ccbiblestudies.com

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Why do I believe what I believe? For starters, why do I believe in God? I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself those questions and trying to answer them. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I believe in God because … well, really, because He wanted me to and because I chose to. But He orchestrated some factors to help me in that choosing. I’ll do my best to explore those factors in this post.

Last post, I stated that we all believe what we believe largely because of authority. There are many different sources of authority, and we use many of them in turn for choosing our unique and individual belief sets. I also mentioned last post that, in order to access absolute truth, we must take some source as an infallible one. (Otherwise, we have nothing but a whole bunch of conflicting opinions on every subject imaginable. Essentially, there would be no absolute truth. And that is an inherently self-contradictory and unlivable position.) The three authorities we tend to take as infallible that I talked about last post were parental authority, religious authority, and scientific authority.

The pathway of belief that I chose brought me out to the spot where I’ve rejected parental authority and scientific authority as infallible but have embraced a particular religious authority as infallible. That pathway, however, started for me with parental authority and led me through scientific authority.

Those factors God orchestrated? I can’t speak to what it looks like from His perspective, but from my perspective, I think I believe in a God today because my parents told me there is a God and then science came along to confirm it for me.

As with most kids, I started off believing whatever my parents told me was true, but as with most kids, I soon began to question if everything my parents taught me could possibly be true. Especially in the culture I live in, we’re all given a lot of help in learning to question the reality of a God. We can’t get too far along in our education or just in living life without doubts regarding this belief being flung at us.

It’s interesting that the people doing the doubt-flinging will often tell us that their reasons for doing so are scientific ones. I say “interesting” because when I’m tempted over and over to doubt this belief I hold, one reason I always, in the end, come back around to clinging to it is science.

I’ve stated that I don’t believe science to be an infallible authority, but I do see it to be a valuable authority. I recognize that “science” really means “scientists,” and scientists are only human. Scientists make new discoveries and leave old ones behind. Scientists change their minds. Scientists contradict each other. Scientists are prone to biases; to the push and pull of various desires in their interpretations of their discoveries (aka: their beliefs) that the rest of us are prone to.

I’ll always hold some false beliefs. I can’t know anything with absolute certainty. I can only try to get through life as best I can by deciding what I believe based on the best evidence available to me. That means I must weigh the evidence, even the scientific evidence, for myself as much as I can. But I also recognize that scientists have a lot to teach me once I carefully sift through the evidence I have at hand.

And here’s the reason I say that because of science I always come back to clinging to my belief in God in spite of my doubts: I see the scientific evidence leaving me with no truly viable alternative other than a belief in a Creator God of some sort.

I like to think of myself as an honest person, but I have the same push/pull of desire (or bias) in my belief set that everyone is susceptible to one way or the other. I admit that I want to believe in God. Sure, I was raised to believe in God. I don’t want to disappoint my family and closest friends by deciding not to. I don’t want to give up the meaning it brings to my life, without which I’m afraid I wouldn’t see any meaning. But regardless, I’m an honest person, and I value truth above my desires. I believe quite a lot of things I don’t want to believe but have been convinced of. So I think I’ve tried to examine the evidence for and against God just as honestly as my bias will allow me to. There have certainly been those moments (a lot of them) when it equally seems that a belief in God is impossible for me to go on clinging to. In those moments, I’m always brought back to the question, “Well, then, what are my alternatives?”

My alternatives really come down to a) Nothing is what it seems, anyway, b) Everything is an accident, or c) There is a Creator.

I’ll tell you up front that the only alternative I could accept over c) is a). Perhaps what we think of as reality isn’t really real. Maybe mind is the only true reality. We’re living in a sort of a dream world or the matrix (if there is a “we” at all. Maybe I’m all on my own. Maybe mine is the only mind in existence. Who knows?) However, what I can know is that I have existence—my mind has existence. If nothing else is real, consciousness is real. I think, therefore I am. Who or whatever “I” am, “I” exist because “I” am conscious. I can’t find any way around this truism.

But if “I” exist (and I do), then this fact matters. “I” matter to me. My experience of consciousness matters to me. There may be no way to prove or disprove whether or not anything else exists, but I know I do, and to me, I matter.

The quest, then, is to try to do the best I can do with my experience of consciousness.

I’ve heard of those who’ve decided to embrace the belief that mind is the only reality, but they certainly find themselves unable to live consistently with such a belief. They live as though there is such a thing as a physical world and it’s all real. In that case, why bother believing it’s not? There’s no way to logically argue for or against such a belief. There’s no way to arrive at this position from any sort of evidence-based examination of it, and there’s absolutely no practical help in getting through one’s experience of consciousness to be had from it.

It’s true that sometimes a belief in God looks impossible to me, but then nothing would make any sense at all. So, this “mind is the only reality” idea looks to me like my only viable alternative. (Who expects dreams to make sense, after all? If nothing is real, it doesn’t have to make sense. If my mind is the only thing in existence and I can’t really know or learn anything about a real reality, I don’t have to try to figure out where my mind came from. It just is. Maybe it’s always been.) But if this idea happens to be true, then so what? Where does it lead me? How does it help me? What good does such a belief do me? Absolutely none. It’s good for nothing, and so I disregard it as nothing. I can’t possibly know one way or the other if it’s true, so I set it aside as untrue or at least entirely irrelevant to my life and get on with the business of believing in a real reality. And believing that the real reality is (at least somewhat) what we think it is. For those reasons, I’ve discarded a) “Nothing is what it seems, anyway,” as a viable alternative.

And then I consider b). Even on my own, I think I would find b) to be, quite literally, unbelievable. Nonsensical. Fairy-taleish. A much greater leap of blind faith than the clean, quiet prose of the creation account in Genesis 1 that some see as fairy tale. I’ve had a look at the evidence of those who proclaim that it’s not only possible but probable, even inevitable, that everything just … sort of … happened, and I find their “evidence” to consist of nothing more than the rankest bias. They just don’t want there to be a God. That those who believe so are desperate to believe it is the main impression I come away with. I find the so-called “scientific” explanations for how everything could have come to be without some kind of designing intelligence back of it utterly lacking in evidence. The evidence put forward for these explanations is evidence for pieces of the theory, but those pieces do not support the whole all on their own. There is no explanation—none—for the whole.

Consider the origin of the universe: Now that there is consensus among scientists that our universe is not eternal, they are left with zero scientific explanations as to how it could have come into being without some help. And when we get to the origin of life, we’re faced with the same problem. Similarities between the DNA of one species and another do absolutely nothing to explain how the DNA could have organized itself into its information-rich, trademark double helix all by itself. Out of dead matter. That vital piece of the theory is left entirely untouched. Of necessity.

So that brings us to a). The scientific arguments presented by theistic scientists (while admittedly biased) are sound and (as far as I’ve seen) unconquerable. (It doesn’t have to matter that these arguments are biased. Bias does not determine truth. If I happen to believe the truth because I want to believe it, just because my bias is involved doesn’t make the truth untrue. Bias must give way to evidence if we’re to be honest seekers after truth, but none of us can start without some bias or other. Bias is possible to overcome through evidence, but the evidence for “no God” or for accidental origins I’ve seen to be so weak, I feel no need to overcome my bias of a desire to believe in God.)

I’m no scientist, so I’ll direct you to a couple of talks by a couple of scientists who make the case in a way that’s accessible to the layperson. Here’s one on the origin of everything, and here’s another on the origin of life. They’re long, but well-worth the watch when you have time.

It’s this kind of scientific authority and the weakness of the other side that keeps me convinced in a belief in God.

“But,” someone will tell me, “All this isn’t evidence for God. There is no direct evidence for God. Negative evidence isn’t evidence. The evidence for God is really an argument from ignorance. It’s God-in-the-gaps kind of thinking. Ignorance of how the universe and life came to be and came to be what it is today doesn’t have to mean that there’s a God-figure back of it all. Primitive people have always assigned God’s mysterious ways the role of explaining what wasn’t previously understood. The more we learn, the more we understand, and this process will eventually leave no room for God. The gaps are closing.”

But this is really future-scientific-discoveries-in-the-gaps kind of thinking. Why is this superior to “God-in-the-gaps” thinking? True lovers of knowledge have always wanted explanations for things and have always looked for the best options at hand to explain things. Plugging the holes in our scientific knowledge with the God-explanation is the best option we have at present. It’s using our observational skills to arrive at what looks like our most likely alternative of the moment.

When we see design and order and pattern, especially information-bearing design, order, and pattern, without knowing the cause, we conclude that an intelligence caused it. For example, if I’m out hiking, and I run across a design that looks like, “A + B” carved into a tree or written on a rock, I immediately recognize that here is an intelligible pattern. It’s an information-bearing design. I know what it means if not who put it there. So without having to see the source in action, I jump to the obvious (and true) conclusion that this information was the product of mind.

This is the intuition that causes us to plug God into the gaps in our knowledge as the best explanation. The universe is full of intelligible information. It’s made up of intelligible information. The more we learn about it, the more obvious that becomes. The truth is, the gaps are not shrinking; they’re widening. The more we learn, the more vastly unlikely it starts to look that everything could have come about by pure chance.

The belief that the supernatural is the proper bridge for our gaps is not strictly a scientific one, but that’s okay. There are other ways of learning and knowing besides the strictly scientific ones. And now let’s talk for a moment about a phenomenon called “scientism.” Scientism is basically the religion of science. It’s the deification, in a sense, of scientific discovery. Some people think that scientific knowledge—knowledge which relates only to the purely physical—is the end-all, be-all of all knowledge possible. This is why those who are devout believers in scientism plug the gaps in their knowledge with “future-scientific-discoveries-in-the-gaps.” They believe science is the only acceptable method of arriving at a true belief-set. But this mindset is not science. It’s faith. It starts with the unproven assumption that the physical is all there is. But the physical is not all there is. Many everyday realities are outside the realm of science and the purely physical.

Science has limits. Science can determine the time of death of a murdered body. It can’t speak to the motive behind the murder. That must be discovered by other means. Science can have some say on the “who” of the murder with DNA evidence. It can’t begin to address the “why.” Science is the study of the purely physical, and most of our lives and what makes them worth living is beyond the grasp of science.

And so I believe in God. Not as a scientific fact but largely because of the scientific evidence. As far as science has advanced, and the more it advances, the more it moves us in this direction. God is presently the most reasonable explanation for the scientific evidence. Science can never prove the existence of a God outside the realm of the physical, but it can push us in that direction. It can push us to the brink of a belief in the supernatural. Only faith can step off.

Ever since I saw the movie about a hundred years ago, I’ve thought that one scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the most perfect illustration for why I believe in God. (It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, so please bear with any of my inaccuracies and take the illustration for what it’s worth.) Indiana Jones has followed the clues in his quest to the spot where an invisible bridge must certainly be. The evidence is too strong. He must be at the right spot. But the bridge is hidden. It doesn’t reveal itself until he takes that first step of faith into what looks like thin air with a long, long fall to the bottom. But because of the evidence that brought him there, he takes that step into seeming-thin air, and he finds something solid-yet-invisible under his foot.

I would never recommend to anyone that they dive off the cliff in a blind leap of faith into any belief system (including mine). I would recommend following the evidence where it leads. And then taking an evidence-based step of faith off into the unknown. And that starts with a belief in God.

But which God? That will be the next topic I want to talk about. Next post.

Why I Believe What I Believe: the Bible

From the series, “Why I Believe What I Believe” from the blog: ccbiblestudies.com

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“There is no evidence for God,” many would tell me. By this, they mean there’s no scientific evidence for God, the only kind of evidence many will (irrationally) accept as evidence for God—physical evidence of a spiritual Being.
But I would disagree that there is no evidence for God. While I can agree that there’s no direct scientific evidence for God, there is indirect scientific evidence for God. It’s not strictly true that a lack of evidence for the one alternative is not evidence for the other alternative. It’s called the process of elimination, and it’s a good tool logic gives us for arriving at true conclusions. The evidence ruling out one conclusion is indirectly evidence for the other alternative if there are only two alternatives. And I believe the evidence of science would rule out the possibility of a purely accidental origin of everything. That leaves an intentional origin of everything. And only persons can do things on purpose. Only intelligence can have intent.
So, as stated last post, I see science leading us in the direction of theism.
But that’s not the only evidence I see for God. I believe we can get our hands on some direct evidence for the existence of God. Not scientific evidence, but as mentioned last post, accepting nothing other than scientific evidence as true evidence is the religion of scientism. And scientism is not a religion that any of its adherents are capable of living out consistently. We all accept many different kinds of evidence and ways and means of knowing things outside of science in many areas of life.
So in this post, I want to examine the direct evidence I can see for the existence of God. Today’s subject is the direct evidence I see for God, and it also answers the question, “Which God?”
It’s all very well to get as far as, “There must be a Creating Intelligence back of the universe,” based on the indirect evidence of science, but if that’s as far as it gets us, it doesn’t get us very far. Inquisitive human nature will want to know something about the One who is responsible for it all. If one of the arguments that convinces us there must be a God is the truth that only persons can do things on purpose, and our natural order screams to us of purpose, then we’ll naturally want to know about our own purpose. Why were we created? Why was I created?
We’ll want to know more about this Creator God than science—the study of the physical—can tell us. Fortunately for us, there are more ways to learn that purely scientific ones. Humanity has always searched after the knowledge of the supernatural, and logic and philosophy are two of the tools we have in our belt to try and learn the truth about life and the One who started it all off.
So how are we doing, all on our own, using only our own brains, learning more about God?
Not so hot, it turns out. A brief study of history should be enough to convince us that our own thinking might not be the best path to discovering God.
There are a plethora of ideas we’ve come up with. I’ll call these the “best guesses” religions. They boil down to, “Do your best. Get by as best you can. Try to live right. Don’t hurt other people.”
A few problems with the “best guesses” religions (including your own personal version if you’re relying on your own best guesses): They don’t seem to be working out very well.
We instinctively understand that our ideas about right and wrong must be tied into these bigger ideas about life or religious truths if there are any such things. If there is a Creator God that made each one of us with purpose, then He may have a vested interest in how we live our lives. He may actually have a purpose He wants us to fulfill. And if there is such a thing as a real right and a real wrong, there must be a God who knows what they are. Otherwise, we have just our own divergent and widely differing ideas about morals. We all seem to recognize the importance of their existence, but we can’t agree on what they are.
And to put it baldly, the world is a mess. Always has been. We’re terrible at figuring out right and wrong on our own. We can’t agree on what’s really right and what’s really wrong. What’s more, we’re incapable of carrying out even our own ideas of right and wrong.
And if this wasn’t so messy, maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But when I say “mess,” I mean, a gigantic mess. I mean the world as it is. I shouldn’t need to go into detail. Just turn on the TV and watch the news for half an hour. Our best guesses are a fail. On an epic scale.
The “best guess” religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism and all the various flavours of paganism, (including our own individual, “This is what I think God is like. This is how I should live my life,” best guesses) I’m not tempted toward. I wouldn’t be satisfied with my own little ideas about God. I’m not arrogant enough to think I could arrive at all the really important truths all on my own. But why would someone else’s best guesses be better than mine? We’re all just human, after all.
But there are more ideas about God out there than just the “best guess” kind. There are also several religions that claim to be divinely revealed. Seeing I think we must have been created for some kind of purpose and we’ve done a terrible job of figuring it out on our own, I would start my truth search by looking into the “divine revelation” religions. I would expect a creating Intelligence who created us for a purpose to communicate that purpose to us somehow.
But there are two problems I’ve noticed with all the religions claiming divine revelation (except for one). The first is that its adherents are expected to take these claims on blind faith. They’re told, “God spoke to me and revealed the truth, and you should just believe what I say,” but no further evidence (or very slight and unconvincing evidence) is provided.
The second is that the lives of all of the founders of these religions claiming divine revelation (except for one) don’t end up looking like I would want my life to look. Their moral failings recorded by history, either distant or very modern, reveal some common patterns. Some of these religions have been very successful and have had great staying-power, but really digging into the life-stories of their founders shows them to have much in common with the life-stories of the founders of the more obviously disastrous, modern “divinely-revealed” religions by the likes of the Jimmy Joneses and David Koreshes of the world.
So (except for one) the world’s religions seem to have been founded by the sincere but guessing or the insincere and power-seeking.
And now we come to what I see as that one exception. It is, in a sense, a two-part religion. I’m speaking, of course, of Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism. They both have their roots planted in a book. Both acknowledge the first part as God’s divinely-revealed book (the Hebrew Tanakh or Old Testament), and Christians accept the addition of a New Testament as also part of God’s divinely-revealed book.
The reason I accept the Tanakh as God’s book is because of the New Testament and the evidence for its truth (that direct evidence of God’s existence I referred to earlier), so let’s start with the New Testament and consider the evidence for it. In fact, let’s examine just one small part of that Testament—the four Gospel biographies of Jesus’ life—and examine the evidence for their truth. If they end up looking likely to be true, the implication follows that the rest of the Bible is also true, but we’ll get there. Let’s start with that process of elimination and consider all our options regarding the Gospels and their truth or falsity.
There are two: Either the Gospels are true (for now, let’s define “true” as “largely reliable in their most basic claims” and start there), or they’re not. To sum up, the basic claims of the Gospels assert that one, Jesus of Nazareth, lived in first-century, Roman-occupied Israel/Judea, that He went around teaching and working miracles of all sorts, sizes, and descriptions, that His teaching revolved around His own person (He tacitly claimed to be God-on-earth: the God-Man), that He died by Roman crucifixion on account of these claims (perceived as blasphemy and punishable by death to the Jewish mind), and that He rose from the dead three days later to lend credence to His claims of divinity. These are the basic facts of Jesus’ life as told in all the Gospels. Either they are basically accurate, or they’re not.
Let’s examine the implications of the Gospels being basically accurate. Can we agree? If this itinerant teacher named Jesus resurrected bodily after being solidly dead and buried for three days, most of us would have a hard time denying this as solid proof that His professions of Godhood were (however astonishing), in fact, true! In this case, the Old Testament Scriptures that He proclaimed as God’s (yes, His own) infallible and unbreakable words would also be true. We would have found that authoritative and divinely-revealed communication to tell us our purpose on earth.
But the first part of that book isn’t complete without the second part. The New Testament completes the Old. It’s in the New where the point of the Old can be seen. Without it, the Tanakh tells a very partial story. If God wrote a book and that book starts off with the Old Testament, I would have to accept the New Testament as part of that book if my reasons for believing the Old are the evidence for the truth of the Gospels. As far as I can tell, these are the inevitable, logical implications of the basic truth of the Gospels. If the Gospels are mostly reliable in their foundational claims, then the Bible is entirely, infallibly true. If the Gospels are basically accurate, then God wrote a book, and the Bible is that book.
But is there good evidence for the basic accuracy of the Gospels? Again, let’s consider that question by considering all our options—the Gospels are true… or they’re not. Under b) “The Gospels are not true,” there are again only two options. The Gospels are intentional falsehoods, or they’re uninentional falsehoods. People may be sincere but sincerely wrong. People make mistakes. So let’s rule out the “mistaken” option first.
Is it possible that the writers of the Gospels thought they were telling the truth, but they were just mistaken in their facts? Not very. The kinds of things they wrote about leave no room for mistakes. The supernatural aspects of the Gospels that many would like to do away with can’t be got around this way. The miracles recorded by those writing the Gospels (claiming to be either eyewitnesses or the interviewers of the eyewitnesses) were of a different order than the dubious acts of the supernatural happening at many of today’s “healing services.” When a man the whole community knows to be blind from birth is suddenly made to see right in front of your very eyes, you can’t very well be mistaken. You know what you saw. When a man you knew well and saw very thoroughly put to death on a Roman cross (and the Romans were very thorough in these matters) is suddenly alive three days later—sharing a meal with you, having lengthy conversations with you, inviting you to plunge your fingers into his puncture wounds—there’s not a lot of room for you to be mistaken. So let’s rule out the “mistaken” option. If the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses (or those closely connected as they claim), they couldn’t have been mistaken.
And if the Gospels are intentional falsehoods, there are (yet again) two options. Intentional falsehoods that aren’t meant to be believed are called fiction. Intentional falsehoods that are meant to believed are called lies.
Could the Gospels be fictional? Again, no. Again, the claims of the Gospels do not leave any openings to interpret them as fictional. They claim to be the truth and nothing but the truth. John 20:30-31 and 21:24 contain the most solemn declarations that the things found in the Gospel of John were meant to be believed and that they were written by an eyewitness.
The options boil down to two: The Gospels are true, or they are lies. Once all the alternatives are examined, these are really the only two options left. Let’s see if we can rule out one of these options, and then we’ll have to accept the one that’s left. Which is more likely?
Of course, the claims of the Gospels (God coming to earth as a man to die for sin and be resurrected the third day), being so far removed from our everyday experience, look vastly unlikely to us. If they happened at all, these events would surely only happen once. So we can’t look to mathematical probabilities to tell us if it’s likely they did happen once. We would look for legal or historical probabilities. And once the alternative—that the Gospels are lies—is fully examined and followed to its logical end, the wildly unusual claims of the Gospels look far more likely to be true.
This is because of the behaviour of the eyewitnesses—the first disciples. If we decide that the Gospels must be lies, we are left with no explanation for the (otherwise) very puzzling behaviour of the alleged eyewitnesses: the first-century followers of Jesus. It’s only the truth of the Gospels that fits with what history tells us about the first-century church.
Roman historians don’t have a great deal to tell us about the penniless rabbi/carpenter/criminal, Jesus of Nazareth (why would they, after all?), but in very short order after His death, His following had grown so large and so rapidly, it could no longer be ignored by Rome. Secular, contemporaneous historians do have something to tell us about what happened with the early church. And it wasn’t pretty. Jesus’ followers became Public Enemies No. 1., and this under several different Roman emperors. The early Christians were beheaded, crucified, thrown to the lions, burned as torches for Nero’s garden parties, etc. A violent martyrs’ death was the expected norm for the early Christian, history tells us. In spite of this, the early church mushroomed.
If the Gospels are nothing more than lies about whose origins we can really know nothing, we would then need to find some kind of alternate explanation for the facts of history. If the Gospels are lies, who was Jesus of Nazareth, really, to inspire this kind of devotion? The usual explanations for those who don’t accept the truth of the Gospels are a) a fictional character, b) a great moral teacher, c) a revolutionary, d) a great moral teacher who was mistaken for a revolutionary.
Of these four, only the last is even plausible in my opinion. Historians don’t take the first alternative seriously. Not only is there some evidence of the historical fact of a personage called Jesus of Nazareth from secular sources, the notion that a movement like Christianity could spring out of thin air and snowball spectacularly immediately following the time a fictional character was supposed to have lived and died, His followers willing to lay down their lives for their fictional faith, requires extreme credulity (and wanton bias) to accept. Then, as to b), the one fact of Jesus’ life that is validated by secular history is His crucifixion under the Romans. First-century Israel had many peaceful and non-political rabbis, teaching their moral teachings and gathering their followings. The Romans weren’t in the habit of crucifying them. Moral teaching has never been a crime anywhere. How can Jesus’ crucifixion be explained if the Gospels are lies?
Jesus as a political Messiah or a revolutionary zealot explains His crucifixion nicely. The Romans were in the habit of crucifying would-be kings of Israel and insurrectionists. But this theory of Jesus explains nothing about the behaviour of Jesus’ following after His death. History records no political movement on the part of the early Christians. If they were dying for their faith anyway, and they had started as a resistance movement, why wouldn’t they have tried to resist? Why would a movement that had failed so spectacularly (if it started as a revolutionary attempt) grow the way it did in the decades that followed? Yes, history has a way of admiring successful revolutionaries through the winners who write the history, but who ever hears a word about the failures?
So d): some combination of b) and c), looks like the only credible alternative. Perhaps Jesus was ever only a peaceful rabbi, but His teachings were so wildly popular and His following grew so large and so quickly that the Romans mistook Him for a revolutionary (maybe with a little help from a jealous religious establishment). Although the best effort, this one is also too weak to stand examination. Many of the peaceful Rabbis of Jesus’ day had large followings. They didn’t get themselves crucified. The Romans seemed able to tell the difference between a peaceful Rabbi and a revolutionary. The only explanation would have to be that Jesus’ own leaders lied about Him to the Romans to get Him crucified. Their jealousy of His following could be one possibility. But again, we’re left with the question, “Why Jesus, particularly?” If there were other peaceful moral teachers with large followings who weren’t attacked by Israel’s religious leaders, what made Jesus different? What could have angered them so greatly in the case of Jesus? It’s hard to imagine His own people turning on this peaceful rabbi without some powerful motive, like, their perception of His teachings as blasphemy. In other words, I can’t find a likely explanation for the circumstances of history other than Jesus’ claims to divinity. These alone can explain the chain of events that could lead a peaceful rabbi to a cross.
Of course, Jesus may have claimed to be God but have been delusional or a deceiver. But if He did claim Godhood, the subsequent behaviour of His following makes no sense unless there was a dramatic, direction-changing event like His bodily resurrection, witnessed by many eyewitnesses.
The Gospels themselves tell us that after Jesus’ death (but before His resurrection), His disciples were done. They had packed up discipleship shop and were returning to fishing. They were crushed. They were fully convinced that their hopes in their Messiah hadn’t come through, and they thought they’d been taken for fools. And this would be far more likely to have been the dead end of the short-lived religion of Christianity if something extraordinary hadn’t happened to change the course of its history. And of the history of the world.
You know what I believe that extraordinary something to be. And when I really look into all the alternatives and try to imagine their reality, the only one that stands up to close scrutiny is the truth of the basic claims of the Gospels. For me, this witness of the Gospels when combined with the witness of secular history is solid evidence for God’s existence. And if the Gospels are true, the Bible is true. If the Bible is true, there’s quite a lot we can know about this God who created us for a purpose and the purpose He created us for.