Saturday, April 28, 2007

Understanding the miracles all around us

I recently read "Charlotte's Web" to my daughter, and the following passage stuck out to me. Fern is the little girl who took care of Wilbur, the pig. This is from a scene in Chapter 14 when Fern's mother, Mrs. Arable, is talking to Dr. Dorian because she is concerned that her daughter believes the animals are talking.

"I've been hearing things about that pig," said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. "They say he's quite a pig."
"Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider's web?" asked Mrs. Arable nervously.
"Yes," replied the doctor.
"Well, do you understand it?" asked Mrs. Arable.
"Understand what?"
"Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle-it's just a web."
"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.
Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. "No," she replied. "But I can crochet a doily and I can knit a sock."
"Sure," said the doctor. "But somebody taught you, didn't they?"
"My mother taught me."
"Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don't you regard that as a miracle?"
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Arable. "I never looked at it that way before. Still, I don't understand it, and I don't like what I can't understand."
"None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me."
Mrs. Arable fidgeted. "Fern says the animals talk to each other. Dr. Dorian, do you believe animals talk?"
"I never heard one say anything," he replied. "But that proves nothing. It is quite possible that an animal has spoken civilly to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention. Children pay better attention than grownups. If Fern says that the animals in Zuckerman's barn talk, I'm quite ready to believe her. Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers-I can give you my word on that."

There are two points this passage brought to my mind:

(1) Miracles can be seen all around us, just like an ordinary spider's web. As Paul wrote, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) Human nature is to take things for granted that we are accustomed to. When we see something day in and day out, we lose sight of just how miraculous the entire universe really is. In a class I taught recently I asked everyone if they wanted to see a miracle. I promised I could show them one right then and there. When they said they wanted to see one I walked over to the window, pulled up the blinds and pointed outside. Look out the window. There's a miracle! Just because something is part of our everyday experience does not make it any less miraculous when you consider how incredibly unlikely it all is to exist at all. I apologize for not being able to remember who said this (I want to say it was C.S. Lewis, but don't quote me on that), but a slow miracle is no less miraculous than a quick one. Regardless of how long you believe it took for the universe as we know it to be created, the fact that it exists at all is still a mind-boggling miracle.

(2) Mankind has a somewhat egotistical desire to feel like we know (or are capable of knowing) everything. Probably one of our biggest failings is our inability to see our own shortcomings. We don't understand everything. But like Dr. Dorian, we have to realize that we don't know everything and not let it bother us. God is infinite. There is no end to any of His qualities. Man is finite. It is impossible for us to fully understand all there is to know about God. Unfortunately, too many people refuse to accept God (or else they redefine Him and make Him finite) because since they cannot fully comprehend an infinite God, they decide that His existence cannot be proven. In fact, if God is infinite, it is perfectly logical that we should not be able to understand everything about Him. The moment we think we have fully understood Him, we would have proven that He was NOT infinite. Job demanded that God tell him why he was suffering. When God replied to Job, he pointed out just how much Job did not understand, but took for granted and accepted anyway. But for some reason, even though so much of God can be understood, we are still not willing to take for granted and accept those things we cannot understand, just like Job did not understand why he was suffering.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
'Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!'"
(Job 38:1-3, 18-21)

Job repented and acknowledged that God gives us more than enough information to justify faith in Him. But sometimes there are questions we will face in this world to which we won't get an answer. We just have to trust Him. After all, He knows far more than we do, and we're in good hands.

God bless.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Ethical Question of God and War

Have you ever wondered how God could order the death of so many pagan nations in the Old Testament? The book of Joshua is the most commonly cited example. When entering the promised land, God told the Israelites to eliminate all the current inhabitants. The latest series of Ten Minas Podcasts answers this question. Check out the "Podcasts/Other Resources" page on the Ten Minas website to listen to this four-part series. God bless.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A minor setback

So I finished physical therapy on March 29. I must say that after I went through the therapy ritual I was feeling pretty great. My back still had little minor twinges every now and then, usually brought on by prolonged sitting (especially in a car), but very minor. I was supposed to have one final appointment with my neurosurgeon to officially release me. However, he was sick and had to reschedule. Had I seen him on that original date I would have told him how great I was feeling and that would have been the end of it.

As it turns out, the appointment was rescheduled for a week from this coming Monday (I had two jury trials in two consecutive weeks, so I couldn't get in sooner). I can't tell you what brought it on. Maybe it was the prolonged sitting through two back to back jury trials. But about a week ago I started noticing a few slightly bigger twinges than before. Then on Wednesday, while in one of the trials, it got a bit worse. I actually took my muscle relaxer and pain medication Wednesday night at bedtime for the first time in over a month (they are "as needed" medicines). Then yesterday I got slammed big time. The best way to describe how my back currently feels is "agony".

Any prayers would be greatly appreciated. I'm still trying to keep up with Ministry business. I hope to have some more podcasts up on the site this weekend or sometime next week. But if you notice things slow down a bit around here, I apologize. I may not be as close to the end of my medical appointments as I'd hoped.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Palm Sunday Podcast

For anyone who was interested in my teaching on the significance of Palm Sunday, but was unable to make it to Grove Church this past Sunday, audio from the class in now posted on the website in the form of four podcasts titled "Jesus: A Different Kind of King." The podcasts are all available for online listening or download free of charge.

The Existential(?) Argument from Suffering...

I want to bounce an idea off some people out there to see what kind of comments I get. Please understand that it is not my intention to get into an all-encompasing discussion about the atheistic argument that the existence of suffering supposedly disproves the existence of the Christian God (I am actually contemplating writing a book on the subject, you know, in all that free time I have).

The point of this post is just to put one solitary idea out there and see what you all think. It is my thinking, unless you can convince me otherwise, that the so-called argument from suffering is at its core an existential argument, not one of logical necessity. Let me explain what I mean by this.

The atheistic argument basically says that the Christian God is supposedly all-loving and also all-powerful. However, suffering exists in the world. If God is all-loving, then He should want to stop suffering, and if He is all-powerful then He should have the ability to stop the suffering. Yet suffering exists. Therefore God, if He exists, must either not be loving or not be all-powerful.

Now I believe there are plenty of problems with this argument that I'm not going to get into now (we may do individual posts later on separate points just so we can stay focused). For the time being, though, I want to ask one question. Does the conclusion of this argument necessarily follow, BY LOGICAL NECESSITY, from its premises. In other words, is the objection due to suffering truly an existential objection, meaning that when someone objects to the suffering they are really saying, "I cannot personally bring myself to accept that a loving God exists in this world" as opposed to, "Because suffering exists, it is a logical certainty that a loving God cannot."

This argument takes into account God's lovingness and His omnipotence, but it fails to take into account His omniscience. In other words, while we are finite, God is infinite. Therefore, we have a limited capability to understand all the potential consequences of an action. God is not so limited.

Rather than "reinventing the wheel", the following paragraphs are quoted from an earlier discussion I had with John Loftus on a similar (albeit broader) topic:

"Probably the most common reason people give for disbelief in God is the problem of suffering, and they use it as though, in and of itself, it disproves the existence of a loving God. But it does not.

Here is a simple illustration. Suppose you are in a room with three other people. Two are standing up against a wall, and in front of them is a man who is holding a gun in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. He turns to you and says, 'You get to choose. Either I will shoot person #1 in the head and kill him, or I will give person #2 a paper cut. What will it be?'

Now I am assuming person #2 is not a hemophiliac and is not going to die from a paper cut. What do you choose? If you acknowledge that the better choice is to give person #2 a paper cut, then you have acknowledged that the concept of a 'greater good' exists, and sometimes some degree of suffering may be justified for the greater good.

This is important because once you acknowledge the possibility of a greater good, you also must admit that it is AT LEAST THEORETICALLY possible that there could be a 'loving' reason to allow the suffering in the world, even if we do not know what that reason may be.

This is crucial to any conversation on suffering because it shows that suffering in the world, in and of itself, does not disprove the existence of a loving God. But far too many people believe that it does."

"It is impossible to conclude from an action alone whether or not it is loving. Allowing someone to give a paper cut to someone else would not appear loving, but in the context I demonstrated, it could be. Is giving someone flowers loving? Generally we would say yes. But if you give them to someone you know to be deathly allergic, that's not very loving. In order to label something as loving or not you need to understand the context.

Actions in this world can have any number of possible consequences. So in order to fully understand the full context of any action, you must be able to understand all the potential consequences. Only an all-knowing mind can do that. Finite human minds can only understand a certain number of forseeable consequences to any action. So we draw our conclusions about whether something is loving based upon the limited amount of information we can process. But it is a mistake to take our inherently limited knowledge and use it to conclude that an infinite mind does not exist.

Isn't it reasonable that an infinite mind would be capable of comprehending more of the consequences than a finite mind? And isn't it then also reasonable that the infinite mind may arrive at a different (and more well-informed) conclusion than the finite mind? So its not that God's actions are not in accord with our notion of loving. We all understand that actions which we may not otherwise consider to be loving can become so depending on the context. God's actions are perfectly in accord with this concept. We are just incapable of understanding the full context. So it is our conclusion that is wrong, not God's."

Now you may disagree as to whether or not there actually is a reason for suffering. That's not the point of the proposition I'm putting out here. My point is simply that the existence of suffering does not per se, as a matter of logical necessity, disprove the existence of a loving God. There could be a "greater good" that we are simply incapable of understanding.

So that's the thought for the day. Please chime in with your thoughts. Does the argument from suffering prove, as a matter of logical necessity, that a loving God cannot exist, or is it in essence an existential objection? As they say on American Idol, the phone lines are now open...