Saturday, April 30, 2005

Knowing Enough

Just returned from a debate at the Oxford Union between Professor William Lane Craig and Professor A. C. Grayling. Famous Christian theologian/philosopher vs. famous atheist philosopher on "Does belief in God make sense in spite of tsunamis?" It was thoroughly enjoyable and provided much food for thought.

Prof Craig went through the logical problem of evil and the probabilistic problem evil - the two main formulations which dominated the academic literature. There was even a handout laying out both arguments with premisses and conclusions and assumptions and rebuttals. (You will be glad to know that I won't be getting into specifics here)

To cut a long, complicated, often times quite intense debate short - If God is ominpotent and omnibenevolent, why does he create a world in which there is evil and suffering?

Prof Craig argued that the existence of free will meant that any possible world with free creatures would contain sin and evil. If we are all given the ability to choose, we all choose differently and some choose better than others. God is omnipotent, but that means that he can do all logically possible things. He cannot make a square round, or make someone freely do something - these things are logically impossible.

And so it is quite conceivable that the existence of both evil and God is not a contradiction.

I think it's quite apparent to most of us that a lot of the bad stuff that goes on in the world is a product of human choice - from the exploitative institutions that we create (just ask the Marxists), to the wars we fight, to the hurt that we cause the people in our lives.

But the question still remains - what about the exceptions of accidents and natural disasters? Prof Grayling argued that it was inconceivable that any loving God would cause such pain.

Prof Craig argued that it is possible to argue that God has morally sufficient reasons, reasons that do not have to be apparent to us, in allowing suffering in the world (even tsunamis). That it is all part of his providence, over the course of all human history, to build his kingdom by drawing as many people into it as will freely choose.

He spoke about the million contingencies in every moment - how could we possibly know which actions will achieve the best outcome overall, in the long run, over the course of all of human existence? Only God knows. And he holds all of history in his hands.

Prof Grayling said that whenever he spoke to people of faith he always had the problem of them saying that they know something which they claim to be the whole truth, but that they do not know these other things.

Prof Craig had pointed out the limitations of human cognitive abilities and how we simply would not be able to fully understand all the details of God's plans, and how great suffering could be a part of it. For how could the finite completely reach the infinite?

Prof Grayling then retorted by quoting Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, saying that we have enough light in our minds with which the fathom the world.

At this point alarm bells went off in my head because I've read Locke and that is not what he says.

In the Introduction, section 5. "For, though the comprehension of our understandings comes exceeding short of the vast extent of things; yet we shall have cause enough to magnify the bountiful Author of our being... How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments, that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties."

"Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life, and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery the comfortable provision for this life, and the Way that leads to a better."

Locke is arguing that the light that we have in us, which is given to us by our Maker, is sufficient for our understanding of the things that we need to know. There are things that we shall never fully understand, like how exactly grave suffering fits into God's plans, but we know enough to have faith. Knowing God through the reading of Scripture, knowing God through his presence and his continuing work in our lives - that is enough.

Prof Craig pointed out that for most people the problem with suffering is more emotional than intellectual. And yet the Bible tells us of the God who shares our suffering in the person of Jesus Christ. Him, who was wholly innocent, but who was prepared to endure death on the cross and the sufferings of hell itself, so as to bear the sins of the whole world, so as to die in our place that we might have eternal life.

God isn't distant or remote, especially in suffering, for he suffered for us and he suffers alongside us still. In our darkest moments, it is his presence that comforts us and his love that gives us light.

Not only did Grayling twist Locke's words, Locke's very words can actually be used against him. Yes, we know enough to know. We know enough to have faith.

I wanted to raise my hand and point this out during the Q&A session, but I didn't. I guess nerves must have gotten the better of me. It would be quite funny (and slightly intimidating), telling Grayling that he didn't read Locke properly, especially since he wrote quite a few of the books on our philosophy reading lists. Even so, that doesn't make him right.

I don't know everything. But I know enough to believe that what I know is true.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." - John 8:12

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Why Did You Doubt?

A friend told me today "I haven't been well for awhile now." It's nothing strictly physical, but more emotional. And in some ways, that's harder to fix.

We spoke about how we are all weak. I thought about how most of us think we've got it all worked out, that we are fine as we are. Sure, sometimes we hit a rough patch, but we get by. Sure, there are some things that we can't forget or forgive, but we try not to think about them. And then I think, there's got to be more than this. I don't want to just "get by". I want to live. To take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:19)

We are all so weak. I think about how it's so easy to tell yourself that everything's fine. But we are all just a step away from stumbling and a tear away from crying and it could all so easily come apart.

Forgive me for such "depressing" thoughts. I have Finals in less than a month and so now it's just revision revision revision. It's hardgoing, I won't sugarcoat it. But even though I very often think that I just cannot do it, I know someone who can.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9

And so I'm holding it together, for in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

Favourite song of the moment: Storm, by Lifehouse (from their very first album when they were known as Blyss). Lifehouse's first three albums were amazing. For some reason their music seems to have taken a secular turn in this the new album "Lifehouse", which is disappointing. I've heard it, it's still a good album, but the songs just don't mean as much.

How long have I been in this storm?
So overwhelmed by the ocean's shapeless form
The water's getting harder to tread
With these waves crashing over my head

If I could just see you, everything would be all right
If I see you this darkness will turn to light
And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be all right
And everything will be all right

I know you didn't bring me out here to drown
So why am I ten feet under and upside down
Barely surviving has become my purpose
Cos I'm so used to living under the surface

If I could just see you, everything would be all right
If I see you this darkness will turn to light
And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be all right

And I will walk on water
You will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be all right
Now everything is all right
Everything's all right

Jesus Walks on the Water
Matthew 14:22-36

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Throwing Stones

This is a prayer.

For calm amid chaos
for forgiveness instead of accusation
understanding instead of judgement
generosity instead of spite
love instead of hate.
That before we too eagerly point out the stain on others' hearts
we first look into the darkness of our own souls.

John 8:1-11

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Goodbye Oxford

Just a gentle, quiet lament
for the time that has passed,
and friends that will be much missed.
For turrets that twist in the sky,
and bells that chime in the night.
For the river that will always flow,
and the spires that will forever dream.

I am so very thankful.