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Philosophical/Theological

Excerpted from Reading the Bible in the Strange World of Medicine by Allan Verhey, footnote his (Copyright  2003 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 33-34):

There was, so the tale is told, a heart patient who was both quite sick and quite pious. He had the habit of opening his Bible at random and, without looking, putting his finger upon the page. He would take any passage thus identified to be a word from God for him in whatever circumstances he found himself. After he had been admitted to the hospital, and after the initial round of tests and procedures, when he was finally left alone in his room, he took his Bible and let it fall open upon his lap. It fell open to the Psalms, and he put his finger down upon Psalm 51:10. He opened his eyes to read it; “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” it said. And then he looked up with rapture that God should speak so directly to his condition. It was a word from God, surely — a message, a sign. And he knew what it meant. It could only mean that he should receive a Jarvik Seven, the artifical heart that he had recently read of in the newspaper. He summoned the nurse to report this remarkable event, and he sent a message to his doctor that he needed a Jarvik Seven.

The physician stopped by in the morning, and when she had heard the patient’s story, she refused to take Psalm 51:10 as an indication of a need for a Jarvik Seven. “A Jarvik Seven is probably not what the psalmist had in mind,” she said. The patient was not easily convinced; he kept pointing to the still-open Bible and to Psalm 51:10. As the doctor got up to leave the room and to quit the argument, she put her finger down upon that same Bible, upon the psalm before Psalm 51, upon its ninth verse, and she read its words: “I will accept no bull from your house.” ((The patient’s Bible must have been a Revised Standard Version (RSV).)) That sort of “bull” is probably not what the psalmist had in mind either, of course, but the patient was suddenly a little less confident about his method of “searching the Scriptures.” And so should we be.

It’s a very entertaining tale, and one, I’m ashamed to reveal, that I’m guilty of engaging in. I remember moments in my life where I would open my Bible and hope for a miraculous revelation, but, instead, what was miraculous was my steadfastness in finding what I wanted to find. I don’t think miracles happen today as they did with the early church. Certainly, unexplainable phenomena may be attributed the title of miracle, to which, I’m confident, staunch naturalists will attribute the title “that which has no explanation yet“. In light of that, I think miracles have an unfortunate association with miraculous things — or rather, “impossible” things. The miracles presented in the Bible are certainly miraculous, and they seem this way, I postulate, because they seem impossible. How do you feed 5,000 persons with a few loaves of bread and fish? How do you sustain a widow, her orphan, and a prophet for days with enough ingredient for only a day’s meal? How does a virgin conceive, or the dead resurrect?

I don’t doubt the existence of miraculous miracles, but I think miracles, for the most part, are much more natural today. That is, the impossibility of the biblical miracles has reduced. Certainly there exists a spiritual reason to ask for miracles, but their actuality, I believe, is more natural than we seek. ((Isn’t it rather human to desire what, at times, seems unattainable?)) Instead of hoping for a miracle cure from an illness, it is a miracle that God has provided doctors; and it is the health care practitioners that perform the miracle. Instead of hoping for a miracle mark on your next exam, it is a miracle that God has provided tutors and peers that grasp the material more adequately, and are able to help — even then, it is a miracle that you can have a swing at the content, and can train yourself to understand it; and it is the tutors, peers, and yourself who perform the miracle.

Yet, certainly, there exists this supernatural realm of demons and spirits. It’s hard for me to surrender to the belief, but I am confident in professing my belief of spirits and demons. ((As a professing Christian, I must believe that spirits exist, lest I denounce the existence of the Holy Spirit. And if the Spirit exists, it must follow that demons as well.)) And it is in this realm that I am befuddled. I’m curious to know the prevalence of demons and spirits in the 1st century and why, or at least why it seems, the prevalence has decreased today. It’s also an interesting thought to ponder on why these spirits seem to be more populated in less developed areas. ((It makes me thinks of rural villages where witch doctors still exist, and where shamans heal patients by warding off evil spirits. These observations draw me back to a very interesting interpretation of Genesis that I put forth about a year ago. Perhaps I’ll revisit it and tie in this idea.))

The dichotomy of science and spirit is an area that might summarize the pinnacle of my academic endeavor. I am so interested in that intersection. The most profound thing, I think, that I will find at that intersection is that the collision of these two subjects isn’t as immiscible as we have developed it to be. It could be that the two subjects are really more natural than we think.

Final Note: I feel like the excerpted story is irrelevant  to the entry, or vice versa. I’m not sure how I twisted either to support the other, but let me be firm in my purpose in writing this: sometimes God is more natural than we think, and sometimes science, the method and discipline, is more godly than it ought to be. The divine is, at times, more common, and reason, at times, is not the Absolute.

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My roomate, Kyle, proposed the following situations to me, and asked why they don’t occur:
1) A light turns yellow, and a car should slow down. Instead, the person speeds up or continues driving because he or she thinks he or she can make the light before it turns red. The driver is unable to do so, and continues through the intersection, through a red light. On the other hand, rarely does anyone stop, let the cars pass, and then move through the light. In both cases, you break the law. The net result is breaking the law.
2) It is normal to stay up late and watch movies, but rarely does one ever get up early to watch movies. In both cases, the actor is up at “abnormal” hours. The net result is breaking the body’s homeostasis to watch a film.

I’m going to take an Aquinasian approach to this.

I answer that, The proposed situations are only odd since we commonly view them from outside of the situation. Surely, anyone in the midst of these scenarios would most likely carry out what is usually executed. That is, a driver will most likely attempt to speed through a yellow, but never leave when it is red; and that one will remain into the early hours of the morning to watch a film, but never wake up early with the intent to start a session. When we divorce ourselves from the situation, we drastically examine each scenario out of its context. In the scenario’s context, we may discover natural comforts which cause us to do what is most likely done.

Reply to scenario 1. It is obviously illegal to speed through a yellow or to proceed when it is red. However, a driver is in his or her confidence when gauging whether it is safer to stop in response to a yellow, or to speed to preserve the welfare of the drivers behind. Those in charge of street lights are cognizant of these tendencies; there is a short respite between a side changing red, and the other to green. Yet, since Kyle has proposed that we can break the law either way, let us examine why it is not. In the first, we see that the driver is in motion. In the second, we see that the driver has stopped. When the driver is in motion, they possess a rationale to excuse their illegal deed. When the driver is halted, they possess no rationale to excuse their illegal deed; their only reason is because they chose to break the law and run the red. It is a matter of comfort and confidence.

Reply to scenario 2. Clearly, humans enjoy a screening when it is closer to night; that is explanation for the existence of matinees and more showings at night at the cinema. However, Kyle proposes that is equivalent to stay up late to watch a movie as it is to get up early to watch one. Let us examine this as we did the first, since the scenario is, once again, a matter of comfort. In the first, the persons remain awake to watch a film. In the second, the persons must awake to watch the film. Here it is evident that in the first scenario, nothing needs to be done besides remaining awake. In the second scenario, considerable effort must  be exerted in order to achieve the activity. Therefore, we can conclude that, on the basis of effort, it is easier to stay awake and watch a film later at night than it is to rouse oneself from a deep slumber. Conclusively, it is a matter of comfort. Humans will stay up late to watch a movie because it is more comfortable than waking up to watch one.

Departing from this Aquinasian approach, let me share a thought. We like to be comfortable. Comfort breeds unoriginality. Never stay comfortable because then you will encounter things people will never have ventured into because they remain comfortable. If you want to discover new things, create new things, and change the old, you might begin by running reds and getting up early to watch movies. I wouldn’t necessarily endorse those two examples, but to each own, his own.

This is, of course, a very silly entry, but I suppose it has elicited some truth. I did this thought experiment in lieu of studying for my Biochemistry exam. I have also started a discourse on the meaning of life, if such exists, during my Biochemistry lecture. It sure beats hearing jargon about how old the Earth is and how many base pairs exist in E. Coli. ((When will such information ever be relevant? And how is either directly relevant to the study of Biochemistry?))

In mathematics, when we deal with infinity we deal with the nature of infinity in such a way that is verifiable. It’d be absurd to demand that we manipulate expressions with explicit knowledge of infinity.

In life, when we deal with God we deal with the nature of God in such a way that God has made verifiable. It’d be absurd to demand that we place our belief in God only when we can obtain explicit knowledge of God. Like infinity, explicit and complete knowledge of God is impossible to obtain.

Note: I don’t think the nature of infinity or the nature of God is any less real than actual infinity or God. Understanding one’s nature allows a small glimpse into what that nature is part of and actually is. Beyond this, I feel like this analogy is too simple and dangerous. Take it for what it is: An analogy.

Lately, in the past month, I’ve been responding in my conversations with, “I believe you.”

You know that bigger guy that was covering me? Every time he was guarding me, he elbowed me.

Really? Wow. I believe you, man.

What is belief? Belief is a surge of encouragement. It makes you fearless, but being fearless simply means you devalue your fears. Your hesitations and reservations are acknowledged, but when you believe — or if someone else believes in you — those fears vanish, and it is only you and your challenge. ((It’s interesting to notice that belief is something that depends on struggle. Without struggle, is there any basis for belief? Without struggle, belief would have no basis. Everything would be, and, under that circumstance, if all is as it is, then you need not believe. Even in menial beliefs such as believing that the grass is green, and that your fingernails are yours, struggle exists in that the grass may be purple, and your fingernails may be the rightful property of a beluga whale. Then, we might ask, do we believe what we know? Or how does belief become knowledge, or knowledge belief?))

I hope that I am not saying this phrase in vain or making it trite. Belief, like love, is something precious, and it should be carefully spent. ((If you are convicted of a belief, you should have no fear in testing it, looking for reasons to not believe, but with the faith that you will never find a reason to disbelieve, yet with the rationale to accept what cannot be believed. I wonder, do we believe in this capacity that often? I don’t think so; believing in something is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. (borrowed from Prefontaine) ))

This past Sunday I was at church listening to the pastor. I’m not really into the current series: The armour of God. Kyle says that they’ve been studying Ephesians since September. That’s dense. It isn’t my intent to knock on the pastor; he’s an intelligent man. I don’t think I’m fond of his teaching style though.

Regardless, I was listening to him and I noticed his prose. It was, what I call, Christian prose. In particular, it’s one type of phrase that might summarize Christan prose: Contradictory statements. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus claims that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.

Wow! Any knowledgable Christian would understand the meaning of that. ((I think any Christian theologian would tell you that Jesus didn’t intend for that statement to mean that Jesus would bring war, slavery, or some other form of brutality to the world. I think Jesus is getting at the fact that in order to have peace, you have to have justice. In order to have justice, Jesus had to bring it via the sword. The sword, I believe, represents God’s justice which is fully accessible through the function of the Christ.)) It’s that phrase’s — those types of phrases’ — essence that I want to highlight. They’re contradictory statements.

I think that’s one of the real beauties of Christianity. In regard to human nature, it’s such a contradictory belief. There are a number of instances where what we think would be, isn’t so in the eyes of God. The rich man will be poor, but the poor will be rich. The strong will become weak, and the weak strong. The criminal is repentent, but the centurion is proud.

This alarmed me. I think that we are all easily swayed by skilled rhetoric. If I’m not mistaken, the Greeks actually held rhetoricians in high esteem. If you can speak, you can persuade. If you can persuade, you’ve power. Is Christianity a scheme with suavely applied rhetoric?

It’s my belief that it isn’t. If Christianity is Truth (and I believe so), then it should inherently have power. If that is true, then Christianity ought to employ powerful devices like rhetoric. Accepting this, I want to now focus on the beauty of contradictory statements in Christian prose.

Contradiction might summarize the human condition. We are what we don’t want to be, and we want to be what we can’t be. We want the world to be peaceful, but we will never achieve that. We want our spouses to only love us, but that will never be possible. We want our children to live better than we did, but that dream is not foolproof.

Then we learn about Christianity. It teaches that we can achieve, make possible, and guarantee those desires. It’s so contradictory! How gripping is that? The Christian faith pierces directly into what we yearn for. I hardly think there can be anything more beautiful. The real beauty, though, is that ultimately everyone desires God.

Let me end with one of my favorite contradictions. It’s tragically, yet hopefully beautiful. Check out my contradictory statement right there.

To live is Christ, to die is gain. Philippians 1:21.

I might follow up on this entry later. I feel there is more I could clarify and explore.

As a guy I might be biased, and then I might be further biased because I am a sucker for inspirational things. Regardless, I love battle analogies.

I had just finished viewing a large part of the HBO series, Band of Brothers. The film intrigues and grasps. Throughout the duration I found myself viewing the series from an analytical perspective; why did I find the film so interesting? Was it because I was a guy with a passion for WWII history? That is probably a large part of my interest, but I postulated that there had to be something more general, more common that would accommodate a vast range of demographics. Perhaps, I thought, battles and war entirely reflect the human condition.

We live in a constant state of battle. Certainly, the degree of battle varies, but we all, when our lives are shaved into their simplest state, live in war. A war film puts our experience into visual, and I think that when such a film can effectively and accurately portray a war, it drops a small treasure, hint, or reminder of ourselves and humanity.

I don’t speak from experience, nor do I speak as if I would know, but I would venture to say that soldiers often experience what we might call “being pushed up against the wall”. I think it is in those situations that we disregard trivial thoughts, and we prioritize essential goals and matters. When we have no room to wiggle, we don’t waste time wiggling. Boogie down and persevere.

Any speak on overcoming hardships is so legit! Hebrews 12 oozes with this kind of talk: Hebrews 12:1, “. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” and Hebrews 12:7, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?”. Overcoming hardships is essential to the human condition. Battle analogies are a clear rhetorical representation of the human condition.

Look for the analogies. You can view almost any sport as a battle. Each athlete works with the other for a common cause, defeating the “enemy”. School is a battlefield. Your pen is your weapon, and the lecture hall is your arena. Wrestle with the thoughts, and pin them with your sword.

Life is a battle. I especially believe this in a religious context. C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity described the world as being in enemy occupation.

Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.

The human tragedy that so many of us can see on the television is a reflection of our daily struggles. Those struggles, I believe, define us. They are an inherent characteristic of life and growth, shaping and molding us daily. One day we’ll be without this hassle and burden, but that’s our future. For now, we’ll have to dig into our trenches.

Is our rapid growth in knowledge our downfall? We have impressively progressed in the 20th century, and the 21st century will, if things are and according to an expert on a History channel documentary, have more history than the previous 20 centuries combined. That’s dense.

The idea of this entry is set in context of the end times, the last days of humanity. I’ve been following the History channel all week watching their specials on armageddon. It’s mildly depressing, and somewhat frustrating at the same time. Regardless, it made me think.

Perhaps knowledge is our Achilles’ heel. God banned Adam and Eve from the garden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Clearly, God did not want us to know good and evil concurrently, or perhaps even at all. It is more likely that God didn’t want us to know evil to save us the burden, or whatever implication the knowledge of evil would impress; for God, according to Genesis 1, is found repeatedly finding that what God created is good, and chapter 1 ultimately ends with God seeing that what God created was very good. God, it appears, only intended for us to know good — not good and evil. ((This may be a large part of my conversation and argument regarding Calvinists and Armianists. If it is true that God intended, then what does that reveal about God? Does God plan, and to what extent does God see the plan to fruition?))

Nonetheless, Adam and Eve ate from the Tree and now humanity knows good and evil. That, I suggest, could be a sign warning us of our demise. God is found saying, in Genesis, “The man has now become like one of us [referring to the Trinity], knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever”. ((Genesis 3:22)) It is interesting to note, that if you take from this verse that all it takes to become a god is to know good and evil and live forever, then is humanity not set to become gods? For we know good and evil, and if we are to be eternally saved, then we will be in possession of those two characteristics. This is not relevant to the idea of my entry, although it could be mother to an interesting hypothesis.

The idea of this entry is that our accumulation knowledge could be a hint to the end times. More specifically, perhaps the end will be near when our knowledge provides us the capability to live forever. God “drove the man out” from Eden when he learned good and evil. ((Genesis 3:24)) Perhaps God will take a similar and parallel action when, and if, we are able to live forever as humans.

This is a very interesting interpretation of the creation account, and I will most likely develop it further. For the next entry, I will look to analyse the end of chapter 3, and seek to make theological connections.

I’d like to say that this is just an interpretation. I don’t know if I believe my interpretation. Moreover, I’m not one to deal with eschatology, the theology of the end times; I’m dealing with it in this entry, and it’s a bit uncomfortable. It is certainly an exciting area of theology, but I find that it is too speculative. I don’t think God wants us to know explicit details of the end times; and if I believe that, I don’t know what I think about the book of Revelation. See: Eschatology is too much for me.