possibility and surrender

I met a friendly man today who, learning of my religiosity, asked me about my views on science and faith.  It was a good chat, not too long, and remained wonderfully amicable.

The man was, by global and local standards, wealthy, educated and articulate.  At least some of the time, such a demographic can tend to view the ‘God’ topic primarily as an interest, a curiosity; certainly not a matter of life and death.

During the conversation, I remember thinking, “Oh wow, the science-and-faith conversation.  Is this still a popular topic for people?  Usually it’s hell or homosexuality.”  I have no idea of his intentions, but very often many Christians feel like such conversations have little if anything to do with someone’s genuine interest in (or pursuit of) faith, and everything to do with some kind of justification of their unbelief.  The theological out-clauses are many: global suffering and evil, hypocrisy in the church, science and/or evolution, hell, homosexuality, ‘the Old Testament’, etc.

This leads me to another thought, which emerged from my reflections.  It is the reality that if an ultimate invisible and limitless being is real, then that kind of opens up literally anything and everything as being possible.  A ‘god’ could be very controlling and hands-on, more distant and deistic, or somewhere in the middle; evil, good, impatient, patient.  If people just start believing in ‘god’ willy nilly, well they might start believing just about anything about that ‘god’.  This ‘god’ might send 99.9999% of humans to hell, gays first of course, and save only the members of Westboro Baptist Church.  Or this ‘god’ might be the mamby pamby, everything-and-everyone-is-great, domesticated, flaccid (and frankly boring) deity… Anything is possible if there is a ‘god’!

The truth behind all this is precisely this: Yes, you and I don’t get to say what God is like.  God may have attributes we don’t find pleasant or popular in our time and culture.

This is where a little notion called surrender comes in.  This is where we stop trying to be more moral than God.  This is where we let go of all our controlling questions and submit to the reality of an Ultimate being, far stronger and higher than us.

The good news, literally, is that in the person and gospel of Jesus Christ, we don’t have to wonder – or fear! – what God might be like.  We have a Creator and Saviour who is radically committed to the creation, humans in particular.  So much so that this God is long-suffering and hell-bent on saving us, despite our almost continual rejection, rebellion, apathy and downright selfishness.

Anything is possible with God; and what a good possibility it is with the God we know through Jesus Christ.

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I’m often conflicted about the whole apologetics thing.

As long as people have honest questions ((as opposed to dishonest questions; the kind that merely serve to insulate people from having to believe)) about belief, then it remains a logically legitimate enterprise, but it can be taken too far easily.

For me, I’m interested in taking away needless barriers to faith ((And I anticipate the charge that I have “faith in faith”…)).  Increasingly for me, it’s been exciting to see just how complimentary an evolutionary understanding of nature is with Christianity.  And as long as there are a) Christians who see evolution as a threat to faith and b) people for whom evolution has been a key point on their departure from faith, I think it’s hugely valuable to show and explore just how harmonious they are.

It occurs to me that believers and unbelievers ((I’m inclined to believe that we all ‘believe’ something, however – which makes ‘unbeliever’ a questionable term.)) both participate in the apologetic endeavour.  At their worst, both belief and unbelief ‘need’ a ‘defense’ ((Gk. ‘apologia’.)) for why they are justified in being what they are.  Insert any usual topic (evolution, abortion, morality, cosmogenesis, abiogenesis, sexual ethics, religious violence, etc.): the believer defends belief, and the unbeliever defends unbelief.

The believer (often) needs to feel justified in their belief – “Belief in God is reasonable and logical!” (or the psychological translation: “I’m a totally reasonable and logical person for maintaining my faith!”)

The unbeliever (often) needs to feel justified in their unbelief – “Belief in God is silly and superstitious!” (or the psychological translation: “I totally made the right decision in giving up my faith!”)

I’m aware of this need to feel justified, so I try (as best I can) to be genuinely open-minded.

I genuinely think various theistic arguments (like the First Cause argument) work.  And that’s really cool for me, because I’m a Christian!  But I also think it’s important to recognise that (as Rob Bell has said) ‘What you look for, you will find.’

I hope believers can evaluate their beliefs and challenge them.  I think faith is of the good kind when it is open to being challenged.  Believers that recoil from questions and insulate themselves from challenges to their belief have a kind of faith that I can’t help but see as (perhaps ironically) ‘faith in faith’ – and not faith in the God of all Truth.  My experience is that my beliefs get sharper the more I expose them to criticism.  I’ve changed my views about several things – and long may that continue.  I’ve also maintained and deepened a lot of my beliefs as well – and long may that continue.

I also hope unbelievers can be sceptical of even their own scepticism.  If belief is sharpened by criticism, then this should be true for unbelief as well?  However, for me, this should logically lead atheists to become more and more agnostic – or even ‘fall’ from unbelief altogether?  Or at least go from being a Richard Dawkins style atheist to a Michael Ruse type one…

At any rate, I’ll probably always ‘do’ (with varying degrees of passion) the apologetics thing, but I’m feeling less and less like it’s something that I need to do for my own justification, but rather something that I simply enjoy doing and find worthwhile.  That’s all for now :)