Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Case Against Fundamentalism - The Case for God

I have an old friend named Percy that I have known since I was in first grade. This is him (2nd from left) in 1967, posing with me (1st on left), and some others, at my brother's birthday party. We grew up in a small Connecticut town, spent years in the same schools, knew each other’s family, and did stuff together as kids. We haven't seen each other since high school graduation about 30 years ago, but we have reconnected on Facebook.

Percy is, in my estimation, a genius; holding at least one software patent. Our discussion threads have been about politics, religion, the origin of life, intelligent life, evolution, global warming, creation, and a host of other subjects with which normally identify folks as liberals or conservatives. I really hate labels and stereotypes, preferring to simply think for myself. The two of us could easily be labeled any number of ways. But that is not what Jesus would do; therefore, I am not going to either. What I do know about my friend is this: He is a thoughtful and open-minded person. That's a good sign in my book.

All that said, I am going to take him up on his request to discuss the "Case Against Fundamentalism." His quote to me is as follows: "The Case Against Fundamentalism. Which I call, "YHWH is bigger than you think." The brief summary is that the Creator of everything is much larger than can be understood in detail by humans. Even though created in YHWH’s image, even with some aspects of divinity, the Bible is pretty clear that people don't measure up to even angels. So, how can we insist that we have absolute knowledge of YHWH through a set of edited third-generation writings set down by a nomadic people?"

(YHWH, of course, is the Hebrew word for Lord--sometimes translated Yahweh, as vowels were later added.)

I am going to try to take each point my friend has made, and explain it in terms of what we now call Biblical Christianity. I believe his point is that God is God is God, and man cannot experience Him in such detail that one could claim Him as their own and know Him personally, and that man has gotten in the way of the process through translation and the recording of events.

I think I've got that right, but I am sure that my friend will correct me if I don't. I have taken care to use Old Testament verses because our common ground for debate is YHWH.

YHWH is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All three Biblical characters were part of the progressive blessing and revelation known as salvation, which was to come through Israel for all mankind. I don't see any reason to explain the history of Israel, because the use of the term YHWH is an admission that the rabbinical traditions and the Torah are acceptable proof of the Lord’s (Creator’s) existence, and has been for nearly 6,000 years.

Why did God choose Israel? I don't know exactly, He is sovereign, and He knows why He does what He does. I do know, that as a people, they are on average, the most intelligent, the richest--making more money then the average "anyone else"--race on earth. According to the Torah, Israel was blessed to be a blessing. Don't you find it the least bit amazing how many countries have tried to wipe them out--from Babylonia to Nazi Germany, and from Egypt to Hezbollah--and yet a remnant still remains? Don't you find it interesting that, as prophesied in the Old Testament, they regained their homeland after nearly 2,000 years of exile? Don't you also find it interesting that a country so small in land mass and population hangs on in the worst of political conditions?

I am not going to take time to do a study on comparative religion, as this just muddies the water and aspires to intellectual assent without tangible evidence. I will say that there are some stories from other religious writings that are similar to the flood of Noah's time and other Biblical accounts in the Old Testament. But this, in itself, is not proof that mankind is looking for gods to explain natural but mysterious happenings. All religions have a philosophy, a way of "doing business." What makes Christianity different is the resurrected Jesus. Without that, the whole religion is little more than a good idea and a well-meaning man.

First, I would like to describe fundamentalism in a Biblical sense. It is the notion that the Bible is the only authoritative text referring to God the Creator, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It comes from John 14:6 in the New Testament: Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, the Light, no one comes to the Father (YHWH), but by me." Let's not forget, the Old Testament, and the scholarship surrounding it, are not in question. It represents more than two-thirds of the "Christian" Bible. But it is this particular New Testament verse that makes Jesus out to be either an arrogant, on-an-ego-trip yet talented and peace-loving man gone crazy--or God.

Unless Jesus is, in fact, God, there is no other sane reason for Him to say such a thing.

Even the Old Testament (Daniel 9:25) says the Jews were expecting a messiah to bring permanent salvation (Exodus 15:2) to them and the world. Jesus said that He was it, but not everyone believed Him. Why? Because they were looking for someone or something different, or they simply couldn't accept that He was God. Which was most likely the fault of an empty religious upbringing.

There are many religious philosophies, and for many, Christianity is just another one. For the more serious seeker, however, the Bible can explain many differences between cultures, and serve as a treatise on proving God's existence. I am going to take a few paragraphs to connect YHWH of the Old Testament to Jesus in the New Testament.

The Muslim, Christian, and Jewish populations are significant because they are the players, according to the Bible, at the close of the age. Abraham had two sons--Ishmael by Hagar, the concubine (his wife Sarah's servant); and Isaac, the son of Sarah. Ishmael is the father of the Muslim lineage, and Isaac is the offspring that became the Israelites. One look at the Middle East of the past 50 years, and we can easily see the tension between the two. To date, the Old Testament books are considered more historically accurate than the Qu'ran, or other ancient writings.

Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel in the Old Testament, and the historical Jesus was the fulfillment of those prophecies. There are many references; here is a pretty good LINK.

To more closely examine how we might understand an infinite God with a finite mind is a little tougher. These are question that have been pondered for centuries by the greatest theological minds. But I am going to take a stab at it.

In order to understand God, we have to know Him relationally. Many of us know about the President, but we don't know him. The same is true of God. The Christian “philosophy” relies completely on the belief that God is: A) alive; B) can speak to us; and C) can save us from our sin. Any other belief is not truly Christian, but a philosophy based on some portion of Christian writings.

The following is a very brief list of the Old Testament statements made by the Lord God, and restated in the first person by Jesus. This is important because Jesus claims to be God (YHWH) Who had come in the flesh (John 1:1 and 1:13).
  1. The Lord God declared: "Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure." (Isaiah 46:10)
  2. Jesus, said" "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." (Revelation 22:13)
  1. "And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ (Exodus 3:14)
  2. Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.. (John 8:58)
  1. The Lord (YWHW) said, 'For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.' (Ezekiel 34:11)
  2. Jesus stated the following in John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
These Old and New Testament statements are critical in understanding that God and Jesus are one in the same. Please note, the Jesus of Islam is simply a prophet who died and was buried. The Christian’s Jesus, however, defeated death by being resurrected. Every event of His life was recorded by two or more witnesses, as prescribed in the--you guessed it--Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 19:15). HERE is a blog I wrote with all those references.

My friend apparently has a problem with what are assumed to be to be 3rd Century manuscripts, written hundreds of years after Christ. But the truth is that some were written only about 50 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they still match the manuscripts that were first used to translate the Bible.

There are tens of thousands of manuscripts from the New Testament, in part or in whole, dating from the 2nd Century A.D. to the late 15th Century, when the printing press was invented. These manuscripts have been found in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, making collusion unlikely. The oldest (John Rylands manuscript) has been dated to 125 A.D. and was found in Egypt, some distance from where the New Testament was originally composed in Asia Minor. Many early Christian papyri, discovered in 1935, have been dated to 150 A.D., and include the four gospels. For the complete details, and other important issues associated with biblical manuscript discoveries, click HERE. Taken from GodAndScience.org

And finally regarding angels: They are part of the total creation and they exist in the spiritual realm, or plane. The Bible clearly talks of an earthly realm (the world, the earth) and a spirit realm (Heaven and Hell, as well as a dimension seen from earth (Matthew 3:16). Here, angels, and fallen angels (demons) interact with creation in the same way God interacts with us. The spiritual realm cannot be easily seen without faith. In the same way that Elisha saw the chariots in the spiritual realm, and Paul was taken to the third heaven, man can see in this realm.

Man is positioned in creation by God to be as "a little lower than the angels," (Psalm 8) and yet, God has chosen one man, to have all under his feet. This is Jesus.

At this point, we can be very intellectual about our faith; knowing about God, but that is not knowing God. The God of the Bible, the Creator, YHWH is also known by many names--all of which are in the Bible. HERE is a list. When you read the list, you will see that God is many things--I found more than 600 names (that have meaning) and attributes.

Even if we were to memorize everything that is written about God in the Bible, we will only know about Him, not know Him relationally. God is not known in the mind or even in the emotion and yet by His spirit, both areas are impacted. He is the one whose Spirit commingles with ours. He is the author of relationship and, in fact, He is love. Agape love, sacrificial love, Kingdom love, power love... not some sappy Hollywood, emotional love.

Since the day Adam was created, this relationship with a supernatural God has never really been expressable in human terms. One will never comprehend it with only the human mind or emotion; it is only our spirit that is able to capture the essence of what it is to know God. It is with this abandonment to Him, in which God Himself, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is allowed to dwell in our hearts (The heart being the most human understanding of the location of the spirit in our body). It is only by His Holy Spirit; the spiritually manifest Jesus on earth, that we will ever begin to understand the vastness of the Creator, YHWH--what “groaning without words" (Psalm 42:7) and “deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7) even come close to meaning.

In the final analysis, we can debate the existence of God, but only those who have become abandoned to the thought of a supernatural Creator by faith--One who communes in relationship with His creation--will ever have the opportunity to know Him.

Even though the Bible makes claims about itself, which are true, that in itself is not a convincing argument. I believe the following passage is the greatest Biblical truth that I know. Why? Because it squarely puts the responsibility of knowing God on the one reading the verses within it. One cannot blame the church, organized religion, intellectuals, or create hypothetical cases for which God does not have the responsibility to respond to a humble, treasure-seeking individual.

Proverbs 2

1 My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,

2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;

3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,

4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;

5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
And find the knowledge of God.

Many thanks to Steve Smith, author of the blog, Out On Limb, for his expertise in editing (unhacking English) and proof reading.

8 comments:

Tony C said...

That is excellence through clarity David. I have sent a link to this post to a number of young people I know struggling with the issue of 'knowing' God or about God.

Paul's letter to Corinth in I Corinthians 2:11-13 states:

11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

God's Word says with the Spirit we will understand the gift of salvation, but we are not told we will understand God. How could we? The knowledge of infinite exsitence could no more be understood by the finite mind than quantum physics by a newborn.

We(man)create our own doubt and confusion by being arrogant enough to think we will ever completely understand God...even in eternity. We should accept that He is God and worship Him for being the Great Creator that He is.

I hope you will continue to explore, study and write on this subject matter. You do a fantastic job of presenting your points.

photogr said...

I don't think any one on earth in this time can trully understand God. By faith alone we can get an idea and put our trust in the Scripture.

Interestingly enough through recent digs in the Holy land, many of the stories in the scriptures is being shown to be actual facts.

In 1948 Israel once again became a nation as prophiesed after Isarelites being in exile 1900 years.

One statement that puzzles me is Paul was in the third level in his vision. What is the third level?

It seems odd that all prophesy stopped ater the deaths of Jesus, John, and Paul. I think there must have been some prophesy after that but was never posted as a vision based on the last passage in Revelations.I am sure God or Jesus had to have more to say as far as prophesy.

Although the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the last few decades, Most of it seems to be Gnostic writings which varied to what the Bible says.

Granted the scriptures were cannonized about 300 AD, I would imagine the Bishops did consider some of the parchments they had at their disposal were not significant enough to include in the Bible.

Even the Angels told John not to write what was written in one scroll but he knew what it contained.

So many mysteries yet to be revealed.

All we can do is believe in what whe have to go on.

the Steadfast Tin soldier said...

I finished my work early this week, and the air conditioning is going nutz in my office (I have 6 PCs, 5 displays, and 24 electrical devices plugged in), so I'm going to leave a little early and write my response. I've been thinking about this for a few days, and have rejected a few approaches, but I think I have a proper thoughful response.

Incidently, my own personal opionion of why the Hebrews survived? They taught their women how to read. The early Hebrews were a nomadic warrior people (see Judges). If they were illiterate (ie, only the priests and upper class), their writings would have been lost the first time they were invaded and the priest/rules liquidated (see Babylon, Hittites and Egpyt). If they taught their men to read (but not women), they'd be OK in an invasion BUT not slavery. In slavery, the men are put to death, the boys to work, so there goes your literacy. But teach the women (and men) to read? In slavery, you keep the women around (concubines, house servants) as they generally don't lead slave revolts. The women in turn will teach the male and female children to read/write, and pass the same along.

So that's my theory (I didn't come up with, BTW).

David said...

@The Steadfast Tin Soldier:

That is a very plausible theory. In some of the facts you are correct. Woman, however; were never allowed to teach. All were educated in the Torah (Law) and the prophets.
You theory might explain how they survived the Exodus. But they also survived exile to Babylon during the time of Daniel. Suffered under the Romans in the time of Jesus, and lost their land to the various Arab tribes. They survived the as a people keeping traditions in various lands, only top be nearly annihilated by the Hitler. I am not seeing how education of woman caused each and every period of survival.

Of course my explanation is that God kept the very remnant that He promised to Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

the Steadfast Tin soldier said...

My religious training ran heavily to lapsed Judaism, which I think is to my benefit. I do take quite seriously our conversation. I did not respond immediately with some quick retort that the Holy Bible has contradictions, it says that PI is 3.0, whatever. This is more about the longer conversation.

the Steadfast Tin soldier said...

I'm going to add another comment here, in regards to PHOTOGR:
"It seems odd that all prophesy stopped ater the deaths of Jesus, John, and Paul. "

Well, there are at least two major prophesies that ocured later.
Around 650 AD, GOD talked to Mohammed, a camel trader in Arabia. Mohammed dictated the prophesies that GOD told his into the Suras which became the QUARAN.
About 1850 (or so), Joseph Smith was visited in upstate New York by an Angel, who led him to a set of Holy Books of our Lord Jesus Christ and his personal mission to the Americas after his martyrdom.

the Steadfast Tin soldier said...

Still, we’re just speculating about the source of Genesis. We can consider that as the oldest part of the Old Testament, God surely influenced the writers for accuracy. Yet, there are minor variations in the Septuagint (Greek translation) and Masoretic (Hebrew translation). At some point, we must go with faith that Genesis is accurate. And that very faith is an essential part of the human relationship with God.
Returning to Genesis, we see a new problem. Accepting on faith that what is written is accurate, what about what is NOT written? The Bible is big, but it doesn’t contain everything. For example, we know that Adam and Eve had two sons, but we don’t know about daughters. At some point, there had to be daughters, and this is not documented in the Bible. Therefore, we must conclude that the Bible is incomplete. This is not to diminish the importance, nor the accuracy of the Bible. But simply because an event was not recorded in the Bible is not evidence that event never occurred.
Just as human perception is less that divine, so is human comprehension. When God was describing the creation of the Universe, the World, and Adam and Eve themselves, he could take as much time and go into as much detail as needed. But Adam and Eve have only human level comprehension. Further, their education is limited to what they can learn from the Garden. So imagine God patiently explaining that 13 billion years ago, there was no physical universe, but a single point of unimaginable energy. And that point began expanding exponentially. Part of that expansion was a great release of energy that coalesced into electromagnetic of all sorts, including visible light. So Adam and Eve would get, “Let there be light”.
Jesus used parables to teach. Parables can be understood, and get the essential point across. Is it possible that God used parables when talking to Adam and Eve? Were the 6 days of creation (and seventh of rest) literal 24 hour days? Or metaphorical? Suppose God took 13 billion years to create the universe, the world and Adam then Eve? How could he explain 13 billion years to them? They did know day and night, so why not use that as a parable?
Finally, we have the issue of interpretation. In Genesis, God creates Adam in his own image. What does that mean? We can assume that Adam was a male genus Homo Homo Sapiens, as we’re descended from him. Then does “in his own image” mean that God is also genus Homo Homo Sapiens? That means that God manifests the same perceptual limitations as his creation. Suppose “in his image” means an intelligent being capable of knowing God?
There are many paths to knowing God.

the Steadfast Tin soldier said...

Urk, my reply was truncated. Part deux is above, and part one here.

If you like, I can send via email (to whatever address you like). The ending is a bit terse...

David has correctly summarized my thesis, which is that the God of the Old Testament cannot be fully understood by human beings. There are many ways that God reaches out to us, and many ways we can ask for knowledge of God. However, there are limitations as to what we humans can understand and experience.
The world is filled with things that we cannot see nor hear, yet are real and have influence on us. One example is television broadcast signals, which are beyond the visible spectrum that we see. You cannot see these waves, but if you turn on your television, you’ll see proof of their existence. As the Creator of the universe, we can assume that God can see these waves, but we cannot. Human beings literally cannot see most of the universe.
People have recorded their experiences with the Divine for thousands of years, likely first in songs and stories told and retold, later in writing. These first hand experiences were the source of the Old Testament, carried by the Hebrews into their Babylonian exile after the Assyrian destruction of the nation of Israel. The Hebrews were pretty careful about making exact copies of the books, but as they were in exile, several different translations came out.
Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and opens with the creation of the universe, the world, man and woman; continues with the exile from the Garden of Eden, and climaxes with the destruction of the nations of the world by flood, with one Ark holding the chosen survivors.
The later books in the Bible (and especially the New Testament) are correlated by historical records and archeological digs. Genesis, not so much. In Genesis, God talks to Adam and Eve, so presumably He tells them how he created everything. And these first hand encounters could have been handed down through the generations orally, until they were finally written. It’s also possible that God wrote them himself. He wrote the 10 commandments, after all.

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