The problem of pain… Is it really a problem?

There’s something spectacular for me in the writing process, and I can’t even describe the excitement I feel right now, in the current stage of my current project. (Maybe that doesn’t say much for me as a writer since I guess, as a writer, it’s my job to describe it to you.) I’ve been knee deep in plotting and structuring the novel. I’ve been planning high points and low points–the cliffs I’ll throw my characters off of and the injuries they’ll receive when they hit, the rugs I’ll pull out from under them, and the bruises they’ll receive from the hardwood contact. Tightly integrated with these plans for their lives is characterization and character arc. I need to know what to do to them because I need to know where they need to grow.

And that’s the point of any good story. That’s the whole plan. That’s why you read a story, which means it’s why we write them. You need weak, flawed people you can care about, put into conflict and danger of some type, so that you can see them grow and overcome. You want someone with whom to empathize. You want that someone to overcome all odds. And during the process, you want to see their journey create a more complete person.

Because at some core level, you need connection. You need to be assured that you can overcome–that your weaknesses will somehow become strengths. You need to be convinced that your journey means something–that you can change–that you can become a more complete person.

You may not know it, but you do.

So, again… The entire process of designing the plot of my current novel has been to create lives for these fictional characters that will change them. The major plot points are designed to expose their weaknesses, give them opportunities to fail, be strengthened in those weaknesses, and then to give further opportunity–to prove either their growth or failure to grow.

My need to connect and empathize, to be convinced that my journey means something, to be convinced that I can change and that I’m not destined to the stagnancy of the person I am now, to hope that I will be strengthened in my weaknesses and can someday pass the tests… That core level that I spoke of in you? Well in me, it convinces me that I am much more willing to experience it vicariously through others than in my own drama. It’s much safer to invest myself in others and be assured from afar, than to be thrown off a cliff and be tested myself. If I must experience it and gain those assurances, let it happen to someone else, and at best someone that I can be assured doesn’t even really exist. I can gain my catharsis, and no one ever really had to face death. Win, win.

Pain is bad.

Right?

I’m often questioned about my faith, and a common one is: “How can an all-powerful, all-loving God create a universe with pain in it?”

Well, the first answer is that this universe was created “good” (read: “perfect”), and we messed it up. We damaged it and ourselves.

My second answer comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13. After listing the gifts of the Spirit, Paul says that three remain, Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is love. Our perfectly good God designed this universe with the plan that His highest ideals for humanity would be faith, hope and love. And of these high ideals, the greatest is love. In other words, to be explicit, God’s grand design was a universe that loves–God to us, us to God and us to one another. That’s basically why He created the whole enchilada–that love and relationship may exist in His new creation.

You can’t have love without free will. You really can’t have free will without the danger of trespass. So, God designed the universe in the only way He could design it, and get the product He desired. He created us knowing we would fall (and knowing what that fall would cost Him, by the way.)

So, we find ourselves, damaged in a damaged world. We find ourselves incomplete, weak, broken.

Have you ever considered that, if God is the author of your life, perhaps He has had a great hand in plotting that story? Perhaps He sees you as a damaged, incomplete character that needs to grow–and He wants you to grow because He loves you. He wants you complete and healthy.

Perhaps He’s thrown you some plot twists that you wouldn’t have chosen. They may be suffering, but they are not wasted. They are meant to build you. They are meant to empower you during the next plot twist. They are meant to teach you and test you and drive you to Him (2 Corinthians 2). They are meant to be a life process that completes you. They are meant to be tests that break and recreate you. They are meant to be tests that either reveal where you need to grow, or prove where you have grown already.

Trust the author of your life. Know that He means you well. If you fall off a cliff, it’s either because you ran off of it (stop!), or were driven off it. The author still loves you. He’ll control your landing because He knows exactly what the ending is supposed to be.

You live in a damaged world. Yes. And your life is God’s process of redeeming you from it. Take great joy.

James 1:2-5

Rationality, empiricism, and spirituality…

Let’s start the week with some philosophical musings, shall we?

I’ve been considering some things this morning, and thought I’d share them with you.  I sometimes get a little frustrated in conversations that are based in obvious, and easily proven, fallacious logic.  It’s fallacious logic posited as rational, and because it’s so widely defined as rational, both the secular and Christian world gets sucked into it.

For whatever reason, I’m often asked to give proof for my faith.  I’m asked for the evidence.  I’ve even been told that if I try to give evidence for the Christian faith, I’m a bad Christian because Christianity is a ‘religion’ (let’s call it a worldview to escape the term) that is built and founded on faith.  Skeptics confidently tell me that if I produce evidence, I’m not being very Christian.  Christians have even told me that if I produce evidence for my beliefs, I’m not pleasing God, because Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please Him.

It seems that I find myself between a rock and a hard place…  OK.  Let’s smash some boulders, and perhaps expose some sponges masquerading as granite…  I’ll get to the ‘Great Fallacy” in a few minutes.

If what I believe is true, there should be some sort of evidence to show it.  I readily admit and proclaim this.  If God created the universe, then what we see in the universe should indicate this.  At the very least, what we see in the creation should not tell us that God did not create it.  (I’m inferring the Judeo-Christian God that cannot lie.)  In other words, if my beliefs are true, what we find in reality should not negate that truth.  We should find rational and perhaps even empirical evidence to that truth.

I believe that we do.

Further, if Jesus really lived, taught, ministered, died, and rose again– all (partially) as a message from God, then that message should have been recorded for us.  In other words, I should expect to find it reflected in history.

He did, and we do.

There is nothing wrong with the Christian finding and sharing this rational support for our faith.

Here’s the rub.  None of that evidence is enough to empirically prove that God exists, that Jesus was His Son, that Jesus rose from the grave, that He ascended to Glory to build us a room in the Father’s house, that the Holy Spirit indwells us, that Jesus will return, or that any of us will go to heaven.

I’m sorry.  You’re not going to get it.  That’s not how God designed the world.  That’s not how God designed His redemptive plan.  That’s where faith comes in, and that’s why faith pleases God.  God gave fallen man plausible deniability so that we can choose to worship ourselves, and thus fall fully under His wrath (go read Romans 1).  He gave us some rational reasons to believe in Him, and the gift of faith to take us the rest of the way.  If we choose to deny the idolatry of self and accept Him, we do so with pierced hearts, armed with the gift of faith.

So, for me, I never try to prove Christianity right– well, not anymore.  It’s futile, and in my opinion as I grow in my walk, it’s counter to the gospel.  Instead, I try to give the reasons that I consider my worldview to be rational, and then pray that they are led to the faith that is the next step.

In any event, I now refuse to get dragged into the empiricism fallacy.  I just refuse to.  If you ask me to, prepare to be rebuffed, and prepare to be rebuffed on very rational, logical, well-reasoned grounds.  Let me explain what I call the “Empiricism Argument”.

This is the argument that professes that the only valid and acceptable form of knowledge is that which has been empirically tested and verified.  (In other words, the only things that we can truly know, we have empirically verified with our physical senses.)  It sounds pretty rational, right?  It sounds like a strong argument– partly because at its face, it sounds believable, and partly because we’ve been indoctrinated into the logic for so long.

But it’s philosophical clap-trap.  It’s easily rebuffed and exposed for fallacious reasoning.  Don’t believe me?  OK.

Prove it.  Because if that’s what you believe, your beliefs demand that you be able to empirically prove it.  If empiricism is true…  If it is knowledge that is trustworthy, you must be able to empirically prove it.  It has to live up to its own standards.  It has to eat its own dog food.

The problem is that, in claiming that all truth must be empirically verified while the claim itself is empirically unverifiable, it proves itself wrong.  If the empiricist statement is true, then it has proven itself false.  It’s called ‘the internal consistency test’.  And empiricism fails.

Please pardon me while I continue at a bit of a snail’s pace.  I want this to be as clear as possible to as many as possible.  So, I’ll show the fallacy another way.  Note the logic:

For empiricism to be true, empiricism must be shown as true empirically.  If empiricism cannot be empirically proven, then its claim fails on its own criteria.  For it to be true, it must be accepted as false.  It’s a logical contradiction.

Now, here’s the beauty of the Christian claims.  Not only does Christianity claim that one can know truth of a non-empirical nature.  Christianity claims that the greatest truths are known non-empirically.  The greatest truths are known spiritually!  This claim is in complete agreement with the rest of the Christian worldview (it’s internally consistent), and it’s completely rational.

Go read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

Paul says that the wisdom of God is not accepted by unbelievers because it is not physically ascertained.  It is spiritually ascertained.  In other words, they are not empirically proven and experienced.  They are spiritually proven and experienced– and they’re greater than anything the fallen world can formulate.  The ‘foolishness’ of God is greater than the wisdom of man!

Here’s what Paul was alluding to:  When a person takes that step of faith from empiricism, rationalism, etc to faithful acceptance, then they are reborn.  They become a new creature and their spirit (which was dead) comes to life– and that newly born spirit is the fresh receptor for spiritual truths.  Paul said that ‘His Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)  As a Christian, you have new receptors!  You can almost say that it then becomes empirically proven, because now you have new ‘senses’ that you didn’t have, and which the unbelieving world doesn’t have.  The Spirit testifies the wisdom of God that goes beyond any philosophical reasoning that has been introduced by humanity alone.

Existentially?  Do we really exist?  The Spirit testifies that you do and you belong to God!  Theologically?  The Spirit testifies that God exists, and loves you as His child.  How can we know truth?  The Spirit testifies it.

I can think of one particular discussion with a secular philosopher, and he got pretty irritated with me for this line of reasoning.  In our discussion, he was painted into a corner of whether he could know truth.  I had forced the issue that, without access to anything outside of himself for reference, he could not know if his perceptions are true.  He can never know what he thinks he knows.  He admitted that he could not, and countered that neither could I, so we were at a stalemate.  I told him that I can know truth because I have been spiritually born and God Himself ministers truth to me.  God Himself tells me that my perceptions are real.  I have something greater than myself and my perception to inform me of truth.  Because I am spiritually alive, I have insight into that which he does not.

I promise I am not and was not being purposefully arrogant.  I believe that I am and was just being honest and rational.  And it is both honest and rational that even the ‘foolishness’ of God is greater than the wisdom of man– because empiricism will only get you so far.  It will only get you to the questions.  It can only get you to a decision as to whether you’ll have faith.

God takes you from there, and He does so in a very rational way.