Sunday, April 06, 2008

Uncertain? Who's Fault Is That?

It occurred to me this morning, that Truth and Certainty have something to do with communication. I think Truth is What God Knows. And if I'm to have any truth, God has to tell me. Now, this is a rather odd formulation if you aren't a theist. But if there is a God it doesn't matter that you're not a theist.

Now, communication is a process where ideas in my mind become ideas in your mind. Since communication isn't a perfect thing, there may be some change of the ideas during this process. I think in terms of language and I express ideas in my native language in either spoken or written words. My skill with language and my clarity of thought will bear upon the effectiveness with which thoughts get into your head. If your language differs from mine, or your cultural idioms differ, we should expect some translation will be necessary.

Christianity teaches that God discloses truth to mankind in General and Special revelation. Special revelation includes the Bible. And the communication model I've described above fits the process of reading and interpreting the Bible.

In dialog with an apostate years back I was confronted with a number of "contradictions" in the Bible. I used scare quotes around contradiction because I claimed then that there are no contradictions in the Bible. Now, we can easily interpret the Bible in a malicious fashion so as to contrive contradictions. e.g. Jesus said he was a vine, and John said he was a lamb, and a lamb is not a vine. (In this sense of "malicious interpretation" I'll concede that contradictions can be construed by the skeptic.) The matter is not that a contradictory interpretation can be contrived, but that no harmonious interpretation exists.

I was plowing through the list of contradictions my interlocutor had given me and I formulated harmonious explanations for all but one. And that one had me flummoxed. It was a crisis of faith. And I prayed about it.

Prayer changes things most frequently by changing the person doing the praying. And in the prayer I acknowledged a fair degree of pride in my ability to solve such problems. And pride is not one of the cardinal virtues of the Christian. In fact, it's on the vice side of the tally sheet.

And I realized two questions were in play: 1) is the Bible contradictory? and 2) am I skilled enough at hermeneutics to resolve this apparent cotradiction? If *I* fail to interpret a text correctly is it the text's fault or is it mine? Once the thought occurred to me that my failure to solve this hermenutical puzzle might be MY fault, the solution presented itself and all was well. Contradiction and Crisis of faith resolved. If curious, I've written up the "contradictions" here and here. (I apologize for the woodenness of my prose.)

In the truth and certainty debate, it is important to consider where blame for one's uncertainty should be placed. I think consideration of blame can help bring together the parties in an intramural debate between those asserting "philosophical uncertainty" and those who do not. Placing blame helps us distinguish "philosophical uncertainty" borne of creaturely humility from pagan, post-modern skepticism.

My atheist and agnostic friends blame uncertainty about the existence of God and his speaking in Scripture upon God and Scripture itself. And if there is no God, then uncertainty about his existence, indeed certainty of his non-existence is perfectly reasonable. However, if you are a Christian Theist, then there is a God who has spoken.

But did God mumble? If God mumbles, then he is to blame for any uncertainty about what he's said. I don't think anyone in the Emergent Church movement would grasp this thistle. I think it is slanderous to suggest they do.

If God speaks clearly, any uncertainty could be the fault of our ears. Christianity asserts that all men are fallen, and Reformed Christianity asserts that the fall touches man's every capability. (This is TULIP'S T.) I think this explains my atheist and agnostic friends' uncertainty about the existence of God. They were born deaf and have subsequently stuffed cotton in their ears. (Rom 1:20)

Catholicism seems to munge moral and metaphysical categories. The Catholic notion of grace has a metaphysical component that serves to bridge the gap between created and uncreated beings. (By means of metaphysical grace infused within the bones of a saint, Catholicism has claimed that a relic can perform miracles.) The goal of redemption in Catholic terms is the visio Dei that not only consists of the complete cleansing of the sinner of his sins, but a bridging of the impedance mismatch between the non-being of creatureliness and ultimate beingness of the Uncreated One. (Apologies if I've misrepresented Scholastic thinking. I'm only a Baptist after all.)

This metaphysical impedance mismatch between creature and uncreated might be to blame why God might speak clearly, but (incompletely) redeemed man not hear clearly enough to be certain.

I think we want to ask our brothers who claim "philosophical uncertainty" if they blame this uncertainty upon their creaturely finitude. This seems to be what R.C. Sproul is thinking about when he says he'd have to be omniscient to possess "philosophical certainty." And I'm cool with this. I think it's wrong, but this isn't a test-of-fellowship disagreement. If you blame your philosophical uncertainty upon your creaturely finitude, that is an expression of creaturely humility.

Indeed, creaturely humility is one of the cardinal virtues of Christianity.

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