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Monday, February 18, 2013

Reason and Mystery

One of the oft-heard complaints against the Bible is that it defies reason and demands faith. That, according to the critics, is damning. We live by reason today, they say, not by faith.

Many Christians would agree, though from the opposite side of the table: We "live by faith and not by sight." But does that mean belief in God is unreasonable?

That, in fact, was the topic of a debate I recently watched between Drs. William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg. If you'd like to watch the debate it is here on YouTube.

Dr. Craig did a good job of laying out the reasonable basis for faith in God. The arguments were not new, but they were cogently expressed. Dr. Rosenberg's arguments against the reasonableness of belief in God seemed inadequate, even carping. I wish the format of the debate had been different. Maybe Dr. Rosenberg could then have argued in a positive way for disbelief in God or for his own position as a Materialist. Short of that, I find the purely materialistic cosmos Dr. Rosenberg believes in to be no better than believing in fairies; there is less evidence and reason for materialism than theism by far. It would seem to me that if reason was, in fact, the bottom line for the skeptic, a reasonable person would believe. But many don't. Why?

It was by a serendipitous juxtaposition of events that just the day after watching the debate my pastor spoke about one of the mysteries of our faith, the incarnation of God in Jesus. As I listened it occurred to me that this is the sticking point for many reasonable people, the mysteries. And clearly there are mysteries that defy reason. By mystery I mean that they are not knowable by reason; they are known by revelation. That is how the Bible uses the word. I do not mean they are illogical.

The great mysteries of the Christian faith are the triune nature of God, the incarnation of God in Jesus, and the mystery of salvation and God's plan for the ages (Romans 16:25 and 1 Corinthians 2:6-13) et al. These mysteries must be received by faith. Reason can not reach them. And I understand that is hard for many. But it is not impossible.

I respect honest doubt. And Jesus did too, by the way. That is the reason he responded so gently to John the Baptist's doubt in Matthew 11. He knew that it was honest doubt. And he knew that honest doubt is satisfied by the facts. I am confident that John found the facts sufficient.

That is not to say that faith is easy. It is not. It is hard. And sometimes it is harder than others. But the alternative is insane. Choose sanity.