Common Thoughts 2

Where were you when . . .?

I’ve said it before, by temperament, inclination, academic studies, my mind operates more in the realm of philosophical thinking than in other disciplines. As it happens, academically I’m also trained in Biblical studies and theology. From a number of Christian friends over the years, including my college advisor, all I really need is the Bible, so why get lost in vain philosophy?

Truth is, there has always been a natural tension between faith and philosophy. In my philosophical studies I clearly learned that while philosophy could take you to an acknowledgement that there was a God it couldn’t define this God it saw. Consider this exchange between Paul, who was in Athens, and a group of Epicureans who believed in a materialism and Stoics who believed in controlling themselves in a chaotic world by restraining their emotions, who said to them: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22-23 NIV.) Philosophy, he tells them, gives you a dilemma and I’m going to straighten this out and tell you about this unknown God.

There is a point where philosophical inquiry ends and theology, or better, scripture begins in answering our questions about Truth. There is a separateness of the two disciplines and when philosophy crosses that line it distorts Truth and when theology crosses that line in the other direction it mocks the mind of those asking honest questions and pretends they aren’t real questions.

I suppose in this schizophrenic mind of mine I’m trying to reconcile the two kinds of inquiry, to understand where one ends and the other begins, a balance between the two. What I know is that there is God of the universe and beyond, and God of the heart. While you can never really know God of the universe and beyond until you’ve reconciled with the God of the heart, it’s always there to discover and be awed by. There is so much more to God than our personal salvation, but the theologian in me knows that this discovery can only begin in our personal salvation, our reconciliation with the author of our being.

How do we get there? I’m a great admirer of Descartes in his statement that I doubt in order to know, but also a great admirer in Augustine in his statement that I believe in order to know. Doubt, for Descartes, is rational inquiry, belief for Augustine is intuitive inquiry. Both have their proper place. It’s just knowing when to set my rational mind aside and go with my heart and when to let my heart be challenged by my reason.

What is wisdom? Most dictionary definitions go like this: “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” I like to think of it as the application of good knowledge. Solomon is acknowledged as the wisest man ever. He was the son of king David and Bathsheba whom David appointed to be King before his death in 967 BC. He would rule for forty years, greatly expand the wealth and territory of Israel, build the Temple and greatly rebuild the city of Jerusalem (now called the city of David), have a relationship with the Queen of Arabia, Sheba, have many wives, as most rulers did a that time, and in his old age it all began to go south. From the Jewish Virtual Library we read this:

“Solomon’s downfall came in his old age. He had taken many foreign wives, whom he allowed to worship other gods. He even built shrines for the sacrifices of his foreign wives. Within Solomon’s kingdom, he placed heavy taxation on the people, who became bitter. He also had the people work as soldiers, chief officers and commanders of his chariots and cavalry. He granted special privileges to the tribes of Judah and this alienated the northern tribes. The prophet Ahijah of Shiloh prophesied that Jeroboam son of Nebat would become king over ten of the 12 tribes, instead of one of Solomon’s sons”.

In fact the kingdom did split with Solomon’s son Rehoboam holding only the Southern Kingdom of Judah losing the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Solomon, writing under the pseudonym of “The Preacher”, Ecclesiastes, reflected on what life taught him. In chapter 8 he begins with these words: “Who is like the wise? Who knows the explanation of things?” He concludes this chapter by writing: “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.” (v. 16.)

Consider this as well: In the midst of Job questioning God, God speaks to him with these words of wisdom: “Where were you when . .  .?” (Job 8.)

God or not-God. It doesn’t matter which you choose, you’re not going to have answers to all your questions. You are going to know far less than you know, and what you think you know is really speculation, not real Truth. In great hubris we think we know. We teach Truth as though we know it. We demand others accept this Truth. It really is only truth with a small “t” and not very good at that.

God or not-God; where were we when . .  .?