Friday, August 17, 2007

The Foolishness of God

Does Christianity make sense? Do all its various teachings add up? Is it logical?

For a time, I began to think - yes. It must make sense.

Something within me demanded logical explanations to all the haunting questions of the ages. “Why am I saved and not others?” “Why do the innocent suffer?” “What is the point of my life?” “What is the REAL truth and how am I to know it?” etc. etc.

I started to think that if Christianity can’t answer these big questions in a logically airtight, satisfying way, what good is it?

But this kind of thinking and search for logical answers (thankfully) proved fruitless.

Oh, I know there are Christian pat answers to these big questions. The best theological minds down through history (and continuing mercilessly in our time) offer us lots of ways to explain God and try to harmonize human logic with what we find in the Bible. But most of this is just interesting speculation. What I found was - regardless of which logical path I followed - God eventually ended up being either non-existent, impotent or a monster. So much for my logic.

Now I am certain that Christianity does NOT make sense. Christian theology is the very opposite of philosophy. It springs from different premises, operates by different rules, and in most cases (perhaps all?) cannot be reconciled with natural reason.

And that’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. If God is to stay God, it is the way it must be. When God and my reason collide, my reason necessarily yields, whether I like it or not. And I admit I seldom like it.

I am currently re-reading a book that has been in my library for many years - The Foolishness of God, The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther by Siegbert Becker. It is a fascinating and comforting book, because Prof. Becker (correctly, I think) uncovers the key to understanding Luther’s seeming anti-rationalism. He explains and defends Luther’s way of fitting Scripture, faith and reason together by relegating reason to its proper place - as a servant of Scripture and faith, not their master or judge. Put in a somewhat more spiritual way, faith inevitably puts natural reason to death, giving birth to a sanctified use of human reason, ruled by faith. (We don’t check our brain at the door. It is exchanged for a new one.)

The irony of the book is that it obviously employs human reason (as any book written by humans must) in a way that makes Luther’s unreasonableness totally reasonable. Or, as one commentator put it, “Luther may have been antirationalistic, but he was not irrational.”(David Scaer)

While all this sometimes makes my head swim, (using human reason to analyze human reason is a somewhat circular process), I believe that a simple recognition of the limits of natural reason is a gracious ingredient of the gift of faith. And it is immensely freeing.

Prof Becker’s book is not just a key to understanding Luther. It provides, I believe, a key to understanding Christianity itself. An escape, if you will, from the bondage of the fallen mind.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Bad Grammar of Tragedy

One of my pet peeves is politicians and news reporters who consistently torture the language in times of tragedy. The Minneapolis bridge collapse serves as but the latest sad reminder.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.”

This cliché contains two errors.

First, our thoughts do not really go anywhere. They either stay in our head, or, if they go anywhere, they “go out” to God. They certainly cannot “go out” to the victims and their families.

Ah, you say, but this is just an idiom. Well, actually it’s not. Unless we corrupt the language enough to make it one. The proper idiom is “My heart goes out.”

I could perhaps tolerate a new idiom where “thoughts go out” to someone, but the second error is not tolerable. Prayers ought never “go out to” the victims, nor to their families. Prayers can only go out to God, “on behalf of” or “for” the victims and their families.

Why politicians and news reporters want to continually tell us that they are praying to the victims and their families is beyond me. Don’t they know how silly this sounds? I’m guessing that many of them don’t even believe that God hears their prayers. Why would they believe the victims and their families can hear their prayers?

Maybe this is just a petty pet peeve.

But for some reason I want to throw a brick at the TV every time I hear the language tortured in this way. The suffering is bad enough at a time like this. People ought not be adding to it.

“My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I am praying for them.”


Is that so hard to say?