Monday, August 23, 2010

Knowing the Biblical Sense

More than any of my very outspoken and radical stances, my belief about the suprarational nature of God (or the "illogicalness" of God if you prefer) has caused the most controversy. As an ardent proponent of non-resistant pacifism and "Christian anarchy," and an equally outspoken opponent of therapeutic and eugenic abortion, I find it somewhat odd that the simple and somewhat esoteric assertion that God could make A equal not A should engender the most antagonism toward me. (For previous posts, see my response to Ron Highfield and Barton W. Stone.) I would like to think that somehow people sense the inherent threat to their worldview that comes from admitting that God is not constrained by logic. On the one hand, atheists have objected, I feel, because they know that a God which cannot be logically assaulted cannot be assaulted. On the other hands, Christians have objected because their theology and, more critically in some ways, their biblical hermeneutic is based on the supremacy of logic. (Interestingly, through the influence of John Behr I can no longer understand why our biblical hermeneutic is not founded primarily on the supremacy of Christ.) There is something frightening about the possibility that we might not be able to put God in any box at all, not even the box of logic. There is an understandable anxiety about the fact that the Creator may not be able to be circumscribed and thereby made impotent by the creation.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe this to be the case. I would gladly argue the point for the rest of my life using nothing but rhetoric, existential appeals, and unaccompanied quotes from church fathers, theologians, and even, strangely, rationalist philosophers. Yet, I feel compelled to address the question biblically, in part because I know that I can never convince anyone in my own movement without making direct appeal to the Bible, and then only through the preferred hermeneutic of Baconian induction. Conveniently, regardless of how I feel about the ultimate validity of the strict application of logic as a hermeneutical tool, even when all the instances of divine revelation are lined up neatly for the reader, the God of illogic is revealed and vindicated. That is, in part and crudely, what I propose to do here.

The Bible is replete with stories of God's self-revelation to humanity. In fact, one might even go so far as to say that the Bible is the story of the history of humanity coming to know God. If I had the time and inclination, I could make an exhaustive list of all theophanic activity in Scripture, and I am confident that my conclusion would be the same. I would gladly demonstrate that no one in Scripture arrived at God rationally. Each was called by God apart from the powers of his or her own intellect. Moreover, it would be a pleasure to show that these callings and the regular inbreaking of God into reality was more often explicitly contrary to logic rather than in line with it. I do not, however, have the time or inclination.

So let it suffice to examine the text more generally with special attention paid to a representative example: Moses and the burning bush. With the arguable exceptions of Adam and Eve and the disciples at Mount Tabor, no one experienced a more direct revelation of God than did Moses. He heard God's voice directly and frequently. More importantly, he would even "see" God at one point in his life. For all the spiritual intimacy typified in David or the faith typified in Abraham, no one compares to Moses in terms of direct personal contact.

The burning bush, moreover, as the beginning of the long and close connection of God with Moses represents a particularly potent example to demonstrate the irrationality of God and His self-revelation. It is not merely that Moses did not discover God after contemplating the logical inevitability of a supreme being. It is not enough that Moses encountered God rather than deducing His presence. Moses experienced God in a way that was supremely irrational: a bush which while on fire was not consumed. The experience of God was not merely overwhelming within the bounds of reason but violated the principle of reasons which govern existence. Modern science only serves to elucidate this story by highlighting its blatant idiocy. Fire, we know, is no independent thing, merely the visible byproduct of the process of rapid oxidation. In other words, there is no fire without consumption since fire is itself only the tangible product of consumption. A fire that does not burn anything is an impossible contradiction, a square-circle right in the Bible.

Hallelujah to the impossible contradiction. This is the God of Israel, the violator of reality and the defier of the "laws" of reason, the precepts of logic. This is the God we see manifest throughout the Bible. The God who parts the waters, who turns water into blood, who turns water into wine, who turns water bitter, who makes water come from a rock, who walks on water, who destroys the world with water, and redeems the world with water. Sometimes the sun stops. Sometimes the earth swallows people up. Sometimes storms quiet. Sometimes food multiplies. Sometimes people raise up from the dead.

That last one is my favorite, if for no other reason than I believe I will get to experience it myself.

We do not grasp God logically in the same way that I do not understand my love for my wife logically. Even if we concede that science can exhaustively explain my love for my wife in neuro-chemical terms (and I think this would be unnecessarily generous), I do not understand my love for her as biological. My love for her is experienced irrationally. In the same way, even though some may delude themselves into believing that they may approach God through unadulterated logic, humanity does not understand God rationally but existentially, and even then as an irrational experience. We do not believe that seventy-two mathematicians went into seventy-two different rooms and emerged seventy-two days later all holding identical translations of Euclid's Elements into Koine. We do not believe that 318 logicians made the trek to Nicaea in order to confirm as orthodoxy that A =/= ¬ A. If we believe the tradition (and I see no reason not to), then we believe that seventy-two Jews, contrary to all reasonable expectations, produced identical translations of the highly irrational stories just outlined and that 318 bishops assembled at Nicaea to confirm the radically illogical orthodoxy that A = ¬ A.

John Locke was confused to speak of the reasonableness of Christianity and his confusion is like an epidemic in the Christian consciousness. We worship the reasonableness of Christianity and the logic of its rational God like an idol. With all the trouble caused by the biblical anthropomorphisms of a God who speaks and walks, with hands and eyes and a mouth, there is no more perilous anthropomorphism than the rash assumption that God is logical and reveals Himself logically. By insisting that God must conceive of reality as humanity does, must interact with creation as humanity does, and must operate within the same binding strictures that humanity does we come closer to making God over in our image than if we were to insist He had hands. In fact, I am ready now to confess that it is easier for me to suggest that God may have hands than to insist that He must be logical. The former speaks only of the possibilities open to an unfettered deity while the other is the supreme fetter which ties Him down and make Him little more than an unspeakably powerful wizard in a children's story.

The God of the Bible does not behave logically and people do not arrive at Him rationally. It is, therefore, quite inappropriate as far as I'm concerned to suggest either that God is the solution at the end of a metaphysical equation or that God is bound in any sense by the mathematics that produce such equations. If God is real, and He is, He necessarily transcends logic, and nothing demonstrates this more clearly than His activity in the world as recorded in Scripture.

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