Demanding ProofPosted: April 27, 2014
SLIDE 5: SHOW ME
Thomas was the kind of guy who wanted proof. Show me. He was from Missouri. While the point here seems to be that Jesus gave Thomas the proof he wanted, the real point of the story is that we have to be willing to live by faith. God cannot be following us around every moment providing us with physical tangible proof of God’s existence, or that love is the secret of the universe. We believe because we want to believe, and if that isn’t enough we are likely to live lives of quiet desperation locked into a material view of the universe.
SLIDE 6: DOUBT IS IMPORTANT TO FAITH
Of course, if we’ve never had any doubts, it’s because we don’t take our faith seriously. Apathy not doubt is the enemy of faith. People in dangerous professions sometimes say that fear — and fear is a form of doubt — is essential to what they do. If they weren’t just a little bit afraid, they wouldn’t be as careful. If we never have any doubts, we would have to question whether or not we’ve really thought through the larger issues of who God is and who we are. Without somehow destroying us in the process, how could God be revealed to us in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for us.
SLIDE 7: REASONABLE DOUBT
In the courts there is the term “reasonable doubt,” and that reminds me of a story. An attorney was defending a man who was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened.
Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But, you all looked on with anticipation. I therefore put to you that you have a reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.” The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty.
“But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.”
The jury foreman replied, “Oh, we looked, but your client didn’t.”
SLIDE 8: I DOUBT THEREFORE I AM
Doubt is important. St. Augustine used doubt as the starting point to break through the conundrum of the skeptics. Greek philosophy had become hung up on the skeptic’s insistence that everything must be doubted, and therefore it was impossible to know anything for sure. We must even be skeptical of our own existence.
Considering this problem Augustine finally experienced a “eureka” moment, when he said, I can doubt all things, but I cannot doubt that I am doubting. Having established his doubt as the one thought of which he could be certain Augustine then built a philosophy and a theology that broke the skeptic’s hold on philosophy. I doubt therefore I am. Our doubt then establishes our existence and the existence of God. And that reminds me of a story Larry Kushner shares with us in Eyes Remade for Wonder.
SLIDE 9: DO YOU HAVE A SELF
“One of my high school students once asked me if I could prove there was a God. Instead I asked her if she had a self. She thought for a moment and said, ‘Of course.’
‘And is your self important to you?’
‘Very,’ she replied.
‘And where would you be,’ I pushed, ‘without your self?’
‘In big trouble.’
‘Can you prove you have one – a self?’
Think about that. The next time we want proof God exists, think about whether or not we can prove our selves exist?
SLIDE 10: SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS
Sometimes our eyesight blinds us to other ways of knowing. In the last months of her life, Helen Keller expressed a deep and profound pity for the real unseeing of the world, for those who have eyes yet who do not see. Deprived nearly all her life of the gift of sight, nevertheless, her long years of physical blindness had given her a spiritual insight that enabled her to enjoy life to its fullest. Commenting on the nature of spiritual blindness she said this: “When the blind put their hand in God’s, they find their way more surely than those who see but have not faith or purpose.”
SLIDE 11: FAITH AND A PURPOSE
Faith and a purpose that grows out of faith is the foundation for spiritual insight. We cannot prove we have a purpose in life. Our gifts and our talents may give us hints about what we might be good at or enjoy doing. The great Islamic Poet Rumi wrote: “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” Talents are important and can lead toward vocation, but purpose is something different.
SLIDE 12: A COMMITMENT TO SOMETHING LARGER THAN OURSELVES
Purpose is a commitment to something larger than ourselves. Part of the estrangement of our modern age is that so many people have no commitment to anything other than themselves. Sort of like Lucy in our Peanuts cartoon. According to Dr. Robert Moore the overwhelming psychological dis-ease of our twenty-first century is narcissism. Sometimes by extension people will include an obligation to family or a circle of friends as part of the focus on themselves, but the lack of dedication to principles, beliefs, or a vision larger than our selves is at the heart of the alienation in our culture.
SLIDE 13: WHAT BELIEFS ARE WORTHY OF OUR COMMITMENT?
So what beliefs are worthy of our commitment? What vision gives a meaning and purpose to life that will sustain us? As I look at the long road of the evolutionary development of the universe despite the insistence of some that everything is random, I see direction in the unfolding of creation. From pure blinding energy to electrons to atoms to galaxies and star clusters and solar systems and planets the cosmos is moving in the direction of novelty and complexity. And as life has evolved from simple cells and bacteria to more complex plants and animals to redwoods and roses to whales and giraffes to humans biological evolution has moved toward ever greater complexity and consciousness.
SLIDE 14: CULTURAL EVOLUTION?
Now I know some people will dispute the idea of cultural evolution, but on the long road from stone tools to fire to language to story to religion, and from settlements, to villages, to towns to great cities our culture is evolving toward greater complexity and a new global consciousness.
SLIDE 15: AUSCHWITZ AND RWANDA ARE NEVER FAR AWAY
Nature is still red in tooth and claw and our animal natures are never far away. We must always beware we are still capable of terrible cruelty and barbarism – Auschwitz and Rwanda are never far away.
SLIDE 16: REACHING FOR COMPASSION AND KINDNESS
But I believe we are coming to a point when evolution is moving in the direction of cooperation and sharing rather than competition and greed we are reaching toward compassion and kindness rather than violence and aggression – we are slowly moving toward the way of Jesus and peace.
Call me a dreamer. Demand proof. And I will answer can we imagine another dream worth pursuing. If we were allowed to choose a purpose in life, what would you choose instead – to eat, drink, be merry and attend as many sporting events as possible, or sit on the couch and watch television until we die? We all want some meaning or purpose worthy of living.
SLIDE 17: MALCOM MUGGERIDGE, ALBERT SCHWEITZER, MOTHER THERESA
Malcolm Muggeridge was an English journalist who for most of his early life was an atheist. But then he made a visit to Lambarene, in Gabon West Africa to meet and interview Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his jungle hospital. Muggeridge recorded two interesting episodes on his trip. When he arrived he was told that Dr. Schweitzer was working at a construction site at the hospital, and sure enough when Muggeridge arrived at the site Dr. Schweitzer was pushing a wheel barrow. Surprised Muggeridge asked, “But doctor, how is it that you are pushing a wheel barrow?”
Schweitzer replied, “Well it is really quite easy. You fill it with dirt and pick up on the handles and push.”
SLIDE 18: THAT WAS MY MOSQUITO THANK YOU.
This convinced Muggeridge that the reports of Albert Schweitzer’s humility were genuine. The second incident open the journalist’s eyes to Schweitzer’s commitment to non-violence and his ethic of reverence for life. While they were standing together a large mosquito landed on Dr. Schweitzer’s arm and Muggeridge reached over and swatted the mosquito. Prompting Schweitzer to scold, “that was my mosquito thank you.”
SLIDE 19: MOTHER THERESA HELPED HIM FIND FAITH
As a result of his visit to Lambarene, Malcolm Muggeridge began to reconsider the Christian faith. And then on a trip to India he met Mother Theresa. His life was changed as he reported on her ministry, and he finally converted to the Catholic faith.
I’ve told some of Malcolm Muggeridge’s journey of faith as an introduction to an observation he made about resurrection in his later years. This is the season of resurrection and I think this eloquently addresses some of our doubts.
SLIDE 20: ARE CATERPILLARS TOLD OF THEIR IMPENDING RESURRECTION?
“For myself, as I approach my end, I find Jesus’ outrageous claim ever more captivating and meaningful. Quite often, waking up in the night as the old do, I feel myself to be half out of my body, hovering between life and death, with eternity rising in the distance. I see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter and, hovering over it, myself, like a butterfly released from the chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth-crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely painted wings? If told, do they believe it? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads — no, it can’t be; it’s a fantasy. Yet, in the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of gray, I hear those words: ‘I am the resurrection, and the life,’ and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.”