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28th February, 2011

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As far as the heavens are above the earth

It's funny how we reason. Imagine you are walking along a downtown street on a lovely sunny day and stop to do some window shopping. Out of the corner of your eye you notice someone step out of a building then stumble and stagger and grab hold of a nearby street tree. You glance up and note that the sign over the door of the building reads, "The Pig and Whistle". What do you think? They're drunk, of course. Why do no alternative explanations come to you? Because your mind is conditioned in such instances to think the worst. Who knows? Quite conceivably the person had popped inside the darkened tavern to use the bathroom and had, upon emerging onto the sunny street outside a few minutes later, been momentarily dazzled, making them stagger a little and trip over a raised portion of sidewalk where the tree's roots had grown. A common human ailment is to trust implicitly in the validity of our conclusions, often arrived at with minimal thought and analysis of all the facts, or without recognizing the possibility of factors beyond our ken.

Few people bother to question their own reasoning. Hardly any are willing to consider the possibility of alternative analyses of "the facts" than their own. We see this proclivity all the time when it comes to peoples' views of the Bible. For instance, what do most conclude when they read in the Old Testament about God's command to Joshua to slaughter the Canaanite residents of the Promised Land without mercy and in the New Testament about Jesus' healing of lepers and blind people? Or when they see Israel's God decree death by stoning for adultery while Jesus famously said to the woman caught in the act, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" (John 8:11)? They conclude that Israel's God and Jesus operate on distinctly different wavelengths.

What do they conclude when they read this Old Testament law?

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard" Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

Almost to a man, all will cry, "barbaric". Many conclude from this precept that the Bible could not have been written by "God" (in whatever way they imagine Him), and that such laws reflect a primitive, unenlightened mentality. Others reason differently and conclude that "God" does exist but that he is "a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a

misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully".1 The Gnostics of old reconciled the harsh Old Testament God with Jesus' compassion and forgiveness by holding to the notion of two distinct divine beings, the one (the demiurge) being nasty and capricious while the other (Jesus) is enlightened and good. The basic idea continues today in a multitude of variations in the thinking of millions of individuals. Others see all the confusion and conclude in all sincerity that the Bible is bunkum.

Consider, if you will, a totally different way of reasoning. Jesus Himself unequivocally asserted that "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30). Jesus, the one who prayed on the cross that His Father would forgive His murderers, was wholeheartedly supportive of the herem, or decree of destruction, issued by His Father against the people of Jericho and other Canaanite cities. Although you and I may exhaust our intellectual batteries wrestling with reconciling a Mind that can extend "manifold mercies" (Neh. 9:19) to those He knows are "but dust" (Ps. 103:14) with a Mind that "will repay fury to His adversaries" (Is. 59:18), how about reasoning differently. All of the problems we have spoken of can be explained by invoking a sublime idea: God's mind is limitlessly complex yet perfectly coherent; these "opposing traits" are fully and perfectly integrated in the infinitely wise Mind that is God and Jesus Christ. Humanists reject that truism, reasoning instead that because they cannot come to terms with the multifaceted nature of the biblical God and the infinite richness of the thoughts expressed in nature and Scripture that therefore He cannot be. Ah, the folly and illogicality of those who say to themselves, "I am utterly incapable of laying hold of the complexities of the Mind revealed in Scripture; the universe is way too difficult for me to understand; I cannot see any justification for the "barbaric" laws outlined in the Torah (ignoring, of course, the numerous statutes designed to protect 'the fatherless and the widow'); therefore, I know that God cannot be".

Why don't Richard Dawkins and his ilk look up into the heavens and bow before the infinite height and depth and breadth of the Mind that could create such a complex universe held together by exquisite laws of physics and requiring incomprehensible mind power to work out in detail? The endless complexity of the Mind revealed in nature jibes perfectly with the inscrutability of the mind seen in Scripture. No wonder God could say with a straight face,

For as the heavens are higher than the earth , so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Is. 55:9).

Silly me. Of course; these are just the wishful musings of Isaiah, a man whose harp of inspiration was attuned to the loftier, more noble pathways of human thought. What a wonderful man.

1Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion


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