A commenter on Mere-O pointed out that the intellectual Jews skeptically asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” to get out of the problem of dealing with what they already knew to be true about the Gospel. This came in response to a post I made pointing readers to Dr. Sanders’ comments on Middlebrow about the “simplicity” of the Christian faith. My reply immediately follows:

Your point is well taken, but if you look at Sanders’ post, you will find he is not talking about the skeptical intellectual. Rather, he refers to the one who earnestly desires to know more about God.

When you say, “…what we need to know, we already know,” I must distinguish. If we know Jesus is the Son of God, He died on the cross for our sins and rose again, in a sense we know enough. But the human mind is capable of far more complexity than that. The Bible pushes us to think hard about what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God (and fully man), for Him to die for our sins, and how God raised Him from the dead.

One of my mentors asks his students: “If I tell everyone I love my wife, but after years of marriage I can’t tell you the color of her eyes, would you not suspect my claim?” His point is that if we love God, we should get very serious about finding out who He is. We must – and get to – know Him more.

I think you are rightly pointing out that many “intellectuals” would rather put debates between themselves and the penetrating issues that require a change in belief*, e.g. the Good Samaritan story and context. But let us not heep them all together. Instead, let us not only allow room for genuine inquiry, but also encourage such inquiry and even demand it of our fellow Christians to the maximum capability God has given them.

Comments welcome.

*By belief, I mean more than simple assent to a proposition. Rather, it is something that reaches down to the core of the human person and influences action.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

One Comment

  1. Andrew,

    My view of your style is something like this: when you study a text you take great care not only to study its immediate taste but also to extend the patience necessary for it to digest and see how it settles inside you. I find this honorable in an age where views and opinions can be found at such rock bottom prices and immediately flipped to the next customer.

    >> the human mind is capable of far more complexity than that.

    Unlike the human tongue which gathers immediacy, the human mind gathers mediacy … that is to say differing parts (however different) become related to a whole by virtue of abstraction. The human mind can simulatenously remember such things as the height of Roman greatness as well as its decadence. Are there some things it cannot mediate? Certainly, like square circles.

    If God gave humanity the task of understanding square circles, our minds would not be of much help to us. We would need to find another mediator.

    But what about conundrums like this:
    God, who shows no partiality, has extended His favor on a small group of people.
    God is not a man, but Jesus -who is God- is a man.
    If a person wants to be the greatest, he must become the very least, a slave to all men.
    God, who is perfectly holy and perfectly values holiness, loves sinners.
    Abraham gave up his son Isaac at the same time he trusted God would give him his son.

    In the history of theology there are generally two responses: “Yes, these issues are hard for the simple to understand, but we, the learned, clever, educated men that we are can see past these puzzles. Yes, it even makes sense that God would love us! I could have predicted it! There is no mystery in it to us!”.

    My favorite example of these types is Hegel who basically said the mystery of Jesus can be simply explained thusly: the attributes of God are not incompatible with the attributes of man. And so it is not hard to believe how a very holy person could be God. Or maybe we’re all Gods. Or maybe everything is God … In Hegel’s logic (where everything is explainable) the world quickly becomes that painting of black cows standing in coal at night … that is to say everything is the same. In the “absolute mind” everything is mediation.

    The other response is to say that these mysteries are paradoxes which defy all mediation. To confidently say, “I don’t have any idea how God could love someone like me…” Or, “I don’t know why Jesus would leave heaven for a race of misfits…” is to basically say, “I believe this paradox to be true though it defies all mediation.” In this latter case our minds are not suffecient to perform the mediation. We need a completely new and different mediator.

    We need Jesus.

    We need faith. We need to forgive and be forgiven. We need these mysteries of God which cannot be explained away.

    >> One of my mentors asks his students: “If I tell everyone I love my wife, but after years of marriage I can’t tell you the color of her eyes, would you not suspect my claim?” His point is that if we love God, we should get very serious about finding out who He is. We must – and get to – know Him more.

    I can easily envision such a case in the physical world. Suppose a defendent claims to be the husband of a certain woman, but under cross examination the jury learns he does not know her eye color. Here it would make sense to be suspicious of his claim.

    It is different in the realm of spirit. In that hidden place that only God (and oneself) can see it is not a matter of “suspicion” but of certainty. Here a person can find that he remembers thousands of things about a person and yet does not know them (as we may be able to say about Christ’s rebuke of Philip: “have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know me, Philip?”). Here a person (struggling say with amnesia) can be unaware of many “facts” about a person and somehow know them (like the disciples on the road to Emmaus).

    In the physical world we know one another by our roles, our appearances, and our attributes. In God’s eyes we are known -each one of us- by our priorities, or as Samuel writes, by “the heart”. In the physical world we look at someone and say, “That man is just a farmer and nothing more”, and, “Over there is a good-looking person”, and “Oh my! That person has a lot of money!”. And again, this is not the way God looks at a person.

    So then we come to theology and ask it to tell us about God.

    Theology says in an excited way: “I can tell you all kinds of things about God! His attributes are to be … etc. His role is to … etc. He is the most good-looking of all. He is a God-kind of thing. Etc.” Is this high-flying talk not like the way pagans talk about each other and describe each other?

    Love does not delight in how knowledgable it is (as if to seek the compensation of reputation for carrying an awful burden). Love delights in ignorance … just as Paul writes, “In regard to evil be infants” and as the song goes, “I don’t know much, but I know I love you.”

    If one were going to speak truly of God in words they would sound like, “A bruised reed he will not break,” and, “He desires that no man will be condemned,” and, “He hates what is evil.” Therefore, to understand God one must essentially know His wants. All other “ontology” is idle speculation, worldly, and (in truth) demonic.

    So much then for comprehending the gospel with the mind. “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph.5:32)


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