2007.09.30 Contradictions, Wisdom and Blaise Pascal

I've been reading Blaise Pascal lately, mathematician turned theologian, and am amazed at the insights he has into the Christian faith. One of the conclusions I have come to in my recent life is that the existence of God cannot be proven using conventional human wisdom. Likewise, his existence cannot be disproved. Otherwise, it would not be a matter of faith! Reading Pascal reinforced my own beliefs, and what's below is a mixture of my thoughts and some borrowed from him.

Two Groups

I see two groups facing each other. On the right, zealous believers provide "incontrovertible proofs" of the existence of God, the kind most scientists would dismiss, and make those of us who are both Christians and scientists groan. They claim the Bible has no contradictions, that God is a rational being, and so can't "create a rock too big for him to lift."

On the left stand some who argue that belief in God is mere superstition, that no concrete evidence has ever been mounted in support of his existence. They either argue that such belief is irrational and antiquated, or that the world can be explained without him, ergo he doesn't exist. Some may not go so far, but merely state that if there is a God, he is irrelevant to their own lives.

I have come to believe that both groups are mistaken. Indeed, without contradiction, there could be no God! No logical argument can ever prove or disprove the existence of God.

Contradictions and Human Thinking

To the second group, those who claim irrelevance have no excuse, for they are relying merely on the convenience of a world without God. Imagine playing "Deal or no Deal" with a $10 billion prize. Who would walk away with $100,000 if the case with the big prize had not been opened? This is Pascal's wager. It's simply too big to ignore!

For the more logically inclined, mathematicians know that human logic itself is inconsistent, and they use logic to prove it! "This sentence is false." Modern physics has shown that even fundamental physical properties such as position and velocity cannot be simultaneously known! The very scientific method which set out to draw everything within the limits of human knowledge discovered that the task is doomed! And here is the most fundamental limitation, according to Pascal: mankind has achieved magnificent feats in engineering, arts, mathematics, imagination, and science. Yet is utterly helpless when it comes to taming its own heart. In modern terms, who can keep a New Year's Resolution? We believe we control so much of the environment around us, and yet can control so little of ourselves. We ignore this fact until it is too big to ignore. And what then, when science can provide no answers?

Contradictions and Christianity

What would I say to the first group? If they claim to have proven that God exists, their argument cannot be based on human logic, and therefore not convincing to those who believe in logical reasoning. To those who say that God is rational, I would argue that God can create a rock too big for him to lift. Is there a contradiction here? Absolutely! But if we could explain everything about God, would he be worthy of worship? The whole point is that the statement is completely beyond our understanding.

Biblical teachings are filled with contradictions. Paul writes in Romans 7, "If I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it." He is pointing out the inherent contradictions in our own nature. How can we both do something and not do something? We have free will, yet God knows the future. Paul also argues in Romans that we are saved through faith, yet James claims that "faith without works is dead." So which is it, faith or works that provides salvation?

The Biggest Contradiction

And what bigger contradiction is there than Jesus Christ, the son of God and son of man, fully God and fully man? The man who came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and yet was rejected by the people to whom that law was entrusted. Who said "the first will be last, and the last will be first" and "whoever wants to be first must be your slave" and "whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" and "he who believes in me will live, even though he dies". The prince of peace who came "not to bring peace, but division." The immortal man who was killed. The man who proved that God is not rational… for Jesus as a man could not lift the earth, and yet he could!

When we try to explain faith rationally, we are denying that we hold the proof in our own hearts. I am a Christian, I believe in God, not for what my mind tells me but for the ways in which God has changed my life. Unless I believed in my heart, I would not truly believe! Wow… I just realized that any doubts I have had are birthed in my head. We should never entrust our faith to our human knowledge! And so I hear "your heart of hearts is true, and always has been" when I doubt the most…

Finding God

What about those who believe the world can be explained without God? I don't believe they can be disproved. At some point, they will face a situation which cannot be explained by human logic, by their understanding of the world, and they know this. The question at this point is… will they ignore the tug in their heart that says something isn't right? or will they see if maybe, just maybe, there is a way to make sense of the contradictions.

Some might argue that contradictions are merely illusory, that they are provided merely to give us something to grapple with and in so doing come closer to God. And indeed they serve that purpose, but to call them illusory is to change the meaning of contradiction.

Others might argue that contradictions disprove the Christian faith. Indeed, they prove that the Christian faith is not human wisdom. We find God in the contradictions of life. We just have to accept that contradictions exist!

If you want to understand the world, you must understand your own self. If you want to resolve the contradictions in your heart, seek God. If you want to find God, seek him with all of your heart.

"You will find me when you seek me with all your heart."

"I will call those my people who are not my people."

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