June 18, 2021

Jesus & Philosophy (1)

Wait, no, don’t run away! I can see your eyes already starting to glaze over when you see that title, and I can tell that you’re seeing that ‘(1)’ and asking yourself, “oh no — you mean there might be more than just one??”

Please think of these (there will be 3 in all) as a small bolster and support to your faith, at a general level but profound.  (And isn’t that true of Jesus in general, that He is very accessible at a general level yet is amazingly profound?)

Let’s get right to the issue in this first article: how can we determine the truth of statements that claim knowledge about something beyond our experience (that is, the metaphysical)?  For example, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he shall live forever,” and “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness.”  How can these be validated?

After all, anyone can make claims about what is true in the spiritual realm.  The comedian George Carlin had a joke about an ex-hippie who founded a religion which teaches that “when you die, your soul goes to a garage in Buffalo.”  Here in Berkeley, I have often had the thought that a person is permitted to believe just about anything so long as it’s not the Bible.  So how can we determine what is true?  What are some things Jesus says and does to bolster His own claims?

For this we look at Mark 2:1-11, the story about the paralytic who is healed by Jesus after being lowered through the roof by his friends.  Jesus says to him, “your sins are forgiven” (which is a claim about the spiritual realm, that He has authority to forgive anyone’s sins).  But in vv. 6-7, the scribes wonder, “How can this man say that? No one can forgive sins except God alone.”

So Jesus backs up His claim by doing something empirically verifiable, something in their experience: “Which is easier, to say to him, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins,” He said to the man, “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home”– and the man did just that!

Do you see?  He backed up His claim about the spiritual world by something miraculous yet very visible in their experience.  The feeding of the 5,000 in John 6 is another instance of this, as is His promise of His resurrection in John 2.

How can this work, when we are engaged in conversation with non-believers?  There are two pieces of empirical evidence to which I frequently return: the evidence for the Resurrection, and the fact that something happened, way back when, which caused a group of Sabbath-worshipping Jews to become Sunday-worshipping Jews.  It is worthwhile for every Christian to have, readily available in their minds, those facts which demonstrate that the Resurrection really took place, in real time and real history.  The empirically verifiable validates His claims about the spiritual realm.

“Which is easier, to say this or to do that?  But in order that you may know…”

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