Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Great Questioner

As I read in the gospels about the ministry of Jesus, I find it fascinating how Christ engaged with humanity during His earthly life.  The impact He made during only three short years of active ministry are hard to deny even for the non-believer, but so many of the things He said and did were controversial.  No matter where He traveled, people were amazed by Him and the course of lives forever altered by even brief encounters.  Jesus spoke both with compassion and authority; the parables he told astonished even the most educated and versed in the scripture.  Because of the seemingly radical nature of His claims and the people Jesus often associated with (sinners and social outcasts) caused many to question Him.  Even His closest companions had many questions and no doubt reservations prior to the resurrection.  After all, they left everything in order to follow Him.

Jewish boys in Jesus' day would begin their education around the age of 5, learning to read, write, and study the written Torah (or Pentateuch - the first five books of the Bible).  By the age of 10, Jewish boys would have memorized the Torah (unbelievable) and much of the Talmud studying under a Rabbi in the temple.  Formal education would be completed around the age of 13 for most, at which point they would take on their father's trade.  For others who were especially good students would continue their study of the Halachot (rabbinic legal decisions), they would marry around 20 and then take on some vocation.  Men who sought to become scholars of the highest order would go to a renowned teacher and ask to become their disciple.  By around the age of 30, the scholar would then begin his own teaching ministry.  In the Bible, we read in the book of Luke that at the age of 12, Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus and “They (Jesus’ parents) found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at his understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:46-47)  We also know that Jesus earthly ministry began around the age of 30.

As Jesus began this ministry, He met a lot of nay-sayers.  The Pharisees and Sadducees (religious leaders) often questioned Him.  What is interesting was the way Jesus responded to their questions, which were often worded in such a way as to try and trap Him into saying something that would give them cause to condemn Him.  But Jesus, being God and all, usually responded to such questions by asking his questioner a question.  Now why did He do this?  As Ravi Zacharias has adeptly pointed out, by responding with a question, Jesus forced the person to open up and be aware of their own assumptions - the ones loaded into their question.  Jesus was clearly no fool.  This was not a tactic Jesus used to deflect the questioner, but a way of demonstrating His understanding not only of the question, but of the intent behind it.

A perfect example of this is found in Luke 20:20 -

"Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius (Roman coin). Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” "Caesar’s,” they replied.  He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

You see how if the question is flawed, then it becomes self defeating.  Let's bring this into a modern application.  So often times Christians are questioned by non-believers in this same way.  It is often a parroted type of question which the non-believer often finds cannot be answered.  So many non-believers I meet have latched on to one unanswered question which they routinely toss into the face of every Christian they meet as a sort of self reassuring "gotcha."   They will then point to this as the reason for their inability to accept the Christian faith.  Interestingly enough, what they are really saying is that unless you can demonstrate for me exhaustive and authoritative knowledge about all questions relating to God, I cannot accept it as truth.  The problem with the rationality then is the inequitable manner in which the logic is being applied - after all, does anyone have this type of authoritative knowledge on any subject?

To illustrate my point let me give you a common question posed by the skeptic.  "If God is real and really perfectly good like the Bible says, then why is it there is suffering and pain in the world?"  Think about would you respond??

My response might look something like this (please understand I am oversimplifying a deep theological issue for the sake of illustration):

- When you refer to God being "good", aren’t you saying there is such a thing as wrong or evil?
- If we can agree there is such a thing as good and evil, then aren’t we assuming implicitly there is an objective moral law by which to distinguish between the two (right and wrong)?
- If we agree there is an objective moral law (that rape is morally wrong even if tomorrow every person decided it was ok), then doesn't that necessitate a moral law giver? 
- Wouldn't the moral law giver have to be outside of humanity, perfect in order to create such a standard, all powerful in order to invoke it, and eternal in order to enforce it?

You see, by asking a few basic questions of the questioner, we have unveiled the fundamental flaw in the line of questioning itself.  By asking how God could be real while simultaneously invoking the concept of moral law is to contradict oneself.  The question is a self defeating one.  Objective moral law is not possible apart from God.  Morality or "values" as they are called today in an attempt to value meaninglessness, is not a universal standard if it is relative to popular opinion and whatever happens to be socially acceptable.

This question does raise some legitimate questions such as the free will of man and why God chose to create a world in which there is free will rather than a world where choice and evil were not possibilities.  This is a whole other discussion, but if you are interested in more on the topic, C.S.Lewis has dealt with this issue quite well on an existential level in his book "The Problem of Pain."

Jesus truly is "...the way, the truth, and the life" John 14:6 just as He claimed.  Because we are on the side of truth, defending that truth is made easier.  Be encouraged by this.  In a statement to Pilot, Jesus said "all who are on the side of truth listen to me."  If Christ was truly God as He claimed, then the statement is a logical qualification.

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