Sunday, December 5, 2010

God in a Box

I am a blogger and once fully approached Christianity with an apologetics approach--how to defend the faith from attacks, win converts through logic, etc. This is a great ministry, and extremely important to the faith.

But one of the glaring things about apologists (though I suspect it to be true of all Christians) is how badly confirmation bias affects them. The more successful they get and longer they write, the more stubborn and narrow their viewpoint becomes. They get all this God stuff "figured out", and there isn't one ounce of doubt about any of their doctrines.

The truth is that they haven't got it figured out--at least not significantly more than any thinking, self-examining, educated Christian. What they have figured out is how they can successfully defend their faith in debates; and, therefore, this becomes their faith.

Not all apologists fall into this, but it is the major danger. The natural human tendency for a debater is to define the boundaries of their beliefs to match what they can actually prove. And therefore, a key change occurs: they are no longer trying to use debate to defend the faith of Christ; instead, they are choosing to make their faith match what they can defend in debate.

You see, we all essentially want a God in a Box. We want to have a clearly-defined set of doctrines, a clearly-defined set of definitions, a clearly-defined set of Scriptures and methodologies for interpreting them.

But that isn't the faith of Christianity. It simply isn't. God is almost impossible to view through any human lens. He, by His nature, resists boxes. He defies definition. There is no box which fully describes a God who is achingly tender at one point and brutally just at the other; who, one minute, is concerned about insignificant details in our lives and in the next can allow us to undergo mighty suffering; who once walked beside man and yet now chooses to stay hidden and win converts through subtler means.

The irony is that the apologists' inability to tie God down into a clearly-defined box is actually one of the most powerful defenses of our faith.

Pantheisms, paganism, and Islam all tend to have pretty clear "boxes" for their Gods. You may not agree with them, but it is fairly easy to say, "In such and such a situation, Allah will do this." Not with God. The Bible is clear that God is mysterious, that His ways are not our ways, that even the greatest human mind cannot comprehend Him.

And that, my friends, is the sign of a Person.

Ideas can be captured and defined into boxes. Ideas can be clearly defined, with edges as sharp as a knife. But a Person cannot. A Person is complex, processing nearly-infinite inputs before choosing to go one way or the other. A Person is sometimes unpredictable, sometimes mysterious.

And if God is real, He will be too. Even more so, because of the gap of understanding between His omniscience and our very limited understanding of the world.

So apologists, please be careful. Some of my least "connected" times to God were when I was succeeding in apologetics. It made my faith about me, about definitions, about crystal clarity. But God isn't crystal clear, and neither will our faith ever be crystal clear. As C.S. Lewis once said, no doctrine seems to be less Real than the one we just successfully defended.

What box have you put God in? Are there certain parts of the Bible that make you squeamish to read? Are there certain liberties that other Christians take in their lives, but that you feel are just too "worldly"? When you hear what other denominations believe or how they worship, do you tend to look down on them rather than embrace the mystery of God? Are you highly concerned with this or that theological doctrine (Calvinism, or really any other "ism")? Do you have a very specific view of how Genesis and Revelation can be interpreted, and believe everyone else is either stupid or compromising their faith?

If so, then you have put God in a box.

As for me, I pray to God that I never do so again. I want to worship and follow God the Person, God as He is--not as I can define Him.

Our God is a God of mystery. And praise the Lord--because that mystery is proof that He is a real Person, not just an idea. This is not a God we could have thought up.

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