We all like to speculate. Some do it more than others. And some do it more constructively than others.
Think, for instance, of the pioneering physicists of the last century. Albert Einstein, for one, unpacked quantum realities with huge leaps of insight. And he was just one of a clan of pioneers who at first seemed to be promoting impossible possibilities. And we now know, with sound evidence in place, that their speculations were spectacularly sound.
Some speculations are less constructive. A number of fruitless conspiracy theories still abound. Who, for instance, was “really” behind John F. Kennedy’s assassination? Or, for another, were the American trips to the moon actually massive shams, filmed in a warehouse by clever government agents? And are “flat earth” promoters telling the truth? I’m skeptical in each case!
But what drives speculations? It certainly starts with proper curiosity. We try to make sense of the world around us—loose information needs to be ordered. So I may watch a sunset and wonder about the next morning’s weather. Then on the evening news a meteorologist satisfies my curiosity with all sorts of data woven together into a reliable forecast.
But what do we do with incoherent theories—with speculations that don’t mesh with reality? And when adequate time for correction or clarification has passed? Do we still believe things despite contrary evidence?
Let me pick on evolutionary theory. It ultimately relies on a central premise that everything in our supremely complex universe was formed over time through random chance. So that dramatic order came out of dramatic disorder. Yet that’s certainly not what scientists see in research labs; or what we see in ordinary life. Nevertheless it’s still repeated as an article of faith among anti-theists. So I’m happy to embrace God’s intelligent design as my own article of faith—what the Bible calls “creation”—as the better premise to explain an orderly universe.
But that’s not the issue I want to chase in this blog. Instead I’d like to reflect, briefly, on three speculations that are common among Christians today that flunk a biblical review. Or, to put it differently, three views that bold Bible reading won’t support.
One is a conviction that God is fixated on human misdeeds. The idea is that God has given us laws to live by, and that our sinful lawlessness surprises and upsets him. Yet the Bible actually teaches that God gives us laws to illuminate one key truth: that apart from faith in him life won’t work. So his laws point to a single problem many will try to ignore—that he’s God and we aren’t able to fill his shoes. So laws teach us about our “lawless” selves while God is never surprised.
A second and related premise about God is that he’s intentionally distant. So that many treat him as a “Sunday-only” figure—mainly wanting some glory from us while, in return, he provides us with eternal life insurance. This is held despite a host of biblical and providential clues that, with God’s triune heart, he is deeply relational. The Father wants the Son to have a bride for the rest of eternity, and the Spirit is actively wooing us to that end! We even have human marriages as relational workshops that can prosper if God’s own motivation of selfless love is active.
And this brings us to a third common misreading of reality. It’s that our present physical status is all-that-is-true-of-us. So that our bodies define who we “really” are. This is, for instance, what a secular neurobiologist may presume. And many Christians hold the same view. But it’s not true.
If, for instance, a friend or family member has a stroke and the brain damage leads to a major personality change, has that person’s body changed? Or has that person’s soul changed? Some of us face this question when a beloved companion has a stroke or brain injury and then turns into a taciturn figure or, worse, into someone who is foul-mouthed and angry—someone we don’t recognize.
The Bible is clear on this. We are embodied souls—with a “spirit” or “heart” that defines us. We have been made by God and he, from eternity, is “Spirit” rather than a physical being. So, too, our own inward being is our essential or “true” humanity. So while we are forever embodied we are defined not by our body but by our soul—and, with that, our souls shape our body and not the other way round.
Examples of these truths are found in the Bible and especially in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. In his first letter, chapter two, Paul treats our human “spirit” as defined by God’s own reality as a Spirit who has an even more inward “Spirit of God” who, alone, “comprehends the thoughts of God.”
And in his second letter Paul wrote of his physical body as “wasting away, [yet] our inner self is being renewed day by day” with a view to have “what is mortal” eventually “swallowed up by life” [in 4:16 & 5:4]. In other words his soul or “inner self” was his continuing true-person and his present body was sure to be replaced by a new and everlasting body.
So what? Let me suggest that while it’s fine to let some speculations be treated as useful, we need to question others. And much of what we think about life may need to be tested by what God tells us in the Bible.
The outcome? Let’s try this: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control” and more. It’s the fruit of our Spirit-to-spirit communion!
For sure, we live in a world of paradoxes – truth clashes with lies in ever-increasing numbers. Thank you for keeping us focused on God’s Word and His truth as well as exposing the lies that easily confront us in the church.
I wrestle with the first two on a regular basis with only the Word of truth pulling me out of the doldrums back into a living relationship with the LORD. God’s Word – Ephesians 2:8-10- keep me focused on Christ’s grace which was given to me. Your outcome is a good reminder of real life with Christ
Merry Christmas, Mr. Frost. May you enjoy God’s many blessings this Christmas Season.
Thank you, Judy! And a Merry Christmas to you too!
It’s been a long time!! Good to see you’re still blogging.
It is indeed frustrating to see the Father consistently portrayed as being obsessed by (and angry with) our deeds and mis-deeds. I think this is because there is now an assumption in evangelical Christianity that Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory IS the Gospel. An angry God who must punish sin thus becomes the essential context through which everything is viewed.
BTW, did you know that the Eastern Orthodox church is much more wedded to the Trinity as the starting point, and thus has a much richer view of The Father and of the Atonement?
Hoping you had a lovely Christmas.. and may we wish you a Happy New Year!
Yes, the Orthodox views of the Trinity must be noted. In my KCL days we heard from John Zizioulas, the prominent Orthodox theologian, a number of times. The relational implications of God’s “Being as Communion” (one of his book titles) pointed to the Orthodox view of salvation as more ontological rather than juridical. The works of Tuomo Mannermaa and the Finnish Lutherans see a link between Martin Luther and a theology of “participation” that aligns well with that theme. The Orthodox, on the other hand, see life within the hierarchical Church as critical to participation in Christ, so that creates barriers to many of us.
Thanks for your kind wishes! And may your own New Year be happy, indeed!