Risk and Proof

I’ve been reading though the Old testament law for the last couple of weeks, and reading and listening to experts in the area. I’ve seen some exciting stuff that I think I want to write about, but before I do, I just felt like I had to throw something out there.

Over at MindOnFire, the community there has chosen an book to read on an excellent and very interesting topic: textual criticism. I haven’t yet had a chance to order the book and read it myself because I’m trying to read like 3 other books right now that I’m really enjoying: A Users Guide to Bible Translations, Passage to Dawn, R.A. Salvatore, and Christianity and Philosophy, by Colin Brown. All three books are worthy of discussion from a philosophical/religious perspective, but the one leaving me with the most questions and thoughts is the last book.

Christianity and Philosophy have always had a estranged relationship, but the subject and debate of a lot of philosophy over the ages that has caught my attention tonight can be summed up in one word: Proof.

How do we know God exists? How do we know the Gospels are accurate or true? Was that what God was really like? Did the authors of those books really give an accurate account? How can we believe for sure what men said 2000 years ago with any accuracy? How can we be sure? I mean, to stake my whole life on something, I have to be sure, right? How do I really know if my spiritual experiences with God are real, or did I just imagine them?

This is a hard question for me to answer the skeptic who comes to me, a Christian, for my opinion on such matters. I’ll admit that I am a skeptic too, and it wasn’t by blind chance that I decided to follow God. It wasn’t because someone came along and logically convinced me. It wasn’t necessarily because I grew up with Christian parents either – many people I know have parents that believed in God and they dropped it anyway. What’s wrong with being suspicious of things that are hard to prove and seem elusive, unlike the perceived concreteness of the fields of science and mathematics. People need to be careful. I agree.

But I have heard that all great things in life are risky too. I think there is truth there as well. Are not the great things we undertake in life done with risk? When we aren’t completely sure of the outcome? When we don’t have total proof of success? Aren’t those things the greatest things in our lives because we took the risk? My first kiss? When I first asked a girl out? When I first asked a girl to marry me? When I flew a plane to another state to interview for a job? When I left my secure job for another one? When I stared my own business? My life is quite boring compared to the risks others have taken. It seems life is more worth living when we live dangerously and with risk involved, if anything, at least in retrospect. When great gain or loss is at stake, are we not more alive, even if we are scared to death?

But even taking risks must have to have some hint or possibility of success, or else the endeavor is not worth the effort. There must be some scent of proof, some small trace of chance in our favor to make the risk worth the investment. So this seems to me to be the route to take with relating to God. Historical evidence is good, but 2000 years has gone by, and a lot might have gotten lost in translation. Is there enough proof out there that the God of the Bible does, in fact, exist? Is there even a scent on the wind? In the quietness of our lives, when we lay down to sleep, when we dream of our future, of what the rest of our lives hold, what do we think of? Often times I think at night that there must be more to life than doing what I’ve already done. Is life all about repeating what I’ve already done and already tried until the day I die? During these nights, I am once again I am drawn to risk. To step away from what I know and take up something that I have never done and run with it.

So I noticed in most of the philosophy I read, that no one in the 18th-19th centuries took this small thing into account. But in my studies in Psychology, this was a topic of interest and the subject of many studies. It started with the theory of drive reduction, that all organisms seek minimum levels of stimulation, preferring peace and quiet to tension and arousal (Clark L. Hull). But even Psychologists later have criticized this theory as not being true to how humans are. Not to mention sex, people seem to seek thrills and sometimes take dangerous risks, even if it is vicariously through movies or stories – like horror or action/adventure – so their appears to be an “optimum arousal level” above zero. Of course it can’t be too high, were we seek to reduce the stress, but it isn’t at absolute zero either. So it seems that we are by nature drawn to take risks.

It is risky believing in God, but no different than the risks we take in life to make life interesting and worth living. The thing I see as I read though the Bible is that God is quite aware of this. Reading though the Old Testament, it is quite apparent that God goes out of his way to prove Himself to the people He is reaching out to, but not without taking away the element of risk and chance – He seems to know there is risk involved with believing Him, with walking with Him. God’s invitation to man appeals to both needs: the need to risk and the need to have some chance that the risk is worth the effort. To Abraham, to Joseph, to Jacob, to Issac, to Moses, and to the entire Israelite and Egyptian nations. He seems quite capable, over and over again to offer a person both. He did for me. He did for men and women back then. Even in the gospels, He did for Thomas (quote starting in John 20:24)

24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

So it seems there is something comfortable about hard and fast proof. But it seems like it isn’t the place where life is most worth living. Apparently, God doesn’t think so either. He seems willing to provide the hint, the chance, that elusive scent on the wind, or something much more obvious to others (like Thomas), but leaving it up to us to take the risk to reach back out to Him. We are all different in how we are given the proof. How interesting that He does this over and over in the Bible. Why is it that we take great chances in life, but in this area, with so much to gain and so little to loose, so many of us loose heart and stop the journey because of… insecurity? Insecurity?! That is the place we most thrive as human beings! Risk and insecurity is the environment of the greatest achievements is human history. Why do we fade away from it in our own lives in this area of investigation? Why do we let setback bog us down? Are not the greatest things in life achieved with great setbacks and great risk? I read too much, but luckily I have read biographies of great men in history, and not one of them became great by resting on their laurels and playing it safe. They became great because they took risks. Shouldn’t the greatest of us do likewise?

    4 Responses to “Risk and Proof”

    1. Asara

      Good to see another post from you, Jonathan.

      I’m wondering:
      1. You are speaking of the God of the Old Testament. Are there equally valid risk-taking arguments for other versions of God(s), other religions, other belief systems? Given that someone has decided to take a risk and believe something that could provide enormous reward, how does s/he decide exactly what to aim his/her belief at and subsequently how to manifest this belief?
      2. Given that someone has chosen a belief system and wants to take the risk of believing in it, how exactly does one move from desire to believe to actual belief?
      3. Once one has risked and believed for some time and has seen no results, at what point, if any, is s/he justified in deciding that the risk was not worth it and in subsequently giving up belief?

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Asara! Good to hear from you again!
      Awesome questions! Let’s see if I can give you some semblance of a good answer. Here are the highlights, but I thought I would follow this with an actual longer post for more detail…

      1. You have to hear back from the God to actually have to have a relationship.

      2. One-way relationships are a waste of time.

      3. You need to work hard at trying to find God – and you need to study/research as much as you can.

      4. You need proof that the god that you are pursuing is real after you take the risk. I don’t mean that you just have a pretty good guess, I mean you have to know deep down to the core of your being. I mean, if god is god, he should be able to convince you in no uncertain terms that he is real.

      Reply to this comment.
    3. Bored in Vernal

      Also–if you have already taken the risk and had a form of real communication from the God of one faith tradition, how justified are you in pursuing another? Can it be considered “spiritual adultery,” as in the OT? or is it valuable as a search for further truth?

      Reply to this comment.
    4. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Bored – a good question…
      My response got too long! I posted my thoughts on the issue in a later post 🙂

      Reply to this comment.

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