Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The limitations of Reason

The following is an essay on the mysteries and difficult teachings and beliefs within the Christian faith. It is not an easy read but it addresses teachings that we in large part still hold to and should consider and many of them are things that cause unbelievers to stumble over.

The limitations of Reason

Whose reason can give an account why, or understand it to be reasonable, that God should permit evil for good ends, when he hates that evil, and can produce that good without that evil? And yet He does so, we are taught by our Religion:

Whose reason can make it intelligible, that God who delights not in the death of a sinner, but he and His Christ, and all their Angels rejoice infinitely in the salvation of a sinner, yet that he should not cause that every sinner should be saved, working in him a mighty and a prevailing grace, without which grace he shall not in the event of things be saved, and yet this grace is wholly his own production….

Why does not he work in us all to will and to do, not only that we can will, but that we shall will? For if the actual willing be any thing, it is his creation; we can create nothing, we cannot will unless he effect it in us, and why he does not do that which so well pleases him, and for the lack of doing of which he is so displeased, and yet he alone is to do it some way or other; human reason cannot give a wise or a probable account. ….

Where is the wise discourser that can tell how it can be that God foreknows certainly what I shall do ten years hence, and yet it is free to me at that time, to will or not to will, to do or not to do that thing?

Where is the discerning Searcher of secrets, that can give the reason why God should determine for so many ages before, that Judas should betray Christ, and yet that God should kill him eternally for effecting the Divine purpose, and fore-determined counsel? …..

Who can divine, and give us the cause, or understand the reason, why God should give us so great rewards for such nothings, and yet damn men for such insignificant mischief’s, for thoughts, for words, for secret wishes, that effect no evil abroad, but only might have done, or it may be were resolved to never be acted on.
For if the goodness of God be so overflowing in some cases, we in our reason should not expect, that in such a great goodness, there should be so great an aptness to destroy men greatly for little things: and if all mankind should join in search, it could never be told, why God should judge the Heathen or the Israelites to an eternal hell, of which he never gave them warning, nor created fears great enough, to produce caution equal to their dangers; and who can give a reason why for temporal and transient actions of sin, the world is to expect never ceasing torments in hell to eternal ages? That these things are thus, we are taught in Scripture, but here our reason is not instructed to tell why or how; and therefore our reason is not the positive measure of mysteries, and we must believe what we cannot understand.

….It is not to be understood why God should send his holy Son from his bosom to redeem us, to pay our price; nor to be told why God should exact a price of himself for his own creature; nor to be made intelligible to us, why he who loved us so well, as to send his Son to save us, should at the same time to hate us, as to resolve to damn us, unless his Son should come and save us.
But the Socinians, who conclude that this was not thus, because they know not how it can be thus, are highly to be reproved for their excess in the inquiries of reason, not where she (reason) is a competent Judge, but where she is not competently instructed; and that is the second reason.

The reason of man is a right Judge always when she is truly informed; but in many things she knows nothing but the face of the issue….
We see as in a glass darkly, saith St. Paul, that is, we can see what, but not why, and what we do see is the least part of that which does not appear; but in these cases our understanding is to submit, and wholly to be obedient, but not to inquire further.”

Now where I depart from Jeremy Taylor is in his last line, “not to inquire further.”
Many of the things he brings up are questions unbelievers have. These things should be studied out. To take the position that we cannot learn anything more than what has been learned about God and His word in the past, is where I disagree.
There has been almost a resistance to inquiry within many churches I have attended. Even to the point that inquiry or question is near blasphemy. It is never wrong to ask God even the most difficult of questions, nor do I think God is offended; He bids us to “come and let us reason together.” To go beyond what is written is not the path, but to go beyond what has been revealed in the past can be truth and need not to be feared. I think the Christian faith will know more in the future than we do currently, without leaving orthodox, Bible based understanding. Something’s are too high for us; some have not been sought out. As for me, I’m a seeker.
Photo by Lucian B.


Mel said...

From one seeker to another... Amen. Perhaps that's why God allows there to be so many unanswered questions... to spur us, encourage us, remind us, compel us... to seek Him.

FCB said...

Hi Mel,
I'm glad you commented on this post. It is unusual to hear these questions and mysteries spoken from the pulpit. Most pulpits, books or printed sermons keep a great distance from issues like these. But when you find out more about Divines, they all wrestle with these issues. I know I do and I know many of these things are the very reason non-believers are kept from God. To just parrot to the unbelieving seeker that you have no question about these things, "the Bible says it and you don't question it", does little to encourage faith. I think it is simplistic and dishonest. What I do know is, if we call on God, he equips us with a sympathetic spirit that, although it doesn't explain these mysteries, it does complel us to do deeds that are understandable, and are the very opposite of some of these conclusions. We do all to overcome evil, we do all we can to see people saved, we persuade, urge and explain that people will seek. We determine our will to choose the right. We forgive mischiefs, and experience a love for all mankind, we warn of the dangers of sin, and share the compassion the Redeemer has given us to overflowing. Maybe God is understandable by the holy desires He gives to us, and we may misunderstand what we interpret from difficult passages?
God bless,

Anonymous said...

I have found that there is a beautiful balance between "searching" to understand and a simple trusting. I think we can err on both sides.

When a child refuses to obey their father and keeps saying "But, why?" After providing many reasons, only to be followed by more, "But, why's?" a father will answer, "Because I said so, that's why".

When (after much searching, praying and calling out to God for wisdom and still being confused, unsettled and unable to understand something or explain it to someone else to their satisfaction) I find a great deal of peace in simply reminding myself that I will obey simply because "He said it". That is the motivation, at times, behind the philosophy of "the Bible says it and so I believe it."

On the flip side; to use that little phrase as an excuse to not search, pray, or cry out for wisdom will simply feed into the atheists conclusion that to believe on must turn their brain off.

It's a balance, isn't it? There are certainly something we will never understand or be able to adequatley explain, this side of heaven, and we must simply accept them with a childlike faith.

Thought provoking post. :-)