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A vehicle for venting on philosophy, religion, and the general state of things. Proprietor: C. W. Powell

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Paradox?

Unbelief has always been irrational, for it is the fool that says in his heart that there is no God.  The fact that he has a spiritual heart means that there is a God, so the fact that the fool speaks in his heart at all means that he lies when he says there is no God. 


Some unbelievers go to great length to give a rational defense of their irrationality.  They are very clever in this.  Instead of denying his own irrationality he tries to contend that truth is only found by irrationality.  So they speak of the paradoxes of Scripture, and by that they mean contradiction.  Because they maintain that the Bible is full of contradictions, they deny that truth can be found by close attention to the words of Scripture.  Instead of the words of Scripture, they would set the Holy Spirit against His very words and try to find truth by locating the Spirit's revelation some other place, usually in intuition or emotion.  Sometimes they locate it in rationality or in volition, thinking that what seems sensible or what they choose to do is the "leading of the Spirit."  But most common in modern day is emotion or intuition: the leading of the Spirit is what "feels right" no matter what the words of Scripture say, for they contradict themselves.

Probably the Roman Church represents this departure from Scripture in it most developed form. In Rome the words of Scripture can only be interpreted by the "magisterium" or the teachers of the church.  But this is paradoxical itself, for the teachers disagree with themselves over and over again, as Abelard displayed in Sic et Non many centuries ago.  So the historical will of the church [tradition], or the emotions stirred by icon or relic, or the logical exercises by men like Aquinas are looked to for "guidance."  So every adherent is basically left to himself, but he is safe in this, because the principle of "probabilism" means that if even one teacher supports his own personal conviction, the individual cannot be faulted.

Immanuel Kant made much of paradox, or logical contradiction, and tried to build an ethic upon the Christian's subjective state.  Hegel found truth at the end of a series of contradictions and syntheses.  Karl Barth and the neo-orthodox did not find truth in the words of Scripture but in the response of the Christian soul to the words, if there were such a response.   A wordless Jesus was the end of faith, but the writings of the apostles and prophets, though filled with errors and contradiction, may help you feel this Jesus and so be the word of God to you.  The Bible is not the word of God, so it goes, but the Bible may be a means of you finding the word of God.

John Calvin confessed the faith of the Reformation and believers of all ages when he wrote in the Institutes: "Let this be a firm principle: No other word is to be held as the Word of God, and given place in the church, than what is contained first in the Law and the Prophets, then in the writings of the apostles; and the only authorized way of teaching in the church, is by the prescription and standard of the Word." [IV.8.8]

 The faithful do not therefore admit logical paradox or contradiction in the Bible.  Such is the doctrine of antichrist, such as to deny that the Messiah came in the flesh.  He either did or He didn't.  The faithful say He did, antichrist says He didn't [1John 4:1-4]   "A" cannot be "non-A," because God cannot lie or deny Himself. [Titus 1:2 and 2 Tim. 2:13].  There are, however, other kinds of paradoxes.

We do admit that there are rhetorical paradoxes in the Bible.  These are used for effect and emphasis and do not involve contradiction.  Jesus said that we must hate our mother and father to follow Him.  He is not speaking of actual hate, nor even of "loving less" but of actions that might appear like hate to the mother or the father.  Many a believer has had to leave his father's house because of his faith; this does not mean that his love for his family was damaged, but that obedience called for action that mom and dad would not understand because they are not believers.

Another example is Christ's answer to the Rich Young Ruler, "Why do you call Me good; there is one good, and that is God."  It appears that Christ is denying to be God, and the statement, therefore, appears to be paradoxical.  It isn't at all.  The emphasis is on the "Why."  "WHY do you call Me good?  If you do not think that I am God, then you have no right to call me good."

A favorite of the irrational is this: Tit 1:12  "One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies."   They say, if the Cretians are always liars then this Cretian lied when he said that Cretians are always liars.  Hence, Cretians must not be liars.  Hence, he did not lie when he said that all Cretians are liars; hence, Cretians must be liars.  So they think they have proved their contention that there are "contradictions in the Bible."  Not so.



"All" is a word that is syncategorematic: it can never be used alone in a logical expression.  The trick is in the word "always."  In the same way, when Paul said that "all have sinned," all must be defined.  Does he mean all men without exception;  no, for Jesus was a man who never sinned.  Does all include the angels and other rational beings including God and the Holy Spirit?  No.   So when the Cretian prophet said, "Cretians are always liars," he certainly did not included every Cretian in the history of the world, or even himself.


In the same way, God is called a father of men and a burning fire that will destroy the ungodly.  "Father" and "fire" are figures of speech, each of which represents some aspect of God's attributes.  Both are true, but true in different ways.  There are many names for God in the Bible, and none of the exhaust the meaning of His being, for He is the only One like Him [Isaiah 40].  The statements are paradoxical but not contradictory, for even the word "father" means different things: it means creator with respect to all men, for God is the source [father] of all men.  It means that God is the fountain of grace and mercy to those who believe in Christ, the Son of God.  God is not the father of grace and mercy to all men; nor is He a consuming fire to those who believe.

The Bible does not contain nonsense, except to those who enthrone nonsense in their hearts.
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