Saturday, August 17, 2019

Desire


Terminology is important. It can unify us around an idea or it can be divisive. Listing a few words may help to explain what I mean: evangelicalborn-againProtestantbelieverChristianreligious…. Each of these words has been used to describe a particular group of people and draw a boundary around them to minimize confusion with people who do not fit the category. Each term can also be controversial and, depending upon the context and the emphasis upon specific traits of a group, can lead to division and the consequent desire to distance oneself from the category.

So it is that I find myself wondering how best to describe the process whereby myself and others have come under the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Even as I write those words, I recognize the impact and controversy of such words as influencegospelJesus, and Christ – but I trust the reader will understand what I mean.) Do I say that I am a Christian, a born-again Christian, a follower of Jesus, a believer, a Spirit-filled person? What terminology will best describe those like me? Of course, there is no definitive answer to this question because as soon as we come up with a term that seems to fit, we have already limited how the term might be used and to whom it will apply. Thus, some terms will work for a while before needing to be cast off and begin the process again. The term “born-again Christian” illustrates this well. At a certain time in history, one could call oneself a “born-again Christian” and everyone knew what it meant. It meant an emphasis on the change that occurs when one chooses to believe the message of Jesus and follow him as Lord in a public statement of faith, baptism, and a changed life that is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The term soon was overused by those who fit the category and by those who hijacked the term seeking to gain the approval of those who valued the term. So, those words have fallen out of use to a large extent.

No term will ever fit the description we need it to fulfill for all time, but there are some descriptions that will serve us well for a while (even if it might be for a short while). I recently read a blog by a friend who had an interesting way of describing his encounter with God and the subsequent change of perspective that occurred. He spoke of the day he “declared a desire to know God.”[1]It struck me that this is a helpful way to consider this journey in which we find ourselves. Too many of the ways we describe the Christian walk are about a final destination and a final form of being. A “desire to know God” speaks of a continual process while “declaring a desire” speaks of a definitive date when someone announces their determination. It has both that sense of once for all and a never-ending pursuit. Oh sure, it is not quite as handy and succinct as saying “the day I became a Christian.” But what it lacks in brevity it makes up for in specificity, clarity, and accuracy. 

After all, this life of faith is never complete this side of our death and resurrection into the final Kingdom of God. We are ever on the journey, ever desiring, and ever longing for more knowledge of God. Looking back to the day that I “declared a desire to know God” about 44 years ago, reminds me of how much more I know about God and how much more curiosity I still have about this Lord I desire to know and serve better. So, for now, I endorse the virtue of “declaring a desire to know God” and seek to press on with the journey with whatever terminology seems most helpful for today, tomorrow, and the tomorrows after that. May God richly bless you in your journey of faith and your knowledge of God.


[1]The full context of the remark can be found at the following link: https://stepbystepjourney.com/?p=5044, where Richard Dahlstrom says, “But on that day, I drive up and stand in the very spot where I declared a desire to know God 39 years earlier, and I’ll marvel at God’s relentless pursuit of me, God’s abundance poured out, and I’ll offer tears of gratitude.  “Look what God has done” I’ll say, as once again, the scent of hope fills me.” (I encourage my readers to read the entire blog which has many more insights to offer.) Richard Dahlstrom Step by Step Journey, “Longing for the Scent of Hope,” August 10, 2019.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Something Rather Than Nothing



Perhaps one of the biggest philosophical questions ever asked is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” When we look at the earth, the moon, the stars, our galaxy, the universe, gravity, light, and energy, we are struck with the immensity and complexity of this place in which we find ourselves. It is natural to ask questions about this universe and to ask how it is that this place actually functions and stays in motion. Science has done a good job of exploring and explaining much about our world. But we might also ask how it is that the universe exists at all. Philosophers have worked on a satisfying answer to this question for decades and still the question persists. We know that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent much time thinking about this question and had what I would still consider the most satisfying answer to the question.

Leibniz who lived from 1646–1716 was one of the great thinkers and philosophers of his time but for many years was sadly overlooked. He was a contemporary of Isaac Newton and both of them discovered calculus independently of each other. Many of the notations and symbols used by Leibniz as he developed calculus are still used today. He was an inventor of mechanical calculators, refined the binary number system which is used in computers, and was a philosopher who specialized in rationalism and logic. He was devoted to his work yet known for his imagination, friendship, and good manners. I will save his answer to the big question until the end of this article but let us first look at a few of the other answers people have come up with.

Lawrence Krauss, a current author and physicist posits that gravity and the quantum vacuum worked together to generate the initial particles which resulted in a universe. He believes that it was inevitable that the universe would arise given gravity and the quantum vacuum. Stephen Hawking suggested a very similar argument in his 2010 book, The Grand Design. Although this answer may seem logical and satisfying to these two physicists, at a philosophical level, we would then want to ask, “Why must we assume gravity or a quantum vacuum or particles?” Why is there anything at all? Ultimately, this kind of answer remains highly unsatisfying to many.

Others answer Leibniz's question by saying that the universe has always existed. This was a common assumption until the early 20th Century when Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre noted that the universe was expanding and Lemaitre suggested that the expansion could be traced back to a “single primeval atom” or “cosmic egg.” This was the beginning of the concept of The Big Bang. Lemaitre, a faith-filled Catholic priest, was very much involved in convincing Albert Einstein and others that the universe had a beginning. Of course, the Big Bang model has gone on to be the prevailing model of the community of physicists seeking to describe our known universe. It elegantly describes the beginning of all things including matter, time, gravity, and the universal constants that have been detected.

Still others would suggest that our universe is a mystery and its origins are lost to us. In other words: we simply do not know why there is something rather than nothing. Bertrand Russel famously took this stance in a 1948 radio debate with Frederick Copleston. Such an answer has the effect of sounding clever and somehow satisfying but most would find that the satisfaction quickly fades. Some will be satisfied with answering a big question with a big shrug of the shoulders; most of us will not.

Leibniz also found such non-answers unsatisfying and searched his whole life for a better answer. He toyed with Russell’s response and worked to make more sense of it. In the end he found that such an answer would not satisfy his own intellect. He eventually came to an answer that was substantial and pleasing but was one that would ultimately contribute to his falling out of favour in the philosophical and scientific communities. His answer was one that took courage to voice. It was an answer that was both elegant and simple as science demanded, yet one which resulted in a major paradigm shift which many other thinkers are unwilling to make. His answer shifts one’s entire thinking process and causes one to consider the entirety of life. Leibniz’s simple answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing was, “God wanted there to be a universe.” It is a simple answer yet results in a lifetime of introspection and development, for if there is a great creator God behind the beginning of the universe, we will want to know more about God and how he communicates with his world. We will spend the rest of our lives seeking to know him.

References and Further Reading:

Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. 2010. The Grand Design. Bantam Books.
Look, Brandon C. 2017. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/leibniz/.
Strickland, Lloyd. 2019. Answering the biggest question of all: why is there something rather than nothing? 08 08. https://theconversation.com/answering-the-biggest-question-of-all-why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-65865.
Wikipedia. 2019. "Copleston-Russell Debate." Wikipedia. 08 11. Accessed 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copleston%E2%80%93Russell_debate.
—. 2019. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. 08 08. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz.
—. 2019. Lawrence M. Krauss. 08 08. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_M._Krauss.