Article Introduction: With respect to man’s quest for meaning and salvation, there are two major belief systems in our twenty first century. One originates with God and the other originates in man. One comes from divine revelation, one comes from personal “enlightenment.” One is God centered, and one is man centered. One deifies God; one deifies man. Both present formidable arguments and are based on their own foundational suppositions. The two belief systems are Christianity and the teachings of Buddha.
God Upholds His Creation
|At each instant God creates the universe anew.
Jonathan Edwards, the great eighteenth century child prodigy and Christian theologian, maintained that God, by his immediate power, upholds every created substance in being. He argues that all that is manifest has a dependent existence, is therefore an effect, and must have a cause. The cause is either the prior existence of the same substance or the power of the Creator.
It cannot be the prior existence of the same substance because “in point of time what is past, entirely ceases when present existence begins; otherwise it would not be past. The past moment is ceased and gone, when the present moment takes place; and does no more coexist with it, than does any other moment that had ceased twenty years ago. Nor could the past existence of the particles of a moving body produce effects in any other place than where it then was. But its existence at the present moment, in every point of it, is in a different place from where its existence was at the last preceding moment. From these things I suppose it will certainly follow that the present existence, either of this, or any other created substance, cannot be an effect of its past existence.”*
The existence of any effect is separated by “space and duration” from a previous effect as if it had existed in another age or a thousand miles away. “Therefore the existence of created substances, in each successive moment, must be the effect of the immediate agency, will, and power of God.” The nature of things or the course of nature “is nothing separate from the agency of God. ” *
Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnson, Jonathan Edwards, New York: Hill and Wang, 1962, p. 333.
“A father according to the course of nature, begets a child; an oak, according to the course of nature, produces an acorn.” In time the child grows up to become a father or mother and in turn begets another child and an acorn becomes an oak which produces acorns, which become trees. Jonathan Edward argues that none of this would happen without the “immediate continued
creation of God.”
Without God’s continuous, moment by moment creation, all “things would drop into nothing.” Everything which exists depends on God’s continuing creation at every moment of its existence. God preserves his creation by exerting divine power. His “sustaining power and influence” knits the creation in being instant by instant.
Jonathan Edwards reasons, “God’s upholding created substance, or causing its existence in each successive moment, is altogether equivalent to an immediate production out of nothing, at each moment.”* This leads him to further reason that if the existence of created substance is the effect of God’s immediate power in a moment without any dependence on prior existence, then what exists at any moment is the result of a new effect. He illustrates his point with several analogies. The rays of the sun reflected from the moon give the moon its brightness. When we look at the moon it looks permanently bright, however, this appearance is the result of new rays bombarding the moon every instant. Likewise the sound of the wind arises from a constant flow of agitated air.
*Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnson, Jonathan Edwards, New York: Hill and Wang, 1962, p.334.
In an uncanny similarity to the discernment of Buddha and Heraclitus of Ephesus (525-475 B.C), Edwards points out that the water flowing in the river is never the same. “All dependent existence whatsoever is in a constant state of flux, ever passing and returning.”* Unlike Buddha and Heraclitus, Edwards maintains that it is the Creator who treats these apparent phenomena as one, communicating to them similar properties, relations and circumstances. Because the Creator treats them as one, we are lead to regard and treat them as one. The Creator dictates the properties of water, for example. It is the divine will of God arising from his divine wisdom which establishes and sustains the course of nature. “All is constantly proceeding from God, as light from the sun. In him we live, and move, and have our being.”*
*Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnson, Jonathan Edwards, New York: Hill and Wang, 1962, p. 337
Charles Hodge (1797-1878), the eminent American theologian and Princeton Theological Seminary professor observes, “all things external to God owe the continuance of their existence, with all their properties and power, to the will of God.”*
*Charles Hodge, Edited by Edward N. Gross, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988, p 214.
He cites Colossians 1:17 to illustrate his point which, referring to Christ, states “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” God as Christ sustains all things by the word of His power. Nehemiah 9:6 states, “Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all” (KJV). God is actively engaged in preserving his creation. Preserving entails assuring its continuance God sustains the creation every instant, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Hodge comments that the preceding passages clearly teach, “(1) that the universe as a whole does not continue in being of itself – it would cease to exist if unsupported by His power; (2) that all creatures, whether plants or animals, are continued in existence not by any inherent principle of life, but by the will of God; and (3) that this preservation extends not only to the substance, but also to the form; not only to the essence but also to the qualities, properties, and powers of all created things.”*
*Charles Hodge, Edited by Edward N. Gross, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988, p 214.
Hodge contrasts the view of the deists, which maintained that once God created the world, he remained and remains a “mere spectator” of its operations, “exerting no direct efficiency in sustaining the things which He has made,” with the “opposite extreme” view that confounds creation and preservation. According to the latter view, all efficiency is in God, there are no secondary causes for its continuance. The reality of secondary causes is denied. At each instant God creates the universe anew.
Hodge concludes that between these two opposed views is the doctrine of the Scriptures, “which teaches that the continuance of the world in existence, the preservation of its substance, properties, and forms, is to be referred to the omnipresent power of God. He upholds as He created all things – by the word of His power. How He does this it is vain to inquire.”
In the Christian world view God defines, creates and sustains reality, as he is omniscient, omnipotent, and ever present. God is not a disassociated observer, as the deists maintain. He cannot preserve and uphold all things while remaining a disassociated observer. Deism is contradicted by the scriptures we have just examined (Colossians 1:17, Nehemiah 9:6, and Acts 17:28).
Concerning this issue, John Calvin points out that God’s preservation of creation extends beyond having established a “universal motion” or “fixed laws,” but is evident by his active, special volition in every event, from the fall of a drop of rain to our conscious wills and every thought. He cites numerous Biblical passages in support of God’s activity everywhere.*
Psalm 10 describes how the creatures of the earth look to the Lord to give them their food at the proper time. A man’s steps are directed by the Lord and without God he would not understand his way (Proverbs 20:24). Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge (Matthew 10:29). God through his activity upholds the fabric of creation. Calvin, like Hodge, cites Acts 17:28 which states that we live and move and exist in God. The previous verse states, “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.”
God’s activity is from the general and to the specific. Nothing is impossible for his omniscience. He takes a continuous interest in the lives of men and women and gives us direction. For example, he revealed to Peter, a Jew, that it was no longer unclean to enter a Gentile’s home and associate with Gentiles, in this case a Roman captain (Acts 10). The Psalmist informs us that God’s thoughts about us are more numerous than the sand (Psalm 139:17). Since God upholds every atom in our body, his thoughts about us would be infinitely greater than our own thoughts regarding ourselves.
The God of the Old and New Testaments is an intelligent and active Creator. God is not an impersonal force but a very personal Being.
*Edward A. Dowey, Jr., The Knowledge of God In Calvin’s Theology, New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1952, p. 129.
Recollection Resulting in Enlightenment
|Plato ancient Greek philosopher (born 428/427 BC – died 348/347 BC), teachings helped lay foundations of eastern and western philosophy.
According to Plato’s doctrine of recollection we are born possessing all knowledge and our realization of that knowledge involves our discovery of it. The soul once lived in “Reality,” but got trapped in the body. It once existed in “Reality,” possessing universal knowledge, but got trapped in the body and forgot its former state. The body and senses keep us from the truth. In Phaedo 66 (b-d), Plato says:
“So long as we keep to the body and our soul is contaminated with this imperfection, there is no change of our ever attaining satisfactorily to our object, which we assert to be truth. In the first place, the body provides us with innumerable distractions in the pursuit of our necessary sustenance, and any diseases which attack us hinder our quest for reality. Besides the body fills us with loves and desires and fears and all sorts of fancies and a great deal of nonsense, with the result that we literally never get an opportunity to think at all about anything. Wars and revolutions and battles are due simply and solely to the body and its desires. All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth, and the reason why we have to acquire wealth is the body, because we are slaves in its service. That is why, on all these accounts, we have so little time for philosophy …. We are in fact convinced that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul by itself.”
It is argued that there is no trace of the doctrine of recollection in India before the time of Empedocles (490-430 B.C.). However, a form of the doctrine of recollection is present in the Upanishads, which are believed to have been written in the late seventh or early sixth century B.C., making the Indian doctrine contemporaneous with the Greek doctrine. According to the Indian version, we are freed from the wheel of reincarnation when we intuitively realize we are not separate from Brahman, but part of Brahman, and are in fact Brahman. The argument can be made that when we come to a realization we are part of Brahman, we are recollecting our original state.
“The sages see life as a wheel, with each individual going round and round through birth and death. Individuals remain on this wheel so long as they believe themselves to be separate; but once they realize their unity with God, then they break free” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1).
Realizing that one is in unity with Brahman, it can be argued, is a recollection of the original state of the soul as part of Brahman, before it became trapped in maya or illusion in the material world.
For Plato, the goal of philosophy through recollection is to remember the true knowledge. In India attaining knowledge or being awakened, as it was for Buddha, is turning inward in a type of ascetic, mystical experience. The Chandogya Upanishad uses the analogy of the lotus to represent the knowledge which exists in every human mind:
“In the city of God there is a small lotus; and in this lotus there is a tiny dwelling. Within this dwelling is a space; and within that space is the fulfillment of our desires. That which is within that space, should be sought and found. The tiny space within the lotus is as vast as the space which contains the earth and the sky, the sun and the moon. Everything that is contained within the space around us, is also in the tiny space within the lotus” (8:1,3).
The lotus is used symbolically of gaining enlightenment as it rises from the muddy bottom of a lake to bloom on the surface. Within us is a reflection of the macrocosm of the universe, existing in a microcosm.
The doctrine of recollection implies that nothing is ever learned. The knowledge is already there and it is simply recalled or remembered. Addressing our knowledge of the term “absolute equality,” Plato, using Socrates as the speaker, comments (Phaedo 75 c, d, e):
“ … we obtained it before our birth, and possessed it when we were born, we had knowledge, both before and at the moment of birth, not only of equality and relative magnitudes, but of all absolute standards. Our present argument applies no more to equality than it does to absolute beauty, goodness, uprightness, holiness, and, as I maintain, all those characteristics which we designate in our discussions by the term ‘absolute.’ So we must have obtained knowledge of all these characteristics before our birth.”
He continues, “we must always be born knowing and continue to know all through our lives; because ‘to know’ means simply to retain the knowledge which one has acquired, and not to lose it ….we acquired our knowledge before our birth, and lost it at the moment of birth, but afterward, by the exercise of our senses upon sensible objects, recover the knowledge which we had once before ….what we call learning will be the recovery of our knowledge, and surely we should be right in calling this recollection.”
In Meno Plato maintains the same theme. Referring to the men and women who understand the truths of religion, to knowledgeable priests and priestesses, to the poets who are “divinely inspired,” Socrates, the mouthpiece for Plato in this dialogue, states, “They say that the soul of man is immortal. At one time it comes to an end – that which is called death – and at another is born again, but is never finally exterminated …. Thus the soul since it is immortal and has been born many times, and has seen all things both here and in the other world, has learned everything that is. So we need not be surprised if it can recall the knowledge of virtue or anything else which, as we see, it once possessed” (Meno 81 b,c,d).
To illustrate his point, Socrates asks an uneducated slave boy questions about geometry (Meno 82-85). The boy proceeds to give correct answers to the systematic but leading questions. Socrates’ line of questioning however is so methodical that it is educational. Step by step he seems to be leading the boy to the conclusions he is seeking. He is accurately and proportionally drawing the geometrical designs in the sand. It seems he not relying so much on the boy’s “recollection” of a prior knowledge of geometry, as on the boy’s power of observation and logic.
Socrates, expressing Plato’s philosophy, concludes, “if the truth about reality is always in our soul, the soul must be immortal, and one must take courage and try to discover – that is recollect – what one doesn’t happen to know, or, more correctly, remember at the moment” (Meno 86 b).
Concept of the Forms
For Plato one can only know eternal truths, for they are the only truths that can have been in the soul from eternity. The world of shadows around us can only be understood using the Forms, or universals, as reference points. We obtain knowledge of the world around us by directing our intellect to the Forms and the highest of the Forms, the Good, illumines our intellect and makes the others forms intelligible. The forms are general categories that we can use to understand the particulars of the world around us.
In contrast to the physical world which we experience through our bodily senses, the visible world, which exists in space and time, there exists an immaterial world that we contact through our minds. The invisible world is called the world of Forms. For Plato the invisible world is more real than the physical world. The physical objects we perceive through our senses are copies or shadow imitations of their archetypes, the Forms.
According to Ronald Nash in his book Christianity and the Hellenistic World, “For Plato, a Form is an eternal, unchangeable, and universal essence. Some of Plato’s Forms are relatively easy to grasp. He believed that what we encounter in the physical world are imperfect examples of unchanging absolutes – including Goodness, Justice, Truth, and Beauty – that exist in an ideal, nonspatial world. Plato also believed that the world of the Forms contained exemplars of such mathematical and geometrical entities as numbers, circles, and squares. The imperfect circles that we encounter in the physical world are copies of one perfect and eternal circle that we know through our minds.”*
These Forms are not the product of our intellect or imagination. They are not concepts in our mind which we contemplate. The invisible Forms are more real than the physical world and are the ultimate objects of scientific and philosophical study.
“The whole point to his theory is that these strange essences have an objective, or extramental, existence. They would exist even if no human being were thinking of them. In fact, it is only when human minds focus on the Forms that genuine human knowledge becomes possible. Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the other Forms existed before there were any human minds. Sometimes Plato wrote as though there were a Form, or archetype, for every class of object in the physical world. If so, this would mean that the world of the Forms contains a perfect dog, a perfect horse, and a perfect man, along with the other Forms already noted.”*
*Ronald H. Nash, Christianity & the Hellenistic World, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House; Dallas, Texas: Probe Ministries International, 1984, pp.32-33.
Thus the prisoner from the cave when he stood liberated facing the sun is analogous to our encounter with the true Forms. Ronald Nash states that:
“While Plato’s writings raise many difficult problems of interpretation, it is clear that he opposed seven prevalent beliefs of his day: atheism, empiricism, relativism, hedonism, materialism, naturalism, and mechanism. Plato’s view of God is anything but clear. While some passages in his dialogues refer to ‘the gods,” other texts support a possible movement of his thought toward an ambiguous monotheism. What is clear, however, is Plato’s rejection of atheism. Empiricism is the belief that human knowledge can be derived exclusively through the bodily senses. Plato opposed empiricism throughout all his writings, maintaining that it is impossible for the human senses ever to bring a human being to knowledge. Plato’s own theory of knowledge is a form of rationalism: human knowledge is attainable only by reason.”*
*Ronald H. Nash, Christianity & the Hellenistic World, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House; Dallas, Texas: Probe Ministries International, 1984, p 31.
Ronald Nash is accurate in labeling Plato’s rationalism “a form” of rationalism. The Forms are not apparent to the senses. However, knowledge of the invisible forms for Plato is derived from intuition and experience, very different from Cartesian rationalism, which is based solely on intellect. Intuition has been defined as the, “direct, non-inferential awareness of abstract objects or concrete truths.”* Plato considered intuition as a superior faculty.
Plato describes different levels of reality. The lowest level of reality provides only the most primitive and unreliable opinions and is a world of shadows, pictures, and images. Above the visible world of shadows is the intelligible realm where we find the simple Forms of numbers, shapes, and mathematical entities. Through understanding we can achieve knowledge of these objects. The highest level of reality for Plato is the world of the more significant Forms, such as virtue, beauty, truth, justice, and above everything else the Good.*
Plato’s Form of the Good
Plato, using Socrates as his spokesperson, first refers to the Good in the Republic (505a), “For you have often heard that the greatest thing to learn is the idea of good by reference to which just things and all the rest become useful and beneficial.” The Good is therefore the absolute measure for everything else. It is the reference point which gives meaning to the other Forms. The highest end of human knowledge is knowing the Good.
The Good is analogous to the light of the sun which makes knowledge of the other Forms possible. When our eyes are no longer fixed upon objects illumined by the sun’s light, they are dimmed, but when our eyes are directed upon objects illumined by the sun, we see clearly (508c,d). When the soul is firmly fixed on the domain where “truth and reality shine resplendent” it apprehends and knows them, and “appears to possess reason (508 d). Thus reason or wisdom for man is seeing the world in the light of the Good.
“This reality, then, that gives their truth to the objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower, you must say is the idea of good, and you must conceive it as being the cause of knowledge, and of truth” (508 e). The Good causes knowledge and truth and because of this it is a necessary condition of human knowledge.
The Good is the creative and sustaining cause of the intelligible world, which is the world of the Forms. The objects of knowledge, the Forms, not only are known from the presence of the Good, but derive their very existence and essence from the Good (509b). “The good itself is not essence but still transcends essence in dignity and surpassing power” (509b).
Plato makes a crucial distinction which separates Platonism from eastern thought, as reflected in Hinduism. Discussing the Good, he says,
“Yet fair as they both are, knowledge and truth, in supposing it (the Good) to be something fairer still than these, you will think rightly of it. But as for knowledge and truth, even as in our illustration it is right to deem light and vision sun like, but never to think that they are the sun …. Still higher honor belongs to the possession and habit of the good” (509 a). The objects illumined by the sun are not the sun. The transcendent Good is not one and the same as the Forms it created.
Augustine on the Platonic Forms
St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), one of the greatest Christian thinkers, considered the principal Forms as the eternal ideas in the mind of God. Since they exist in God’s intellect, they share God’s essential attributes and are eternal, necessary and unchangeable.
The principal Forms are divine ideas. They are the archetypal forms of divine reality. “Like Plato, Augustine argues that before an architect builds an edifice, he must first have a model of what he intends to build. Similarly, God had a plan before He created the universe. His creation is patterned or copied after the divine ideas.” *
The divine Forms are the foundation of all created reality. They are the very framework of the universe, the created reality in which we exist. Augustine called Plato’s Forms Irationes aeternae or eternal reasons. In his work On Various Questions he regards these rationes aeternae, which we will continue to call Forms, as:
“principle forms or stable and unchangeable essences of things. They are themselves not formed, and they are eternal and always in the same state because they are contained in God’s intelligence. They neither come into being nor do they pass away, but everything that can or does come into being and pass away is formed in accordance with them.”*
Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and The Mind of Man, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982.
They are also an indispensable element of human knowledge and our judgments must accord with the eternal Forms for us, as created beings, to be happy and fulfilled. It is through reason that we climb from the world of sensation to the eternal ideas in the mind of God.
Augustine believed that man had a higher reason with which he can look to eternal reality. As man turns towards the eternal, he submits to a power beyond himself and gains wisdom, which is knowledge of truth. Like Plato, Augustine maintained that wisdom is gained through intuition. The ultimate goal of wisdom is godliness, the worship of God, which alone brings true blessedness.
We also possess, according to Augustine, a lower reason with which we can look down upon corporeal, visible reality. The knowledge we gain through our lower reason he called science (scientia). Science attempts a rational understanding of the temporal through investigation. It is susceptible to error. The goal of scientia is action and accomplishment. Through scientia we harvest better crops, build better buildings, build bridges and wage war.*
*Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969.
Einstein described his use of intuitive knowledge to develop his revolutionary theories. In a 1919 essay called Induction and Deduction in Physics, Einstein described his preference for the latter approach. “The simplest picture one can form about the creation of an empirical science is along the lines of an inductive method. Individual facts are selected and grouped together so that the laws that connect them become apparent. However, the big advances in scientific knowledge originated in this way only to a small degree. The truly great advances in our understanding of nature originated in a way almost diametrically opposed to induction. The intuitive grasp of the essentials of a large complex of facts leads a scientist to the postulation of a hypothetical basic law or laws. From these laws he derives his conclusions.” “The deeper we penetrate and the more extensive our theories become,” he declared near the end of his life “the less empirical knowledge is needed to determine those theories.”*
By the beginning of 1905 Einstein began to emphasize deduction rather than induction to explain electrodynamics. He stated, “I despaired of the possibility of discovering the true laws by means of constructive efforts based on experimentally known facts. The longer and more despairingly I tried, the more I came to the conviction that only the discovery of a universal, formal principal could lead us to assured results.”*
His creative intuition led him to grasp the big picture intellectually and then develop a hypothetical law. His inquisitive mind sought the higher, general true principle and having conceptualized this principle deduced the particulars. He built his general theory of relativity starting from what he perceived to be a general truth, a unifying theory of gravity, motion, space and time and then he proceeded to explain phenomenon as manifestations of the higher law.
With respect to his theory of relativity and the Michelson Morley experiment, Einstein said, “I was pretty much convinced of the validity of the principle before I knew this experiment and its results.” He first sought to see the universal truth, then proceeded to explain phenomenon from it.*
Walter Isaacson, Einstein, Simon & Shuster, Inc., 2007 & Recorded Books, LLC, 2007.
Since all knowledge gained through scientia is susceptible to error, even Einstein became increasingly skeptical about the quantum discoveries he pioneered. He found the duality of the wave/particle duality of light to be deeply unsettling. The random behavior of light particles did not fit into his general theory of relativity.
Fifty years into his career he lamented, “What are light quanta?” In his special relativity theory Einstein had avoided assuming the existence of absolute time and absolute distance. He felt it would be meaningless to say they really existed in nature when they couldn’t be observed. But during the nearly four decades in which he expressed his discomfort with quantum theory, he increasingly sounded as if he believed that an underlying reality existed in nature which was independent of our ability to observe or measure it.*
Walter Isaacson, Einstein, Audiotape, Simon & Shuster, Inc., 2007 & Recorded Books, LLC, 2007.
Knowledge of the Eternal Forms
Augustine believed that only eternal truths are absolute and unchanging. They therefore have an objective existence independent of the varying sensations, feelings and wishes of men. Because the senses vary, change, often deceive and are not reliable, Augustine concluded that they cannot account for our knowledge of eternal truths.*
Sensory experience, as Plato argued, can’t come up with universal truths such as Good, Justice, Virtue, Equality. Abstract ideas cannot be the product of the senses. It has been said that material evolution cannot account for the lofty ideas of the Sermon of the Mount.
Augustine rejected the idea that our knowledge of the Forms is the result of Platonic recollection. He did not believe in the Platonic doctrine of reincarnation and the preexistence of the soul. He argued a science such as astronomy can only be learned through a reliance on sensation, observing the stars at night with our eyes. We learn new things daily through observation, which are certainly not recollections from a past life.
A pupil might be taught that seven plus five are ten by his teacher. The student, if he is sufficiently aware of the truth within, can judge the teacher to be in error. The student is aware of this “because he is taught not through my (the teacher’s) words but by means of the things themselves which God reveals within the soul.”
The teacher of truth is Christ in the student’s soul, who is the truth and according to the Gospel of John is “the true light that gives light to every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9).
Since neither our senses, teaching, nor Platonic reminiscences can bring us to a knowledge of the eternal Forms, what can? The answer for Augustine is divine illumination. We know the eternal Forms because God gives us this knowledge and continually sustains our intellect in the knowing process.
Augustine wrote, “Concerning universals of which we have knowledge, we do not listen to anyone speaking and making sounds outside ourselves. We listen to Truth which presides over our minds within us, though of course we may be bidden to listen by someone using words. Our real Teacher is he who is so listened to, who is said to dwell in the inner man, namely, Christ, that is, the unchangeable power and eternal wisdom of God.”*
*Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969.
C.S. Lewis and the Moral Law
If there were a God who created human beings in his own image, as the Bible maintains, then his nature would be reflected in human nature. Engrained in all human beings is a desire to do what is right or, if our actions are evil, a desire to justify our actions in light of an absolute moral code. Children, when caught misbehaving, will struggle to justify why they did what they knew they shouldn’t. Even ruthless political leaders go to great lengths to justify their conduct in a cloak of decency. Dictators will destroy civil liberties for "the good of the people."
As C.S. Lewis aptly puts in Mere Christianity, "If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it would not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe - no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave a certain way. And that is just what we find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions."*
Lewis, C.S, Mere Christianity, The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1958, p. 19.
Though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or culture and those of another, points out Lewis, the differences are not really very great - not nearly so great as most people imagine - and you can recognize the same law running through them all.
Honesty is valued in the West and the East. "Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense of preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality."*
*Lewis, C.S, Mere Christianity, The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1958, p.11.
The moment we say one set of moral ideas is better than another, we are measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to the standard more closely than the other. The standard that measures two things is something different from either. As Lewis says, "You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something - some Real Morality - for them to be true about."*
*Lewis, C.S, Mere Christianity, The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1958, pp. 11.
This Real Morality is an absolute standard imprinted in our minds by the controlling power, God, outside the universe. God is a great artist, as the universe is a very beautiful place, and intensely interested in right conduct - in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, truthfulness and honesty.
Having established an absolute standard of morality, God abides by his strict and moral principles and as such, for those who rebel against Real Morality, becomes a Terrifying God. Having established the Law, God, being righteous and fair, will not break it.
"The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails,"* writes C.S. Lewis.* Being intensely interested in right conduct, God will punish wrong conduct.
*Lewis, C.S, Mere Christianity, The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1958, p 23.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans clearly states, "He will punish sin wherever it is found. He will punish the heathen when they sin, even though they never had God’s written laws, for down in their hearts they known right from wrong. God’s laws are written within them; their own conscience accuses them, or sometimes excuses them" (Romans 2:12-14, Living Bible).
The Moral Law is written in our hearts. If we don’t believe in God because the universe seems cruel and unjust, where do we get this idea of just and unjust? "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line."* We wouldn’t call a room dark unless we knew what light was. In our hearts we all have inscribed the Moral Law and by breaking its very strict principles, we incur the wrath of a Terrifying God.
Lewis, C.S, Mere Christianity, The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1958, p.31.
Although fallen men and women may not know what is right and wrong, God’s laws are nevertheless written in their hearts. God has placed in men and women a priori knowledge of his Moral Law. They may not know absolutely because they chose to sin and not know absolutely. Through intent and conduct they chose to see “through a glass darkly,” they have “fuzzed up” the clarity of God’s laws in their hearts. Different groupings of men and women around the world have drifted in various degrees from the Moral Law. The absolute Moral Law is available to every man and woman in the ultimate authority on God’s mind, the written Word, the Bible.
Forms and Biblical Revelation
Plato did not clarify the precise relationship between the forms and his god, the Good, which he compared to the light of the sun, and which makes knowledge of the other Forms possible. The idea of the Good is “this reality that gives their truth to the objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower” (Republic 508e).
The incisive mind of Augustine filled in this ambiguity in Plato’s system by regarding the Forms as eternal, unchanging truths subsisting in the mind of God. They are ideas in the mind of God. Therefore God is the source and determiner of all truth, justice, good, holiness, love, wisdom and beauty. As God, these concepts exist in his mind. God created them. They are part of his eternal decree.
In all varieties of truth, “God must be accounted sovereign. It is his decree that makes one proposition true and another false. Whether the proposition be physical, psychological, moral, or theological, it is God who made it that way. A proposition is true because God thinks it so.”*
*Gordon H. Clarke, Christian Philosophy, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, Volume 4, The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, Tennessee, 2004, p.303.
In Psalm 43:3, King David, the prophet, prays to God, “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.” He is referring to truth as an attribute of God which can be imparted to human beings.
In Psalm 40:11, David again prays, “Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.” Again truth and also love are referred to as attributes of God.
The Lord’s counsels are considered faithfulness and truth, “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1 KJV). The Lord’s counsels are not just true, but they are absolute truth. They are the scales on which all truth is weighed. They establish an absolute standard from which all is judged as true or false. In this sense God’s counsels are also logical as something cannot be true and false at the same time. God’s ideas embody logic. They distinguish truth from falsity.
Truth and Logic are Ideas or eternal Forms in the mind of God. They proceed from his eternal nature and are the absolute standards for measuring all other truth and attempts at logic.
Jesus told Thomas, “, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus said he was the truth. No mere man can make the claim he is truth. Only the source of truth itself, the second member of the triune Godhead, can make that claim. John 1:17 states that, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ as the Word of God, the world was created (John 1:10).
The Word brought truth in the world at the time of creation. God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, his Ideas or archetypes, have been clearly seen in his very creation. Men have no excuse to deny his authorship (Romans 1:20).
God’s creation, particularly before the fall, gave testimony to God’s Ideas of beauty, order, love, goodness, purity. After the fall, Jesus Christ by taking human form (John 1:14) brought grace, God’s unmerited favor from sin, and truth into the world. God’s general revelation in the world became a specific revelation through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God revealed his divine nature to fallen man by taking a cloak of flesh, revealing his nature through the words and deeds of Christ.
The Bible teaches that God is good. “For the LORD is good and his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 100:5). Psalm 54:6 states, “I will praise your name, Oh Lord, for it is good.” The Lord’s name is synonymous with good. “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees,” (Psalm 119:68). Only God is good. Jesus confirms this when he answers the rich young man who addressed him as “good teacher.” Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good –except God alone,” (Mark 10:18). Jesus is not saying he isn’t part of the Godhead as he was his own best advocate concerning his deity. He claimed, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He is asserting his deity.
Good is one of God’s eternal Ideas, an archetype on which he erected his creation. All goodness proceeds from God. Without God there would be no goodness, nor for that matter justice, love, truth or the rest of the eternal Ideas. The Creator and his Ideas are necessary for the creation. God’s Ideas are the building blocks of his creation. They are less evident because of the corruption brought by the fall. The seeker can find them but through a glass darkly.
Goodness, Virtue, Justice, Beauty or any of the other eternal Ideas/Forms do not exist independently of God. They are part of him, they are his thoughts, his ideas.
Plato said that nobody is content to possess the appearance of the good. Instead “all men seek the reality” of the good (Republic 505e). Jesus urges us to, “seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).
To find absolute truth is to find God. To find absolute justice is to find God. To find true beauty is to find God. God is not only the spiritual “embodiment” of these high concepts but he is their source. To comply with C.S. Lewis’s Moral Law is to do God’s will.
Obtaining Knowledge – Christian Worldview
The insightful mind of Gordon H. Clark, offers a logical analysis of how men and women find supernatural knowledge. We will heavily rely on his lucid epistemological perspective. Epistemology is defined as “the theory or science of the method and grounds of knowledge.”*
* A Merriam-Webster, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield: G.& C. Merriam Co., 1961.
Clarke argues that every philosophy must have a first principle. Empiricism, for example, maintains a statement is nonsense unless verified by sensation. Observation, however, can’t prove the reliability of observation. Thus the first principle of empiricism, can’t be verified itself by sensation. It is presupposed.
Since every philosophy has to have it own foundational presuppositions, secularists can’t deny the right of Christians to choose their own presuppositions.
For Christianity, henceforth defined as the Christianity of the Protestant Reformation for this analysis, all knowledge comes from the revelation in God’s Word, the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, and in God’s Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ. For the Christian truth comes from one source, the Bible.
Man can understand the knowledge in the Bible because God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:16). God refers to himself as a plurality, “our image,” as God is a Triune God, a Trinity, which will be shortly greatly expounded upon due to its importance in the Christian world view.
God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). God created man in the “image and glory” of God (1 Corinthians 11:7). The image of God created in man is not one of dust and clay or flesh and bones, as God is a Spirit (John 4:24). By breathing life into man, God imparted his very essence, his Spirit, into man. Man then became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
The God of Christianity is a rational God. He is a God of truth. God is Spirit and “the Spirit is truth,” (1 John 5:6).
The prophet and King of Israel, David, prays to God: “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me,” (Psalm 25:5 KJV), “May your love and your truth always protect me,” (Psalm 40:11 NIV), “Send forth your light and your truth,” (Psalm 43:3 NIV), “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth,” (Psalm 86:11 NIV), “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true,” (Psalm 119:142 NIV).
The prophet Isaiah in praising the Lord asserts, “they counsels of old are faithfulness and truth,” (Isaiah 25:1 KJV), “the father to the children shall make known thy truth,” (Isaiah 38:19 KJV). The prophet Jeremiah asserts, “The LORD lives, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness,” (Jeremiah 4:2 KJV).
Evidencing the deity of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of the Godhead, the apostle John explains, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14 KJV).
The truth of the Father is in the Son. Jesus confirms this when he unequivocally states, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” (John 14:6 NIV).
Since God is truth, he is not untruth. Whatever contradicts itself is not true. God is rational. Scripture does not affirm and deny that Christ died for the sins of man. God executed rational plans to free the Israelites from the bondage of pharaoh, to destroy Ahab, to redeem mankind from the sin of rebellion.
God with his knowledge of truth and untruth is able to judge. “The LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed,” (1 Samuel 2:3 KJV). He proclaims and decides what is right and what is wrong.
Since man was created in the image of God, man is rational. The proposition that two plus two is four is true for God and for man. Two plus two can’t be five for God or for man. Logic is inherent to God and to man, to the extent man chooses to heed it. Even after man’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, to the extent he is willing, man is capable of discerning what is true and not true, what is rational and what is irrational, what is right and what is wrong.
God makes clear that genuine knowledge, as opposed to mere true belief, is distinguished by its content. One can only know eternal truths, for they are the only truths that can have been in the soul from eternity. Though it can be very useful to have a true belief about, say, the best way to get from Los Angeles to Pasadena, such a belief can't count as knowledge. How could our souls have known for all eternity a fact about places that have existed less than 200 years?
God communicates with man rationally. He gives man an intelligible message. Even in the Garden of Eden God communicated to Adam and Eve through certain precepts and commandments. God created in Adam and Eve minds that understood divine law. He had given them a language so they could understand, communicate, and worship him.
God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God also said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food,” (Genesis 1:28-29 NIV).
God was giving Adam and Eve instructions intended as a rule of action, what to do and what not to do. God brought to Adam the beasts of the field and the birds of the air to see what Adam would name them and whatever name Adam called each living creature, that was its name (Genesis 2:19). Adam was rational. He could distinguish one creature from another and give it a different name. Adam knew the laws of logic, of identity and contradiction.
God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them. God was allowing Adam to exercise his God given wisdom and we are told, “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” God delegated authority to Adam and accepted Adam’s decisions.
God gave Adam a mind to understand divine law and a language enabling him to speak to God. Adam understood what the words meant and to use that language to worship God. God took Adam to the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Adam understood what “working” and “taking care” of the garden meant.
God also gave Adam a command, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 NIV). God gave Adam the ability to choose to rebel against him. The very concept of sin is based on Adam comprehending the law of God.
He could sin and he did sin. The beasts of the field and the birds were not capable of understanding God’s law. They could not sin, but they suffered when God’s stewards, Adam and Eve, sinned.
In all truth God is sovereign. He makes any proposition true and another false. “A proposition is true because God thinks it so.” “God’s knowledge depends on his will and on nothing external to him …. God is not to be ranked under the idea of unity, or of goodness, or of truth; but rather unity, goodness, and truth are to be ranked under the decree of God.” “God is a living God. Hence logic is to be considered as the activity of God willing.”*
God communicated directly to Adam in the Garden. For us, the Bible expresses the mind of God. “Conceptually it is the mind of God, or more accurately, a part of God’s mind. For this reason the Apostle Paul, referring to the revelation given him, and in fact given to the Corinthians through him, is able to say, ‘We have the mind of Christ… The Bible then is the mind or thought of God. It is not a physical fetish, like a crucifix…. I doubt that there has ever been even one hillbilly fundamentalist ignorant enough to pray to the black book with red edges … The Bible consists of thoughts, not paper; and the thoughts are the thoughts of the omniscient, infallible God” and not those of a man.*
“On this basis, that is, on the basis that Scripture is the mind of God, the relation to logic can easily be made clear. As might be expected, if God has spoken, he has spoken logically. The Scripture therefore should and does exhibit logical organization … If Scripture says David was King of Israel, it does not mean that David was president of Babylon; and surely it does not mean that Churchill was prime minister of China. That is to say, the words David, King, and Israel have definite meanings.”*
In the Christian world view, “the important thing is not to presuppose God, but to define the mind of the God presupposed.”* In Scripture is the mind of God. Scripture reveals the mind of God and gives it definiteness and content. God, Scripture and logic are interwoven. It is through the revelation of Scripture that man receives a verbal and rational communication of all truth, including God’s being.
*Roland H. Nash, Editor, The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, Gordon H. Clark, The Axiom of Revelation, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1968.
The Triune God
|Jesus Christ's Ascension to Heaven in the presence of his apostles, forty days following his resurrection.
In our day and age many evangelical churches have supplanted the propositional truths of the Bible for the “personal experience.” The doctrine of the Trinity has been relegated to the backburner in the prevalent mood of “feel good religious existentialism.” However, without an understanding of the Trinity, there is no Christianity. Christianity is what the Bible teaches about God, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit and their interaction with their creation and man in particular. The 66 books of the Bible consist of propositional truths that are the backbone of Christianity. Therefore, the best authority on the Trinity is what the Triune God has chosen to reveal about Himself in the Bible.
Understanding the Trinity is of vital importance in understanding the Christian world view. Men and women may choose to disregard this understanding at the risk of their eternal salvation.
The Scriptures teach that there is one God who has revealed Himself in three persons. The three persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Son is necessary for creation as by him “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossian 1:16).
The Son of God is necessary for our understanding God, since the Son is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He is God incarnate (John 1:14). We cannot even begin to comprehend God or his nature without looking at Christ, for only Jesus Christ has explained God (John 1:18).
Plato tried to understand God through the idea of the Good, considering the Good as “the cause of knowledge, and of truth in so far as known” (Republic 508e). Augustine maintained “the Platonists” had attained an understanding of the eternal truths, which he believed was an aspect of God’s grace, the type of grace theologians later termed “common grace.”*
Augustine said that man cannot know truth if he lived in sin. Ronald Nash explains that Augustine, “must mean that unless we are cleansed from sin, we cannot know the truth that is God.”* The Bible teaches that the cleansing from sin comes only through Jesus Christ.
**Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969, p.36.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. One who doesn’t believe in the gospel considers it ridiculous for the eternal God to take the form of a man and die on a Roman cross for the sins of mankind. The entire scenario is ridiculous.
Why should an eternal God take the form of a short lived, perishable man? Why should he then die as a criminal to atone for man’s sin? God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. He chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He was pleased by the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe (1 Corinthians).
The Son is necessary for salvation. Only the Second Person of the Trinity incarnating as a man, the Son of God, could have redeemed humans from sin, since God alone is without sin.
If Jesus were just a great teacher or a great prophet dying on a cross, this wouldn’t have been sufficient for mankind’s salvation, because a great teacher or prophet is not God incarnate and would be tainted with original sin.
Had a mere man died on a cross, the chasm between man and God would not have been bridged. Salvation comes from above, from God, not from below, from man reaching up, trying to make himself worthy of God. Thousands of men have died on crosses, but when the Son of God died on a cross, he atoned for the sins of the world.
Only in the Son of God, according to the Christian worldview, do we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, so one day those who have received God’s grace, who are saved by the Son’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, will be able to stand before God and not be obliterated in the light of his purity and goodness.
Plato in Phaedo expounds that “true philosophers abstain from all bodily desires and withstand them and do not yield to them” (82 b, c).
The body draws the soul in any inquiry into the realm of the variable and it becomes confused and dizzy (Phaedo 79c). However, when the soul “investigates by itself, it passes into the realm of the pure and everlasting and immortal and changeless …. And consorts with it always and strays no longer, but remains, in that realm of the absolute, constant and invariable, through contact with beings of a similar nature. And this condition of the soul we call wisdom” (Phaedo 79-d).
The soul of a philosopher remains in the absolute realm “through contact with beings of a similar nature” because the soul is “akin” to the forms. It is deathless and stable like the forms, not mortal and changing like the body. Because the soul is kin to the forms, it seeks to escape the world of shadowy “existence” by consorting with the absolute, invariable realm. At death the soul is freed from the prison of the body, as the prisoner escapes from the cave to the light of the sun.
This renunciation of the body and materialistic attachments resulting in liberation is very similar to the asceticism practiced by a yogi, however Plato through his metaphysics seeks knowledge from being in the presence of the Forms. The philosopher never seeks to becoming one with a Form, as the yogi seeks to become one with Brahman, that all pervading consciousness, which is the basis of all animate and inanimate entities and the substratum of the material world (Bhagavad Gita 14:27). The yogi through the practice of yoga strives for merger and annihilation into Brahman. The philosopher seeks intuitive knowledge from truth, justice, virtue, beauty, the Good. There is a great difference between the two systems of belief.
|The Bible consist of propositional truths that are the backbone of Christianity.
Plato’s system is much closer to Christianity’s where Christians seek the presence of God through prayer and contemplation. In the Christian world view, men and women are created beings and can never become God, however they can read God’s revealed Word in the Bible and contemplate God’s divine attributes. Being regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit upon accepting Christ, they can experience God’s presence, communicate with the Creator of the Universe through prayer, understand God’s nature and see his divine work throughout history from his Word.
Plato’s philosophy is an attempt prior to God’s incarnation in Christ by searching minds to reach out to God, the Good, and his divine attributes, the eternal forms.
In Republic 500 b-c, Plato writes, “the man whose mind is truly fixed on eternal realities has no leisure to turn his eyes downward upon the petty affairs of men …. but he fixes his gaze upon the things of the eternal and unchanging order…he will endeavor to imitate them and, as far as may be, to fashion himself in their likeness and assimilate himself to them.” From these lines it is hard to determine if the man Plato is referring to is engaged in an intellectual exercise or a mystical experience.
When it comes to the idea of Love Plato waxes more poetically mystical, “Whoever has been initiated so far in the mysteries of Love and has viewed all these aspects of the beautiful in due succession, is at last drawing near the final revelation. And now, Socrates, there bursts upon him that wondrous vision which is the very soul of the beauty he has toiled so long for. It is an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades, for such beauty is the same on every hand, the same then as now, here as there, this way as that way, the same to every worshiper as it is to every other” (Symposium 210 e).
Plato describes an “initiation” in the mysteries of Love. An initiation involves learning knowledge and techniques not apparent to the population at large. Initiations usually include confidential rites, including words and actions administered, by a select and often secretive group. These rites are generally part of an ongoing tradition. In the case of some of the mystery cults, it can involve occult knowledge leading to dimensions of experience.
The very soul of beauty is described as a “wondrous vision” rather than knowledge gained through the intellect. It is perceived through an experience. Plato tells us that the person who has experienced the vision has toiled a long time for it. Like a yogi he may have abstained from sensory gratification and placed himself in a state of sensory deprivation so that his “inner eye” may perceive mystical truth.
The description of “an everlasting loveliness which never comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades” is reminiscent of Christianity’s conception of heaven and Plato describes the process as “mounting the heavenly ladder.”
“Starting from individual beauties, the quest for the universal beauty must find him ever mounting the heavenly ladder, stepping from rung to rung… until at last he comes to know what beauty is” (Symposium 211 c).
“Mounting the heavenly ladder” is apparently a process. The philosopher, or seeker, steps up the rungs “from one to two, and from two to every lovely body, from bodily beauty to the beauty of institutions, from institutions to learning, and from learning in general to the special lore that pertains to nothing but the beautiful itself – until at last he comes to know what beauty is (Symposium 211 c).
It is hard to determine from Plato’s language whether this in an intellectual process altering the way we view the world or the result of an experiential alteration of perception, experiencing another level of consciousness, as seemingly induced by mantra yoga.
In the mystery schools the adept went through a series of initiations, which supposedly brought him step by step to “higher” knowledge. Plato uses allegorical language, when he seemingly describes achieving s higher state of awareness.
We are only informed that such knowledge is gained by attaining the, “vision of the very soul of beauty.” We are not told how, but are informed that having attained it, one will never be seduced again by the lust of the body for the illusory beauty experienced by our senses, which present us with a dim reflection of true beauty (211d).
When the soul “is firmly fixed on the domain where truth and reality shine resplendent it apprehends and knows them and appears to possess reason, but when it inclines to that region which is mingled with darkness, the world of becoming and passing away … its edge is blunted, and it shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again seems as if it lacked reason” (Republic 508 d).
The idea of the good gives, “truth to the objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower” (Republic 508 d-e). Truth comes from the illumination shed by the idea of the good on the objects of knowledge such as truth, virtue and beauty.
The mystical experience is generally one of feeling, lacking in content. It cannot be verbalized. In coming to the knowledge of beauty, however, Plato describes an intellectual process and an emotional experience. An intellectual understanding of beauty is attained. The philosopher contemplates the beauty of the body and the beauties of laws and institutions. He comes to understand that every kind of beauty is like every other and “will conclude that the beauty is not.” The philosopher comes to the realization that “the beauties of the body are as nothing to the beauties of the soul” (Symposium 210 b-c).
The process is also emotional in that the seeker of beauty, “wherever he meets with spiritual loveliness, even in the husk of an unlovely body, he will find it beautiful enough to fall in love with and to cherish – and beautiful enough to quicken in his heart a longing for such discourse as tends toward the building of a noble nature” (Symposium 210 c).
“Falling in love” is an emotional experience resulting in a desire for “discourse,” an intellectual pursuit. Intelligible content is generally communicated in a discourse.
By scanning the wide horizon of beauty in all its material manifestations the philosopher will be freed from becoming the slave of a particular manifestation and “turning his eyes toward the open sea of beauty, he will find in such contemplation the seed of the most fruitful discourse and the loftiest thought, and reap a golden harvest of philosophy …. He will come upon one single form of knowledge, the knowledge of ….beauty” (Symposium 210 d).
Finding beauty in the preceding passage is a dialectic involving the laws of logic. The seeker of truth is encouraged to evaluate and compare the manifestations of good and then come to an inductive knowledge of the Idea, the Form, of Beauty from which all lesser beauty emanates.
Again, however, Plato’s knowledge of beauty appears more than synthetic. It almost resembles the “beatific vision” of saint from the Middle Ages:
“But if it were given to man to gaze on beauty’s very self – unsullied, unalloyed, and freed from the mortal taint that haunts the frailer loveliness of flesh and blood – if, I say, it were given to man to see the heavenly beauty face to face, would you call his …. an unenviable life, whose eyes had been opened to the vision, and who had gazed upon it in true contemplation until it had become his own forever?” (Symposium 211 e).
A vision may have intellectual content, however it is generally the province of the mystic.
Plato’s quest for the highest Forms and Ideas is a profound search for a transcendent reality, an intense quest for absolute Truth, Virtue, Beauty and their source, the Good. His search involved the intellect and quite possibly some type of revelatory or mystical experience. For Plato the Forms are objective reality, more so than any lesser manifestation apparent to our senses. Moral absolutes, in Plato’s philosophical system, are anchored in the unchanging and supreme Form of the Good.
Enlightenment for Buddha
Hinduism maintains that the world is maya, an illusion. It is only through meditation, looking into one’s own nature, that one expands one’s consciousness to experience reality. Reality is not to be objectively perceived but is to be experienced. Experience proves reality.
Buddha also viewed the world as illusory and stressed its transiency, “Look upon the world as you would on a bubble, look upon it as on a mirage …. Come, look at this world, glittering like a royal chariot; the foolish are immersed in it, but the wise are not attached to it.”*
* E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, p. 61.
He compares it to froth, “-a phantom, dew, a bubble, a dream, a flash of lightning, and a cloud: Thus we should look upon all that was made.”*
* Huston Smith, The Religions of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 90.
|Historical Photograph of a giant Buddha Statue in a Japanese Buddhist Temple.
We are informed that while meditating under the Bo tree, Siddhartha, the young Buddha, saw his previous incarnations and realized that all suffering is the result of rebirth. The demon of death (Mara), the great god who dominates the world, does not want Siddhartha to obtain enlightenment so he sends his three daughters, Thirst, Displeasure and Voluptuousness to tempt the meditating man, but they do not succeed. Siddhartha becomes a Buddha, “an awakened or enlightened one” by realizing the Four Noble Truths, which are the following:
First Noble Truth: Life is dukkha or out of joint. Dukkha is suffering and involves cravings, misery and change. Life, birth, old age, sickness, death are all suffering Existence is therefore evil because it involves suffering.
Second Noble Truth: Nothing is unchanging in the world. Nothing is permanent. Suffering is the result of a thirst for being which leads from birth to birth (reincarnation).
Suffering arises as follows: “From ignorance as cause arise the aggregates (the energies or identity of a person), from the aggregates as cause arises consciousness, from consciousness as cause arises name-and-form (mind and body), from name-and-form as cause arises the sphere of the six (senses), from the sphere of the six as cause contact, from contact as cause sensation, from sensation as cause craving, from craving as cause grasping, from grasping as cause becoming, from becoming as cause birth, from birth as cause arise old age, death, grief, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. Even so is the origination of all this mass of pain.”*
Third Noble Truth: The “Three Fires” of lust (desire), ill-will (hatred) and ignorance (delusion) can be destroyed by disassociating oneself from them, by not yielding to their siren call, by understanding the teachings of Buddha. The third noble truth is nirodha which means the “cessation of dukkha.” “Where one attains nirvana, one experiences nirodha. For Buddhists, nirvana is not the extinction of self, since there is no self or soul to annihilate. Rather it is the annihilation of the illusion or false idea of self.”**
Fourth Noble Truth is Marga, the way, the path leading to the cessation of dukkha
Eightfold Path consists of right understanding, right purpose (aspiration), right speech, right conduct, right vocation, right effort, right alertness and right concentration.
While gaining an understanding of the four noble truths and practicing the Eightfold Path, a Buddhist has to break the ten fetters: delusion of self, doubt, ritual, sensuality, ill-will, love of life on earth, desire for a future life in Heaven, pride, self righteousness and ignorance. Having done that, he becomes an Arhat.
*Quoted in J.Isamu Yamamoto, Buddhism, Taoism & Other Far East Religions, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, pp. 28-29 from Edward J. Thomas, The Life of Buddha as Legend and History, London: Routeledge & Kegan Paul, 1969, p. 193.
**Referenced in J. Isamu Yamamoto, Buddhism, Taoism & Other Far East Religions, p.29 from Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Thought, New York: Grove Press, 1974, p.37.
Buddha’s experience under the Bo tree, at least as it is recounted, is both mystical and intellectual. He experiences a mystical type of struggle with the demon Marga and his three temptresses. He has visions of his past incarnations, but then comes to an intellectual understanding on how to resolve the problem of suffering. Buddha’s “awakening” may have had mystical dimensions, but it also has a strong intellectual component. Man’s liberation comes by overcoming the bondage of reincarnation, whose reality Buddha presuppose. This liberation does not result in an eternal existence of the soul in the heaven but a total extinguishment of all the karmic patterns which comprise a human being and are the only elements of personality in Buddha’s worldview.
When turning eighty years of age Buddha counseled his disciples, “Be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth. Look not for assistance to any one besides yourselves.”* Truth is therefore attainable, by being “lamps unto yourselves,” through self illumination, by finding the truth within.
*E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, p. 49.
Regarding Buddha’s teachings, Huston Smith declares, “Never has a religion set out its case with so complete an appeal to empirical judgment. On every question, direct, personal experience was the final test for truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’”
* Huston Smith, The Religions of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 108.
Belief and Subjective Experience
In his excellent book Christianity for Skeptics, Steve Kumar asks, “But does subjective experience prove what we believe? When we reflect on experience it is worth remembering the remarks of philosopher Bertrand Russell who said, ‘We can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes.’ People who seek to prove their metaphysical beliefs on the basis of experience think metaphysics and experience are synonymous. What they fail to see is that experience is something one has and metaphysics is the interpretation of that experience. One should also remember that experiences are capable of many interpretations. No experience is, in the final analysis, self interpreting. People with eastern religious experience often say. ‘I had an experience but I cannot describe it to you.’ Persons with this mentality, fail to see that experiences are meaningless unless describable. In other words, how can you know what you don’t know? Experience is too weak a base on which to build one’s eternal destiny.”*
Steve Kumar, Christianity For Skeptics, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000, pp. 157-158.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines mysticism as “the doctrine or belief that direct knowledge of God, of spiritual truth, etc., is attainable through immediate intuition or insight in a way differing from ordinary sense perception or the use of logical reasoning.”
B.B. Warfield states, “There is a deeper reason for a mystic being ‘mute’ – that is what the name imports – than that he wishes to make a mystery of his discoveries. He is ‘mute” because, as a mystic, he has nothing to say. When he sinks within himself he finds feelings, not conceptions; his is an emotional, not a conceptual, religion; and feelings, emotions, though not inaudible, are not articulate. As a mystic, he has no conceptual language in which to express what he feels. If he attempts to describe it he must make use of terms derived from the religious or philosophical thought in vogue about him, that is to say, of non-mystical language.”*
B.B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1952, p.447.
A mystic will view his religious experience in the context of his cultural world view. Mystics come from all persuasions and religions. A mystic seeks to deify his experience and even himself. A Christian mystic may believe he is having a personal encounter with God. The Christian mystic substitutes his religious experience for the objective revelation of God in the written Word, or he may give greater authority to his personal experiences to the written Word.
He will give precedence to ecstatic individual feelings and imaginary “self talk” to God’s written revelation. A Hindu mystic will explain that in meditation he is becoming one with Brahman, he is experiencing a state of cosmic consciousness, in which his “self” is merging with the “infinite” or the “Absolute.” A naturalist mystic such as a transcendentalist like Emerson or Thoreau will look at nature and feel he is one with every living thing. He will experience exaltation and speak of the divine unity of all things, rather than honor nature’s Author.
Buddha claimed he was the “Enlightened One” or the “Awakened One.” He also said he was, “The all-subduing, the all-knowing, am I, in everything that I am, without a stop. I am a delivered one. By my own power, I possess knowledge … In the world, including the heavens, there is no one like unto me. I am the holy one in the world. I am the Supreme Master. I alone am the Perfect Buddha.”*
Lit-Sen Chang, Asia’s Religions, p. 134 quoting Mahavagga I,6,8. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI
Carl Jung in his introduction to D.T. Suzuki’s book, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, observes, “We can never decide definitely whether a person is really enlightened, or whether he merely imagines it, we have no criterion for this.”* If someone informs us they are “awakened,” how do we know they are? How does one define “awakened.” If it is the product of a mystic or subjective experience how can we explain it or communicate it to someone else. How does one know when he is truly awakened?
*D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, New York: Grove Press, 1964, p.41.
Christian mysticism, probably most prevalent in certain aspects of the charismatic movement, is basically, “general mysticism manifesting itself on Christian ground and interpreting itself accordingly in the forms of Christian thought. It is mysticism which has learned to speak in Christian language. The phenomena themselves are universal. There has never been an age of the world, or a form of religion, in which they have not been in evidence.”*
*B.B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1952, p.448-449.
These Christian mystics often maintain that the word of the prophet supersedes the Word of God. The Christian mystic will substitute his religious experience for the objective revelation of God recorded in the Bible. His personal revelation, in his own eyes, is the greater truth. He really does not differ much from the yogi, the sufi, or a practitioner of kabala.
B.B. Warfield informs us, “In the history of Christian thought mysticism appears accordingly as that tendency among professing Christians which looks within, that is, to the religious feelings, in search of God. It supposes itself to contemplate within the soul the movements of the divine Spirit, and finds in them either the sole sources of trustworthy knowledge of God, or the most immediate and convincing sources of that knowledge, or, at least, a coordinate source of it alongside of the written Word. The characteristic of Christian mysticism, from the point of view of religious knowledge, is therefore its appeal to the ‘inner light,’ or ‘the internal word,’ either to the exclusion of the external or written Word, or as superior to it.”*
B.B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1952, p.451.
Referring to the doctrine of the Inner Light renowned British author G.K. Chesterton observes, “Of all the conceivable forms of enlightenment, the worst is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the God within … That Jones should worship the God within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the God within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inward, but to look outward, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain.”*
B.B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1952, p.457-458.
Concerning mysticism, Eastern or Western, the Christian perspective is that without God’s revelation, we cannot empirically know him as our senses, internal or external, deceive us. We exist in an empirical fog. We cannot reach absolute knowledge through the senses.
Augustine Builds on Plato’s Foundation
Augustine believed that as a result of an aspect of God’s grace, later called by theologians “common grace,” the Platonists had attained a knowledge of the eternal truths. However, the wisdom which man can attain from “common grace” is limited and cannot bring man to a knowledge of the source of truth, God Himself.*
*Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969, p.37.
Augustine believed that the limited knowledge of God’s eternal Ideas which the Platonists attained was because they had freed themselves from the hindrances of the body and sensation.
Plato describes Socrates in the Symposium on his way to a party, ducking into a doorway and remaining motionless for hours to “listen to his daimon.” He is also described in the same dialogue as standing barefoot and motionless in the snow for twenty four hours. He is not aware of the cold or the jeering soldiers watching him. Plotinus, a neo-Platonist who inspired Augustine, spoke of samadhi type experiences and instructed his students in meditation practices identical to some in the Indian tradition. His biographer recounts that Plotinus experienced higher knowledge resulting from mystical experience.*
*Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought, New York: Allworth Press, 2002, pp.181, 182,187.
The description of Socrates “listening to his daimon” is uncomfortably similar to that of a psychic medium engaged in communication with his or her familiar spirit and not of that of a philosopher trying to intellectually understand the mind of God and grasping his Ideas. Plato does not elaborate on what transpired in this episode.
It is hard to argue that freeing oneself from body and sensation, a mystical process, results in inner illumination. This writer’s experience practicing mantra and hatha yoga half an hour twice a day, on weekend retreats, and intense month long retreats over a period of six and a half years, did not result in the acquisition of any “truths.” He experienced emotions and moods but did not gain knowledge. The experience was a fluid emotional experience.
He was aware at times of a light in his forehead as he sat meditating, eyes shut. But this light did not result in illumination, knowledge or revelation. It was just there, without any particular warmth and didn’t engender any feelings. Yoga explains it as energy, kundalini, rising up as a serpent to the forehead. It is supposedly the result of opening the shakras or energy centers along the spinal column by practicing the asanas or yoga postures.
There were feelings of sinking, boredom, exaltation, sadness, oppression, flight, dread, exuberance, and claustrophobia but they did not contain information. They did not result in a sudden burst of knowledge. The writer did not find himself at the altar of the Ideas visualizing Truth, Justice, Wisdom or Beauty … far from it. His “mystical” experiences over time turned bewildering and entangled him in a world of relativistic confusion.
The more he attempted to free himself from the body and sensation through the sensory deprivation of mantra yoga, the more the world appeared transient and illusory. To argue that the Platonists gained knowledge of the eternal Ideas of God because they had freed themselves from the body and sensation is, in this writer’s opinion, invalid. Knowledge from mystical experience is implausible, unless it is a recollection of having experienced certain feelings, which are without informational Cartesian content.
Concerning Augustine, in their book Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy A.H. Armstrong and R.A. Markus observe:
“Even after his conversion to the Incarnate Word of God confessed by the Christian Church, it was in Platonism that he found the best intellectual equipment for gaining deeper insight into truth. There is already an important difference here between Plato and Augustine’s Platonism: it is the priority of faith to reason, to all other mental activity. In this, no doubt, we can discern Augustine’s despair of ever discovering truth, from which it was his faith that delivered him. Faith, for Augustine, remained the first step on the way to truth, and it is this sense that we can assert its priority to reason. It gave the mind the direction, provided the goal for its intellectual quest. But though it is prior to reason in this sense, it is not, for Augustine, superior to it. On the contrary: understanding is a higher way of knowing, because when we understand something, we penetrate its nature, so to speak, by an intellectual insight; whereas in mere faith this insight is wanting; faith is simply adherence to its object. Hence Augustine speaks of understanding as the goal of faith, or its reward. ‘Believe in order that you may understand’ is his often reiterated exhortation.”
*A.H.Armstrong and R.A.Markus, Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy, New York: Sheed And Ward, 1960: pp.67-68.
Augustine maintained that philosophy, the love of wisdom, began with faith. It continued with the intellectual quest of insight and “was crowned by the vision of union.” All knowledge is an act of the soul. Augustine bridged the gap between sensory knowledge and the higher knowledge of the eternal Ideas, an area which Plato attempted to surmount but still seemed to worry him, with the concept that sense perception is an act of the soul through the body. *
**A.H.Armstrong and R.A.Markus, Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy, New York: Sheed And Ward, 1960: pp.68-69.
Two lights make knowledge possible, the uncreated light of God and the created, mutable light, which is in man’s intellect. “Just as the moon derives the light it reflects from the sun, so the rational mind of man derives a created ability to know from its origin, God. The knowledge possessed by man can be regarded as a reflection of the truth originating in the mind of God.”*
*Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969, p.108.
Augustine believes in a sense that the forms are in the mind of man. Man is created by God with a structure of rationality patterned after the divine ideas in His own mind. Man’s intellect is thus endowed with a created light. With respect to beauty, for example, Augustine argues that we can judge beauty because the laws by which we judge beauty are already in our minds. With respect to goodness, Augustine writes we would not be able to judge goodness “unless a conception of the good itself had been impressed upon us.”*
*Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969, p.109.
Augustine’s perspective is grounded in Biblical authority. In the book of Genesis we are told that God created men and women in his own image (Genesis 1:27). As already mentioned, the image of God created in man is not one of dust and clay, of flesh and bones, as God is a Spirit (John 4:24). By breathing life into man, God imparted his very essence, his Spirit, into man. Man then became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
God is a “God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Because God created man like Himself, and because God is truth, man can know Truth.
It is from God’s mind that our minds possess a rational conception of the eternal Forms. In our own spirit are the imprints of God’s Ideas, corrupted by the sin which came into creation at the fall of Adam and Eve.
In the sensory world, the world around us, God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20) are also known to us. Augustine maintained that men and women know the corporeal, physical, world only because we first knew the intelligible world, the world of eternal Ideas and Forms.*
*Ronald H. Nash, The Light of The Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1969, p.109.
For Plato illumination came from the Good which he compared to the sun. For Augustine illumination comes from God which has placed a reflected light in our intellect. For Plato the Forms had an independent existence outside space and time. For Augustine the Forms are Ideas in the mind of God. We know them because he created us in his image.
The Christian perspective can best be explained that when it comes to truth, the Triune God is sovereign. All enlightenment comes from God, from the Creator to the creation. God is the First Cause and all else is his handiwork. His Ideas are “embodied” in his mind and are inherent in Him. The eternal Ideas in our minds are not an emanation from God, but a reflection of God’s thoughts. We may not perceive them clearly because of the fall of Adam and Eve which corrupted human nature, making it “depraved.”
However, God through his Holy Spirit reaches to men and women living in darkness despite their depraved natures. Through a canopy of dark clouds we may perceive by God’s grace his brilliant presence.
In his childhood C.S. Lewis had such an experience as he read poetry. When he read the words in an unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa, “I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful Is dead, is dead,” he says, “I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then … found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.”*
C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1955, p.17.
A few years later while reading Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, he says, “I had never heard of Wagner, nor of Siegfried. I thought the Twilight of the Gods meant the twilight in which the gods lived. How did I know, at once and beyond question, that this was no Celtic, or sylvan, or terrestrial twilight? But so it was. Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity …and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago in Tegner’s Drapa, that Siegfried (whatever it might be) belonged to the same world as Balder and the sunward-sailing cranes.”
“And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country; and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience, which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say It is. And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to “have it again” was the supreme and only important object of desire.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1955, p.72-73.
C.S. Lewis’s fleeting experience with Joy in his youth is a brush with the eternal. C.S. Lewis describes being instantly uplifted into “huge regions of northern sky” and desiring with “almost sickening intensity something never to be described.”
Just as Socrates and Plato intuitively perceived the eternal Forms, the form of Joy flashed in C.S. Lewis’s consciousness. Like Socrates, he perceived it in his mind’s eye. Its purity wrenched his very being. He yearned for the experience to remain, but it was evanescent. So powerful was the experience that its memory was indelibly etched in his soul, the possibility of hope in a life of darkness.
When Lewis perceived Joy, he perceived a universal essence not subject to the whims or interpretation of the perceiver, but absolute, stable and unchanging. Lewis perceived “Joy itself,” the very Form of Joy. Plato called a form an idea, which in the Greek language means “something you see.” In the case of Joy, Lewis saw it in his mind’s eye. It was beautiful, compelling, enveloping, intensely uplifting.
God is the source of Joy and joy and purity are in God’s eternal nature. Joy is an attribute of God, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy comes from the Lord. Praising God in a Psalm, David said, “You fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11).
God in his mercy had given C.S. Lewis a glimpse of absolute reality. He revealed an aspect of his divine nature, a peek at the possibility of eternal happiness. Lewis calls the reoccurrence of this experience, “the supreme and only important object of desire.” Having encountered one of God’s divine Ideas, all worldly experiences fade in comparison. Nothing else brings such incredible fulfillment.
Another aspect of God’s nature is Wisdom. King Solomon in his Proverbs gives wisdom a personality, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares,” (Proverbs 1:20). Yet wisdom comes from God, “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding,” (Proverbs 2:6). Wisdom is an attribute of God, “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place,” (Proverbs 3:19). Wisdom is inherent to God, “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength,” (Proverbs 8:14 KJV).
“I am understanding,” says the Lord. Understanding comes from wisdom. Therefore, the Lord is also Wisdom. When we seek Wisdom we are really seeking the source of wisdom, which is the Lord.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding,” (Proverbs 9:10 KJV). We gain wisdom by fearing the Lord, because the Lord is the fountain of wisdom. All wisdom emanates from God.
Likewise, truth, justice, beauty, goodness, virtue, and joy emanate from God and are gained by human beings through God’s mercy. With respect to wisdom, “even among fools she lets herself be known,” (Proverbs 14:33). For those who are depraved in sin God extends a lifeline of hope. Those who are stirred by God’s mercy and as a result reach out for these absolutes are really reaching out for God. Every human being who hungers for truth, justice, beauty, goodness, joy and the other eternal essences, is hungering for God.
Plato explained that the soul is “akin” to the Forms. The soul like the Forms is deathless and stable. The soul does not change and die like the body.* Since the soul is “kin” to the Forms, its desire and destiny is to return to the Forms, to the eternal Ideas in the mind of God, to God himself. Having perceived one of God’s Ideas, we yearn for it with “sickening intensity” because nothing compares to its absolute perfection. Within every human being, no matter how fallen or warped, is a longing to return home, to the Creator.
The Triune God created us with this desire programmed in our souls. There is no other way to happiness. Seeking happiness through accumulation, manipulation, and control of the material world is illusory, grasping for shadows in a dimly lit cave. Why do created beings seek the mirage, when the real can be found?
*Phillip Cary, Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, “Plato Psychology,” Lecture Six, The Teaching Company, 2000, page 6.
Meditation, Prayer, and Mysticism
One woman may be sitting cross legged with her eyes shut mindlessly repeating a mantra, a “favorite name of the gods” or a “meaningless sound,” depending on the interpreter. The mantra repeats itself as thoughts come and go. She does not direct the experience, except to effortlessly repeat the mantra.
Another woman may be praying while sitting on a couch or cross legged on the floor, consciously directing her thoughts to the Triune God in praise, contemplation of His majesty, listening for His Spirit, and making entreaties in prayer.
Both women are sitting with their eyes shut, but there is a great gulf in the nature of their experiences. The thoughts of the woman engaged in mantra yoga are not directed towards God or seeking God. They drift in and out of her consciousness without any structure or purpose. The thoughts of the praying woman are clumsily engaged in seeking, knowing and communicating with the Supreme Intelligence.
The first woman may have a doctorates degree in psychology and have been a practitioner of hatha and matra yoga for thirty years. The second woman may be uneducated, working in one of the few textile mills remaining in the South, with three children born out of wedlock. She reluctantly went to hear an itinerant preacher preach in a tent outreach, and feeling convicted of her sins gave her life to Christ. Now she feels a new influence, what they call the Holy Spirit, stirring in her soul.
The first woman through meditation is certainly turning inward, but she is not seeking to communicate with God, whose existence she denies. She feels she is tapping into a universal, impersonal energy, a force, which will bring her to a higher level of consciousness and release her from the wheel of reincarnation. In her meditations she experiences shifting moods. She feels happiness, sadness. She sees lights and sees landscapes, imprints from the world she has experienced and from her imagination. Sometimes she hears beautiful music.
Because she does not believe in God, who she considers a fairy tale, she will not seek him during her meditations. God for her is a concept created by feeble minded human beings as the crutch of ignorance. Her trancelike yogic experiences have not unveiled a supreme deity. She considers the universe eternal and life a fortuitous accident. Once chemically created, life built on itself from simple cells to cerebral humans. Her present consciousness and ability to tap universal energy is the goal of evolution. Through meditation she is experiencing power, she is unfolding and becoming God. By centering herself and turning inward through mantra yoga she is escaping the illusion of the material world and realizing that God is within, that she is God.
The second woman on the other hand felt unclean, sinful, during the revival meeting. She wanted to be clean and something stirred inside her, a yearning for God. Sure, when she prays, she shuts her eyes, just like the first woman, but in her fumbling fashion she seeks to make contact with the God of the Universe, who she somehow knows is “out there,” is good, and loves her. She’s seen his artistry in the many types of trees in the nearby forest, in the personality of the animals on her mother’s farm, and in the miracle of her birthing her small children.
The highly educated first woman closes her eyes and turns into herself and remains there. The second woman closes her eyes, for an instant looks in but, knowing there is only darkness there, looks upward. She turns inward, but then, like Augustine, looks upward to God, who is above her soul and is the creator of her soul.
The first woman considers her soul divine. Nothing is not within her soul and there are no universal absolutes, no eternal Forms. Her inner landscape of feelings is a storm tossed sea on a bed of shifting sand. When she turns into herself she does not turn upward, to the eternal Ideas, to the Supreme Being from who these ideas emanate. In her ignorance of God she does not turn toward what Plato called the intelligible world, what Augustine considered the eternal ideas in the mind of God.
The second uneducated woman, however, consciously seeks God. God gave her his grace, despite her lifestyle and lack of education, by implanting in her recognition of her sinfulness. God is the light and he implanted in this humble woman a secondary, created light, giving her knowledge of her fallen condition.
Jesus Claims Deity
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25 KJV)
|Behold, I stand at the door, and knock...
The argument is often made that we are all sons of God. New Agers and those with an Eastern philosophical bent will argue that when Jesus said he was one with the Father, he was referring to the deity in all of us and therefore we are all one with the Father. In John 10:30-37 Jesus sets this argument straight.
He draws a distinction between those who are called gods merely because the word of God came to them and Himself who the father sanctified and sent into the world. He offers his works as evidence that, "the Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (John 10:37-38, NASB). Mere humans are incapable of performing the works He performed and which attest to Jesus’s divinity.
"Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves" (John 14:11, NASB).
Furthermore, mere humans all die. Psalm 82:6-7 quotes, "I said, ‘You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men, And fall like any one of the princes’" (NASB). Many sects, cults and the New Age espouse the belief that every man has the potential of being a god or in fact is a god if he or she attains that level of consciousness. The fact remains that in all of history only one man rose from the grave and that was the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity in his "Counting the Cost" chapter sheds a valuable insight into this concept: "The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said."
One important caveat should be made to C.S. Lewis’s description of sanctification. It begins with believing in God’s atoning provision for sin, Jesus Christ. God can therefore take us, diamonds in the rough, and, when we accept his Son, polish and transform us. Without the atoning blood of Christ there is nothing. In their own righteousness, humans cannot be sanctified.
Albert Einstein, while having a conversation ranging from the nature of God, the universe, and man to lighter questions, “Suddenly lifted his head, looked toward at the clear skies, and said: ‘We know nothing about it at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren.’” He was asked by Dr. Chaim Tschernowitz, “’Do you think, that we shall ever probe the secret?’” “’Possibly,’ he said with a movement of his shoulders, ‘we shall know a little more than we do now. But the real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.’”
*Quoted in Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, The Trinity Foundation, Third Edition, 1996 John W. Robbins, Foreword, pp.viii & ix.
Today most astronomers subscribe to the Big Bang theory of the universe which maintains that all matter, energy, space and time burst forth from a state of “infinite”, or near infinite, density, temperature and pressure. According to this theory the entire universe can be traced to a singularity, an infinitely shrunken space representing the boundary at which space ceases to exist or at which space comes into existence.
The Big Bang theorizes that all the potential of the cosmos, some forty billion galaxies, ushered forth from a point smaller than a proton, which was an empty quantum mechanical probability framework called a scalar field. Furthermore this empty point, a “false vacuum”, contained not only the potential one universe but 100 million universes.
If you believe in the Big Bang, “you believe that, when the Big Bang sounded, the universe expanded from a pinpoint to cosmological size in far less than one second – space itself hurtling outward in a torrent of pure physics, the bow wave of the new cosmos moving at trillions of times the speed of light. You believe that this process unleashed such powerful distortions that, for an instant, the hatchling universe was curved to a surreal degree. Extreme curvature caused normally rare ‘virtual particles’ to materialize from the quantum netherworld in cornucopian numbers, the stuff of existence being ‘created virtually out of nothing,’ as Scientific American once phrased it.”
Quoting Gregg Easterbrook, “Science Sees The Light”, the New Republic, October 12, 1998.
The problem with science is that it rests on inductive reasoning. If the Big Bang theory is correct we would be able to verify an expanding universe, the hypothesis goes. Astronomers have observed that the light from distant galaxies was shifted toward the longer, or red, wavelengths of the spectrum, theoretically interpreted as a rapid motion of the galaxies away from one another and the COBE satellite demonstrated that the cosmic background radiation fits the spectral profile of a perfect radiator to which the theoretical conclusion is reached that only a very hot Big Bang accounts for the huge specific entropy of the universe.
This is the type of reasoning which Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and mathematician wryly correlated to, “When it rains the ground is wet. The ground is wet therefore it must have rained.” There could be many other reasons why the ground is wet aside from it having rained. The sprinklers may have been on. The gardener may have hosed the driveway. A dike may have leaked. A dog may have done his business.
Gordon H. Clark uses the following example regarding the fallacy of inductive reasoning: “A young ornithologist sees a crow and notes that it is black. He sees a second crow and notes that it is black. He sees a third and a fourth. Then after 99 or 999 cases he infers that the next crow will be black. In fact he concludes that all crows are black. The conclusion is false because a few crows, not noticed by the young student, are albinos. Of course the 1000th crow may be black too. Indeed it might have been that all crows are black, but even so the method cannot justify the universal conclusion. Induction is a logical fallacy.” * The observer does not have at his disposal knowledge on the entire crow population of the planet to reach the universal conclusion that all crows are black. He is not omniscient. “The method as a whole is wrong. Induction is always a fallacy.”*
* Gordon H. Clark, The Trinity, The Trinity Foundation, Jefferson, Maryland, Second Edition, 1990, p. 92-93.
The Big Bang theory fails to consider many other variables. If the Big Bang theory is correct why hasn’t the speed of the hurtling of matter in the outer observable reaches of the universe slowed down, as it does in any other explosion? Entropy always “kicks in” and momentum decreases as energy dissipates. The rate of expansion does not remain constant unless additional energy, aside from that released by the initial explosion, was available or provided.
The theory of the Big Bang is far from proven and there are a lot of issues science has no answers for. Gordon H. Clark states, “…as Hume and Einstein said, and as the history of science so clearly shows, we can never discover even a single law of nature. The laws of physics are constantly changing. Newton’s laws of absolute time, space, and motion which reigned from 1686 to 1900, were undermined when Ernst Mach demonstrated that the law of gravitation and the concepts of absolute time and motion cannot be combined.* Today, the bizarre laws of quantum physics are raising questions about Einstein’s theory of relativity, leading Einstein to have said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Looking at “zero point energy” some physicists are speculating a reinterpretation of Newton’s hypothesis of an underlying “ether.”
In contrast to the constant change in our understanding of the laws of physics, “the Bible remains fixed. Hence it is possible and easier to know God than to know how nature works.”** Genesis 1:1 unequivocally states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a propositional truth, a truth by definition, a starting point for our worldview given on the first page of the Bible, God’s revelation to man. Isaiah 40:22 NIV written around 700 BC gives us another propositional truth, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.” This propositional truth that the earth is a circle is believable because “the Bible tells me so,” and not because scientists say it is. Scientists up to the Renaissance believed the earth was flat.
The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament informs us that by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible (Hebrews 11:13 NIV). Faith is an intellectual process, not dependent on feelings and brings forth understanding.
Superficially this logic might appear circular. How can we have faith that the universe was formed at God’s command if we don’t know God? Can we examine the complexity of living organisms, the incredible fine tuning of the human eye or the human brain, and develop sufficient faith that the universe was formed at God’s command? The problem with empirical or sensory “evidence” is that a scientist with a Christian background may see God’s hand in creation, while a scientist who is an atheist will discern the wonders of natural selection.
A scientist of Christian faith may conclude that certain components necessary for a mouse trap or blood clotting are irreducibly complex and could only have been crafted by an intelligent designer. The atheist scientist will look at the same components and argue that life has irresistible momentum and through random chance, mutation, and time will assemble all the components of a complex organism. The creationist scientist will argue that this is statistically impossible. The atheist scientist will deny this. The argument will go on ad nauseum.
That is why Hebrews 11:6 says that anyone who comes to God must believe that he is. Belief comes first. Belief is the starting point. By believing in God one sees the creation from a God centered perspective. But how does one even begin to believe in God?
In Romans 11:5 speaks of “a remnant chosen by grace.” Romans 11:6 makes clear that this remnant was not chosen for its good works, because had God chosen this remnant for its good works, there would no longer be grace. The concept of God choosing his elect is further illustrated when Paul addresses the Thessalonians, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction,” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 NIV).
One comes to believe in God only through God’s mercy. Romans 11:32 NIV says, “God has bound all men to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” It is only through God’s sovereign will that one even begins to believe in God. One comes to believe in God because God willed and hence ordained it.
*Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, The Trinity Foundation, Third Edition, 1996 John W. Robbins.
** Gordon H. Clark, The Trinity, The Trinity Foundation, Jefferson, Maryland, Second Edition, 1990, p. 81.
Ethics East and West
Buddha taught,. “Do not look long, do not look short, for not by hatred is hatred appeased; hatred is appeased by not-hatred (the renouncing of hatred) only.”
E.A.Burtt, op.cit., p.40.
“A man should hasten toward the good, and should keep his thoughts from evil; if a man does what is good slothfully, his mind delights in evil… Even an evildoer sees happiness so long as his evil deed does not ripen; but when his evil deed ripens, then does the evildoer see evil… Let a man avoid evil deeds, as a merchant, if he has few companions and carries much wealth, avoids a dangerous road; as a man who loves life avoids poison.”
E.A. Burtt, op.cit., pp. 58-59.
Buddha uses the words “evil” and “good.” Buddha’s concept of right and wrong appears to have been presupposed by the norms of his historical culture.
In today’s post- modern culture the definitions of evil and good are relativistic. They are fluid and behavior which was considered abhorrent becomes tolerated, accepted and soon enough desirable. The predominant philosophy is “do what you feel is right.”
Ethics East and West Section Continued on Page 3 ... Continue on Page 3