Thursday, December 20, 2007

Totally. Cosmic. Man.

There is an assumption in our modern (postmodern) society that all of us have tacitly accepted whether we are openly "religious" or not. It is an assumption born in the Enlightenment and nurtured through three or four hundred years of modern philosophy, medical breakthroughs, and technological innovation. The assumption is this: That the physical world is all that really exists. The logical follow-on to that assumption is that science will eventually provide us answers to our most profound questions. This, as I have discussed many times, is the foundation of Naturalistic/Materialistic worldview. Though many of us claim not to accept this view, and though we may even vehemently argue against it, this is a difficult assumption to overcome because it is built into the fabric of our culture.

When we hear of an inexplicable healing, or an answered prayer, or an eerie "coincidence," our initial reaction is to seek a scientific explanation. Though we study and do our best to honor and defend a high view of Scripture, we secretly wonder if the walls of Jericho really just fell down; if the Red Sea really parted or (though we would be loathe to admit it) if Jesus really rose from the dead. We are hard-wired to be skeptical of claims like those.

"Test everything," Paul told us, and we take him up on it. That's OK. But in our knee-jerk reaction to do so we sometimes forget that the Christian view of the world is not limited to materialistic causes for things. Ultimate reality is not physical -- it is spiritual. Ours is a worldview that encompasses both the physical and the non-physical. Neither the physical nor the non-physical is, by itself, adequate to describe us as persons. Likewise, neither can explain the makeup of all we know and experience.

The modern, rational, naturalistic culture we have been steeped in disdains such a view and does its best to belittle and destroy it. The result is an ongoing battle of ideas in which we are perpetually engaged. The philosopher Francis Schaeffer addressed this conflict as being rooted in a post-Enlightenment split in the way we think. Though Schaeffer didn't originate this notion, he did popularized it in a form we all recognize when we talk about someone taking a "leap of faith."

Faith, Schaeffer said, is relegated by the secular to an "Upper Story" class of thought consisting of: values, spirituality, religion, faith and the like. The "Lower Story" ideas consist of the converse of the upper. In the lower story are facts, physical reality, science, and knowledge.

UPPER STORY: Values - Spiritual - Religion - Faith -- Private

LOWER STORY: Facts - Physical - Science - Knowledge -- Public

And here's the key: To the naturalistic, secular way of thinking, the lower story is the only place we can know true things. For that reason it is public and verifiable. It describes the only philosophically acceptable areas of our lives. Upper story ideas are private and subjective, having no business seeping into the "real world." To take a "leap of faith" is to ignore rational thought and the scientific method by leaping upstairs and believing on faith alone. While no one is permitted to question the thoughts or ideas of your "private world," neither are you free to allow those ideas to influence how you understand the lower story.

Unfortunately, most of us accept these notions without even realizing it. We tacitly accept the idea that our personal faith or religion should be disallowed from addressing public issues because private values have little relevance to a fact-based world. But this is a bifurcated understanding of what we know and experience in our lives. It is a corruption of the Christian view of the world which sees: facts and values, the spiritual and physical, religion and science, faith and knowledge; as all comprising a total, integrated view of reality.Though in our hearts we know this is true, the culture continues to denounce it. We know we should fight the battle but sometimes we don't know how. Sometimes we get no help. Some of our thinking assimilates. Some of our leaders and scientists accommodate. Some of our churches capitulate. And with each baby step in the naturalistic direction, the idea of the miraculous diminishes into a faintly held belief we have little hope of defending.

And then Christmas comes ...

Though it took me a bit to get here, I believe the ultimate message of Christmas is the cosmic-sized revelation that human-centered ways of thinking are inadequate to address the human condition. It is humanistic thinking that created our earthly problems from the beginning. It is humanistic philosophy that has exacerbated those problems by manufacturing a "two-story" view of the world -- a view that denies ultimate reality by dividing that which was made to be indivisible.

At Christmas we are reminded that it all can be fixed in only one way. We are shown an ultimate example on a cosmic scale of how the world was meant to work. At Christmastime, the floor joists are shattered and a thundering shock wave pierces the night. The ceiling above our human-centered world collapses and the ghosts who have been rattling around in our attics come crashing into our living rooms.

The divine is united with the human in one person -- a person who offers us the perfect example of how we were made in the divine image and meant to function as an integrated whole. That person offers us a way out of our self-made morass of idiotic ideas and worldly wisdom. The infinitely perfect man bridges an infinite gap between divine perfection and human failing.

Only He can do such a thing. And when He does, the world all makes sense again.

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