Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash.
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Recently I had a visit with two of the co-founders of Compedia. Compedia is the Israeli company that won the contract for the augmented reality and virtual reality presentations at the astounding Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. Marti and I, along with our friend, John Peachey got to don the virtual reality headsets and experience a VR summary of the six days of creation. I was impressed with the technology and hoped that, one day, every pupil and student in the world would get to experience the Bible in this way.
Then they opened one of four Bible workbooks, three for the Old Testament and one for the New Testament. These are “augmented reality” tools. They have pictures of significant objects, maps and other details from Bible times. My eye fell on a photograph of a small Egyptian figurine that is held by the Louvre in Paris. When I looked at it through my smartphone camera, via the Compedia app, the figure seemed to rise from the page and take on three dimensions. It was captivating!
As the 3D figure “floated above the page” I could see digital icons surrounding it and by clicking on the icons I could find out more about the figure. The text that was accessed via the icons explained that this figure was a representation of a scribe from the time of Moses. He held a stylus in his hand; it was the sort of tool that was used to write on clay tablets, or perhaps on papyrus.
HOW DOES THE POPE FIT INTO THIS STORY?
As I examined the figure and learned more about it, I thought of Pope Benedict the 16th. He was the Pope who immediately preceded the current Pope, Francis, and was the leading theologian for the Catholic Church for decades before he became Pope.
“So,” you might ask, “what was the connection?” Stick with me here!
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars who came to be known as Higher Critics subjected the Bible to literary scrutiny that had been unacceptable in earlier centuries. One of the conclusions they reached was that the first five books of the Bible, commonly known as the Books of Moses, could not have been written at the time of Moses, because literacy, as we know it today, did not exist at the time. The Higher Critics advocated the idea that those first five books were written centuries after Moses but ascribed to him for the sake of greater authority. But here I was in November of 2019 looking at the figure of a scribe writing, and that small, seated statue is dated to the time of Moses.
Here’s where the Pope fits. On the 12th of September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a scholarly paper at the University of Regensburg, Germany, and made a plea for holding faith and reason together. He was deeply concerned about the idea that there is incompatibility between religious faith and reason and he lamented the tendency to “exclude the question of God from reason”.
FAITH DOES NOT SET ASIDE OUR ABILITY TO THINK
In those decades when the Bible was under an onslaught of academics who were determined to disprove the reliability of scripture, many Christians responded by divorcing faith and reason. I remember, rather painfully, asking my mother about how a loving and all-powerful God could co-exist with a world where there is so much suffering. Her response was, “There are some things we should not think about.” In other words, “Stop thinking and just have faith!” That was not helpful!
When the Pope made his famous speech, there was an uproar from Muslim scholars. One of the reasons why they were so outraged is that their view of God, Allah, is that he is so transcendent that he is not bound to reason. He can contradict himself and we must simply accept it. Of course, that means that ordinary people can never find their way to him by the pathway of their own thinking; the “professionals” tell them what he demands. When their words are irrational, we must not question; their view of faith is that we must simply accept how they interpret their scriptures.
HISTORICALLY, THE CHURCH AS ALSO BEEN GUILTY
Of course, there was time when the Church (or, more accurately, the institution that claimed to be the legitimate Church) also advocated that only professional clergy could understand what God demands from human beings. Those days are gone, thank God! I have been so grateful to watch how the Roman Catholic Church has increasingly emphasized the reliability of scripture and the importance of every believer reading the Bible.
Over the past 70 years, archaeologists have made huge progress in Israel, and Compedia have contractual agreement for access to over 5000 artefacts that have been uncovered during my lifetime. Like the pharaonic scribe, those artefacts consistently strengthen the trustworthiness of the Biblical view of history and the Bible time-line.
OUR INTELLECT IS SET FREE, AND THE RESULT IS A BETTER WORLD
It is this marriage of reason and faith that makes Biblical Christianity unique. We are commanded by Jesus to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength.”
This way of thinking, unique to the Protestant Christian world has developed a way of living that is far from perfect, and yet it offers the most attractive way of living in the history of the world. The flow of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers is from the Muslim world and other poorer parts of the world to the nations with Protestant Christian roots. These nations have never been thoroughly Christian nations, but Protestant thought, which is informed by the Bible, and the marriage of reason and faith have resulted in a way of life that is freer, more respectful of all human beings, more innovative, more prosperous and offering greater opportunity than any society ever.
That marriage of faith and reason starts with the rational acceptance that there is a God and we are created in His image. We glean from reading the Bible, and we accept by faith, that the Bible is God’s inspired Word; but, that is not an irrational leap of faith. It is a presupposition that is demonstrably true when we live by the truths we find in the Bible—starting with Jesus at the centre. He is the perfect image of God and is “the way, the truth and the life”.
THE POST-MODERN LEAP OF FAITH
Much of the world where Protestant Christianity was in the ascendency for centuries has now turned to another way of thinking. Most of our places of higher education start with the assumption that there is no God, or that if there is, he is irrelevant. From there they adopt some version of post-modern philosophy. One outcome is that each person then decides for themselves what is true. That is completely irrational, and no one can live a consistent life with that philosophy, but there are few other options once God is evicted from our thinking. In fact, the only other options are other religions and they are not very attractive to the highly individualistic people of today. Each post-modern person would like to tailor a set of beliefs for themselves.
POST-MODERN THINKING ERODES THE MOST DESIRABLE SOCIETIES
But we have a problem. As we pursue that Godless path, life becomes less liveable. Our set of values clashes with the values of other individuals and we resent any laws or cultural norms because they restrict our pursuit of being our own God. The result is depression, self-harm, a rising suicide rate, identity problems including sexual dysphoria, and many forms of self-hatred. At the level of society as a whole, any minority group can impose their views on all others provided that they shout loud and long, then accuse anyone who does not accept their values of having some of the many varieties of phobia.
That little figurine of a scribe from the time of Moses is just one of countless confirmations of the veracity of the Bible and is one of the many finds that refute the Higher Critics of previous centuries. And that means that we really can “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength”. Thank God for that!
I’m also grateful that Pope Benedict XVI had the courage to make a plea for more reason and rational thought in religion. Thank God for that too!
We live in a world where each of us can discover truth for ourselves because it is there to be discovered, and the confirmation that something is true, is that it works for us and for others as we live it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Believe Him and it will work!