The Search for Truth

Examining All Assumptions

Athanasius on the reason for the Incarnation

by Dan O'Brian

Originally posted on Just Thomism:

Athanasius’s account of the Incarnation is one of those ideas so logical and simple that, once you get it, you always feel like explaining it takes ten times more words than necessary.

1.) Man, created from nothing, is an animal who was given the likeness to the Logos.

2.) Man lost his likeness to the Logos, and so necessarily fell back to nothing – to corruption and death.

3.) Death therefore became necessary, but the Logos could not stand to lose those who were in his likeness.

4.) Death therefore had to somehow re-establish likeness to the Logos: but the only way death could re-establish likeness to the Logos is if the Logos himself died. 

5.) The Logos could not die if he did not have a body.

(Added later)

6.) The Logos therefore unified a body to his person, such that whatever happened to the body could be said to…

View original 5 more words

Protestants are Cherry Picking the Bible

by Dan O'Brian

The issue of Bible interpretation is a point of contention among atheists as well as Christians. It is claimed that a man and his Bible is all that is needed. After all, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Yet, one won’t spend too long in Christian circles till he discovers that “a man and his Bible” will come up with extremely off-the-wall ideas. He always has a need to be corrected by others in the Church. He’s like a tree which needs stilts to hold it up or it will grow crooked. It is suggested that the way to correct these bad understandings of the Scripture, is to have the Bible reader research what the great men of faith have said about things. He is told to reach back to the early church fathers and use them to get a better interpretation of Scripture. However, this is just a more well read version of “a man and his Bible”, albeit a more humble one. The individual is still the final arbiter of what he reads. The Protestant will accept St Augustine’s ideas on grace and faith, but not on the Eucharist, and certainly not on the Pope. He is, for all intents and purposes, cherry picking, as the atheists are so fond of pointing out. And in this accusation, I think they are right. My dear Protestants, we are cherry picking.

Let me point out, though, that doesn’t mean we are all wrong. An accurate interpretation of Scripture does exist, and our cherry picking is bound to hit the mark at some point. But, it’s bound to miss it as well. So, how do we know when we get it right? It’s a hard question. And one can see that our problem exists because we address the problem at an individual level, i.e. “a man and his Bible.” We have a real need to refer ourselves to an authority. The only relevant authority available to us in these matters is the Church. So what does the Church say about the Scriptures? And therein lies the rub. Which Church is to be the authority? The Independent Fundamental Baptists?… The Southern Baptists?… The Methodists?… The Free Will Baptists?… The Nazarenes?… The Church of Christ?… The Assembly of God?… The Lutherans?… or (oh, the horror) The Catholics?

And do any of them actually have a list of doctrines that define their denomination? For instance, what does it mean to really be a Southern Baptist? In my own experience, I’ve learned that each denomination has disagreements within themselves, and a certain amount of that is OK, even healthy. But do the Southern Baptists have a list of core doctrines on which none disagree and therefore define the denomination? If they do, that is precisely what is meant by the much hated term “Church Tradition.” Each Church, if it is to be legitimate, must have a coherent Church Tradition or they are a denomination without a definition. And that is one thing I cannot stand. Whatever you are, you must know what you are.

Whatever the answer to these questions above, it cannot be that Church Tradition must be avoided. Each of us, as individuals, need Church Tradition to help us understand the Scripture. We need an authoritative arbiter of the truth. We need a Guardian of Orthodoxy. But, if one exists, there are serious implications for the many denominations out there. If there is a church that is right, then all the other churches are wrong. And some are more wrong than others. There would be elements of the true Church in the other denominations, but they would not be the fullness that makes up the Church.

I do not claim to have an answer for this problem, but I know one thing. I no longer abhor and reject Church Tradition. I have a real need for it. I am looking for a Guardian of Orthodoxy. I do have a direction I’m looking and I have real reasons for looking in that direction. But, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that yet. I only write this so that others may see the problem and begin the search themselves.

Does God speak English?

by Dan O'Brian

God’s native tongue is not English. God has no native tongue. In fact, God does not have a tongue or a mouth. So, how is it that God speaks to us? What does is mean for God to “speak?” Many Christians desire to hear God’s audible voice and do not. They read their Bibles and pray, quiet their hearts, and wait for a still, small voice. And some report that eventually they do “hear” something, though they would clarify it was communicated to them in their hearts. Others, however, hear nothing and become frustrated.

It is a Western activity to pray and expect to be given an answer in English. Certainly, God can communicate in any language. But, any invisible being can whisper something in your ear and say that it is God. (Let’s hope you can detect the authentic voice.) But, this is not a means of communication that is specific to God. What happens when God speaks?… Creation. Those who expect an audible English voice ignore the Godly communication already going on around them. That’s the difference between human communication and God’s. We say “tree” and refer to the brown, tall, leafy thing in front of us. God says “tree” and there it is. The brown, tall, leafy thing is at once His word and its referent. God’s voice is the tree’s existence. If God were to stop speaking, the tree would no longer exist. So, when we pray, don’t expect an audible reply. Look around you. God never stops speaking.

Belief in God gives rise to the problem of evil

by Dan O'Brian

Belief in God gives rise to the problem of evil. Without Him there is no problem; there is just what we find in nature. But, knowing and trusting God brings a peace and satisfaction that overcomes the problem of evil on a personal level; so much so that one would tolerate the problem of evil if it meant being with God. At least the believer has someone to blame and be angry with when bad things happen. It is our deep trust in God that allows us to vent our distrust to Him. But, to whom does the atheist complain?

Who’s right?

by Dan O'Brian

Tradition and belief beget and support one another. There is no escape from tradition in the church. Protestants would prefer that the written word of God resolve every doctrinal controversy, but it cannot. For false teachers quote the Bible for support of their false beliefs just as the true teachers do. What actually resolves the dispute is tradition; the church’s explanation of what the scriptures really mean. Those who say tradition is not an authority are actually appealing to their own tradition on the matter. Tradition is necessary for attaining the correct beliefs. 

The Case of Hypocrisy: Why did Christ not die sooner?

by Dan O'Brian

Why did Christ not die sooner? After all, he instructed others to turn the other cheek. Why did he not do so to his enemies? There was at least one mob who tried to stone him or throw him off a cliff. Yet he walked right through them and escaped. Others tried to trap him in a legal conundrum by bringing him a woman caught in adultery. If he said to stone her it would violate Roman law. If he decided not to it would violate Jewish law. He did not, however, turn the other cheek. He did not willingly become trapped. Again and again the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to find fault in him yet he got the better of them every time. 

Jesus required of his followers that if a thief takes from them their coat, you ought also to run after him and offer him your shoes as well. Should Christ do less? So why did Christ not willingly, even enthusiastically, give himself up to his accusers and fault finders? Could we not now accuse him of hypocrisy? 

If the problem we see is a problem of giving, then the solution must be found in giving also. In other words, If Christ did not give himself to his accusers it is because he had already given himself over to something else. One cannot give what one does not have. And one cannot give what is already given previously.

Christ’s will was submitted to the Father, and the will of the Father was for Christ to instill in his followers the Kingdom of God. For while he could not give his life to his accusers it was only because he was pouring it out to his disciples. His goal was to regenerate mankind beginning with this tiny band. When, finally, it came time for Christ to die it was only because his project resulted in failure. God had told him it was finally time to give himself over to his enemies, and even then, Christ beseeched God that this cup pass from him. He did not want to die. And he did not want to die because he did not come for the express purpose of dying. He came for the express purpose of living; living as mankind always should have lived: giving themselves to one other with reckless abandon. Pouring our lives out to one another.

Shamefully, it turns out, to be really human in this world is to be taken advantage of and killed. Christ’s death showed up the world of man for what it really was. Christ could not change it. This fact was brought home to him right after he begged of God that he would not die. He came back to find that his disciples could not even manage to pray with him one hour, his most needful hour, but instead gave in to their tired flesh and slept. They could not give him an hour because humanity was too weak; even a humanity that had spent every waking hour with the giver of strength. They had spent three years with him but could not manage another hour. Christ had failed, not because he missed the mark, so to speak, but because the mark could not take being shot.

It was then, upon this realization of his failure, that he could give no more to his disciples, but still had everything to give to his enemies. All they ever wanted was him, to do with what they wanted: to summarily dismiss him as a fraud and madman, to take what he willingly gave. His life. 

Thankfully, God’s response to this failure was a pouring out of his love to the world. He sent his Holy Spirit to shed abroad the love of God in our hearts so that we may give as Christ gave; so that we may live as he lived. This is the good news, that despite our brokenness, God loves the whole world. Salvation has come to mankind! While we were yet sinners taking Christ’s life by our own hands, he died for us. 

Bible readers, don’t check your brains at the door.

by Dan O'Brian

Closeup of a happy young woman smiling isolated on white backgro

Remember Hansel and Gretel? They ate the gingerbread house and got captured by a witch who wanted to bake them in the oven. Would the readers of that text expect that the Brothers Grimm wanted them to kill all witches by baking them? If I told you a story about a rapist who got away, does that mean I approve of rapists? Does the author of World War Z think that’s the way the world should be, overrun with zombies?

The answer to all these questions is no. Now, what if these stories were a part of a religious text; would the answer change? No. Yet, there are some people who say that it would. These people check their brains at the door and seek to obey whatever the text says. But, if you keep your brains with you as you read, you realize we all bring some things to the text with us, such as knowledge of how to be a good human. Although some are better at that than others. Just because something is a religious text doesn’t relieve us if the responsibility of doing the hard work of identifying what is good and bad in the story.

The Old Testament should be approached in the same way. The Bible contains a story of a man who killed his girlfriend, shopped her in twelve pieces, and sent them to the twelve tribes of Israel. Did the author approve of this? Solomon had 700 wives. Is that OK? A man sacrificed his daughter to God. Should we emulate that?

The answer to all these questions is no. But, that’s because I don’t check my brains at the door. We must all do the hard thinking and decide what’s good or bad in these stories. What, if anything, applies to me? Who was it written to? Because it was written to them do I have to follow it? Why was the practice of slavery given guidelines which eventually stopped it instead of stopping it right away?

The point is that the stories in the Bible are complicated and should be allowed to challenge our thinking. Just because something is in them doesn’t mean it should be emulated. Just try to follow “an eye for an eye” and “turn the other cheek.” Both can’t be done at the same time. The former may be appropriate in certain legal circumstances and the latter is something that will cause you to be taken advantage of every time you practice it.

If the reader of the Bible is looking for principles to live his life by, he would do better to emulate the life of Jesus. He was a good human. After all, that’s what we are really trying to be. Some of the same principles can be found in Old Testament passages, but it takes more work to figure them out. Just don’t check your brains at the door.


Aquinas’ First Way

by Dan O'Brian

LiNjE - Imgur


Retrieved From This Website

Why should I believe in a God I can’t know?

by Dan O'Brian

If we don’t know exactly what we are saying when we say ‘God exists’, does this mean we don’t know God? Is he outside of possible knowledge? Should we doubt his existence because we cannot know him?

The words we use to describe God do not contain their normal everyday meanings, as when we say that God is good. We use borrowed words to describe God. We dress God up verbally in second-hand clothes that don’t fit him very well. And we must always guard ourselves from thinking that these “clothes” reveal who and what he is. Our words are stretched beyond their normal meanings. We cast forth verbally in a kind linguistic expedition, always reaching for, but are never quite able to obtain, God. Even the word ‘God’ was borrowed from the pagans. They were always talking about gods; but when Christians use it, they do not mean that God is a god. They do not mean that he is a god among others. He is not an instance of the kind ‘god’. The Christians stretched the word beyond its pagan use to get what they have today.

To say that ‘God exists’ is not to say that we have figured him out, but to claim a need to carry on a certain activity, to assert the necessity to engage in exploration. It is the need to ask a certain question about the world. To prove that this certain activity is valid, is like trying to prove that science is valid or that learning is valid. Let me demonstrate.

Let’s say that little 5-year-old Rachael is sitting with some older children when she hears one say, “That dress looks absolutely magnificent!” Rachael has never heard the word magnificent before, but she is captured by it and wonders what it means. She thinks about it as she heads home from school, and as she walks in the door, her mother hands her a beautiful new jacket. She puts it on and exclaims, “Thanks, Mom. This jacket is magnificent!” Does she know what she’s saying? No. Has she used the word correctly? Yes. Do we say that her use of the word is invalid because she does not know what she’s saying? No. For we know good and well what the word means and that she has used it correctly. The point is that she is learning. And that is how we all learn at the beginning. We are given words by our parents from the day we are born: words like Mama and Daddy. And we use them not really knowing what we are saying, but growing into that knowledge as we mature. Our borrowed words drive us to the meanings we do not yet know. These borrowed words, if we honestly reflect about them, constitute a kind of knowledge. They are a reference to a world that, as yet, we do not know. They give us a knowledgeable framework with which to deal with the world while, at the same time, highlighting our ignorance.

It is just this sort of knowledgeable framework that Christians have when we use the word ‘God.’ We do not know what exactly we are saying, but we do know there is a need to say it. There is a need because some radical questions still need asking. And let me stress that these are childish questions, not because they are stupid questions, but because they are the sorts of questions children ask naturally. Adults tend to be annoyed by childish questions. It’s the incessant ‘why’ question asked one too many times. ‘Why was I born?’ ‘Yes, but why was I born instead of someone else?’ ‘Yes, but why is it that way?’ ‘Yes, but how were we made?’ ‘Yes, but why was anything made?’ Adults had answers a few questions ago, but now our child has asked ‘why’ again and we have no answer. When they get older, they learn to put the question another way, “Why anything at all instead of nothing?” Adults would rather that children stick with their studies and learn adult questions; questions that can be answered by proper methodologies and by reference to the material world. And much schooling nowadays does a good job of choking the ‘why’ out of the kids who are told they need to start living in the real world.

A society that discourages this kind of radical questioning is a society which believes in itself; believes it has found the answers, believes that only its authorized questions are legitimate. But, of course, the scientific answers it has found is precisely due to this kind of radical questioning. It’s due to those who asked, for instance, whether the Newtonian world was really the last word. They dug down and asked questions of what everyone else took for granted. They claimed a need for research and exploration. They believed that they could make startling new discoveries and affect quite unexpected changes in the scientific world; and they did.

And this is precisely parallel to asserting your belief in God. It is a belief in the kind of radical question to which God would be the answer. And how do we show that the question is valid? It’s by pointing to anomalies; not anomalies in science, but anomalies in a world picture that excludes God. It is an anomaly, for instance, to say that while it is valid to ask ‘How come’ about any particular thing in the world, it is not valid to ask it about the world as a whole. ‘How come anything at all instead of nothing?’ Being puzzled over this question is to be puzzled about God. To say that we aren’t allowed to ask it simply because we cannot answer it is rather like the annoyed adult silencing his inquisitive child. The adult silences the child because he has no answer and would rather not deal with an uncomfortable question.

The modern arguments for God’s existence serve as a sort of reinforcement of this radical question simply because they point to anomalies in the world. Apologists question whether what they are told is the last word on the subject. It is not to say that, if their arguments succeed, that we now know something concrete about God. It is to state that we are here and ask ‘Why.’ ‘Why is there a creation? There must be a Creator.’ Like what the word magnificent was to Rachael, the world itself is our knowledgeable framework that guides us to God. In a sense, the world poses our question for us. It does not grow tired of ‘Why’, but instills in us the curiosity to ask it.

(I owe many of my thoughts to Herbert McCabe)

How do we know who and what God is?

by Dan O'Brian

When considering the “what” or the substance of God, we must admit that we cannot know it. We get things wrong if we think God is something we can picture or get our minds around. St. Anselm says, “I would be surprised if we could find anything from among the nouns and verbs which we apply to created things from nothing that could worthily be said of the substance that created all.” We can certainly compare God to things that we know, but these words don’t typically mean the same things as they do when applied to created things. We must realize the words have an analogous relationship.

For instance, I can say that a cheeseburger is good and that Fred is good. The word good does truly and literally describe both Fred and the cheeseburger, but the word has a different meaning when applied Fred than it does when applied to the cheeseburger. In the same way, I can say that God is good and that Fred is good, and that “good” truly and literally describes both of them but does not mean the same thing.

And let’s not forget, we really do have some descriptive words that can be attributed to God, words like Creator, the Source of everything, pure actuality, pure existence, true, good, one, being, real, and beauty. But, unlike us, God does not have these things, God IS these things. And each descriptive word is referencing one thing, not many. It’s like when the words “Superman” and “Clark Kent” refer to the same person. They just refer to him in different aspects. And words like good and true are different aspects of God.

All these things describe the “what” of God. I have not yet gotten to the “who” of God. “What is God” and “Who is God” are two different questions, and not very many people realize that.

The “Who” of God would be hard to figure out on our own but it is possible. For instance, if we consider love to be what God is, as when we say “God is love”, then of necessity we must say that God is a Trinity of “Who’s”. Because, if God is only one “who” then, when considering God before he created anything, what sense does it make to say that God was loving? What was he loving before creation? If God is one “who”, then there was nothing to love. He could love himself, but he would not know the kind of adult, mature love we speak of when we talk about loving another person, when we talk about giving ourselves wholly to them. He would have to create something in order to love, which would mean that he was deficient before creation. Generally, people don’t think “deficient” appropriately describes God.

But, if God is three “Who’s”, then it’s easy to see that he did have this adult love all along. For each “Who” of the Trinity was loving and giving to each other equally before creation. And we are invited into the love that’s already going on, sort of like joining in on a quiet fireside chat.

As you can see, there are some things to be said about God. But we must be careful about the kind of things we say. Attributing created qualities to God as if they were a direct comparison is wrong.


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