Commitment is hard sometimes… especially committing to bungee jump off of a bridge. It makes it a little easier when you have seen people do it before you, but I imagine that it still takes trust. And the object of that trust is not always reliable. Just ask Erin Langworthy: her bungee rope broke and she fell into crocodile-infested waters.
Bungee jumping isn’t the only decision of trust that can be hard. Sometimes our spiritual life is like that…
“I don’t believe in Christ because you can’t prove his existence.”
That is a very interesting statement. What makes it so interesting is that there is a key word that needs clarifying: the word “prove.” Did you know that there is more than one type of proving? One way that we prove things is in an absolute, logical, mathematical sense. When we are in the realm of numbers and formal logic we have the luxury of absolute proof because the number 2 is always the number 2. Another way that we prove things is in a scientific manner. We repeat an experiment enough times to say we have proved the hypothesis. It is not as absolutely certain as mathematical proof because we can’t control all the variables, but the results are generally repeatable.
But what about the past? We can’t repeat the events, especially not with the exact same components each time. Virtually every area of our life is affected by this, including our study of the Bible. Consider whether you believe the statement of a reporter, or of a lawyer. Do we expect them to provide a mathematical theorem to justify the events? No. Is it normal for them to establish a scientific control group and repeat the events a dozen times? No. We rely on a different type of evidence and a different type of proving.
Spectrum of Certainty
- Absolute Certainty: complete control over the variables and repeatable, like when we are proving a math theorem. It is comfortable and safe.
- Scientific Certainty: we don’t have absolute control, but it is repeatable.
- Historical Certainty: we don’t have absolute control and it is also not repeatable. This the realm we encounter most often.
Erin’s bungee jump would be between scientific and historical. She had seen it repeated before, but not in a scientific manner. And even so, she had no guarantee it would work again.
Decisions of Trust
Humans make decisions of trust all the time in virtually every area of our lives. We just often don’t realize that activities like these require trust…
- driving through an intersection
- telling someone a secret
- getting in a vehicle we’re not driving
- depositing a check
Do we know what will happen? No. But we try to make our decisions of trust as reasonable as possible. So if you are considering whether to trust Christ, please avoid this trap: don’t confuse when to use which type of proof. If we use historical or scientific evidence in a mathematical theorem, we will have errors in our thinking. Similarly, if we try to have absolute (mathematical) or scientific (repeatable) proof when we are considering the trustworthiness of a historical event (like the resurrection of Christ), we will get in trouble. It will be like using a thermometer to measure the speed of a baseball. Oh sure, we will get a number on the thermometer, but it won’t be right. This is why someone could feel they have a problem with the Bible, but may just be confused about when to expect what kind of certainty.
Can you relate to Thomas?
In John 20:19-31 we have a great example of difficulty trusting. Christ had just risen from the dead and the disciples (except Thomas) were together when Christ visits them. When they excitedly tell Thomas about it, he says that he won’t believe it until he sees and touches Christ for himself. When Christ does come to them again Thomas is with them. It is encouraging to me that he doesn’t yell at Thomas, but still challenges him to trust.
Maybe we’ve been burned before and it’s hard to trust again. Perhaps that’s why we want to wait to see something before we believe it. Maybe we’ve become cynical because of advertising. Depending on which study you read, we see somewhere between 125 to 5000 ads per day. Let’s suppose it’s on the low end… That’s 125 promises you hear every day. And we know the promises we hear in ads are not always kept, since the products don’t always do what is promised.
Do I believe that my parents were married in Virginia? I do. Was I there when they married? No. Can I be sure they where married there in a mathematical sense? No. Can I be sure in a scientific sense? Not really. But can I give you mountains of historical evidence that all point to that reality? Yes. Does it still require faith? Yes. But it is a very reasonable faith.
If I were to ask you to place your absolute trust in a baked potato, that would not be reasonable. But in light of the rock solid historical evidence, faith in Christ is reasonable. It still takes faith, but it is not blind faith and it is not unreasonable faith.
Questions for application
- How do you think the presence of advertising in our sacred social and mobile spaces (i.e. Facebook and texts) affects our ability to trust?
- What type of proof do you most naturally use? How applicable is it in the study of history?
- Since scientific proof requires that an event be re-creatable, why are scientific systems of proof not applicable to the study of history?
- Since mathematical systems of proof require absolute certainty, how do they differ from historical evidence for an event (even for events outside of the Bible)?
- There is a philosophy of knowledge that says we should not trust anything unless we have exhaustive (complete) knowledge of it. Which type of proof is this talking about? Why is this philosophy appealing? Why is it dangerous?
Want to study this issue more?
Here is our handout from the last time we met (the 20th). It has some more information and more questions to chew on. It also has our study of John that relates to this topic.