Opening the Book of Nature

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge… Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

— King David of Israel

The whole frame of the world is the Theatre, and every creature the stage, the medium, the glass in which we may see God.

— John Donne

Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,

Does his creator’s power display,

And publishes to every land

The work of an almighty hand.

— Joseph Addison

We feel it deeply, almost beyond words… beauty points to Beauty, which points to something, or rather perhaps someone, more or “higher.”[1] Indeed, when we view the Medici Venus or the Death of Adonis by Sebastiano del Piambo, or read the Sonnets of Shakespeare or the ingenious works of Leo Tolstoy, or gaze upon a clear and serene blue sky or the grandeur of Mt. Everest or the Amazon River, or listen to the symphonies of Mozart, or visit the Pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal; there is something mysterious that stirs our hearts, our souls, and seems to promise to somehow ultimately satisfy our deepest yearning for meaning, which will then surely lead to purpose and self-actualization.[2] Won’t it? Or “does this represent anything greater than … the mysterious force which chases the moth into the flame?”[3]

Yet, is life truly and totally meaningless? No, and this we sense very deeply. However, we might suppose, if we only knew our existence is meaningless, then we would at least have meaningful knowledge, and surely this would count for something. A creature, who possesses no innate knowledge at all would not be aware of its own lack of meaning. In fact, a universe of turbulence, chaos, blind and meaningless forces arising from cold and totally impersonal, chance evolution, with no vitality, could not contain beings aware of this tragic fact.[4] But beyond our innate and very deep appreciation for beauty, and so much more, we know intuitively that there is more than meaninglessness, and this mere observation turns back round to confirm itself.

As astronomer Hugh Ross opines:

… if the universe is created, then there must be reality beyond the universe. The Creator is that ultimate reality and wields authority over all else. The Creator is the source of life and establishes its meaning and purpose. The Creator’s nature defines personality. The Creator’s character defines morality. Thus, to study the origin and development of the universe is, in a sense, to investigate the basis for any meaning and purpose to life. Cosmology has deep theological and philosophical ramifications.[5]

More than this, perhaps, as contemporary Anglican theologian and biochemist, Arthur Peacocke, so rightly observed: “The most striking feature of the universe is one that is so obvious that we often overlook it — namely the fact that we are here to ask questions about it,” as well as ourselves, and to investigate, analyze and draw conclusions. This includes the “capacity for abstract thought (that) appears to be distinctively human,” as well as “the acquisition of language…”[6] And from this unique foundation, we are able to think creatively, create from creative thought, and communicate both verbally and non-verbally with one another.[7]

So then, the human may only be a “thinking reed,” as Pascal said, but this fact alone is significant. For “by his rational consciousness he rises above the entire world, for he surveys it. Born for a brief instant, powerlessly carried along by the rapid flow of time and condemned by” the same to certain death, humanity nevertheless possesses eternity in its heart.[8] From where does this arise? We intuitively know we are unique and uniquely valuable from intricate, intimate observation of the world around us and the realization of our observations, that is, the awareness that we are making rational observations, asking questions, drawing conclusions, one of which seems to be that the world has been especially fitted for us, and that this world has far more to tell us than so much about ourselves and other forms of life and insentient objects. Ah, there is more… There is something or, perhaps better yet, Someone more.

Philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle said, “And when with excellent microscopes I discern in otherwise invisible objects the inimitable subtlety of Nature’s curious workmanship; and when, in a word, by the help of anatomical knives, and the light of chemical furnaces, I study the Book of Nature … I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, “How manifold are thy works, O Lord? In wisdom hast thou made them all.”[9] Indeed, the Book of Nature opens wide to reveal its Author.


[1] Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, 47

[2] Allen and Springsted, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 21 – 24 passim

[3] S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, 2

[4] S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, 51: Note: if it were the case that the universe and all therein were merely the product of blind and totally impersonal chance, somehow arising into an order from within chaos, then the situation would not really be tragic because no conscious being would be present to perceive, and to apprehend, this great tragedy.

[5] Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God, 16

[6] Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 72 – 73

[7] Ibid, 53

[8] Ibid

[9] Robert Boyle, Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God, 56 – 57


References

Allen, Diogenes, and Eric O. Springsted. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Second. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Boyle, Robert. Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God. Hard Press Publishing, 2020 (Reprint).

Frank, Semen L. The Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Peacocke, Arthur. Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural, Divine, and Human. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Ross, Hugh. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God. Fourth Edition. Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe Press, 1993, 2018.

Scarry, Elaine. “On Beauty and Being Just.” Princeton: Princetone University Press, 1999.

Release of ‘On Being Human’

Not to sound too self-deprecating, the whole subject of what it means to be human may have been overly cumbersome for me (or for anyone, for that matter!), and in the end I think I simply bit off more than I could chew. But the work is finished and on the whole I am satisfied that at the very least, this may provide a good resource for those interested in answering the question. In particular, I am pleased with the two-part “Blood on the Rose,” as well as the section entitled, “Indicators Along the Way: In Search of Who We Are,” in which I deviate from a strictly academic path into something more literary, perhaps even poetic prose. Finally, my conclusion, though falling short of a complete answer, is satisfactory and, thus, I’m not at all prepared to revise it … not yet, anyway.

For those who have expressed some interest, On Being Human: A Multidiscipline Journey, is now available on Lulu.com. I anticipate it being available on Amazon within the next couple of weeks, yet I think you’ll get the better deal through Lulu. The price is set at $9.99, but I also included a 10% discount, knocking it down to $8.99, which is as low as Lulu would allow me to go. (Hey, they’ve gotta make some profit! LOL For myself, at least, I’m truly not interested in profit … besides, I’m scarred to death that it just might not be worth it to buyers!) The link to the right Lulu page is provided below. When my book becomes available on Amazon, I’ll let you know! And thank you to all of you who’ve been so encouraging and have expressed a desire to read this work. Blessings to you!

product_thumbnail

 

 

http://www.lulu.com/shop/jonathan-noble/on-being-human/paperback/product-23927214.html

Good God, Wicked World

How can God be good, and loving, yet allow so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world? This is an acutely agonizing question that has been asked for centuries with no really satisfactory answer. Yet, of course, there have been plenty of explanations put forth by philosophers, theologians, religious scholars, priests, rabbis, and so many more. Whether one seems more acceptable — or shall we say digestible — than the others is, perhaps, up to the individual considering the subject.

Alvin Plantinga, for example, says that if God is good then it logically follows that God would create the best of possible worlds, so that if we grant that God is, indeed, good, then we must conclude that this world, as it is, is the best of all possible worlds. Two questions come to mind, though: 1) why is it so many of us humans can conceive of a much better world than the one in which we reside if this really is the best possible world? 2) And even if it is, does this really “excuse” God for all of the pain, suffering, wickedness, natural disasters, etc.?

Surely an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, and good God could do something, and would do something, to dislodge the evil. But, then, was it David Hume who said that either God is omnipotent and omniscient, but not good and loving, or that God is good and loving, but not omnipotent and omniscient? It’s easy to see his reasoning on this point, (if indeed it was Hume who made this observation), because it seems utterly senseless that an all-loving and good God, who is also all-knowing and all-powerful, would allow so much pain and suffering.

It may be, then, that God is not quite “GOD,” but rather “god,” and so s/he is quite loving and beneficent, yet simply unable to exercise sovereign control over all of life and the entire world.  Or it is very possible that God is all-powerful and all-knowing (and everywhere present, for that matter), yet is also malevolent. Or it may be that there are two equally powerful gods, one being completely good, while the other is completely bad. Although some would say evil in the world is not God’s fault at all; it is humanity that is culpable.

This is a particularly frustrating argument from free will, though, as several questions come to mind: 1) who gave humans free will in the first place? 2) Who instilled within humanity the capacity to commit evil, atrocities, acts of violence, and so forth? 3) Who “set the stage” in which these evils could be committed? 3) How are victims of atrocities, violence, and so forth at all responsible for their suffering? 4) Does free will cover every human being anyway, such as: infants, invalids, the mentally handicapped, sufferers of dementia, etc.?

Then again, maybe God counter-balances all of the evil with good … maybe more than counter-balances it. Perhaps s/he outweighs the evil with an overabundance of good. Within this we could/should very well include eternal life in the bliss of an heavenly realm, of course. Certainly an eternity spent in heaven — perfected with love, joy, peace, happiness, health, and so much more — would make up for all of the pain and suffering, for all of the wickedness and atrocities, right? Many human individuals would say unequivocally, “no.”

Naturally, the atheist takes care of this nasty conundrum very neatly by merely pointing out that, of course, there is no God. The atheist is, nevertheless, left with the problem of evil in the world, but s/he can always foist that off on the brutal, impersonal, and naturalistic/materialistic world in which we live. In other words, we are no more than biological machines fighting, not only for survival, but for our own perceived greatest good, or fortune, thus humans oftentimes act worse than fierce animals all to satisfy themselves.

There is another explanation laid on the table, however, and it is that of an aloof, cold and detached God…. perhaps the God of deism. In this case, God created the cosmos and at least kicked off life within it, but then just “sat back” to watch it all unfold, maybe like some grand soap opera on a divine scale. Who knows? But this is definitely not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of Christianity. What precisely is the God of Judeo-Christianity is an open question and has been for, perhaps, just as many centuries.

Is there still another answer? Surely we have not exhausted all of the explanations for evil, pain, and suffering in the world. There are, in all likelihood, many more to consider, but at present they escape the author’s knowledge … except for possibly one more. It seems in one sense the least satisfying of all answers, but could it be that God simply has an altogether different “measure” of, or perspective upon, pain and suffering and evil? Could it be that all of this looks quite differently from his/her vantage point? Doubtless, this is the case.

Does this satisfactorily explain the presence of so much evil, though? Well, as humans we would not charge the dog with an act of wickedness in catching and killing a rabbit; rather, we would say that this is just a dog being a dog, instinct and all. And again, we would not claim the cat is acting wickedly in prancing on a mouse, for that is what cats do as part and parcel of being cats. Perhaps, then, humans are also living out very fundamentally human lives — both good and bad, righteous and evil — and this is what God sees.

And maybe this leaves God rather undaunted by war and pestilence, disease and starvation, violence and gross neglect, and all sorts of pain and sufferings endured by countless millions upon millions of individuals, families and communities. In other words, it may be that God views all of this from an entirely divine perspective without being able to relate to the uniquely human viewpoint. Which is almost (if not entirely) to say that God cannot, perchance, “lower” him/herself to the crude level of humanity.

This won’t fly with Judeo-Christianity, though, because this is exactly where the Incarnation of Christ Jesus comes into crucial play. According to this central doctrine, God the only-and-eternally-begotten Son was conceived in the human womb of the Virgin Mary, from whom he assumed an authentically and completely human nature. And it was in this capacity that he suffered torture and death on the cross, being completely innocent of any wrongdoing, enabling him to literally understand pain, suffering, and victimization, (and so much more.)

Moreover, through his resurrection he is said to have somehow sanctified pain and suffering. At least, believer-followers of Christ are somehow able to mystically participate in the sufferings of Christ Jesus in and through their own pain and suffering. Does this satisfy the question/problem of the good God and wicked world? Well, it does seem to move closer to an important resolution, that is: God did not (and does not) stand idly by, watching all of the evil and wickedness in the world… No, s/he has actually, fully participated in suffering.

This still does not quite answer why an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, completely good God would allow so much evil, pain and suffering when it (seems) well within his/her ability to mitigate it all. Yet this may well be where some kind of free will argument, coupled with some best-of-all-worlds claim, enters into the equation … both carefully refined and nuanced, then astutely tied in with the argument from the Incarnation. Even still, this probably cannot be sufficient. So long as horrendous evil exists, nothing will likely entirely satisfy.

Reflections of Beauty

Something simple, something bright, like a rose;
Something light and very delicate to one’s sight;
Something so refreshing meshing myriad colors;
Something stunningly majestic and undomestic;
Something quite vast on which to cast your sight;
All beautiful yet only dutiful reflections of Beauty
Unseen, untouched but flowing and ever glowing
In what is seen and has been so since time began;
Beauty showers the world from her great bowers,
Yet does not show her face in the pace of this life,
But she’s unceasing in releasing her magnificence
For all to enjoy and praise to raise high our spirits;
Yes, all her reflections are icons of her perfection

Oh Would-Be Philosopher…

Would life be more beautiful without Beauty,
Or beauty alive without Life, despite pain?
Is there gain in the cold, unfeeling rain
While no wings enfold, nor droplets glimmer
With unseen spirits, what makes them shimmer?

Does it satisfy the soul with gashing hole
To rage against prophet, priest and sage?
Are we to gauge our life on earthen stage
By no more than pretense of what we sense,
Cream of foolish dream dreamed in gilded cage?

Ah, no! Human gene did not arise from machine;
Tossed unseen ‘neath blackened skies, unclean,
Filthy beginning with no meaning, careening
Toward senseless death, no heavenly breath;
Ah, no! Tis more to be than what we see…

Why rant and rave, then, from Plato’s cave,
Thinker so mighty and great, with venomous hate?
Leave in peace those who believe and cease
Your debate, while you inebriate your mind
And carve your fate, without divine of any kind.

Some may wail and cry for some goodly supply
Of goddesses and demi-gods; religiously try
Ere to appease and please, but some of us
Fly already where angels sigh and sing whereby
We fill our souls and laugh content so high.

Ah, philosopher so wise, why do you prize
Diabolic lies, when would be better Socrates
To follow, to appease, than anger so rotten,
Of hell begotten, with all love forgotten;
Are you really content with materialistic bent?

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Note: Originally published in August 2015 as a bit of a diatribe against atheistic materialism, now republished due to some renewed interest as well as for the consideration and reading pleasure of new blog followers. Blessings to one and all!

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And Every Seed That Grows

Every seed needs to grow through pain to gain its promise,
And t’would be insane otherwise to think it should shrink
From such potentiality in reality of its life now just begun,
When the sun beckons the seed to break free, feed ‘n grow
In the show of maturation by the saturation of an alive life
Within a hive of nature in which it should strive to become
What it was meant to be for all to see one magnificent tree,
And is this not the way with life so rife with pain that gain
Comes not with comfort but that we suffer without buffer?
Ah! Should we pout that our sprout comes about with pain?
But there is pleasure, too, in a measure of genuine growth!
Our reaction is satisfaction in but a fraction of maturation!
Yes . . .
Every seed needs to grow through pain to gain its promise:
Life

Idiocracy

Some say that democracy is the best form of government,
And perhaps this form of governance should be the norm;
However, it can breed a storm from dorms to living rooms,
From kitchens to legislative halls that fall to self-interest;
And what happens, then, when government is truly an icon
Of the people governed, and becomes of cupboard of idiots?
When entertainers are pundits and tweets become so sweet
That they make daily news and kindle views from officials?
When pictures that should be trashed are brashly shown
In public buildings as art by the self-designated oh-so smart?
When unimportant issues call for tissue to wipe crying eyes?
When the rest of the world calls for the best, but the best
Are given a vest in lieu of the grave and are called to invest
In the circus as government becomes more like giant Argus?
What happens, I ask, when democracy becomes an idiocracy?
I say the Revolution is long over, and God Save the Queen!

Or . . .

kakistocracy

In the One Same Game

Saints and sinners all play in the same game,
Sometimes wild, sometimes tame,
Sometimes intriguing, sometimes lame,
But never the same as the players change,
And so does the range of play from day to day,
And no one can stay in the same spot
Though they may look like an ink blot;
Everyone must move — this way or that,
Up, down and all around — even if bound
For nowhere in particular, but somewhere,
Anywhere but where they were, that’s for sure;
And rarely can one return to where they were
Because the field never remains quite the same,
Though who could blame someone for thinking
Somewhere stays the same for some time,
But time chimes on in alteration of creation
With very little stagnation or resignation
To immutability — only a divine attribute —
Which does give credibility to the game of life
In which both saints and sinners are destined
To play both day and night, in dark and light:
In the same one game famously called life . . .
But, odd as it is, all seems to remain the same!

What Makes That What? Do You Know?

Do you still see a tree stripped bare of all its branches,
Or has it now been shrunk to a no more than a trunk?
Beg to tell, is a chair still a chair with only a pair of legs,
Or, perhaps, with four legs but what if it lacks a back?
Is a house still a house with four tall walls but no roof?
Or are two walls and roof proof enough to be a house?
Is an automobile still an automobile if it has no wheels?
Pray tell, if it has no engine either is it merely a shell?
And how much can you take away from a person until
She no longer fits the bill of being person?
Then, do tell, what are you seeing in her?
Is the heart the part that makes one human?
Or would we deign to say it is the brain?
But hearts and brains are parts in a long train of beings!
Do mind, body and soul bind together to make a person?
But how much of each is needed to reach a full person?
Ah! Do you see what you really see
When you look into the book of life?
What, indeed, do you see when you look at you and me?
Perhaps you only perceive what your senses receive . . .
Or do you really know in this grand show of mystery?