Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Climbing the ladder of rational belief: first rung

Please read also:
Defense of Scripture blog

St. Augustine, On the Harmony of the Gospels

Every journey begins with the first step so they say, but one must have a destination in mind before the first step can ever be taken. Hence it could be said that the beginning of the journey takes place when one realizes he must undertake it and so formulates a clearly defined goal of where he wants to end up.

This is more true of religion than anything, as religion (contrary to what the lives of most men would seem to suggest) is about TRUTH, not about choice. Many people seek to know the truth of religion, or so they say, but they lack a clearly defined goal. Some people say, "God, to me, is..." but they have failed to grasp an important concept about God; He is, was, and always will be, and without Him is made nothing that is made. He sustains the universe in existence and He is the absolute Truth, whence come all things.

Some would be as illogical as to deny the existence of absolute truth. If I were such a one and were to say to you: "There is not absolute truth," then you will ask: "Is that absolutely true?" If I say yes, I refute myself and if I say no, then I have given up my position. People who like to think that God is something different to everyone are denying the true nature of God as absolute Truth and will be in for a rude awakening when they meet Him after the end of their lives.

How self evident, how axiomatic is it that absolute truth itself exists? The tree that stands in my back yard is truly there. It's a birch tree to me just as much as it's a birch tree to you. If I disagree with you and say it's an oak tree, no matter how much I argue, I'm just plain wrong. If I try and say that it's an oak tree for me and you can call it a birch tree if you want to, then I am still wrong and you know it. The (absolute) truth of the matter is it's a birch tree plain and simple. The search for truth, however, must be much broader than merely seeking the truth about something planted in my back yard.

The destination that matters in the search for is to know and follow the absolute truth of God, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it may seem at first.

God is He who created the universe and all things visible and invisible. People who argue that "God is something different to everyone," ignore this. If they truly acknowledged that God created everything (denial of which is untenable and carries its own logical dilemmas), then they would have to realize that He is absolute, just as the tree is absolute (how could a non-absolute create anything absolute?). The difference is that trees are incapable of communicating their absoluteness to us, but God has progressively done so throughout the whole of human history.

For anything to be worthy of the belief of a rational being, it must be reasonable and defensible with reasonable argument that is logically sound. If one really wants to know God, and to gain the reward He has promised to those who love Him, then he must climb the ladder of rational belief. Anyone can do this. The prerequisite is a sincere and humble desire to live according to right reason and due moderation, without which desire one risks never being drawn to know the one true God. One cannot make this desire come about, however, since only God can give a person the grace to seek Him. However, if you find yourself wanting to learn about God, if the thought has ever even crossed your mind, then God has given you grace. And if you have begun searching, guess what- you are responding to God's grace. He has called you to Himself and wants you to fulfill the end he created you for, He wants you to live with Him in eternity. All you have to do is continue to obey His call and His commands.

As for knowing His identity and how He wants us to live, this is where the ladder comes in. If you have never read the Bible before, or for that matter you don't even know whether or not the Bible is true, then that is the first rung on the ladder you must grab a hold of. It is not a very slippery rung, in fact it is quite easy to hold onto. Since the Bible is a compilation of some of the oldest writings now known and claims to be of divine origin, and to speak of the one true God, then would it not be a mistake to ignore it? Even if you don't believe in it, you should at least examine it's claims and see if they hold weight.

Why is this Book any different than others? Why should we trust the Bible any more than any other spiritual, religious or philosophical treatise? How can we be sure that the Bible we read today is the same collection of 73 books that were originally written, and accepted as Divinely Inspired in ancient times?

Bible profile

The Bible was completed in its entirety nearly 2,000 years ago and stands today as the best-preserved literary work of all antiquity, with over 24,000 ancient New Testament manuscripts discovered so far (compare this with the second best-preserved literary work of all antiquity, Homer's Iliad, with only 643 preserved manuscripts discovered thus far). The printing press wasn't invented until the 1450's, but we have hand-written copies of the Old Testament dating back to the 200's BC. Remarkably, these ancient manuscripts are nearly identical to the Bible we read today.

As far as the New Testament, the Bodmer Papyrus II contains most of the Gospel of John and dates from around 150-200 AD. The Chester Beatty Papyri contains major portions of the New Testament and dates back to about 200 AD. The Codex Vaticanus, the oldest complete New Testament manuscript we've discovered so far, dates from 325-350 AD. The apostle John, who lived with Jesus and learned from Jesus, penned five New Testament books and died in 100 AD. We have fragments of John's Gospel that date from 110-130 AD, within 30 years of his death. When compared to other ancient works such as Plato, Homer or Tacitus, that short time period between the original and the most recent copy is dramatic!

Pope St. Clement of Rome was martyred in 100 AD. In his writings, he quoted from the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, Acts of the Apostles, 1 Corinthians, 1 St. Peter, Hebrews, and Titus. Clement's quotes totally correspond with the Bible we read today. In fact, even if we lost all of the 5,300 early Greek manuscripts, all of the 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and all of the 9,300 other ancient manuscripts, we would be able to reconstruct all but 11 verses of the New Testament from the writings of the early Church leaders who quoted from them extensively. We have over 36,000 preserved quotes from the New Testament. In a nutshell, the Bible stands today as the best-preserved literary work of all antiquity, and it's overall reliability is without question!

When it comes to Bible truth, many critics argue that the early Church deliberately corrupted the Bible's text for its own agenda. As for this argument, ask yourself one question: would a group of men who were willing to suffer terrible persecution and die horrible deaths in defense of the Scriptures be guilty of corrupting those very same Scriptures? That's lunacy! If they corrupted the Scriptures, or knowingly allowed them to be corrupted, that would mean they knowingly suffered and died for a lie!

Another argument is that it is riddled with errors or contradictions, but this also does not fly (please peruse this blog for more information).

The New Testament's martyrs either saw what they claimed to see or they didn't; plain and simple. Either they interacted with the resurrected Christ or they didn't. They certainly knew whether or not their testimony was true! Nevertheless, these men clung to their testimonies, even to their brutal deaths at the hands of their persecutors, and despite being given every chance to recant, knowing full well whether their testimony was true of false. Why would so many men knowingly die for a lie? They had nothing to gain for lying and obviously everything to lose.

The reliability of the Bible aside, there is also the unavoidable evidence that the Bible itself offers proof for its claim to be supernatural in origin time and time again in the revelation and fulfillment of prophecies with perfect accuracy, hundreds and hundreds of times over the centuries both before and after Christ, and is the only book to be able to do this. Knowing this, wouldn't you agree that it makes sense to climb to the second rung of the ladder, and learn the mysteries of God revealed the Bible, this great and wonderful gift to the human race, which points the way to the kingdom of God?

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