Steve: Thanks for joining me for lunch
Murthi: Let me pay this time
Steve: Sure; you’re such a rich guy, right. How’s the family? Siti wasn’t feeling well the last we spoke.
Murthi: Good. She’s fine. Pam?
Steve: Well it is a little tough for her at this time of year. Christmas is a time for family, you know
Murthi: Will you be going to church?
Steve: We always do. Why, do you want to come?
Murthi: We have our own Festival of Light, you know.
Steve: I do know. I love the little coloured rice things in the mall when Deepavali comes around.
Murthi: It is the celebration of good over evil
Steve: But it is just story, right? You don’t actually think it took place, do you?
Murthi: It is story, but it is story that tells a deeper truth. Much of Hinduism is like that
Steve: C’mon Murthi, you have a Master’s degree. Doesn’t the rational side of you want some historical fact to back up what you believe?
Murthi: Doesn’t all belief come down to a leap of faith? Isn’t that what your faith teaches you as well?
Steve: There is a lot of truth to that. There comes a time when you have to make a decision based on what you already know. We will never know everything about anything, so to that extent a leap of faith is necessary. But for rational beings there has to be reason as well as belief, otherwise it is just nice stories we tell ourselves
Murthi: Your faith is full of stories as much as mine is
Steve: But in my faith there are historical markers that can be verified in history. There was a Roman Empire, there was an Emperor called Augustus, there was a governor of Judea called Pontius Pilate, they did use crucifixion to execute political prisoners in order to subdue revolt; these are historical facts that can be verified by Roman history. There was no historical event where some giant threw handfuls of rocks that became the islands leading out to Sri Lanka so he could pursue his enemy. You don’t believe that any more than I do.
Murthi: And Christ fed five thousand people with just a loaf of bread?
Steve: Ah, now you are confusing reason with scientific reductionism.
Murthi: No, I am saying you cannot feed five thousand people with one loaf of bread.
Steve: Several loaves and a couple of fish, according to records. But yes, logically that is impossible. But logic and reason are not necessarily the same thing. Logic would tell you that according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics all closed systems move towards entropy: things wind down. Yet as we look around the world we see that this has clearly not been the case on earth. Systems have become more coherent, not less so. Clearly there are other dynamic forces at work. The same is true with the feeding of the five thousand. Logic would tell you that this is impossible. But reason would instruct us that there are other forces at work; in this case the presence of the One who made all matter in the first place. This event demonstrates His claim to be that Creator: able to make matter out of nothing.
Murthi: To my mind, just a story.
Steve: Then why were the people so impressed, if He had just told them a story? Why were they so insistent that He declare Himself to be King?
Murthi: They weren’t. That is just part of the story as well.
Steve: I suppose that line of reasoning holds for the crucifixion as well?
Murthi: People do not come back from the dead; not if they are truly dead. Therefore if Christ appeared again it follows that he was not truly dead in the first place
Steve: And therefore just a story.
Murthi: Just a story, like Lord Rama pursuing Ravana to Sri Lanka
Steve: Ok then explain this rationally: You take 11 guys with no formal education but well steeped in the school of hard knocks, subject them to some of the most rigorous theological training the world has ever heard and then get them to witness a total sham where some guy who up until now has never told you anything except the absolute truth, even when it was hard for you to hear, and now fakes his own death in one of the biggest frauds in history and on the basis of that you go out and devote the rest of your life through hardship, toil, floggings and death to spread his message? Have you any idea how illogical that sounds?
Murthi: I admit that is a stretch.
Steve: Peter, when he was arrested and condemned to be crucified ask to be hung upside down because he didn’t consider himself worthy of dying the same way that Christ did. He did that knowing that Christ faked his own death? The followers of Christ, many of who were alive at His death and witnessed His resurrection suffered the loss of all that they had, including their lives, and not one of them said, “Why am I doing this? The man was a fraud.”?
Murthi: Ok, you made your point.
Steve: And here is the point. No human has ever come back from the dead, just like no human has ever walked on water, or given sight to the blind, or cured leprosy with a touch, or fed five thousand people with a few loaves of bread. These things were not done in the remote reaches of unrecorded history, but took place in one of the mightiest empires the world has ever known in one of the most educated parts of that empire. People were circulating written portions of the gospel story within months of the events they record. We have thousands of written historical documents that record the same events. They were systematized and codified into books within a decade or two. Peter writes about these records and calls them scripture in his own letters as an older man and we know he was crucified in AD 64, barely thirty years after Christ died.
Murthi: Look Steve, I don’t want to argue with you
Steve: I don’t want to argue with you either, Murthi. But I do want to contest the view that everything that counts in this world can be counted. Some things are not subject to the laws of physics. My emotions aren’t, and even my thoughts aren’t. Why is it that I can dream a future for myself – a future where I spend the last part of my career teaching in a foreign land and even taking my Master’s when I am 65 – and by effort, by strength of will make that a reality? And I am just a human being. Why can’t God – however you conceive him to be – by the force of His will bring into being whatever He decides in his sovereign will to do? Once you accept the idea that there is a God, then why limit Him to just the things that any human could do? How would that be a witness of His God-ness?
Murthi: But why would God – who presumably made the laws of physics in the first place – want to violate those laws?
Steve: I can think of three reasons why. The first would be to declare that He is sovereign over those laws: He made the laws, the laws didn’t make Him, which is what you would get if God couldn’t overrule the laws of physics. Secondly, to demonstrate that there were larger truths than the laws of physics. People in the past used to know this a lot better than we know it now. There is no law that binds us together as friends. There is no law that makes you love your wife or your children. Some things exist outside of physical laws. All the really great truths of life lie outside empirical truth, not within it. Perhaps God ‘violating’ the laws of physics is just a way of alerting us to larger truths. Then finally what I just said earlier: if God didn’t overrule physical laws, how would he have witnessed that he was God? As Paul says in his letters, “If Christ is not raised form the dead then our faith is useless” (1Cor. 15:14); it is no more than just another set of moral principles
Murthi: Moral principles are all we have
Steve: If moral principles are all we have, my friend, then we are of all people to be most pitied. For it is a wicked world out there, ruled by wicked people who enjoy doing wicked things and rejoice that there are moral people like you and me to do them to because that makes their wickedness a whole lot easier to get away with. If we all carried guns and were prepared to shoot anyone who took advantage of us in the slightest, it would harder for wicked people to rule.
Murthi: It would be hard for anyone to rule
Steve: That’s my point. The wicked rule because moral men allow them to. Because to oppose them with them same force that gives them power would make us as wicked as them. That is why it is not enough to have moral principles to live by; there has to be a moral force in the universe opposing that wickedness, or we are all lost.
Murthi: There is a moral force; that moral force we call karma
Steve: You can call it karma if you like. But what you can’t do in my view is say that this is an impersonal force. To the Christian, the moral law is the expression of a personal God who has set the rules for mankind to follow and has every intention of having mankind adhere to those rules
Murthi: Which none of them ever do.
Steve: Which none of us ever do; which is why we need a Saviour. Look, I do not deny that there are good moral teachings in your faith tradition, or in Buddhism. There is even some moral teaching in the Koran, although it is pretty thin on the ground, if you ask me. But good moral teaching will not get you into the next world any more than it will get you through this one. If all moral teaching comes from God, and He is the Author of it, as Christians believe, and not subject to it, then that makes Him greater and more holy than the holiest moral law. Why would that God, infinite in holiness, want me – a good moral man and yet still crawling with sin and moral error – in His presence? Wouldn’t He be defiled just by my being there? This is the great conundrum of every faith, and only Christianity has an answer to this riddle. Christianity says that Christ paid the price for my moral error, and His sacrifice washes away my impurities. I take on the nature of Christ in some way that even I can’t fully understand, so that when God looks at me He sees the holy, risen Christ who died for me. Isn’t that a truth that the world is longing to hear?
Murthi: Let me pay this time
Steve: You can pay for my lunch, but you cannot pay for my sins, my friend. Only Christ can do that. And just for the record, He can pay for yours as well.