Comment Rescue: Why God doesn’t show up in real life.July 28, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
It’s been a couple months since I moved this blog from the WordPress site to its own domain, but now and then I still find someone has posted a comment back at the old site. Just so they don’t get lost, I’ll be picking them up from time to time and copying them over here.
Our first “rescued” comment comes from “Mr. G,” writing in response to my post on “The apologetics of Paul’s conversion.” Says he:
I find the argument about about why doesn’t Jesus appear to each of us totally absurd. It’s like listening to my sisters arguing with my parents, “Why does she get that and I don’t?” or “Why is hers bigger than mine?” It’s like you want Jesus to appear like a genie from the lamp or a rabbit out of the hat. You can’t just conjure up God and expect Him to come at your beckoned call. Everyone has different conversion experiences. Otherwise, people would expect to see burning bushes like Moses did. Paul did, however, mention that more than 500 people witnessed the risen Savior in 1 Corinthians 15, which was written while many of them were still alive. If anyone doubted his story, they could go to those other witnesses. Plus, if anyone doubted Paul’s story, they could have called the other members of that particular caravan to give their testimony. Any attorney with half a working lobe would have figured that out. The fact that no one doubted his testimony shows that they found his story somewhat credible.
Also, his life after the conversion proves his case. Your argument that he converted because he was a small fish in a big pond doesn’t hold water. Sure, he gained more celebrity after his conversion, but I don’t think it was the kind of attention he would have wanted. He was beaten, whipped, stoned, imprisoned, and ultimately beheaded for his testimony, not to mention that his appearance many times caused rioting. Who wants that kind of publicity, especially for a lie? The fact that he not only stayed with his story and with his beliefs despite the persecution lends more credibility his case because people wouldn’t go to the lengths he did for a lie.
Let’s take it a step at a time. Mr. G starts with the common objection that I’m being unfair by expecting God to show up in real life, as though I’m making demands of God. Notice, however, that I am not doing any such thing. I am not telling God how or when He ought to show up, and I’m certainly not insisting that He go out of His way to coddle me personally. All I’m doing is proceeding from the principle that the truth is consistent with itself, and noting that, when we look at the real world, we don’t actually see God showing up in real life the way He is described as showing up in the Bible stories.
That’s it. No demands. No “beckoned call.” I’m not even requiring that God must show up. All I’m doing is pointing out the inconsistency: the Bible portrays God as a God who is willing and able to show up in real life, and as a God who has already done so numerous times. We don’t see that happening in real life. And this failure to show up in real life is an undeniable fact with an inescapable consequence: in His absence, we have no way to put our faith in Him. The best we can manage is to put our faith in men, when they tell us things about God that are inconsistent with what we see in the real world. Since this is gullibility rather than genuine faith, it’s hard to see why a genuine, loving deity would want to force us into this situation through His consistent and universal failure to show up. But I’m not commanding him to appear. I’m merely pointing out the inconsistency.
As for Paul’s claim that there were 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection, there are a couple of problems. Number one, he didn’t give us any names, so it would be difficult to ask any of them whether or not Paul was telling the truth. But the bigger problem is that Jesus taught a non-literal view of reality, so even if they did consider it “true” that they had “seen” a risen Savior, you need to ask what kind of truth we’re dealing with here. Is it the kind of “truth” Christians refer to when they believe they have truly been born again, or that Jesus is truly there wherever two or more are gathered in his name, or that Jesus truly washes you in his blood when you confess your sins? None of these truths would be what we would call literal, real world truths, yet all of them are regarded as genuine truth by Christians.So even if Christians did think it was “true” that Jesus rose from the dead, this would not tell us whether or not he actually, literally lived again after dying.
As for whether anyone checked with the other members of Paul’s caravan, how do you know nobody did, or that the others in the caravan would have supported Paul’s testimony? Does it not strike you as strange that none of Paul’s fellow travelers seems to have become a Christian along with Paul, or to have accompanied him and stood with him to offer a backup testimony? Clearly, there were plenty of people who doubted Paul’s testimony that a living Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. And that’s assuming that Paul’s account of his “vision” is really accurate, which is not necessarily a given. If the caravan members had supported Paul’s remarkable testimony, Christians would surely have added these testimonies to their own records. This apparent silence from the rest of the caravan is thus harder to reconcile with the idea that they supported Paul’s witness.
Granted, it’s true that we wouldn’t expect Paul to endure sufferings, hardships, and martyrdoms for a religion he knew to be a lie (though even that might surprise us, as shown by the life of Joseph Smith). The problem with that argument is that Jesus taught his followers a non-literal interpretation of reality, which means that Jesus did not need to literally rise or literally appear to Paul in order for it to be “true” that he rose and appeared to Paul. It’s just like you don’t need to be literally born a second time in order to be “truly” born again, in the Christian sense of the word “true.” Plus, Paul needn’t have been consciously insincere in order to be influenced by the prospect of becoming the leader of a whole new religion. He could have believed that Jesus “rose” in some sense and that this was a great chance to advance his own career, with God’s blessing.
As for the persecution, well, that’s just a battle. Believers today still struggle and are still opposed by those who denounce them and their beliefs. Look at Joseph Smith, or David Koresh, or the Westboro Baptist (“God hates fags”) Church. Willingness to fight for something is not the same as necessarily having had a genuine supernatural experience to inspire you.
Thanks for your comment, though. I’m glad that you’re thinking about your faith, and I hope you continue to do so. My God Alethea is the real-world Truth, and if you honestly and sincerely seek Her, She might just bless you.