Divine Intervention (3)May 13, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Yesterday I said there were two main types of consequences the Myth Hypothesis would have for divine intervention, and we looked at the first type—the peculiar characteristics that would characterize “divine intervention” in God’s absence. Today I want to pick up the second type—the power vacuum created by God’s absence—and discuss that in more detail.
God’s absence will necessarily leave believers anxious and hungry for some sort of evidence of His presence. While this phenomenon will commonly manifest itself internally, in the subjective “experiences” of believers, it will have a more visible manifestation externally in the form of men and women who step up and present themselves as God’s duly authorized representatives. In other words, the tangible “core” of divine manifestation will shift from God Himself to human representatives. Ordinary people will necessarily become the actual “manifestation” of God’s presence, and their works will become His “interventions.”
This in turn means that taking a position as God’s representative is an act that carries with it tremendous social and political power and status. People will obey the “representative” as though they were obeying God, will give to them as though giving to God, will honor and defend them as though honoring and defending God. By His absence from the real world, God creates both an opportunity and a powerful incentive for ambitious and politically canny people to step into the role God leaves vacant.
Notice that such a scenario is distinctly different from the consequences that would follow from the Gospel Hypothesis. In the Gospel Hypothesis, God Himself would be the core component of divine intervention, and any subordinates He chose to appoint would be publicly ordained to that ministry, in the presence of many witnesses. Nor would pretenders have the opportunity to falsely claim such delegated authority, or at least not for long (and if God is indeed omniscient and on the ball, not even that). God Himself would exist as the ultimate resource that men could turn to in order to validate whether or not some person possessed genuine divine authorization.
But back to the Myth Hypothesis, we need to notice that a key consequence of God’s absence is that it creates both an opportunity and an incentive for people to boost their own social standing and influence by claiming to have some sort of connection to God. Thus, the Myth Hypothesis demonstrates its own self-consistency: because God does not exist to intervene directly in real-world experience, there is a strong motivation for men to engage in active and even aggressive myth-building, due to the significant personal advantages entailed by promoting the myth. The myth isn’t just part of the hypothesis, it’s a direct consequence of it.
This element also entails the conclusion that people will use fraudulent means in order to build their myth. Because a perceived connection with God enhances a person’s influence, the unscrupulous and ambitious will use whatever means they can get away with in order to create the perception that they have some special connection with God. If the Gospel Hypothesis were true, people would quickly learn the futililty of such frauds, as God intervened to protect His truth-based relationship with His beloved children by exposing the frauds. But under the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis, such fraudulent ministries and/or political careers could grow and flourish, and become significant power bases in society.
Notice that this difference is not limited to conservative Christian ministries, or even to Christian ministries of any flavor. If the Gospel Hypothesis were true, cults and false religions would also be exposed by the availability and tangible intervention of the One True God. Even atheism would be exposed and discredited. As one commenter pointed out, there might be some people who did not want a relationship with God, and it might be possible to reject Him. But to deny His existence would be something that would simply brand one as either an idiot or a madman. If the Myth Hypothesis were true, by contrast, then bogus ministries, cults, and entire false religions, are not only possible, but virtually inevitable.
Thus, once again we have a clear distinction between the consequences that would follow from the Gospel Hypothesis and those that would follow from the Myth Hypothesis. Divine intervention, God’s tangible presence and action within the real world, would have God as its visible core under the Gospel Hypothesis, and would have man as its visible core under the Myth Hypothesis. False ministries, cults and religions would quickly wither and die under the consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis, but would prosper everywhere under the consequences of the Myth.
And let me emphasize once again, these consequences flow inevitably from their respective hypotheses: in the Gospel Hypothesis, God’s desire is to have a genuine, personal relationship with people based on them knowing Him, and therefore His presence and actions in the real world will be such as to maximize their opportunity to know Him. Conversely, under the Myth Hypothesis, man-centered “divine interventions” will not only be the most plausible and advantageous outcome, they will be the only possible form of “divine intervention,” since God does not exist to provide the genuine variety.
And now if I can draw your attention to the comments, let me point out the fact that the responses to my presentation thus far have not challenged me on logical connections between the Hypotheses I propose and the consequences each would produce. There have been side issues like whether or not my analysis fairly represents what the Bible is saying (which is a topic I have not yet even approached), or whether or not an all-everything deity might be capable of doing different things as well. But so far no one has suggested that a God Who wants a genuine personal relationship with us would intentionally refuse to show up to participate in that relationship when given the opportunity to do so, or that His failure to show up (or to exist) would inevitably set in motion the consequences I have described.
I’m quite pleased with how things are going, and I hope in the next week or two to begin to look at how the Gospel Hypothesis relates to the Bible and the Christian faith. Stay tuned.