The Gospel HypothesisMay 19, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Today I want to zero in on the Gospel Hypothesis: what it is, and why we can be sure it will produce different consequences than the Myth Hypothesis.
The Gospel Hypothesis, as I have stated before, is simply the proposition that there exists an all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful Creator Who loves us so much that He is willing and able to become one of us, dwell among us, and die for us in order that He and we might enjoy a personal and eternal relationship together.
That’s it. Not too hard to grasp conceptually, is it? No particular reason why anyone, least of all a Christian, ought to have a hard time understanding what it says, right? Well, perhaps that depends.
What’s interesting about the Gospel Hypothesis is that it is clear, simple, and predictable in its consequences. We know that, if this God wants a relationship with us badly enough to take the trouble to become human and die for us, just so that the eternal relationship can begin, He’s not going to then fail to show up Himself to participate in this relationship once He’s made it possible. We also know that He’s not going to fail to show up due to circumstances beyond His control, since His limitless wisdom, knowledge, and power effectively rule out the whole “beyond His control” part.
It is thus fairly easy to see why showing up in real life is the natural and logical consequence we would expect as the result of this hypothesis being true (or at least it’s what we would expect if we weren’t biased beforehand by the deeply-rooted preconception that God’s absence is normal and unremarkable). This means that the Gospel Hypothesis stands in clear distinction from the Myth Hypothesis in terms of what the supporting evidence would necessarily look like.
But I want to go back a little bit and review for a moment that troublesome bias that keeps us from seeing things that would otherwise be plain and obvious. To do that, I’d like to borrow a story from C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, in the volume entitled The Silver Chair.
The story begins with a little girl in a forest, all by herself, utterly lost. She is not in any immediate danger, as the weather is fine, and she’s not yet hungry at all. But she is thirsty. In fact, she’s very thirsty. Once the word “thirsty” enters her head, she becomes positively anxious, and her thirst intensifies all the more because she sees no immediate way of satisfying it. But then she hears the sound of a babbling brook, and she runs towards it, panting.
When she bursts out of the bushes at the water’s edge, though, she comes to a sudden stop. There, crouched on the riverbank between her and the water is a large—no, a HUGE lion. As the girl stands frozen in terror, the lion speaks to her and invites her to have a drink if she is thirsty. They have a short conversation, in which the girl learns that the lion does indeed eat people, and feels neither happy nor sad about it. He pointedly does not promise that she can make it to the water without being eaten.
Desperately thirsty by now, half-maddened by the nearness of the clear, sparkling water, believing that she will die if she does not drink, the girl works up her courage, walks past the lion, and squats down on the river bank (with her back to the lion!) She does not dip her hand in the water, nor does she bend down to lap directly from the stream. In fact, she does not drink at all, she merely pulls a book out of her pocket and begins idly reading a corny old school story.
Does anything about that story strike you as oddly inconsistent? Do you suspect that the girl must not really have been thirsty after all? Why would she put her very life in jeopardy to get close enough that drinking was possible, and then ignore the water once she got there?
The obvious inconsistencies in this story make it immediately unrealistic, and I don’t just mean the talking lion. To want something badly enough to put your life in danger, and then to fail to follow through on achieving your desire when it is within your reach, is inconsistent. It conflicts with the stated intensity of the desire, the sincerity of what you allegedly wanted.
What’s true for little girls is even more true for Almighty God, especially when the relationship He desires not only fulfills the whole point of His sacrifice, but also blesses us and saves us from being lost, from falling into heresies that would separate us from Him and His blessings. If it is true that He wants an eternal relationship with us, and is willing and able to show up to participate in that relationship, then the consequence we would expect (if all this were true) is that He would indeed show up.
There is no way to make the Gospel Hypothesis work out to a contradictory set of consequences without introducing some additional element that implicitly or explicitly contradicts the basic elements of the Gospel Hypothesis as given. We cannot suppose that God suffers from some inherent weakness, or character flaw, or peculiar fastidiousness that makes Him loathe to associate with us, because that would imply a contradiction of the original premise that He is all-loving, all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful.
Any external factor, being God’s creation, is even less likely to thwart His desire for a relationship with us. There is no turn of circumstance that could frustrate a God Whose ultimate design and guiding hand leads all events to work according to His own will. God’s ability to obtain what He wants cannot be questioned without, once again, introducing contradictory elements into the Gospel Hypothesis. It is purely and simply a question of determining what it is that God wants—and according to the Gospel Hypothesis, what He wants is that eternal relationship with us, which He was willing and able to die for.
We can’t even introduce the idea that free will, or some other fragile human characteristic, prevents God from showing up, because that introduces an inconsistency with the idea that He is willing and able to become one of us and dwell among us and die for us so that we could be together forever. To be consistent with the part that says He is able to dwell among us, it has to be possible for Him to show up without damaging or violating whatever it might be that was supposed to suffer from God’s presence.
Nor can we inject the idea that somehow, having shown up to dwell among us, God must immediately have changed His attitude somehow, losing His desire to actually carry on with the relationship once He initiated it (no matter how familiar that experience might be to some of us). Such a cruel reversal would be inconsistent with the Gospel Hypothesis, which, as originally given, stipulates that He wants an eternal relationship with us, and not just the spiritual equivalent of a one night stand.
Imagine a Heaven full of atheists and agnostics—a whole crowd of former believers who arrived full of hope and glory only to find that God, for some reason, never showed up even in Heaven. That would be unexpected, right? A contradiction of the Christian hope of dwelling eternally with their Savior? If that’s what God is supposed to desire, then the consequence that would most contradict that desire would be for God to fail to show up, even in Heaven, to participate in the fruits of His own labor and suffering.
It should be no less shocking to find God’s will failing to be carried out by God Himself here on this earth, after He had done everything needed to clear away every obstacle that was keeping Him separated from His beloved children. Our lack of shock is due solely to the fact that we grow up under a universal and relentless experience of God’s absence, which we accept naïvely and unquestioningly, as a normal part of the way things ought to be. But if we separate ourselves from our biases and preconceived ideas, and look squarely and rationally at what consequences would necessarily follow from the Gospel Hypothesis, we can see why this approach has the best hope of revealing the unbiased, objective truth about God.