I’ve heard the following Chinese parable from Ravi Zacharias a couple of times. It’s on my mind today:
An old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped through the fence. When the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills. This time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
The next day, when the farmer’s son attempted to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. The neighbors came around again and commiserated with the old farmer about his very bad luck, but the farmer’s reaction was, “Is it bad luck? Good luck? I don’t know?”
Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Or was it bad luck?
We like to jump to conclusions, and we have a tendency to jump to those conclusions pretty quickly. We do this even with ultimate, worldview positions. We have a tendency to want to measure everything by the tools that are convenient and familiar to us, but sometimes we need to be willing to venture off from the light of our comfortable positions into the darkness of unfamiliarity to gain a bigger perspective.
Ravi Zacharias has spoken to orthodox theological scholars of Islam and orthodox theological scholars of Christianity around the world. He speaks from experience when he says that those orthodox scholars who know the sacred texts do not say that the God of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same deity. Pluralism is a positive and important cultural value, and we can value pluralism without sacrificing distinctions or truth.
We don’t embrace the beliefs of “Flat-earthers” in the name of pluralism. They are free to believe what they want to believe, but we shouldn’t let the flat earth position affect how we do science or how we view the world because of pluralism. An appreciation and respect for different cultures and ways of viewing and living in the world should not dictate an embrace of positions that are inherently contradictory with each other or compel us to abandon reason or truth.
In the clamor and noise of the connected world in which we live, we are tempted to minimize or ignore differences. We often only see a rudimentary and distorted view of things, and we are apt, therefore, to come to incomplete and inaccurate conclusions without a nuanced understanding of those things. We might be tempted to think that all major world religions are fundamentally geared in the same direction, being merely different approaches to the same end. We might be tempted to think that Christianity is a very politically orientated and conservative, western worldview that is arbitrarily exclusive and, therefore, elitist.
Ravi Zacharias grew up Hindu in a world in which Buddhism, Islam, and other religions were more prevalent than Christianity. His background lends some credibility to his observation that no religion offers redemption like Christianity does. Other world religions offer a way of attainment that must be earned. Christianity is unique in this respect in its view of God and our relation to God, and Christianity is uniquely accessible to all people in all places to the same extent.
I recently listened to a conversation between Ravi Zaccharias and Professor David Block. Professor Block is currently the director of the Cosmic Dust Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His accomplishments speak for themselves.
David Block was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London when he was 19. Block had a paper (on relativistic astrophysics) published by the Royal Astronomical Society in London when he was 20. Block has a Master of Science degree in relativistic astrophysics and a PhD that focused on the morphology of spiral galaxies. He has participated as a visiting research scientist at Australian National University, the European Southern Observatory in Germany, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and other places.
And there is more. Professor Block has been featured on the cover of the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, twice. He won the NSTF-BHP Billiton award in 2013 for “outstanding contribution to SETI through Communication for Outreach and creating Awareness over the last 5 years – sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)”. He wrote a book for which two Nobel Laureates wrote the preface.
US astronomer, John Kormend, says, “David Block is to South Africa what Carl Sagan was to American astronomy – his pioneering discoveries are reshaping astronomical paradigms….” David Block was the person to accompany Stephen Hawking and introduce him when he met Nelson Mandela.
These things are relevant when considering the conversation he had recently with Ravi Zaccharias. He isn’t just some self-important Internet pundit. He is highly respected for his science, and he is a Christian.
In that context, Block says, “A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”
It occurs to me that the “new atheists” are rejecting the wrong God. They are famous for saying that they don’t believe in the Christian God any more than they believe Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It seems to me that, if someone is going to reject God, they ought to be rejecting the right one.
Not all gods are created equal. The Christian concept of God is not on a par with Zeus or a “flying spaghetti monster”, to say the very least. The same can be said of the Islamic view of God or any other major world religion. The concept and “proofs” of God are much more sophisticated than the weak understanding displayed in a comment that likens them to a flying spaghetti monster.
The ignorance of the new atheists about these things is rather shocking, though it shouldn’t be altogether surprising. They admit they find no use for such things as gods and, therefore, and most have spent no time studying or considering them. The ignorance is actually willful, then, and inexcusable.
I can’t do justice to the subject in a short blog, but I will try to summarize. The only serious contenders for consideration as God are the gods of the major world religions. They can’t all be true because they are incompatible with each other, so which one, if any of them, is the most likely candidate?
Ravi Zacharias says that “the desire of God is to prepare the wine skins for the pouring of the new wine”. He says this in a two-part interview in which he focuses on the question “Has Christianity Failed You?”
We are the wine skins God desires to prepare. When we are born again, we are born of the Spirit. Paul says we become new creations: “the old has passed away; behold the new has come”.
Jesus says we need new wine skins to contain the new wine (of the Spirit).
We often have a very anthropomorphic view of God. Many of us come to God through our own desires, wants and needs. That isn’t wrong. Jesus invites us to come. He invites us to seek, to knock and to ask. He tells us that a good father will not give his child a stone when his child asks for a fish. God expects us to come to him for our needs and even our desires.
We can’t remain in that posture (of seeking our wants and needs from God), however, and grow into the kingdom God desires for us. We can’t remain in the position of asking God only for our own wants and needs and grow in newness of life. We need to transition and mature into the new wine skin God desires us to be.