Good question...if Christianity is true, why does it need so much defending? And why doesn't God make it clearer?



Draft: Sept 24/2000





Section 1: If Christianity is true, why does it need so much 'defense' and 'apologetics'?

Section 2: The question of responsibility: is God supposed to 'prove stuff' to us, or are we supposed to 'seek God'?

Section 3: Interacting with the "possibly revelatory" data: Lessons from the Text on Encounter, Response, Results

Section 4: Two Pushbacks, on "would more hurt"? and "why seek a hidden God anyway?"

Section 5: Practice and Problems in "Seeking"


This document is Section Two.





 I would ask why God couldn't simply ensure that His revelation is very clear in all ways? Why allow for alternate explanations? Why allow for the possibility that the story could very reasonably be construed as false? It seems very important since we are talking about each person's eternal fate.



I have already touched on the ambiguity issue above, mostly referring you the other things I have written about this issue.


And, before I get into the meat of the matter, let me point out that there are very many reasons--other than lack of clarity--that would cause people to 'construe it as false'...


Human response to information/data is a complex process, involving much more that simple "rationality". I gave already the ubiquitous example of Change Management resistance, but another common example from life would be the reflex of Denial. In cases of bereavement/death, for example, the survivor first goes through a psychological period of "denial". Although it is obvious to the cognitive faculty that the loved one is dead, the mind will not actually accept that truth--it will act as if nothing has happened, and will not integrate this belief into its perspective. It is sometimes understood that this reflex is a defensive maneuver, but in any case it illustrates the fact that construal of something as 'false' is not always a function of how 'clear' the data is...



But here I want to explore the point of 'whose responsibility is it?' for the information exchange to occur. I'll do this by sketching out a different possible model for the interaction between us and God.


[And now for the really long-winded part...(sigh)]



1. I am beginning to realize that the current model used by many in imaging the communication between God and us [some form of "God is the one responsible for making His personal existence and demands known to everyone, perfectly clearly (without language? Mystically?), perfectly forcefully (coercively?), over a long period of time (all of life?),and without any possibility of misconstrual (even deliberate, from the Change Management discussion, or prompted by psychological needs, from the Denial example)"]  is unbiblical (and maybe even contradictory, given the constraints on the person and the independence of a person---but this is another issue, for another time). In other words, the "Why doesn't God give us irrefutable proof of His existence?" question is irrelevant in the biblical worldview, because it isn't God's 'job' or intention to do this, and inapplicable as an objection to Christian claims, because the Christian position doesn't assert this. And, it might be counter-productive for our spiritual journeys if He did...



2. The overall biblical model, rather, is for us to "seek God", and/or respond to God when He "seeks us":


God approaches us:


You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4.22)


"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19.10)


"For in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself by not counting their sins against them, and he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are Christ’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5.19ff) [Notice that this is mediated through a messenger, but is still understood biblically to be God doing the pleading...]


We are supposed to seek after God (and the possible benefits that develop from a relationship with Him):


"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Heb 11.6)


"If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col 3.1)


"There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for god; 12 all have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”  (Rom 3) [Notice: an indictment of the OT and 1st century Jew, includes a "none seek god" element]


"God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Rom 2.6ff)


"And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ 29 “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” ... 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17.22ff) [Notice that this passage has BOTH sides of the seeking in it.]


"And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14 “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 “And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,


‘After these things I  will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it,  In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’  (Acts 15.13ff)


"How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? 45 “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5.44)


Keep seeking, and you will find...(Luke 11.9f)



3. And it is clear in the biblical text that "seeking God" cannot be done from arrogance, presumption, or attempts at self-justification, but rather from some personal longing for 'a larger good' (e.g., a universe of integrity and warmth) or 'personal need' (e.g., relief from treachery, or relief from anxiety over death).


The early Jewish elite (who boasted of their 'seeking God', as opposed to the common folk of the day) are the ones indicted by the "there are none that seek after God" (this was written in the OT and quoted later by Paul, about the ancient Jew specifically), but the Gentiles who did not "seek after God" in the manner prescribed by the religious elite (both Jew and non-Jew, btw) "found God":


"And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”  21 But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”  (Rom 10)



Israel's early failure was due to the manner in which the 'seeking' was undertaken--by a desire to establish their own merit-based 'reward' status, so that God would "owe" them the result, and therefore the relationship would not be a "personal", non-role one, but essentially a 'transaction' model based on economic, impersonal roles. [This is the main indictment in the section of Romans 9-11--that the Jewish elite would not take righteousness/reconciliation from/with God as a 'gift' but only as a 'debt', a 'bragging rights' motive--Romans 3.27; 4.2; and 1 Cor 1.27ff--which is inconsistent with the equality, intimacy, and classless community in the New Future.  May I be quick to point out that Paul was equally as blunt with arrogant, smug, and boastful Christians!--cf. Romans 11:18, 1 Cor 10.12, etc.]


We need to be clear on this--the New Future is not for those that create distance (via status, treachery, duplicity, negligence) within is for those who receive it as children, for those who care for others (and not just the self), for those who embrace one another in openness and trust:


"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2Calling a little child forward, he had him stand among them. 3Then he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18; note that the disciples had been arguing among themselves about which of them would be the greatest--the opposite ethic Jesus doesn't even make it into a kingdom of "intimate and other-centered equals" without dropping status, arrogance, power, prestige, elitism, and the abuse of power/mistreatment of 'the inferior' which so often flows from be great, required to serve others the most...the opposite perspective)


This shows up in a number of NT passages, of course, but a sample might be instructive:


And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, “it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2.16ff)


And, given that the scripture overwhelmingly teaches that none of us are 'completely well' (!), this passage is normally understood to be making the point that the religious elite did not consider themselves to be 'sick' or 'sinners' or 'in need'--a severely dishonest position to take, especially for those who had the Law...


"But if you bear the name “Jew,” and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,  just as it is written. (Rom 2; notice the elitist attitude)


And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 5.39)


At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. (Matt 11.25)


And a particularly vivid illustration of the different attitudes involved comes from Luke 18.9ff:


"Jesus also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves because they were righteous, but who looked down on everyone else: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, ‘O God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—thieves, dishonest people, adulterers, or even this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of my entire income.’ 13“But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he continued to beat his chest and said, ‘O God, be merciful to me, the sinner that I am!’ 14I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his home justified. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the person who humbles himself will be exalted.”



The elite have all the answers already and don't need 'more information', but the needy are less presumptuous...



4. "Seeking" implies that there is a deliberate 'hiddenness' about God, something that is useful to His purposes in creating open, humble, growing, patient, loyal, trusting, relationship-valuing, community-creating citizens for the New Future. The seeking process must somehow assist us in becoming 'better', more authentic, less "ethnocentric", less petty, more dialogical, less arrogant, more spiritual, more sensitive, better 'team players', increasingly "more-than-nature" people...God seems to be focused on growing Lovers/Hearts, not Knowers/Databases...


So, let's spend just a second and go through this 'list of virtues' I mentioned above, and ask how a 'seeking/hiddenness' model might be served well by it:


  1. A seeking process definitely forces/encourages us to be more 'open' to possibilities. When you have to go looking (esp. when the Target might not be clear in itself) for information wherever you can find it, you definitely have to be more alert, scanning, and open, than when you are simply 'waiting' on someone else to approach you and confront you with compelling arguments/evidences


  1. A seeking process might encourage more humility of person and spirit. The "I do not know yet" or "I cannot see it yet" or "I might need someone else's help on this" positions are positions of definite humility.

  2. A seeking process would certainly involve a 'growth' element, since each step of learning would have to incorporate, assimilate, and/or integrate each previous step into the character.

  3. A seeking process would certainly require patience, and would develop patience as the process continued. Waiting for God to answer questions, reveal aspects of His character, place us in situations in which we had flashes of insight into our own selves and natures, giving Him "the benefit of the doubt" in situations of long-quiet, would develop patience in our hearts--of significant value to our selves, our families, and our communities. And this might help curb our tendency to slander God ("He's not listening--He doesn't care"), as well as to slander others.

  4. A seeking process would encourage the development of loyalty. As we experienced 'small findings' along the search, our confidence in God's willingness to "meet us" in our search would grow. And, as we came to appreciate His heart more, our loyalty to Him would grow. We would increasingly meet 'disturbing data' with a confidence that God would somehow show us "how it fit" or "how it made sense", since He had helped us through similar problems in the past. Loyalty to others--a belief in their goodness--is a key element of love (I Cor 13) and a core value of New Future life.

  5. A seeking process would typically necessitate us to become more trusting of God, others, and maybe even our own experiences. The community-nature of so much of knowledge means we have to depend on/trust others already--even though this gets us in trouble when done in the context of the treacherous and exploitative. But in the New Future, this trust of others is a way-of-life and one that is accompanied with peace and absence of the requirement of suspicion. For us to become people like that, somehow we have to learn to "trust" and in this life, God may be the only safe One to learn that with...

  6. A seeking process would likely develop a great valuation of relationships, not only from the need to gather information/insights from others, but from the encouragement of others' stories about their searches, the experience of shared insights ("you too?!"), helpful warnings about dead-ends and over-imaginative 'interpretations', and just the companionship of others being transformed into beauty through the same process. Needless to say, since the goal of the "seeking" is to "find a Person--God", the goal actually is a relationship of personal knowledge, intimacy, and understanding of Another's Heart.

  7. A seeking process would also likely develop people who actually would "create" community, by the fact of their shared experience, knowledge, character, and search. The warmth of the community life and the companionship within the early church was one of the major reasons people in the Roman Empire were drawn to it.

  8. A seeking process would also challenge us to become more authentic, because we would still be forced to make our own decisions about our findings, and the biblical call to 'critical thinking' still requires every seeker to be self-critical, to ask "have I read something INTO this data that is not really THERE?", to ask others the "why do think this means that, friend?"...Authenticity requires the seeker to answer to conscience ("can I in good conscience say I believe X?" or "can I in good conscience deny that X implies Y?"). Since God sees the heart, this aspect of the search may be the major factor in whether the search succeeds or not. If a seeker starts 'making stuff up' or 'denying real data', the seeker is no longer listening, but teaching...and the dance may slow, falter, or stop...Authenticity requires honesty and courage, but it also requires submission in the face of truth--irrespective of the possible consequences to status, power, comfort zone, peer response, etc. Authenticity, as a community value, is priceless, for it allows the individual to stand up to a group decision and say "I disagree--I think you should consider X", and thereby add value to the whole.

  9. A seeking process might assist us in becoming less ethnocentric, by training us to listen--with open minds and without rigid preconceptions of what 'could be the case'--to those with different backgrounds and results. [Authenticity would still require us to think critically about this, but we would never dismiss an interpretation of possible data out-of-hand.] We would have to be open to expanding our criteria, perhaps, or revising our understandings-to-date.

  10. A seeking process would likely encourage us to become less 'petty' in our approach to interpretations and difficulties in our search. The fact that the search might contain long periods of mixed-results and significant pockets of difficulties, would teach us quickly to 'prioritize' the weights of the various data so far. If our search had yielded a conviction that God was somehow 'real' and somehow 'available to us', then a difficulty over why He didn't answer my prayer for a parking spot last week might be judged to be 'less weighty' (for now). We would be looking for the big picture and the overall patterns.

  11. A seeking process might make us more dialogical (and less mono-logical) in our lives. We would need, as part of the search, to be in constant 'dialogue' with the data, with others, with our understanding of God at any given point. We would probably develop better listening skills, and sharing skills, than we would in more mono-logical context (either us doing all the talking--no searching; or others doing all the talking, and us doing all the disagreeing!)

  12. A seeking process would certainly tend to encourage us to be less arrogant--both toward others and toward God. Our dependency on the Revealer to 'reveal Himself' and information about the supernatural, would sorta nullify any 'position of strength' we thought we were operating from, and definitely expose any of our claims to 'privileged epistemic position' to be nonsense. And, since we would be benefactors and beneficiaries within communities of other seekers, our arrogance and self-superiority would likely be challenged (or at least, 'melted down by warmth').

  13. A seeking process might make us more 'spiritual', in the sense of more focused on transcendental values (e.g., justice, love, loyalty, benevolence, progress, beauty, art)--esp. if our search spent a lot of time 'searching in those places' for signs of super-nature. We might become increasingly better at integrating those higher values into our daily life, since they would be a larger part of our thinking process daily. We might become better at applying those higher values to our daily life, since our perspective would be increasingly transformed and 'warmed' by them.

  14. A seeking process would undoubtedly make us more 'sensitive' to the world around us, the words of others, the patterns within nature, the confluences of events, our emotional responses to beauty, love, and malice, and countless other areas of experience that might be 'possible data' about our spiritual nature, our spiritual journey, and our spiritual Home.

  15. A seeking process might make us better 'team players'. This is related to several of the above community-oriented and relationship requirements of the search process, but might also include the experience of empathy for other seekers on the path, and compassion/help for those frustrated and confused at some point.

  16. A seeking process might make us increasingly "more than nature" people. This is similar to the bullet about being more "spiritual", but it might also entail two additional results: (1) the ability to be a positive source of help to others, in these higher values; and (2) the ability to 'look more like God' ourselves. If God is spirit, and if we interact with Him over long periods of time, some of "Him" is going to "rub off on us".


This is not exhaustive, nor rigorous, of course, but it should be obvious that if God were trying to populate a New Future with people with hearts/souls like this, then a 'seek' model could serve that purpose admirably. And notice that the search would be oriented around both truth and spirit (character)--the John 4 passage above...


What this means is that the 'hiddenness' of God is not a punishment, accident, disadvantage, or impediment--but rather an integral part of truly coming to know God and knowing ourselves (as intrinsically supernatural as well), and of becoming the kinds of people that will inherit & enjoy  the New Future.




5.  We should also note that the Scripture sometimes talks about 'seeking God' and sometime about 'seeking eternal things' (e.g., glory, honor, life, heavenly virtues). This would entail that the search for 'meaning' and 'purpose' and 'peace' in life, may in fact be equivalent to a search 'for God' (in God's eyes, that is--it might not be worded that way at all, in the mind of the seeker at first).




6.  We immediately are confronted with one aspect of the problem here: both God and "eternal things" (e.g., purpose, absolute meaning, transcendent moral values) are invisible and seemingly intangible. They may be 'more real that we are', but with our current tools and 'detection equipment', knowing when we have found them may not be as obvious as when we find buried treasure.


Indeed, we will find that a significant portion of the task of sensing God's presence and/or learning God's character may consist first of coming to sense our OWN transcendent self/nature, and learning our OWN spiritual 'character' (e.g., moral, aesthetic, ideals, symbolic).


For many, as they discover their own relative transcendence, they begin to sense the reality of the 'larger universe'--the transcendent dimensions that pervade/intertwine with the more physical, mundane, and animal world.




7. One methodological challenge with this is obviously that the Person we are seeking is said to be 'invisible' (as is the New Future).


·         He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God (Col 1.15)


·         By faith he left Egypt, without being afraid of the king’s anger, and he persevered because he saw the one who is invisible. [Heb 11.27]


And "faith" (in the biblical sense) can refer to this "intending" (and/or being convinced of the reality) of unseen realities:


·         Now faith is the assurance of things we hope for, the certainty of things we cannot see. 2For by it our ancestors won approval. 3By faith we understand that the universe was prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are invisible. [Heb 11.1]


·         because we do not look for things that can be seen but for things that cannot be seen. For things that can be seen are temporary, but things that cannot be seen are eternal. [2 Cor 4.18]



But notice that the biblical position also maintains that part of me is invisible too (my spirit). I can obviously 'see my spirit' through the actions I can produce, the thoughts I can think, and the choices I can make. The stream of minutia done by my self throughout the day may seem chaotic when seen as a whole or as only a collection of unrelated objects, but when 'grouped' by themes or patterns, I can see the 'design' of my spirit/self in those audit trails, and can 'see' (or at least "suspect strongly") the agent-self. [This is, of course, how we detect the presence of "other minds"--the same methodology will be applied here to our transcendent selves and to God.] So too, we might be alerted by this to look for God via His effects (as an audit trail of His Spirit).


We will always have to be extremely sensitive about imposing upon God some pattern/event that is NOT really His, and in the praxis section, we will have to deal with the "Invisible Friend versus Imaginary Friend" issue.


But at the same time, we have to recognize that our current ability to 'detect and distinguish' supernatural realities and possibilities may be dull, unformed, or unrefined enough for this task.


I think of the example of winetasters. I personally enjoy a wine-cooler on occasion, and every now and then a MaiTai, but if blindfolded, I might not be able to distinguish between a mild red wine and a strong white one (and certainly not between types of white wines!). My sense of taste is just too under-developed.


On the other hand, one of my close friends can tell the difference by taste between different years of the same kind of wine(!), and many people can tell the differences between the types and 'varietals'.


But I, on the other hand, cannot taste any difference between some of the wines they can so easily distinguish (and I am convinced that it is I who am insensitive, rather than they who are imagining all this nonsense).


They use terms that seem content-less, subjective, and  "non-empirical" (to me) to describe these 'imaginary' elements of their experience: "complex" wines, a wine's "finish", a flabby wine, fruity, bouquet, full-bodied (Rubenesque?),  a wine's "structure", fleshy, austere, crisp, tough, assertive...


I can imagine their response if I demanded them to give me a "hard" definition of some of these terms, without all this 'metaphorical nonsense'. [Perhaps, over time, I should demand neural correlates of the various tastes and words that appear in Wine Glossary documents..."this merged MRI / CT-scan image is what we mean by an 'assertive wine'"] They would simply try to get me to taste the wines again, pointing out that the only way to detect these qualities would be to experience a wide range of them, reflectively and over a long enough period of experience. Without adequate exposure (the paying-attention kind, that "noticed" the particular flavor of a sample and then compared that with a different flavor), I would never understand and forever be stuck down in the mono-taste land of Fig Newton Ripple Cooler.


How would they teach me the content of these gossamer words? By 'seeking'...They would have me drink a specific type of wine for a couple of days or weeks, and then switch to another. When I took that first swallow of the new wine, I would exclaim "Hey, this tastes different!" And they would say, "remember the feeling of that difference--that is the meaning of the term 'fruity'...the wine you are now drinking is a 'fruity' wine." And I would have an additional level of sensitivity and vocabulary grid...but only an incremental one.


Of course, I could still go on to develop the ability to discriminate between different levels and types of 'fruitiness' (assuming there are such things) and if I ever tried to explain fruitiness to my non-drinking friends, or to my kids, or to someone's pet iguana, I would realize the need for 'seeking' before 'understanding'...


And I would hope to maintain my patience if I ever encountered another earlier-glenn, who argued that all these fancy terms and empty distinctions were made up to perpetuate the economic empire of the wine industry, and that the technical priestcraft uses this mumbo-jumbo to dup the masses, encourage mindless consumption (a la the Emperor's New Clothes forces), and create ruthless market competition between rival wine makers...


What this means for us here, is that any current inability to sense the reality of the supernatural elements in human experience, may not be in any way related to the question of the existence/non-existence of those elements. And furthermore, that an initial level of humility and openness (in both presuppositions and methodology) may be necessary to ever move beyond any current non-awareness...





8. But this seeking activity must have a motive and a starting point, and so we have to look for the 'broadcast' elements of the Spiritual within human experience.


But notice that whatever we find in our experience that 'looks supernatural' or 'points to another Reality' or 'suggests a theistic worldview' must somehow still be ONLY 'suggestive', something that prompts us to start or continue a search, and not something already completely 'given' in a closed fashion, so to speak.


[Remember, also, though, that I have argued above that there IS NO possibility of a completely 'closed' disclosure, about which questions or objections cannot be raised. Even the most point-blank, prose, articulate, non-metaphorical, long-winded, and vivid linguistic (or pictorial, for that matter) formulation of truth about God and/or the spiritual realm can still be denied by anyone with a simple "He's lying--it's a trap--He's not telling us everything--He's misleading us" type of objection. ]


And, if the 'goal' of the search is to establish and develop and explore a relationship with the Living God (in a community of like-motivated and like-spirited fellow-learners), then this process would likely continue indefinitely, once the relationship were established...seeking and learning and being open to wider/higher perspectives and vistas would be part of the joy of the relationship.


The broadcast data could have a wide range of "suggestiveness" of course, ranging from perhaps a one-time massively-vivid manifestation of some Power (e.g., the Cloud in the tabernacle/temple?) to a simple "why do I feel some things are REALLY wrong, not just unpleasant to me?".



9. But the fact that this data could always be objected to--regardless of 'clarity'--would mean that there could always be arguments over (1) whether the phenomena or observation  was 'evidence' or just merely a gullible or less-rigorous thinker superimposing a theistic worldview on something more easily explained in another way--or not even needing explanation at all; and (2) if it could be 'construed' as "evidence", how much weight should be assigned to it?


10. These arguments/objections would not be 'bad' things in themselves, but could arise from a number of reasons--some good (e.g., interest in understanding your perspective, for possible re-use elsewhere), some less good (e.g., attempt to avoid the implications of the position--perhaps the Change Management issue again, in some cases?) and many a mix of the two.


11. But when we say we are looking  for elements/patterns in our experience that might 'suggest' that there might be "a god" or "a spiritual reality beyond/under/over/inside this one" or "transcendental elements embedded in the finite", where might we begin our search?


Well, we could obviously start with those experiences claimed by others ahead of us (e.g., mystics, religious followers, spiritualists, metaphysicians, shamans, hermits)  as to what they found to suggest that seeking God was possibly worthwhile, but this list could get very, very unwieldy, since there would be tons of one-off experiences that might be useless to us. So, let's try to identify some common experiences/patterns in life that most/many larger religious groups (historically speaking) have historically said are responsible for people 'opening up to the spiritual dimension'. And we might especially notice elements that would be integral to the theistic position under discussion (i.e., traditional Judeo-Christian). The biblical position about God (and this is the position that is under discussion here, but other religious traditions might share many of these) would include the following elements, for starters:


a.        God is a spirit [i.e., non-embodied mind/agency], not material, so we should notice things in life which have a 'personal pattern' look to them (e.g., the difference between handwriting on the beach and patterns made simply by waves), and experiences that develop or appeal to the "personal/invisible/spiritual' side of humans, with perhaps less emphasis on the first-order sensory experiences.


b.       Humans are scale models of God's spiritual structure [they have a transcendental nature that is not wholly reducible to lower-level substrate], so we should notice characteristics of them that might be interpreted as "above nature" or which would be more difficult to understand from a purely biological standpoint, than from a "biology plus spirit" perspective


c.        Humans have residual structures of God's ethical, aesthetic, and empathetic nature in them, so we should notice carefully situations in which moral notions appear as "absolutes", and in which resonance with and against the moral actions of others/ourselves seem 'out of synch' with our expectations (perhaps suggesting the reality of a moral substrate of the universe, presupposing some Person-derived ultimate value basis). And situations of exalted buoyancy and deep emotion, at a beautiful sunset, or song, or landscape, or fragrance, or ballet, or even a good meal, fun company, and warm bed-time stories and hugs, might be candidates for data as well.


d.       God is said to be alive, and the author and definition of life, so we might pay special attention to aspects of existence that are characterized by growth, renewal, healing, replication, creativity, transformation, and expansion.


e.        Additionally, we might note that God is said to be 'good to all' and 'gentle', which might expect us to look for 'quiet' and 'non-invasive' (in the medical sense of the term--ouch!) experiences--given that He is "seeking" relationships characterized by truth and 'spirit'--honesty, heart, passion, life--not those characterized by acquiescence, hypocrisy, and resentful submission! And that we could expect to see many of these elements to be common (or at least frequent) to all people, at various levels and in various ways.



So, what are candidate areas of our experience for use to take a look at?


[Note: the following is merely a list/description, and NOT a defense/analysis of these elements. Serious philosophical analysis, argument, and discussion on EACH of these topics is complex, sometimes combative, and on-going--as would actually be predicted by this model of 'suggestive, but not compelling'.]




Trying to come up with a way to account for this near universality of a belief/memory/myth of Edenic bliss and of communion with gods/spirits (not all beneficent, though) has produced at least two major views: (1) there was such an original 'supernatural' state, in which humanity was in communion or at peace with the gods--with the requisite benefits accruing, such as long and healthy and joyous lives; and/or (2) there is something innate in the archetypal consciousness of humanity that routinely asserts itself in this imagery/symbolism. [Although I am trying NOT to be over-analytical here, let me say that I find a third argument, that Edenic myths were "creations of elite power structures to enslave the ignorant masses", to be less probable than these, since the implied comparisons of the miserable present--conditions of which the ruling elite are responsible for (!)--with the much better past and/or the much better future tend to denigrate the 'achievements and wisdom' of the ruling elite, rather than exalt, we would still have the problem of how did the ex-slime-crawling-scum-eating elites get the idea of Eden, themselves...]


Number 1 obviously would be suggestive to some--to seek to find out if this memory of the past contained a real kernel of truth, and if the possibility of regaining that were equally real--but what about number two? Could the fact that the psyche of humans somehow "steers" imagination toward Eden be interpreted as a trace of the supernatural?


Of course it could, but again, it would only be 'suggestive' not definitive/overpowering . By itself, this 'steering' (for lack of a better word) would be data, which would invite interpretation. The fact that this data might appear difficult  (but perhaps not impossible) to be accounted for/predicted by non-supernatural elements in reality, would certainly make the data stand out in relief from the normal texture of human experience. This character of some aspect of our experience as "standing out in relief" (e.g., "appearing odd" or "provoking reflection" or "stimulating re-evaluation of our perspectives") will be a key characteristic of most or all "possibly-Otherly" elements in our experience.


As such, as with most of the elements we will list here, the data could be interpreted as suggesting the supernatural. [In this case, the dream/hope/nostalgia of paradise would be an "implant" of the Supernatural, to provoke us to ask the questions, and start the search...]. And, conversely, some would attach a different interpretation to the data (i.e., "it doesn't mean that, it means this"), others would deny that there was anything 'odd' there at all (i.e., "it doesn't mean anything at all"), and still others might avoid drawing an interpretation on either grounds of insufficient-motive (e.g., "it might mean something, but there is no need to even come up with an interpretation") or of  insufficient-clarity (e.g., "it might mean something, but there is not a strong enough pattern in the data for us to even venture a guess as to the interpretation").


[These alternate interpretations/non-interpretations we will return to toward the end of this discussion, when we get into the praxis issues of the heuristics.]


And let me hastily add that these various responses to an alleged "transcendental-trace" aspect can/will vary over time and circumstance. What was inscrutable to me yesterday, may be perfectly obvious today. And what I thought was clear and forceful yesterday, appears today-- upon more 'mature judgment' (smile)--to be gullible and naive. What was 'mildly suggestive' ten years ago, may be 'exceptionally fertile' today. The experiences that I assume 'into me' can affect radically my 'view of me', and can change the weights I assign to previous understandings of 'stand-outs' in my life.



Okay, back to the list...



This is 'popup' stuff, that could be interpreted that

(a)     Human death is not 'natural' (=> Edenic?)

(b)     "persons/minds" have a special, higher value to them than other (natural) objects that are destroyed (e.g., minds are somehow 'beyond' or 'transcendental' or 'different from atoms');

(c)     An "Interpersonal relationship"--a VERY intangible 'thing'--can manifest itself in EXTREMELY powerful ways, when it is disrupted. That is, this relationship, built with a loved-one, when disrupted through death, can produce powerful, concrete effects in life--depression, compensatory behavior, compulsions, denial (an epistemic response, I might add), paradigm shifts of values. This "relationship" (itself a category that is exceptionally difficult to even define reductionistically in Western culture) seems to somehow 'float above' the normal matter and physics of our day. And other (more naturalistic-only) interpretations of it can easily seem to fall short when it comes to explaining the 'energy' contained in the disruptive event called 'death'.







This is, again, another item that could be interpreted as favoring the 'supernatural' aspect of the 'soul/mind', or the unnaturalness of death (anti-Edenic), and although there is a natural 'avoidance of death' drive/instinct on the part of living creatures, it is again the intensity and "non-linear" anxiety associated with our fear of this that might indicate something 'odd' about our souls, or life, or time, or our possible future. Or, since we are very intellectually aware that non-existence could not itself be 'painful' (!), perhaps we sense the transcendental value of our soul/spirit.


[The reader will probably notice at this point a recurring theme in the observations: that the intensity of our personal responses to these 'elements' appears to be 'out of synch' with what we would have predicted from a non-supernatural model. In other words, the "extreme" amount of grief we can experience, or the "unwarranted" levels of anxiety over 'disappearing' do not seem like natural extrapolations from animal/biological behavior. We have no way of measuring the difference, of course, in the same way we cannot measure the difference between the  'amount of relief' a hungry raccoon  feels upon eating and the 'amount of relief' a light-avoidant paramecium 'feels' when it has wiggled away 'from the light'...but we do suspect that there is a huge difference (smile), even though we could not demonstrate or measure that to anyone's satisfaction...It is this non-linear,  'odd intensity' that might be the carrier for suggestions of transcendence or "spiritual dimension" or "something-otherness"...]





The biblical position is explicit on this problem, and marks it out as one of the primary targets of Jesus' incarnation and mission to the Cross--to relieve us of the pressure of this fear on our actions/choices for self-preservation. Hebrew 2.14-15: Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, he himself also shared the same things, so that by his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil) 15and might free those who were slaves all their lives because they were terrified by death.


WBC draws the image of this out well:


"The purpose for which the transcendent Son of God entered human life is indicated by an expanded purpose clause (i{nakatarghvsh/ kai;ajpallavxh/). He assumed a mortal human nature “in order that he might nullify” the power of an evil tyrant who possessed the power of death and “that he might rescue” those who had been enslaved. The identification of the tyrant as the devil exposes the depth of the human plight. The devil did not possess control over death inherently but gained his power when he seduced humankind to rebel against God. The representation of death as a henchman in the devil’s service and the threat of death as an instrument with which he bludgeons humanity into submission (cf. Michaelis, TDNT 3:907) depend on the interpretation of Gen 3 in the tradition of the Hellenistic synagogue: “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wis 2:23–24). It is ironical that human beings, destined to rule over the creation (Ps 8:5–7 LXX, cited in vv 6–8), should find themselves in the posture of a slave, paralyzed through the fear of death (Kögel, Sohn, 80). Hopeless subjection to death characterizes earthly existence apart from the intervention of God (cf. Knauer, TGl 58 [1968] 155–57). Moreover, the presence of death makes itself felt in the experience of anxiety (cf. Sir 40:1–5a). The definition of the state of mind that reduced humankind to enslavement as the “fear of death” (fovbw/ qanavtou), however, almost certainly has a specific reference. It refers to a disposition within the hearers and is a first indication of the serious situation addressed in this pastoral homily. The crisis they faced was demonic in character....i{na dia; tou` qanavtou katarghvsh/kai; ajpallavxh/, “that by his death he might break the power … and liberate.” The primary goal of the incarnation was the Son’s participation in death, through which he nullified the devil’s ability to enslave the children of God through the fear of death. Jesus’ death was the logical consequence of his determination to identify himself so completely with his brothers and sisters that there would be no aspect of human experience which he did not share. But in this instance death was not the consequence of rebellion. It was an expression of consecration to do the will of God (10:5–7), with the result that Satan’s ability to wield the power of death was rendered ineffective in relationship to the Christian (cf. Delling, TDNT 1:453, who calls attention to 2 Tim 1:10: “the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has broken the power of Death”). The incarnation was thus the appropriate and necessary means of delivering the people of God from the devil’s tyranny and the fear of death.


And another commentator made this point:


"In speaking of the devil as wielding the power of death, the writer meant that Satan uses people’s fear of death to enslave them to his will. Often people make wrong moral choices out of their intense desire for self-preservation. The readers were reminded that they were no longer subject to such slavery and that they could face death with the same confidence in God their Captain had."  (Bible Knowledge Commentary)


But how might this kind of  fear of death be suggestive that there was a supernatural reality?


This element might share the aspects of the two preceding pop-up's methods (above), but might also have an added element about the reality of a 'moral universe' (assuming the fear was of some possible judgment) and/or 'unseen universe' (assuming that such a "locus of punishment" would require a previously-unseen order/area/dimension of existence). And the belief in a 'moral universe' in which existed "forces" (impersonal) or "agents" (personal) of adequate power to override the energy/resources of groups of powerful and exploitative elites, and to expose the duplicity of well-disguised and well-hidden treacheries, while exalting victims and the innocent to positions of health and prosperity (even after being killed by evil schemers) suggests (strongly, I might venture) the existence of a supernatural Agent, with extreme ethical sensitivities and insights...(since it seems relatively clear that such universal utopian conditions will never emerge from within our current behavior, communities, and tendencies...)


Could this "fear" data be interpreted in other ways? Undoubtedly, as ALL of these items could be viewed alternatively, but apart from the very real abuse-possibilities of this theme (below), we still need to account for the (1) ubiquity of expectation/belief issue [a la Eden]; and (2) the intensity of the fear.


[Some of this data, however, can be quite problematic, since, unlike many of the others, it can be abused and distorted quite easily by cultural and elitist elements. The 'bulking up of hell'--a la Dante--is a good example, in my opinion (see my article on the character of hell at gr5part2.html). Both religious and secular powers have been repeatedly and  manifestly guilty of this (as skeptics and non-skeptics are quite correct in pointing out). But what has to be distinguished is the expectation (by the vast majority of cultures in history) that the "innocent will be paid back, as will be the treacherous and exploitative" SOMETIME, from the images, symbols, and forms that "payback" was to take. What was called "non-neutral death" was the uniform expectation of most ancient cultures [cf. HI:FH], but the imagery of that 'realm of the dead' varied tremendously from culture to culture, period to period, subculture to subculture. So, in this case, our data must be restricted to the more generic sense that "moral justice will somehow assert itself" and the universe will be re-ordered after all things are "completed". ]




Historically, ancient fertility cults that celebrated the regularity of seasons, harvest, and food supply were everywhere, and the link between the miracle of spring and the celebration of "good food and full wine" and the gods was explicit. It was never taken for granted, as famine, drought, and pestilence were constant dangers and frequent companions.


Biblically, this theme of God's providence (or ordering of agricultural cycles) was likewise understood as evidence of God, specifically, His kindness:


In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." [Acts 14.16f]


This was a simple message to Anatolian farmers, whose very lives depended on rain and crops, in season. The regularity of the seasons--as set up by God--is a common theme in pagan thought and in the OT as well (cf. Gen 8.22: The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. 22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”)


But it is not just the regularity and predictability of the food supply that is considered to be proof of God's kindness (for Paul), but also "plenty" of food and "joy" in their hearts.


Biblical images are consistent with this, since the joy of harvest time--both from the plenty/abundance of food, and from the community celebrations/parties that were associated with this plenty--are referred to in Ps 4.7 (You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound) and Isaiah 9.3 (Thou shalt multiply the nation, Thou shalt increase their gladness; They will be glad in Thy presence As with the gladness of harvest).


And the joy of eating (always, in family and community life) is celebrated outside of harvest times as well: Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. (Eccl 9.7)


For our purpose, though, we have to ask what specific elements in this natural cycle/emotional response might be the 'data' that we would need to consider 'interpreting'. Historically, how was this 'interpreted' by others? There are at least a couple of ways to do this, suggested by the passage/context:

1.        The regularity of the seasons might suggest a designer or maintainer "force" that was orderly (an Intelligent Designer type of argument?)

2.        The fact that there were "more good years than bad" (and hence, civilization as a whole survived) might be construed as an act of kindness or interest (and control over the elements?) of a deity (a Benevolent Designer/Providence type of argument?)

3.        The fact that the food supply was characterized by a short period of celebrated and anticipated abundance, followed by a longer period of more disciplined usage, might suggest that a deity was interested in them both building warm community (through celebration) and in experiencing personal joy, but without becoming as undisciplined in life as the elite rich... [Plus, the harvest joy might double as something to aspire to in Edenic hopes? It's certainly a frequent theme in descriptions of future utopian scenarios.]

4.        And the fact that the response to abundance of food was "joy" (poetically expressed as "great joy") puts us in the realm of the "non-linear response" again...Advanced mammals show stress-relief symptoms when they find food, and even in some cases are known to get excited/hysterical, but "great joy" at a family and/or community feast/party at harvest may be another case of something "way above nature" in the intensity of the  response to "a regular nature cycle"--perhaps a hint of our spiritual nature. That we might have been so 'constructed' as to be able to experience "great joy" (and not just 'gustatory pleasure'!) at a meal could easily (and appreciatively) be interpreted as a witness to God's kindness (e.g., He sets us up to be able to experience transcendentally good things, well above the simple pleasures natural creatures can know...).





There are a couple of possible data points here:

1.        The same pattern of "extreme" and "non-linear"  response to beauty on the part of humans, might suggest that we ourselves are "more than nature"

2.        The fact that the experience of beauty can be a powerfully positive experience, might also suggest that the designer was 'good-hearted' or 'kind' to us (like the 'joy of abundance' interpretation above), to create such a positive resonance between our 'insides' and the natural setting in which we live

3.        The beauty of the phenomenal universe might suggest an "Aesthetic Designer argument"

4.        The beauty of math/science might suggest that a creator was 'oriented toward order' at His very being (cf. 1 Cor 14.33: "for God is not a god of disorder...")


[This might be the kind of feeling-suggestion Einstein was referring to: "Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a high order...This firm belief, a belief bound up with deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God...denominational traditions I can only consider historically and psychologically.", letter to a Japanese scholar, quoted in PH:RMPG:32/]


There is another experience/emotional response that is sometimes encountered in this area--that of the feeling of "smallness". Humans occasionally report that they feel 'dwarfed' by the largeness and power of the universe, but that this feeling does not involve a feeling of 'insignificance' or 'terror' somehow. They feel 'humbled' (perhaps) at the size of the world, or the universe (or  'of life'--a separate, but related feeling). Some make a leap from this to the question of "where do I fit?" or "what is MY part in all of this?", seeming to presuppose/assume/intuit a "Someone with purpose/plan" behind, beyond, or 'greater than' the bigness around them. To me this leap is easy to recognize (it is very common), but difficult to dissect into its discrete steps--how we get from "wow, I am impressed by the scale of my context" to "what might be my purpose in being here, as a part of this immensity?" is not transparent to me yet. But, it is a very common experience apparently--and I certainly remember my questions "to the sky" some 30 years ago, in this same type of setting...but my answers were delivered by smile, not by starlight, it turned out...




In some cases, this was tied to the seasonal motif (above), but there were many cases in which childbirth and healing were somehow attributed to unseen and conscious forces. Although much/most of the ancient ascriptions of this seem quite tenuous or even 'hokey' to us moderns, people today still make the connection between events like these and the notion of  'Somebody helped me here'.


When Billy Graham the evangelist was asked once what was the biggest single reason--other than the Bible--that people opened up to God, he replied without hesitation "babies". That somehow, the experience of what is STILL sometimes called "the miracle of birth" was so suggestive of 'higher levels' of reality that the paradigm of reality instantly shifted for some new-parents from the impersonal/physical to the personal/spiritual. As a father myself, being involved in the actual birthing process of my three children, I can testify to its overwhelming power, but could no more identify to another how that feeling arose (or even how it could be explained--again the intensity level is so far off-scale for what I should 'feel' as an animal at a simple multiplication of my genes! ) than I could articulate the content of that explosive emotion to a three-year old child. So many transcendental experiences in life depend upon intersubjective commonalities...I can walk into a room, describe my experience at those births, by drawing a portrait of the situation and event, and then ask the group "does anyone know how I felt at that moment?", and some of the room would say "absolutely!" (maybe even with their eyes misting over, in remembrance of their time there...) and others would say "no, not really...maybe a little...vaguely" and maybe still others would say "you didn't feel anything out of the normal at all--you couldn't have...because you cannot define or describe the content clearly/vividly enough to me".


[And, just as an aside, the fact that we know more of the mechanics of healing/reproduction processes, still doesn't reduce the mystery element at all, for two reasons. One, we still respond as persons to the macro-complex of the event--we don't isolate the nurses, doctors, muscle contractions, etc from the event. And so the mechanisms are either transformed by the overall mystery or awesomeness of the event (as baby burps will be transformed into something joyous and cute later), or are seen only as background texture (much as hospital bed, the medical procedures, or the anesthesia become). A second reason is that the more we learn about DNA & Co., the more mysterious IT gets! The plasticity and flexibility of these chains of molecules has exhausted mechanistic models of explanation--current approaches to modeling the activity of DNA are based more on 'information' and 'semantic' models, which may end up being as suggestive an area of data as the fine-tuning/Anthropic principle has become in physics today. ]


Included in these more basic and 'natural-looking' areas of birth and healing, would be the more personal/psychological versions of this: transformation of character, renewal of life, release from a prior undesirable state. This area often seems to use the images/symbols of rebirth ('reborn to sobriety') and healing ('my addiction to X was healed'). In many cases of these, especially in 12-step type programs, conscious invocation/imaging of a 'higher power' occurs. This, of course, is the reverse-direction (from God toward the "birth/healing", as opposed to from the birth/healing toward God), so it might be more appropriately categorized elsewhere.




Crisis events are the most common, and the most 'simple' of the two, since they cause certain identifiable 'values' or 'higher allegiances' to stand-out. A death in a family may cause families to re-assess priorities in their lives; near-fatal accidents may cause otherwise impossible changes in behavior to occur; a divorce may prompt one to re-assess all his/her religious beliefs; and  catastrophic health problems may force a change of work habits or locale. These types of experiences 'suggest' that the world is not 2D (all values are equal), but rather at least 3D (some values transcend other more important than money, health more important than fame, thought-through beliefs better than uncritically accepted religious slogans).


What makes a crisis sometimes suggestive of the other-side, is perhaps the abruptness or the 'starkness' of the value-difference insight. The "and I knew at that moment, with a clarity that was  incandescent,  standing by the beside in the hospital that all I had ever..." type of experience is very common in our culture, and it is the vividness of this insight/realignment that suggests the reality of higher/transcendental values and realities (esp. as it deals with people, of course). We respond significantly differently to a car wreck in which two automobiles are totally demolished--but in which the occupants escaped with minor injuries--than we do to one in which the cars were barely damaged, but both drivers were killed.


Mystical experiences (and crises can certainly have this dimension, and/or can precipitate this type of experience) can be notorious to analyze, but they do form a large stock of allegedly 'revelatory' experiences. There are many good technical and popular discussions of these, so I don't need to describe them here, but these are often less useful for our discussion, since they are less uniform in their character. But, I might hasten to add, various polls of professional scientists (for example), indicate that a majority of these professionals claim to have had experiences that could be called "mystical" or "numinous" in their lifetimes...There is often no 'linguistic content' attached to them, but just this rather powerful "sense" of "something beyond"...


Mystical experiences might be more powerful, but less 'cognitive'; whereas crisis experiences might be the reverse. In either case, they constitute 'data' that has been consistently interpreted as being 'suggestive' of a higher dimension, a reality beyond, or supernatural elements "mixed into our normal experiences".




We have here again the intensity-differential element (as far as we can tell, the empathetic abilities of the higher animals are either non-existent or barely existent, so this may turn out to be a complete--and not just extreme--difference between 'just nature' and 'more than just nature'), but we also have a complex of values: the 'spirit' of the benefactor,  the heart-response of the beneficiary, the virtue of the benefactor, and the irreducible  value of the beneficiary (even though in duress or penury). The 'goodness' of the act and/or intention (notice how the 'non-physical' intention still impresses us with its stand-out quality) might suggest the 'moral' dimension we spoke of earlier.





This response contains the same 'suggestive' elements/dimensions as the above case of goodness, with perhaps an even stronger witness to some kind of transcendental moral code and exalted value of even the "lowliest" (non-spiritually speaking) of people.





When we witness the above 3 types of acts, we often respond in the ways described above. But when we are the agents of such actions, there may be additional responses that might count as data:






And, when we are on the other end of the 'act', these three events will likely produce nuanced versions of the above:








We have already indicated that fear of death (above) could be considered data that might be interpreted as suggestive, and it is along that general argument line that I would offer for consideration these possible higher-order aspirations:



Now, up to now I have been talking about 'un-mediated' and 'immediate awareness' types of experiences, but in the community context in which humans have to live, we will be immediately confronted with mediated experiences--in other words, reports from others about their interpretations of their immediate experiences.


  1. We might encounter 'prophets' who have interpreted their personal data in a certain way, and have decided to 'share' that with us;

  2. We might encounter 'oddities' in history (e.g., "miracles", "statistically odd" occurrences or patterns of occurrences of natural events, unusually bizarre yet laudable individuals) but which are interpreted for us by prophets as being 'signs of the supernatural';

  3. We might encounter written texts, by such prophets, but also some by 'regular, but reflective' individuals (e.g., sages).

  4. We might actually encounter intelligences/agencies in experience (or reports of those experiences) that manifest decidedly 'other-worldly' characteristics. The phenomena of "spirit possession" provides a growing body of evidence for this: "As cross-cultural studies of shamanism and spirit possession become more available, the once popular tendency of commentators to rationalize away ancient reports of miracles, whether Christian or otherwise, will probably continue to diminish, although not all the reports, ancient or modern, are of equal value. Christianity has traditionally recognized the reality of other superhuman forces in the universe besides God [e.g., 1 Cor 10:20], although it would not agree with the increasingly accepted relativist position that all superhuman forces are of the same power or benevolent moral character, a position to which the data themselves would be hard pressed to point." [REF:BBC,@Rev 13.13]

  5. We might actually encounter intelligences (in human form) claiming to be from 'the other side' or having an 'enhanced nature-plus', perhaps pointing us to data as ripe-for-interpretation, and offering some evidences of its credibility. [These intelligences, however, might also be maleficent towards us, so we will still need to exercise caution in assessing these claims.]



There may be an obvious process-dependency between the personal/unmediated data, and the historical/mediated data, that this process may take different directions:





Seeing patterns that aren't there (e.g., faces in the clouds) will be a constant methodological danger, but no more so than denying patterns that are (e.g. the visual presence of a Mona Lisa in a low-resolution bitmap image--cf. phil0615c.html)...



Now, when we look back over this list of possible data, we should be struck by its wide variety  (of varied ambiguity, vividness, and 'deniability'), and be impressed by the relative quietness and commonality behind these. Some do have trauma/shock aspects (e.g., bereavement, atrocity), and many would vary in intensity and relevance, depending on background, education, age, etc. But, historically, the elements above have been those that have provoked (or teased) the human heart to look upward, outward, and forward to find That which is behind the word "God".




12. A final word (yeah, right) on the criticality of Conscience and Community.



The process of seeking and of evaluating data-that-might-be-suggestive (e.g., moral notions, crisis transformations) and data-that-claims-to-be-disclosure (e.g. religious texts, Jesus) will involve two elements that will be critical to our success: conscience and community.



The very warp-and-woof of human experience is social, and the vast majority of everything we learn and reject (and even the criteria and definition of what 'counts as rational or intelligible), comes from others. For the biblical 'seeking' process (majoring on character formation, remember) how we interact with and treat fellow community members will have a definite bearing on our success. Whether we agree with all/some/none of what they say, we must treat them "in goodness and respect". We are not obligated in any way to accept their conclusions as truth, but we are wise to "hear them out", for truth can be found in the unlikeliest of places.


In business, one learns quickly to not try and 're-invent the wheel' on every new business task. Executives look for 'best practices', 'boilerplate operations', and 'successful models' to evaluate, emulate, and leverage. In most (but not all) business problems, the problem has already been solved somewhere else, and the wise manager doesn't waste time in trying to "be a guinea pig" for his/her own "new approach".


At the same time, no 'best practice' is EVER implemented without customization and modification (however slight). The realities of business praxis (unless highly regulated, as in SOME types of legal and accounting areas) require some degree of 'tweaking' to make the model fit.


Of course, there ARE problems and opportunities that are unique, and for which no successful precedents exist. In cases like this, radical rejection of 'current thinking' and 'folk wisdom' and 'unspoken assumptions' is required, and the exec has to 'start from ground zero' and work up. These types of innovations can be breath-taking and far-reaching, but they are also rare, exceptionally difficult to do, frequently lengthy, prone to failure, and often simply overkill or unnecessary. [We sometimes speak of 'a solution in search of a problem' to describe some of these.]


We speak negatively of the "NIH syndrome"--the "Not Invented Here" attitude that some have, in which if the idea is "not invented here", then it can't be successful, useful, worth considering, or true. Executives with successful track records of utilizing and leveraging the skills and ideas of others, avoid NIH thinking like the plague.


In our situation here, there is a great practical wisdom for listening carefully and critically to the experiences of others, taking what is good (1 Thess 5.21), and reserving our 'innovation work' for the areas that remain problematic.


The flip side of this 'taking' is 'giving'--the sharing with others of our learning, mistakes, successes, insights, challenges, current confusions, and directions. Some of us are motivated by strong emotions of anxiety and lostness on this search, and as we perhaps get progressive/incremental relief from these, we should remember that there are others just starting the journey, with the same-or-higher levels of pain. We should encourage them of the usefulness of the search (but not hypocritically, of course), gently warning them not to accept our words uncritically (see Conscience below), but to be encouraged that an honest and character-improving search will help them with their feelings and despair.


Remember, any seeking process that tends to encourage arrogance, elitist 'distance', and disrespect/disdain for those 'below us' will lead us into a wasteland of "cosmetically superior" error...


We should also take advantage of the feedback mechanism available in community. The "what am I missing here?" and "where are the holes and soft spots in this conclusion?" and "how close is this to YOUR experience?" questions--when asked for honest-hearted reasons, instead of to pick a fight or parade one's knowledge--can protect one from self-deception and can surface that "one extra insight" needed to take the next step.


Most of us have had that horrible experience of asking for feedback and getting nothing useful back (or even getting censured!), but in the "community of the seeking" (not the 'Community of those with all the Answers'!) our chances are better of getting some critical pushback or encouragement. At the same time, we must consciously avoid asking for full corroboration for our position--in an effort to shift responsibility for our choice to some 'authoritative body'. We will end up having to live with our choices, and this makes our personal ownership and authenticity so much more important. Even when we borrow ideas, and integrate the teaching of others into our own eclectic worldviews, we still have to add the customary note at the bottom of the Preface: "None of those whom I have mentioned is responsible for what has been done or not done with their advice and help." It is still we who act.




The specific element of Conscience (admittedly a fuzzy word in itself) that I am focused on here is that feedback mechanism concerning how we treated the information in front of us. Did we evaluate it in openness or hostility? Did we ignore troubling aspects of the data? Did we overstate the weight of the conclusion? Did we disambiguate the data without relevant criteria? Did we fail to accept it as data? Did our presuppositions do all the "analysis" for us?


The process problem here should be obvious. If I over-interpret or under-interpret a "batch of data" and my conscience then 'complains', how I respond to that is important. If I ignore the dissonance, then my personal cognitive integrity is compromised, and I become less authentic as an agent.  Hopefully, it will continue to 'bother me' (largely a function of my integrity up to that point), until I decide to review the situation to get a 'better feeling' about my conclusion.


For example, from the area of psychology and counseling, we know that people can begin from positions of cognitive fragmentation (i.e., they KNOW some situation is true, BUT constantly affirm to themselves that it is NOT) and progress to where the "contrary voice of knowledge inside" is no longer present. They then believe the lie fully, and have lost the ability to make truth judgments about that data, as well as about related areas. Conspiracy theories are great examples of how all data, previously accepted in common and normal understanding, can get radically re-interpreted in a false manner, simply by the force of the core falsity (e.g. my foot pain, which I THOUGHT was plantar fasciitus, I now believe to be an IP-addressable synthetic micro-transmitter , which would dissolve in contact with air should I try to dig it out,  implanted during my sleep by the pre-DOJ Microsoft in an effort to influence my buying behavior through pain-pleasure stimuli...the only plausible alternative is for it to be a homing/locator device for AOL CD mailing processes, but in either case it is a sinister plot). At some point even the core belief becomes "incorrigible" (and even a 'presupposition')  and the person is confined to a wasteland of being 'off'.


There are many, many places in this search-program where we will be forced to make very subjective decisions about "am I being honest with the data?" questions, and we constantly need to be alert to our tendency to self-deceive, rationalize, take the 'most comfortable path', avoid the hard work of crafting a plausible understanding, and to orient our conclusions around our preferences and presuppositions.


We will have to love truth, more than we love ourselves.



The bottom line: God's design and operation of this "seeking" process is about transforming us FIRST, and informing us SECOND. The process of learning about life, God, and the good--in openness, wonder, and ever-widening hearts--is a primary way God uses to grow our freedom and beauty and incandescence:


Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds (Rom 12.2)


Regarding your former way of life, you were taught to strip off your old man, which is being ruined by its deceptive desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, (Eph 4.22f)


So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. 32And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8.31)





And our next issue is to try to get an understanding of the dynamics of "seeking" and "interacting" with our understandings...on to Section Three

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