Wednesday, Dec 15, 2021. What is our tool to learn about God? What is our way to come to conclusions about God? How do we know?
Science has a particular way to investigate and confirm its statements, at least in the natural sciences. It uses experiments and reasoning. It uses a process where scientists try to publish their reasoning and findings, and where other scientists review these ideas and respond as part of a review process. Then, when something is published, others can read and will respond, and a sequence of papers and books will evolve trying to work out and collect all results on a particular topic. Over time, things change and evolve further, and you get a sequence of such books and many papers - with some results being common knowledge, others a buried in the pile of work available.
How does it work in the humanities? Here, the logic is slightly different. Usually, reasoning is the main tool. Investigations work out ideas, thoughts and concepts. The link to reality is carried out either by humans who compare ideas with observations, or by statistical methods where studies try to confirm the ideas by evaluation of answers of probands.
What to know about God? …
When you want to know about faith, you should look into the books written by believers. For Jewish and Christian faith these are the biblical books. They have been collected by large groups of believers to be relevant for faith. We might investigate this process, and it is highly interesting to explore the creation of, for example, the four gospels which build the beginning of the New Testament.
But let us skip the historical part of this investigation, just noting that the books of the New Testament have been written between the year 50 and 95 of the first century of the Common Era. The first three gospels are dated to the years between 50 and 70 AD, the gospel of John usually to about 90-95 AD, written by the apostel John, a contemporary of Jesus. Jesus himself lived between approximately -4 and 30 (with an uncertainty of about 3-4 years). He was crucified about 30 AD. So the gospels range back to about 25 to 40 years after the death of Jesus. You might judge yourself, but in terms of historical distance 25 years are very close - we are far away from building full myths. The conceptional approach of myths building, which some parts of theology have tried to establish in the 20th century as an approach to read the gospels does not work - at least not in the way it was tried.
How to read the gospels. There is 2000 years of theology available. And there is you with your mind and knowledge. Are the gospels written for theologians? No! They are written for general people, for you and me, for every one. They talk about God and what he wants. They talk about the life of Jesus, his speeches, his actions, his death, his resurrection.
Jesus Ethics and Behaviour …
Let us pick one particular point in the teaching of Jesus and compare it with his behaviour. In his famous “Sermon on the Mount” (written in Matthew 5-7) he talks about ethics, about our expectations, our mode of activity and our behaviour. He talks about emotions and reactions to injustice and conflict. He tells his audience:
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5, 22 ff)
When Jesus was close to death, it is reported that he spoke at the cross as follows:
34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 27, 34 ff)
Jesus touches our relationship to people who exercise suppression and pain. How can we be calm? How can we avoid to be furious? There must be something special around Jesus. He teaches ethics which go beyond our natural responses. And he acts accordingly, even in a situation where he must be full of pain and agony. What is the miracle we see here? It is a miracle of ethics, a miracle of teaching, but also a miracle of behaviour. What is the background of it? What is the driving force we observe here? What is there to discover? (Roland Potthast)