How big is the Bible part 6

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • 1 Peter 3:15
  • Revelation 20:10
  • Revelation 12:9-10
  • Proverbs 25:1-4
  • John 3:16
  •  Romans 8:28
  • John 14:15

You can’t ask God that Question

So I went on a nerd rant for a bit over 5 posts now and you are surprised to see my squeeze so much out of such a small amount of stuff. Now it’s time to really get into the power of most of the stuff I have been talking about plus some extra stuff I don’t know where else to put. Let’s visit this question, will we know everything about the Bible?

The obvious answer is no, especially after a lot of the stuff I talked about before. But there is something important to consider. Often people go to church, sit through Bible study, and doubt what they hear. It could be for a good reason.  They have honest questions they can’t get answered. It’s no surprise that the pastor or others in their congregation may have never seen these questions before (or never were trained to deal with them). So they get the typical answers: “That is not fair to ask God,” “We aren’t meant to know this,” “No one will know until we get to heaven” and so on. To some degree, yes we won’t know everything, but that doesn’t mean answers don’t exist. If you don’t know the answer, that doesn’t mean the answer doesn’t exist. Often these “answers” do more harm than good. But this attitude is not Biblical:

15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

Not every question someone has is rooted in a pursuit of the truth. More often than not, people tend to have questions because they feel that they have been wronged in some way. Someone in their family died and they question, “God why did you do this to me”? They had a painful childhood and they want to know why God didn’t stop it. Sometimes they just want to live how they want to and have as much fun as they want. From there people bring up objections to the Bible as a way of escaping it. They have this view not because they believe it, but because they don’t want to believe the alternative. But you can’t discriminate between different situations. It could be that the best apologetic answer is a personal one. Unless you know someone on a personal level, you can’t always give a direct answer to their situation. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the hard questions of life. You should still try to be ready for when the time comes, you can do what you need to.

Having skeptical answers is extremely important, even as a believer. For some reason, we tend to apply logic to our everyday lives and not the Bible. If you have a problem in your life, do you just give up? Some people do but more than often we don’t. The reason why we have phones and airplanes is that people wanted to improve what they could do. They saw a problem and worked until they came to a solution. In science, people constantly ask questions and push what we know and what about the things we can’t see to push our understanding. Yet, when it comes to the Bible we say, “it’s not fair to ask God that question.” Although we won’t know everything, it still helps to question things and push our boundaries of knowledge. Like, why is Satan not in hell?

Why isn’t Satan in Hell?

There isn’t any clear chapter or verse on this indicating the exact answer. This might fall into that Godel problem I talked about before. This could be something that is true, that we can’t prove using the logical system that we have. We need to take a step back and look at everything and then make claims. We do know this for sure:

  1. God will Judge sin (2 Corinthians 5:10)
  2. Satan fell (Isaiah 14:12-15)
  3. Hell was created for satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41)
  4. Man sinned (a lot of verses in the bible)

So now here is a logical question to ask, why is Satan not in Hell? It is clear that Satan is around in many places for instance as in the first chapter of Job. Satan also tempted Jesus In Matthew 4. You can even look ahead in the Bible and find that Satan is not thrown into hell until the end.

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

Revelation 20:10-11 ESV

Then from here, the natural question arises, why isn’t Satan in hell? At the least after Christ resurrected, why not then? We can find several important clues which can help point to a possible answer to this. 

9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

Revelation 12:9-10 ESV

There are two key threads that are highlighted here that can be traced back and followed through the bible about Satan. The first is that Satan is the deceiver and the second is that he is accusing us. When looking at the Garden of Eden, why deceive Eve? When you think back to Isaiah 14:13-14, Satan wanted to be God. How can a finite being take over and the position of an infinite God, one who is all-powerful and not part of creation? You can’t, but you could do something else. 

Remember that God is a just God and before I talked about this issue of love and that without the ability to choose, love can’t exist. In Genesis 1:26, God gives dominion over the earth to man. This is important because that means man is in charge. Part of that is that God gives man an area to exercise his ability to love (along with stewardship and other things). But that comes at a cost if man is in charge, then man decides what happens. When looking at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew and Luke 4, Satan owns all the earth. You can also look at other verses that indicate this. At some point, man had to give Satan this authority. There is also another important issue. When the fall happens, can God judge Satan and not man? This would be unfair. If Satan committed a sin and all sin is equal and all sin will get punished (James 2:10, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23).  It would not be just for God to judge Satan and turn a blind eye at man. But God will judge Satan once he also judges man. When you continue reading in Revelations 20, after Satan is thrown into the lake of fire, man is judged at the great white throne. Looking back at the fall, if Satan can get man to sin, he has some leverage. Satan can do what he wants because he has a buffer. He accuses man and gets man into sin so that he can’t be judged unless man is judged. This is an important reason why Satan traps people in sin (2 Timothy 2:26, Psalm 141:9, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 1 Peter 5:8, ). So Satan is not in hell because God can’t judge Satan until he judges man (or at least deals with them together).

Taking the Bible out of context?

While we are on this topic, what does it mean to take things out of context? People have a problem with this in both extremes. They either completely misunderstand the text, or they don’t allow anyone to give a real interpretation of what the text says. Both extremes can be harmful. From here, there are a couple of common ways one can take the text out of context. 

  1. Project meaning
  2. Picking verse
  3. Passage context

Projecting meaning

Projecting meaning tends to be the easiest to deal with. Often they don’t have any real bases for scripture and take a verse or a handful of verses and makeup or imply their own meaning on the text without any real logical connections. For instance, I was talking to someone who claimed that the new age movement idea of a third eye is biblical. That is a whole different conversation but when I asked for proof they went to Genesis 3:

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Genesis 3:7 ESV

They went right there and only used that portion of scripture, let along they didn’t even read the rest. Let’s set aside whether or not that verse is referring to some type of ability that was unlocked. It doesn’t matter because it is clear just from reading the chapter that this is not something that A) was supposed to happen and B) was not something that God intended for man. If God intended it for man, why wouldn’t he have already let them have it? Why has it only been available after engaging with sin? Why is it that only Satan could help man get this ability? If Satan helped them open this, that is a pretty good indication that you need to be extremely cautious and understand the harm that it could bring. This is without really even reading the rest of the Bible. Just projecting that meaning onto the text already raises a lot of red flags and questions if you think about it. Of course, what does it mean their eyes were open is still a subject of debate. Different people have had interpretations ranging from they knew what they did to them not experiencing everything in the physical world instead of a purely spiritual one. Of course, this can go on, but it is clear that whatever happened, this was not God’s intention. 

On another note, God did not create anything within the universe that was bad (although the concepts were created regardless). So why would God create something within man that could only be activated by sin? This could be a direct implication alone that this third eye idea can be ruled out altogether. It is clear when their eyes were opened it is not something good. So it is possible that it wasn’t something God made in that sense. We know that throughout Genesis 1, God looked at everything he made and called it Good and we know that God created everything (John 1). So if this was something God created, it was not good, therefore God probably didn’t create this. Hence, this leads to a contradiction and the third eye explanation can be discarded. 

Reading context

Picking s verse is often the most misunderstood concept. Because on the one hand, context matters, but on the other, academic schools do it all the time. This is not just in the field of theology but literacy, history, and anything that involves analyzing writing. On the one hand, it is pretty hard to pick out John 3:16 and mess up the interpretation. Few people would get angry and accuse you of cherry-picking this and making claims unless what you say in total is completely off to the point where you are probably directly going against the Bible. But referring a single line as a source of interpretation or even reading into it is a common practice. For instance, oftentimes people would look at the greek and pick out one word to talk about the implied tone of the passage. Or when looking at possible connections between things, often one verse or word is all you get to infer what the writers are talking about. You can find literature written about one word in Hebrew or Greek that we don’t know about. What is the wood that Noah used to build the ark in Genesis 6:14? Different translations have different approaches when dealing with this, but often some translators don’t speculate what the word is and just use the Hebrew word itself. The Hebrew word gopher H1613 גֹּפֶר only appears this one time in the text.

Now let’s look at another more relevant situation. Frequently people say you need to read the context of the passage. Which is true, but not all verse requires a full reading of the chapter or book to really interpret what is going on for instance:

2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25:2 ESV

Does reading the rest of the chapter really change the meaning of this verse? Not really, even reading the verse before and after it, the context doesn’t demand that you need to completely reinterpret your understanding of the text. 

1 These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied. 2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. 3 As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable.

Proverbs 25:1-3 ESV

I tend to use a fancy phrase saying that some verses are “context invariant.” For instance, when looking at John 3:16, reading the context of the passage doesn’t change the interpretation of that verse. Instead it enhances what the plain reading of the text is directly saying. You can often read and find different verses where the writers slip something in that stands out alone and with some truth we can use independently that makes a claim. That claim fits into the context of the passage but it’s meaning doesn’t change if you take away the passage.

Cross Referencing the Bible

On the other hand, context does change some passages. Often people will pull out a verse from the middle of Paul’s letters and use that as a fact to build their whole theology on. But often Paul might just use that one verse in a greater argument he is building and when you follow the logic, it’s clear that something different is going on. For instance, this famous verse:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 ESV

Does that mean God will always fix every situation you are in and bless everything you do? Turns out this seems to present some problems if interpreted this way. One question to ask, should you pay your bills or should you pay your tithes? Of course, tithing leads to a whole other discussion for another day. But should you pay your tithes and just say “God will pay the bills?” Now in order to get into this, let’s read the rest of the verse and then cross-reference the Bible to get any meaningful insight, because often when talking about context, reading the rest of the passage helps but that might not always clear up everything. 

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 ESV

There are two key points here that need to be addressed; “Who are those who love God” and “according to his purpose.” It is clear that those who love him have in view believers. That is straightforward. But there is a catch, and that can be found in other verses of the Bible.

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:13-15 ESV

This is important because, If you love God, you need to obey him and keep his commandments. What about Jesus’ teaching when he says “render to Caesar?” (Matthew 22:15-22). The bigger issue is where is your heart? What are your intentions behind doing things? According to his purpose, what is the will of God? If you do something outside of what his will is (or what he already commanded which is part of his will) how can he bless it later? What if God gave you money and you mismanaged it? You can find passages about stewardship and be able to manage what God has already given you. If God has given you something, can you go blow it and then turn around and say God bless this? 

Yes God could fix your problems and yes God will protect you. But we also like to leave out the parts of the Bible where God is a father and will discipline his children (Hebrews 12:3-11). You can find mountains of writing talking about suffering and hardship, but to some degree, we might cause some of the problems we go through. Sometimes we need to shape our priorities and realign them with what God actually intended. 

Now just to put some things into perspective, there is an issue with the tithing that comes up. One important thing to remember is are you being obedient to God? On the one hand, you can argue that tithing was part of the old testament law and Christ fulfilled the law and we are not under the law. But then, how does the church pay for a building? What happens if a family is under the poverty line and struggling to feed everyone, should they pay tithes? If they pay tithes and the church is going to help them and take care of them, aren’t they just getting their money back that they put into it? Overall the issue is, are you obeying what God wants for your life. Are you obeying the principles of God? Are you ignoring the legal law that we have to live under? There is a lot to consider when talking about this, but one can quickly see how just reading that one verse in Romans without putting clear parameters and context to what the verse is talking about can flow into many problems. 

How big is the Bible part 5

How big is the Bible part 5

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • 2 Peter 1:20-21
  • Romans 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Interesting resources

Canon books of the bible

Collimated light

Do we need to expand the Bible?

Can you know anything for certain? When talking about Godel’s theorems before, it talked about how any formal finite system of axioms will tend to have a metasystem that is larger than the system you are working in. You can always find more things to talk about and more things to learn. But does that mean we will always be missing things about the Bible?

As a side note, even in mathematics, this theorem doesn’t mean what we do know is always missing something. For instance, if we want to know if integers (count numbers, 0 and negative numbers) are even. The basic rule is whether or not the number we want to check is divisible by 2. This is straightforward and you can check a lot of numbers this way. You don’t need more rules and you can always get to a yes or no answer unless you start considering things that aren’t natural numbers (which is the second point of this talk).

Similarly in the Bible, the same is true. But before we get there we need to talk about something else. 

20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

One might try to say, “the Bible is missing information so we need more holy text.” This doesn’t really apply because any book of the Bible needs to come from God as a criterion. You can always get into the history of how the Bible was canonized but this idea that there is missing knowledge to the Bible is an old one that even early Christians had to deal with.

Can we really know anything?

Back to the main topic, when might Godel’s theorem about a consistent system is not complete apply? This issue starts applying when you start combining axioms and you see what happens. For instance, these integers from before, numbers like ⅓ are not integers but is it even? Not all integer can not be expressed as a fraction so what do you do about this? Similarly, we can ask the same questions about our theology.

Let’s take the idea of salvation. It is extremely simple and often people try to add things to it to make it more complicated than it really is. In truth, it is too good to be true because of how simple it really is.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Romans 10:9-10 ESV

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV

You can search the scripture and find more verses that just emphasize this. But in essence that is it. The reason why it is so complicated is not because of these rules. In short, the above gives a true or false statement that can be asked. What becomes complicated is when you start applying multiple axioms together and then start asking questions. That is when this Godel theorem seems to bring out strange questions. For instance, how should your life look after you confessed? Does the way your life reflect on whether or not you had a confession of sins? If you have free will (or not) does that affect confession? Can you lose your salvation? All of these are questions for another time. But the simple idea of salvation is not hard in terms of how to get it. The complexity (and why people argue) comes from all these layers being put together.

Often this is where people get into trouble. When a new Christan is learning, what happens if there is a contradiction? This can lead to an issue where people drop their system of knowledge (their faith) as a result. Of course, if there is a contradiction then either the Bible is wrong or you are wrong. Figuring out which isn’t hard with the Christian assumption. The Bible is supposed to be right so the way you are interpreting things is probably wrong or incomplete. Often instead of throwing out everything we know, what we should do is evaluate our assumptions and the axioms we think we understand that come out of the Bible. This tends to be hard for many because we like it to be simple and easy. Either everything I have is right or wrong. People have a hard time examining what they know and question why they really do believe it. 

Of course many say they do question the Bible and they don’t believe in it but often that is because they don’t really question it. Instead, they are like Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan came by and told her one thing, she questioned what she knew might be wrong and didn’t search or check the facts. She saw a problem and ran with it. 

How big is the Bible?

I presented some ideas in my podcast that are interesting to think and fun to think about. This gets to the question, how big is the Bible? The Bible is a finite book, you can pick it up and hold all of it at once. Yet it describes an infinite God? How can this be? Is the Bible really big enough to capture who God is? If it is, then somehow this finite book has an infinite amount of information in it. If not, then this infinite God needs to directly show himself to you. One thing that comes to mind is the idea that academic study is no substitute for doing many things. You can read about sports or a board game but until you sit down and play them you won’t fully experience them. The books can only get you so far and not everything makes sense until you physically see how everything works together. 

Another thought to consider. When does something become approximately infinity? This might seem impossible but in mathematics and physics this comes up in many ways. For instance, if you have a point light (something that shines in all directions) and if you put the light at the focal length of a lens, it becomes collimated (it travels in a column from the source). This means that after the lense all the light will be parallel or “travel in a cylinder” until it hits a surface. In terms of the physical theorem about this, that is only supposed to happen when you are looking at the light after it has traveled an infinite difference after the lens. In the real world, this is impossible, you can’t go infinitely away from something. What you can do is get far enough away so much so that the distance you are at is comparably infinite to the distance between the source light and the lens. Once you do this, the light appears to follow this strange infinite property. On some level, could things be how the Bible works? Could the Bible, expressing an infinite God, be the closes way for us to perceive this infinite God within the limits of our humanity?

How big is the Bible part 4

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Psalms 19:1-3
  • Romans 1:20-21
  • Acts 17:22-25

Interesting resources

Trinity

Cool quotes about God and science

Are there things in the Bible we can’t prove?

Before I talked about Godel’s incompleteness theorems and the question now comes, could it apply to the Bible? One question, in particular, will be in focus, are there things in the Bible that are true that we can not prove?

Of course to make sure we understand where we are going about this; Godel’s theorems talk about formal finite systems of axioms. One revelation out of this being, that if you have such a system, there will always be something about the system that is true, that you can not prove. This doesn’t mean that if a system is missing something it is false. It simply points to the idea that the reality of what you are trying to explain is larger than what you currently understand. With Godel’s theorem, if you can use the axioms of this system to prove things within the system, you get these strange results. Before on my podcast, I talked about using the Bible to cross-reference things to check if something is true. The Bible presents “axioms” or rules, laws however you want to label them, about God, morality, prophecy, and fate of mankind. Does Godel’s theorem apply to the Bible? Can you find similar situations?

On a surface level you can argue yes simply. In a strange way, the Bible has a bit of a strange assumption about its reader that we tend to overlook. The writers tend to write their books for people who lived during the time and witness the events being presented. Often we have trouble because we don’t know the historical or cultural context of what the writers are referring to. For instance, what were the beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees who confronted Jesus? When they are confronting Jesus they have a specific view that they believed shaped the questions they presented. You might be able to piece some of their thinking from looking at their questions and how they relate to the Bible, but there isn’t a Bible verse that explicitly explains what they believe. 

The trinity on one page?

On the other hand, you can say Godel’s theorem applies because we don’t have all of the Bible understood at once. We need to constantly learn more about the Bible to understand it. It is like the system of knowledge we have on the Bible is a smaller subset of the rest of the Bible. For instance the idea of the Trinity. As it is true there is no word that directly translates in English as translators used in the Bible. But the concept is still very much present. 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

At least in this verse alone, you can see that Jesus explicitly references all parts of the trinity. But what if you start asking questions. How does it work? What is each of their roles? Which one created everything? Why have three? This is a topic for another time.

Just having the topic of the trinity is not enough to fully capture what it is within that one verse. To better understand it you need to find more Bible verses and expand what we know about it. If we only had Matthew 28 for the trinity we would not have a lot to work with. 

Does creation prove God?

This last is more important. This deals with something more profound. Does creation prove the existence of God? This is often misunderstood for many because how to present this is often hard or lacking. 

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Psalm 19:1-3 ESV

It isn’t that hard to read the Bible and discover the idea that God created the universe. Of course, from there you might ask how does it work? And then you go on a full discovery to learn the deep mysteries of how God created everything. But that assumption is built-in, that God created everything. A difference now needs to be made when asking this question.

20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:20-21 ESV

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Acts 17:22-25 ESV

When Paul was in Athens, it was clear to the people of this pagan culture that there was a God (or many). But they did not know the God of the Bible. Even further than the Greeks, people have been trying to understand how the world works and give an explanation for everything. But there is a disconnect. When you study the creation, that does not prove that God created it. Instead, it helps us point to a logical conclusion that God created it. If we never had the Bible or any direct way of knowing about God, just studying creations should point to a missing hole. How did this universe come into existence? Of course, this debate can rage on for a bit. But for this discussion, it is clear that God had to be involved and one can argue through science a person can get to the conclusion that God had to make this.

“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being… This Being governs all things…:”

Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy

Studying creation won’t prove God exists, but it will point to the need of the creator. But there is something else out of that. Creation can’t show you who God is. Just like in Athens, they had a conception of what they thought God was like (or their many ideas), but they did not know who he was. Unless God Directly shows himself, how can you know who he is? Of course, this is an important need for the Bible and why Jesus had to be born in the flesh. 

One example I was for this is that of a pen. You can study a pen all you want but you will not know who created it (outside of trademarks and obvious branding). You can compare multiple pens to try and get a good understanding of why it is the way it is, but that doesn’t tell “why it was made”, only the “how it was made.” you can even have multiple pens to compare but that won’t tell you the full reason as to why it was even made this way in the first place. Some metals might be used because it was cheaper to produce that way. Maybe the machines used to produce it could perform better with these metals. Maybe the plastic used helps bring out the color better. You could study this and maybe figure out these things. But why use this over that? You can’t answer this definitively. Maybe the pen maker was trying to be cheap and cut corners. Maybe they knew about other options but purposely chose this material for personal reasons even if there are better ways to do it.

In many ways, God is the same. Unless God reveals himself, you can not know the why of the universe. You can only get hits at the how. 

How big is the Bible part 3

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • John 17:1-3
  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Psalms 19:1-3
  • Romans 1:20-21
  • Acts 17:22-25

Interesting resources

The limits of Truth 

Before, I talked about how we can take a bunch of fundamental rules, calling them axioms, and use them to make a logistical system. From there, we used these axioms and saw what happens if they are true; exploring their consequences within this system. What becomes interesting is the idea that you can keep asking questions that relate to this logical system and learn more. But there are other things you can do. You can add more and more axioms to expand what your system can explain. So now the question is, what happens when you try to keep adding more and more axioms? How care can this go? Will your theology ever be enough? Can we ever get a complete understanding of God?

We know that on some level we can understand God. A core aspect of Christianity is the idea that we can have a relationship with the creator of the universe. He is a personal God who interacts with his creations. But how much can we know God?

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3 ESV

Knowing God is linked to eternal life. Exactly what that means is a bit of debate but to some degree, we should be able to know God. How far exactly can this go? How much can a finite being, know an infinite one? Well, it turns out we may never be able to fully know him if we are finite beings. This might sound obvious, but how could you know that? One simple thing to point out is that God is infinite and he created this universe. For God to be “infinite” he needs to be bigger than this universe on some level. Like this legendary question, can God create a rock he can’t like? No, he can’t and it’s perfectly logical but that’s for another day. Even when you consider the idea of us going to have and getting glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21), our glorified bodies still have to be small on some level compared to God for him to be infinite. With that comes some limitations. We don’t know everything. Our knowledge is limited, or finite. 

How limited is our Truth?

With that, we can come back to this question, will we ever know everything about God? About the Bible? Obviously not, but there might be a really logical reason beyond just intuition. Some time ago in Mathematics, people were trying to find a theory of everything. They were looking for a system of axioms that could be used to prove everything in math logically. Along the journey, several mathematicians stumbled across crippling issues about this. One of them is Kurt Godel, who presented the incompleteness theorems. This is a bit technical but it provides a lot of insight.

To start, you need a formal system of axioms. A system that we talked about before, a list of axioms that can be used to describe how something works and you can draw conclusions from. The formal part is that you can use the axioms to prove or disprove things in that system. If you have this and that system is finite, meaning the axioms can be written as a list that can be countable (either by a human or computer), then you will get some issues. 

How do you tell if you can prove something is true or not? You can do this using a larger system to check it, often called a metalanguage. It is the same as how we have English but we critique writing using grammar. We talk about verbs, nouns, sentence structure, and the like to talk about the language on a paper. Similarly, that is what Godel did, through a complex process he created a mathematical language to talk about mathematics. This using a metalanguage, you have more rules than the first one. When you do that, you can use these extra rules to check if the first language is correct. It is like having a dictionary to check if all the words are spelled corrected or a reference book to see if the verb tenses match. In the case of Godel, what he could do is find theorems within a logical system and see whether or not you could prove them using the axioms of the system. It is a bit complicated but that is the idea in a simplistic way. Often we use logic to check things and one simple idea is the law of noncontradiction. Something can either be “a thing” or be the opposite of “that thing”. Either something is true or it is false. If you can prove something then it must be true. But what if you can’t prove it, it is always simply false?

The Incompleteness Theorems

Out of this, a discovery emerged. If your system is a finite system, it will always have things in it that are true that you can not prove. If something is false, then you should be able to prove it is false using a finite process. A finite process is a set of steps to reach the final conclusion and then if it contradicts or can’t lead to any logical conclusion then it is false. It is basically like having equations and using algebra to see if both sides of an equal side match up. If they don’t, someone messed up. But within a system, there are things that are true you can’t prove. These seem to be self-referencing things. They must be true but it is as if they point to the fact that there must be more to the system than what we know. It is similar to “I” in English or any other pronoun. Not all we can communicate on paper or even verbally is all it is to reality. The use of “I” refers to something that doesn’t exist in English, it is like we have information “the speaker” that is not inherently part of the language. You can use other words to explain who the “I” is but the speaker is not part of English, they exist independently from English. Similarly, Godel found this to be true in math that there are things that are true that can’t be proven using the axioms. 

Now, what happens if you take this “unprovable thing” and make it an axiom. It turns out you will just get another system with the same problem. In this new system, there will be something (or many things) that are true, but you can’t prove. So you make another system, bigger than the previous two, and on and on.

The second theorem falls from the first: A system can not prove its own consistency and be complete. When you have a system of rules, you can ask two important questions, is it complete, is it consistent?  The consistency simply refers to whether or not there are contradictions. If there are, it is inconsistent, if there aren’t it is consistent. The completeness means whether or not you have everything you need to prove things within the system. Part of Godel’s proof showed that if a system is complete, then it is inconsistent. If a system is incomplete, then it may be consistent.

This points to some staggering revelations. This does not mean that truth doesn’t exist, or that we can’t prove everything. But it shows that no matter how much we learn about a subject, we may not be able to completely explain everything with a finite list of rules. Thinking back to that pen example, you can keep adding rules to find out where the pen is on the table, but when was it on the table? What color was it? Did it change colors? And so on. We will come back to this idea later. But this does have some implications of the boundaries of what man can know. For instance, many people go to a physics class and learn about Newtonian mechanics (basic intro physics for many). Often many physics professors like to start on the first day of the lecture with a joke. They may say that everything you will learn in this course is a lie. It’s not that Newton was completely wrong, but everything he discovered, was actually an approximation that is really true. Later when Planck and Einstein came along they started general relativity and it turned out that Physics presented and understood during the days of Newton and had assumptions (or axioms) that we know today to be false. As we learn, we expand the axioms that we do know and found that in some cases what we knew before actually leads to contradictions.

For the Bible this becomes important, if we ever have a full understanding of God, we are probably wrong. But if we continue to learn, then we might be right. No man alone can fully understand God. This brings to mind the words of Paul when he talks about how the church of God is like a body that has different parts. We need each other on several levels, but one way is that we can’t know everything and we need each other to bring more understanding to the table to fully understand God together as a process.

How big is the Bible part 2

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Isaiah 28:9-10
  • Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 corinthians 3:1-3
  • 1 john 2:12-14
  • Ephesians 4:11-16

Interesting resources

Dissecting Truth

Previously I mentioned this idea that you can take a list of rules or axioms and construct a logical system out of it. When you do this, you can see what happens as a result. Often when you have Truth, it can’t be completely explained in a single rule, you need multiple parts to really explain how it works. For instance, on my podcast, I brought up the question (or family of questions), If God is a loving God why is there evil in the world? In order to do this, I built up several axioms (bits of truth) and then explored what happens with this. The idea is to revisit it looking at this perspective of having a logical system. When I did so I used these axioms (some more explicitly than others):

  1. Freewill gives rise to love
  2. God’s nature is perfect love
  3. We are made in God’s image
  4. God gave man authority
  5. Evil exists regardless of our choices
  6. Consequences happen regardless of choices (or human interaction)
  7. God can’t violate his own nature (contradict himself)

I won’t try to prove all of these because either I have talked about these in a previous podcast, or I will plan to touch if not directly address these in future podcasts. But I will make a few comments on some of these. The issue of free will is something I plan on going over in its own right. I talked before how it relates to love, but the existence of free will independent of love will come later. However, often people have this Arminian and Calvinistic debate about whether or not we have free will from a biblical perspective (among other things), is not relevant. I plan on talking about why these views are inconsistent with the bible as presented, but unless you completely reject the notion of free will altogether, the rest that follows is unaffected. 

Evil exists regardless of our choices comes out of the stuff I talked about before where defining good inherently creates evil. From that, evil doesn’t necessarily depend on our actions to exist (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). You can show in the bible that consequences happen outside of interaction in a few places. God created everything at near the end of Genesis 1. If it is chronological to any degree, then man might have been one of the last things God created. Even if he wasn’t last, it isn’t reasonable to argue that man existed at least before the earth was formed, even if there are no plants or light and so on. You can also look at Job as an example. He is going about his life while God and Satan are doing things in the background. In one sense, all the bad things don’t happen because he did something to cause it, instead, they happen because of a “contest” God has with Satan. Job doesn’t have any say in what happens. Of course, you can also think of how Jesus died for your sins while you were a sin in our modern-day far removed from what happened. You can’t influence that event. God gave man authority in Genesis 1 when he gave man dominion over the earth and many passages focus on the concept of stewardship. 

Building Truth

From those 7 axioms, we can see what consequences arise with regard to the nature of evil. Of course the question of if God is a loving God, why is there evil? It is just an umbrella of several other questions that are related to it.

  1. Why can we do evil?
    • [5] even if people didn’t exist evil could still exist
    • [1] we have the ability to choose
    • [6] some things aren’t inherently evil but the way they are used can lead to evil things happening
  2. Why doesn’t God stop us from doing evil?
    • [3] If we are made in his image, we have the capacity to love
    • [1] if we can love, we can make our own choice
    • [2] If God directly stops us, he takes away our ability to love
    • [7] If God stops us from doing evil, we no longer have his image
    • (side note) God needs to influence us in such a way that does not directly take away our ability to love but still directs us
  3. Why have free will if it lets us do evil?
    • [1] if we can’t make choices, we can’t love
    • [2] even if we didn’t choose, God clearly has the ability to choose what he does, if he is perfect, then free will doesn’t mean all being that exists will ultimately do evil (even given enough time)
  4. Why do we have temptation?
    • [1] if we don’t have moments when we can do evil, we can’t express/choice love
    • [5] [6] in some cases we can do things that are bad to ourselves but we can choose not to do them. (gambling, addition, food choices…)
  5. Why do bad things happen to good people?
    • This is looking more at pain and suffering not by other people
    • [6] if you cut yourself your body feels pain
    • This is good because it helps keep you safe, in some cases having pain keeps you from doing bad things because it trains you to avoid things that will hurt you
    • Often we don’t see the bigger picture of what is happening beyond our suffering

Of course, you can keep doing and explore these questions even further. The axioms presented probably aren’t everything you need to explain the mystery of evil, but it helps provide a system of knowledge we can use to apply to different situations. But based on the axioms we use, we can see what conclusions we can draw.

We can expand what we know in two interesting ways. The first way is by asking questions (like above) and see how the axioms we have related to them. The second way is by finding more axioms and adding them to our list. When you do this, you can look at the axioms and see what happens when you combine them together (I plan on talking about this a bit more another time). But this is a powerful way to learn and expand what you know.

When you are a child, you understand the world differently than as an adult. Each day you learn more and more, whether it is something new or something you saw a hundred times before. There are always different techniques and different tools you can use to examine a situation differently. The Bible is the same way. Often when you have your first pass through a verse, you will miss out on things that you would pick up on your second, third, and so on. In fact, the bible anticipates that this will happen. 

9 “To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? 10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”

Isaiah 28:9-10 ESV

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV

Often there are different levels of maturity as one reads the bible and grows in Christianity. 

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,

1 Corinthians 3:1-2 ESV

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-14 ESV

Is there only one Truth?

One reflection from this is important. Often Truth is not just a single answer. Often you need multiple answers as I mentioned before. There is always that issue of having different interpretations of passage during bible study. Unless they contradict, which can be hard to tell apart from a paradox, often different views can be true. One example of this is, why did the Pharisees reject Jesus? There are several reasons for doing so.

One reason is that he put himself as an authority above what they understood. They looked to Moses and the Torah (the first five books of the bible) as their source of authority and Jesus put himself above that authority several times.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Matthew 5:43 ESV

Another reason is that Jesus didn’t follow their traditions. They add traditions that were passed down and Jesus saw the greater picture rather than the narrowness of just the tradition.

21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

John 7:21-24 ESV

The Pharisees also saw Jesus as a threat. They had a social status and an image that their profession was the idea of being a holy person. Jesus often confronted them showing that although they were teachers and leaders, there was a greater standard that God had. For many of them, this put into challenge their pride and image.

5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….

6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 5:20, 6:5 ESV

There might even be more reason for why they rejected Jesus. If someone came along and argued they knew the reason,  you can’t argue that that is the only reason. Each of these reasons might all be true and correct at the same time. It’s like wanting to go to the mall with your friends. You go because you want to buy something, because you want to have fun, you want to be around friends, or maybe you just want to get out of the house. Not all of them are wrong and you can have all these as intentions. One might be a bigger factor than others, but that doesn’t mean the others are wrong.

How big is the Bible part 1

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • John 1:1-3
  • Isaiah 45:7
  • Genesis 2:8-9
  • Romans 5:12

Interesting resources

Law of Noncontradiction 

Is Truth a single sentence?

Often, when reading different Bible passages, they can have multiple layers of meaning. They have a literal meaning, spiritual meaning, historical, prophetic, and so on. It isn’t uncommon for a passage to have multiple meanings like Hosea 11:1. It isn’t always easy to tell when it does or doesn’t because we don’t have other Bible verses pointing to it saying, ‘this verse has these applications.’ But regardless, you can always find nuances on the same text in different contexts. But does that mean there are multiple parts to Truth?

Imagine having a pen on a table. I ask one simple question, where is the pen on the table? To answer this you might go get a ruler and put in on one edge of the table and measure how far from the edge that pen is. You come back and give an answer to where the pen is on the table to the best of your ability. Then I ask another question, does that truly reflect where the pen is on the table? To some extent, yes, but at the same time, no. If I keep that ruler on one edge of the table and slide it back and forth, you can get the same answer multiple times using only one direction. 

To solve this problem, it makes sense to then grab 2 rulers. One to check the length and one for the width. That way you can get a more clear picture of where the pen is on the table. Instead of giving one number as in “8 inches,” you can give a more precise answer, “8 inches from the left, 5 inches into the table.” This helps you capture more accurately the reality of where the pen is on the table. But now I have another question, is the pen actually on the table?

Simple observing, it should be. But the pen is not flat. It comes up from the table a bit. So if you grab another ruler, you can then go around the pen and have even more precision on explaining exactly where it is on the table. Not only that, but you could also even start tracking the pen on paper and give profiles from different points of view. Having more rulers gives you more power to describe the pen more accurately. Of course, if you want to get a more clear understanding of the pen you will need a lot more. When was the pen there? You can’t use a ruler to answer that, now your tool changes. What color is the pen? What material is the pen made out of? Is the pen the same color or material through the whole thing? It seems we can always ask more and more questions about this pen to understand it better.

Taking a step back, when looking at Truth, we expect that things are either true or false. This means there is something or the opposite of that something. You can not have that thing and the opposite of it at the same time. A person can not be both in the room and out of the room at the same time. Unless they are standing in the doorway but then you need to define what it means to be “inside of the room”. If someone goes on video chat with someone in the room, some may consider this to be in the room but to others, maybe not. Once you start making definitions and defining rules, you start getting situations of either is or is not, true or false. 

The Law of Contradiction

Often this is called the law of noncontradiction. Something can’t be true and false at the same time. If it is, then it is a contradiction and logical problems start happening from it. Interestingly enough you can find this topic pop up in the bible. For instance, did God create everything? If you say yes, does that mean truly, EVERYTHING? What about sin? Did God create sin? Of course, this is just a review of some of the things I talk about in “if God is a love, God….”

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:1-3 ESV

At the very least, if something was created, or if it has a beginning, then God created it. So does sin have a beginning? Of course, one can go to Romans 5:12 and bring up the verse about how death and sin enter the world through one man; Or you can go to Genesis 3. But we want to do something better than that. We don’t  want to get indirect evidence that God created these things, we want direct evidence: 

7 I form light and 7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

Isaiah 45:7 KJV

As a side note, the word for evil is H7451 – רַע ra`, it appears 663 times in the text and is translated evil 442 in the KJV. It is normally translated as follows:

Evil – KJV, DBY, YLT, NHV,  WED, DSV

Calamity – NKJV, ESV, NASB, NET

Disaster- NIV, CSB

Bad – NLT

Woe – RSV

It doesn’t matter which translation you want to pick. In the LXX you can find G2556 -κακός kakos which is something bad in nature, evil, harmful, and so on. But the problem is, Why would God create something that is not good?.

God himself says that he created evil. But you remember back in Genesis, God looked at all of his creations and called it good (Gen 1:31). Of course, sin did not enter the world at this time. Instead, the concept of sin existed at that time, even if it didn’t physically exist at the time. We know it had to because the tree of good and evil was planted by God:

8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:8-9 ESV

Multiple parts to Truth

How can this be? This is where all those jumbled pieces start coming together. Fundamentally you can break everything down into true or false; is or is not. When you do this, once you create a rule, the opposite of that rule is created as a consequence. So if God defines good, bad (or evil) also exist. If I have a car that works then, by comparison, there exists some way that there is a car that doesn’t work. If something is living, then there is a state in which it is dead. Creating one automatically creates the other. 

But what happens when you have more than one rule or condition? For some simplistic reason for later, we will call this an axiom, the most simple basic rule we can use to build up things we know to be true. When you have multiple of these rules or axioms, more interesting things happen. This is like getting back to the pen on the table. You can use the ruler to ask a simple yes or no question (or set of questions). Is the pen 1 inch from the edge, 2 inches, 3 inches, and so on? Once you get another rule you can ask the same question, but you can get more clarity of the pen. What happens is, once we get more axioms, we can make more and more conclusions about what we know. This ends up making a system of knowledge that we can use to explore what is true. Just like how using pens can help us describe the pens better, the more we get basic units of truth about God, this can help us understand the greater picture of God. 

Of course, as some closing comments, there are some things we would expect from this system of knowledge we just came up with. We would expect that using what we know, we can’t use our knowledge to come to a contradiction. Like God created evil. This is fine because evil is defined by good. God created everything in the universe with the intention of it being good. But just as it has the potential to be good, it has the potential to be evil. In general, if we get a contradiction then there are probably 3 things that happened. We used the axioms wrong. God can create everything and he is all perfect and all love, but that doesn’t mean he can’t create evil in a meaningful way. If not, then maybe the axioms we have are wrong. Another situation could be that maybe we are missing something in our understanding, like understanding the opposite of good is evil by definition. Going even further, we would want this system to be able to explain everything relevant to what the system is trying to explain. For instance, we would like to read the Bible and find all the answers we need to understand God, morality, and what is true about our humanity. And of course, we want this system to explain as much as possible. We can only use rulers to talk about positions in the standards of the pen. The more rulers we have, the more we can talk about this in greater detail. But there comes a point where rulers aren’t enough. If I ask when the pen was there, no rulers are useless. We would want our system of knowledge to explain as much as possible with the limitations it has.