Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where Do Persons Come From?

Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Continuing on with our study of the Christian Worldview from the works of Francis Schaeffer, we will now move on to subjects that I find to be absolutely fascinating. They are also of the utmost importance. Thus far, we have merely tracked the historical progression of human thinking below the line of despair. Mankind rejects absolutes and therefore they reject truth. They reject God. They reject everything that is right in order to accept blindly the things that are wrong. When they cannot live with the consequences of their thinking, they have three options – 1) they kill themselves; 2) they arbitrarily create absolutes; or 3) they hold to some kind of arbitrary mysticism. Of course, this is all futile.

Well, with that discussion now complete, Schaeffer brings our attention to the truth. The biblical Christian worldview is the truth. It answers the questions that philosophy struggles with. It provides the meaning and absolutes that we all know exist. In fact, it sufficiently accounts for and explains everything we see in the real world, and it makes sense out of our experience as humans. All of the other worldviews cannot do this. Our very experience cries against these worldviews. So why then does fallen man cling to these lies and reject the truth? It comes back down to Romans 1:18-25. Paul tells us they already know that the biblical God exists, but they choose to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Their minds are darkened, and they have exchanged the truth for a lie. They then create various kinds of idols to justify the wicked living that their fallen hearts desire. Submitting to the truth would cause them to give up their idols and debased passions. They do not want to give up these things. Thus, they blind themselves to the truth, and yet their lives are contradictory. They live by absolutes even though they reject the idea of them. They live as though the world is the way the Christian worldview says it is.

And so now we can move to these issues. Schaeffer begins by pointing out that Biblical Christianity is able to have systematic theology. No other worldview can adequately do the same. Systematic theology shows that Christianity is not a series of isolated theological statements, but instead it is a story that has a beginning and flows smoothly to the end. Each part of biblical systematic theology is related to and depends upon every other part of the theology. The doctrines are all interrelated to each other and build upon each other. They tie everything together perfectly, and in so doing they answer all of the questions posed by mankind. As humans we are doomed to uncertainty. There are many things we cannot know on our own, such as where did we come from, what is wrong with the world, are we alone, is there life after death, etc. The Bible answers these in a cohesive manner that does not contradict itself. Every other worldview has disjointed answers that contradict each other. The reason the Bible successfully answers these questions is because it is the divinely inspired Word from the God who created us.

In the chapter that I am summarizing here, Schaeffer hones in on one vital question that our worldview answers that all other worldviews fail to answer. The subject is that of personality. More specifically, individual personality. Where do persons come from? Where does personality come from? What is the ultimate ground of personality? Unbelievers cannot adequately answer these questions. The Christian answer is pretty simple and straightforward. We are persons because our personhood is grounded upon the ultimate and absolute person, God. The Bible teaches that the one God exists as a Trinity. The three members of the Trinity are all persons that bear the attribute of personhood. All three were in a perfect relationship of love in eternity past and continue in such a relationship today, and will remain in such a relationship for all eternity. The one God is a person, and as such He is the original person. No one made Him a person. He always was a person. He is the only true absolute in existence, and all other absolutes are grounded in Him as the true absolute.

The Bible declares that we were made in the image of God. Since God is the absolute person, we are derivative persons. Our personhood exists because we were made in the image of God. Therefore, in a finite manner, we reflect what God is. God is a person, and thus we are too. This then makes sense of all of the absolute aspects that are attached to personhood: love, relationships, sacrifice, friendship, justice, etc. None of these have any meaning apart from personhood. Rocks and trees do not understand justice, right and wrong, good and evil, love, relationships, sacrifice, etc. Some animals may form packs and take care of their own, but this is a far cry from love, relationships, and sacrifice as understood and practiced by humans. So if they are personal, it is not anywhere near the extent of human personhood. The bottom line is this. These things that are normal and needed aspects of the human experience only exist if we are persons. The biblical worldview explains why we are persons and why we hold a special place in creation.

What about unbelieving Christian worldviews? When I ask this, I refer to any and all that were mentioned in the previous posts. What about nihilism? What about dichotomy? What about mysticism? What about Eastern religion? How do any of these options account for personality? Ultimately, we can lump all of these into one option. They all hold that the ultimate reality is impersonal. So we have the right to ask them, “How can such a reality create persons?” There are many ways to describe this impersonal reality: Hindu pantheism, Tillich’s panentheistic “Ground of Being,” Heidegger’s view on language, and atheists’ ultimate belief in impersonal matter and chance. All are in the same situation. All of these people need to account for the existence of personality when the ultimate reality is supposedly impersonal.

The truth of the matter is that everyone who believes in an impersonal absolute denies the only explanation that can fit the facts of their own experience. To date, no one has presented a feasible idea or theory as to how an impersonal beginning plus time and chance can give personality. Schaeffer points out that unbelievers will attempt to distract people from this dilemma by using fancy words, but these truly do nothing to escape the problem. Calling reality the “Ground of Being” in no way explains how this impersonal force created personal beings. Hindu pantheism in no way explains how the impersonal Brahman led to the existence of personal beings. They might claim personality is an illusion, but then they live day to day as though personality is real. Why? Because it is real! Our experience cannot escape this. Thus, no one in the history of humanistic and rationalistic thought has found a solution. Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975), one of the more prominent atheists of the previous generation, recognized this problem. Therefore, even though he did not believe in God, he believed that mankind would function better if we acted as though there was a God. In other words, Huxley asked people to declare that God is dead, but then to act and live like He is real. This is no solution. It is nothing more than saying that man can only function as man (a personal being) if they believe a lie.

The Christian worldview completely solves this dilemma. We exist as personal beings because God is personal. It is that simple. Furthermore, our human experience only demonstrates that the personal must be grounded in the personal. What I mean by this is we see persons make two kinds of things, impersonal and personal. Yet, the impersonal only makes impersonal things. We have seen farmers produce a farm, but we have never seen a farm produce a farmer. We have seen factor workers produce tractors, but we have never seen a tractor produce a factory worker. We have never observed in physics or chemistry impersonal matter producing personal beings. We have never even observed non-living matter produce living matter, even after many experiments. So we have all seen persons produce impersonal things, but we have never seen an impersonal thing produce a person. We have also seen persons produce other persons. Each person reading this blog, whether believer or unbeliever, was born as a result of the union of a man with a woman. So persons come from other persons. It only happens this way. Yet, against all experience and all observation, humanity below the line of despair wants you to believe that we all ultimately come from an impersonal ultimate.

If the universe is one big accident, and it really is reduced down to only molecules in motion, then there is no meaning, nor purpose, nor direction to anything. Living creatures are one freak accident that defied the odds, and living creatures that are also persons are simply unexplainable. Truly, if this worldview is correct, we are just a bunch of random atoms chemically operating in a certain way. Ontologically speaking, that would make us no different than any other bunch atoms operating in certain ways. The rock and the human are the same – impersonal atoms interacting in an impersonal way. The fact that our atoms seem to make us think we are persons is ultimately just an illusion. If the universe is what the atheists say it is, then we are not real persons. This is not too far off from Eastern pantheism. Yet, all of us are persons. We cannot escape it. This is why Huxley had to say we needed to pretend God is real, because there is no other explanation to suffice.

I dare say there is an explanation. The personal God of the universe created both the impersonal universe and personal human beings. He causes, determines, and sustains both the impersonal universe and personal humans. We are persons because He is a person. We are moral because He is moral. We are creative because He is creative. We are alive because He is the foundation of life as He has life in Himself. We use logic because the laws of logic are a byproduct of God’s mind, and as His creatures made in His image, we imitate Him, but only to a finite degree. All of these things – persons, morals, absolutes, creativity, life, and logic – are real things that exist in the real world, and every single human being that has ever lived has operated off their existence every single day. And yet it is these very things that atheism, pantheism, mysticism, dichotomy, and nihilism deny.

At the end of the day, all forms of non-Christian thought are irrational leaps of blindness. They function according to the things the Christian worldview accounts for, but then they come up with asinine theories to claim these things aren’t real even though we cannot live without them. Personality is merely one of these things. More examples of this type of thing will be offered in the posts to come. At the least, let this be a call to the world to abandon their hopeless irrationality and turn to the God of the Bible. He is the ground of all reality, and the only ground that makes sense out of our daily experience. Turn away from vain and hopeless theories, and embrace the absolute truth. Until next time, God bless.

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