Friday, October 15, 2010

Metaphysics on the Mountainside

I wrote the following in 1994, after a trip to Hong Kong my senior year of college. Rereading this so many years later, I see many things that I would have written differently.  But generally, I believe the main ideas are valid and true.  Regardless, it was an important experience in my life.  The pictures are from my trips to Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan and are unrelated to the story.
Some people can look up into the heavens and so easily assume that God made all things. Others struggle with this. They are not convinced that a personal God exists and would like more evidence presented to them. Why do these people have such a hard time believing in the Christian God? Why do others so easily accept the fact that he exists? Perhaps the following testimony can help us understand that the difference lies in men's hearts and not in their intellects.

While visiting Hong Kong in January of 1994, I stayed for a few nights in a hostel at the top of Mount Davis on the west side of the island. The hike up the long-ago paved road to the hostel at the mountain's summit was about two kilometers long. Every now and again the trees and foliage that lined the road would thin and allow grand views of a well-lit city far below. At a curve in the road about half-way up, the vegetation opened into a large flat clearing. On the edge of the clearing, a huge cement bunker stood vigil over Hong Kong Island. One of several that punctured the hillside, it was round, about thirty feet in diameter, and at one time had housed a huge British gun that could shoot into the bay below.  Apparently this mountain had been a British fortress during the World War II.

I remember walking across the clearing to that bunker. As I rounded its edge to the opposite side, I saw a view that had been hidden from the road. My breath was taken away as I stared across the water at a glowing city that stretched for miles on the far shore of Discovery Bay. I wish I had the talent to capture on paper the impression that it made on me as I took it all in. The city was a magnificent monument of lights nestled into a far mountain beside the South China Sea. The lights stopped abruptly at the edge of the water where they left off into blackness. Smaller lights bobbed gently in that blackness from there to the foot of the mountain on which I stood—vessels anchored for the night in the harbor. I sat down on the edge of the bunker and just marveled in silence. The wind came up from the waters below and sailed softly through the little clearing in which I sat. My heart swelled in praise to God for the wonder of the work of his hands. Everything that lay before me was the creation of God and given to man. The mountains, the sea, and the wind were all his. And to the capstone of His creation—mankind—God gave the intelligence and ability to build and govern the microcosm that sat before me. As I beheld it all, I worshiped God, the Creator of the Universe.

The rest of the road was very dark, and the vegetation along its sides at times seemed deceptively alive. Feral dogs roamed the area and jumped every now and again from the undergrowth, barking at passers-by. Soon I heard a noise in the darkness ahead. It sounded like a voice singing softly. "Probably someone trying to keep himself company," I thought to myself. As I peered through the darkness I, was able to distinguish the form of an old man walking alone along the path. I was cautious at first, but since we were both traveling the same path, I decided to see if he wanted a walking companion.

 I called out to him, and he stopped singing. Turning a quarter, he glanced behind without saying anything. I caught up with him, and we started up the hill again. He was a British man, about sixty years of age, with a ruggedness that compensated for his bent frame. His clothing was old and dirty. His hair, long and white, was pulled into a ponytail down the center of his back. A long, bushy, white beard gave him an ancient, wizened appearance.

As we began talking, I learned that he had once worked as a psychiatrist in England. After a divorce shattered his life, he began searching for the meaning of life. He had tested philosophies of all types and eventually made his way to the Orient to study Buddhism. Now he lived as a hermit on Mount Davis. Exploring his own mind day after day, he was still trying to find the meaning of life. Being a Christian and believing that Christ was the answer he was searching for, I gladly began to share my faith with him.

God giving me grace, my commitment to the Christian world-view will never be shaken. Truth is truth, and "there are not because there cannot be other than God-interpreted facts (Van Til)." However, as I talked with this man, I slowly realized that the truth that I possessed was going to do him little good. He had too many intellectual objections to my beliefs. He had studied philosophy, and it seemed as though he knew a little about everything of that nature. He knew how to respond to my assertions and easily brush them aside. He knew how to reject truth and remain happily inconsistent. He had read the Bible, and it had been an interesting book, but Buddhism attracted him more at the present time. He refused to accept any of my arguments for the existence of the Christian God and the truth of Christianity.

I always marvel at the man who can live in the world that God created and not accept it as such. It is as though he were blind to the origins of the great expanses of the heavens that swirl above his head. Sure, he knows they are there, acknowledges their complexity, makes studies of them, and even postulates theories of origin. For the most part though, in all of his thinking, he refuses to allow for the possibility of creation by a personal God. He tries to embrace any or every alternative to accepting the Christian world-view. It is almost as though he were bent against God from the very start of his considerations. He says that he does not believe that the Christian God exists and then interprets all evidence on the basis of that belief. For him, God does not exist because he does want Him to.

The Bible gives a fascinating explanation for this phenomenon. Romans 1:19-25 says that “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The Scripture says that "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The Scriptures assert here and in other places that man has all the proof that he needs for the existence of God. However, he has not accepted that proof because of the sinfulness of his heart. As Scripture says, he "suppresses the truth" because of his wicked nature. Instead of acknowledging God, he has "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator." Man is bent against the idea of God from the very beginning of his considerations.

Let me here issue a warning to the reader.  As intellectual creatures, we are often tempted to let personal intellect be the measure of Truth. If you, like the man on the mountain, remain unconvinced by arguments presented to you, that does not automatically mean that your beliefs are correct. It merely means that the arguments were unable to convince you. Just because I may not be able to formulate the most persuasive arguments for the Christian world-view does not mean that the Christian world-view is not true. There will always be someone more gifted of expression than I am who will be better able to explain the truth and overcome the obstacles of your intellect. Men should beware being satisfied that "I have not yet found someone to refute me, therefore I am right." To do so is to claim one's personal intellect as the standard of Truth. One should always remember that there are many other people who will probably disagree with any one world-view. It is, therefore, a great audacity to allow one's limited intelligence to convince him of the meaning of life when he has not exhaustively considered all other possibilities, especially when he may be wrong. These possibilities seem to be as many and as diverse as the minds that care to think about them. Can a single human being evaluate the great variety of world-views that represent all the individuals that have ever lived? Who of all these individuals has the right one?

Since this man on the mountainside had not and could not consider all possible meanings of life, we may say that he has had to accept his present beliefs primarily on a faith commitment. In other words, is not certain of his beliefs beyond the level of faith. He cannot prove his theories. He merely has to accept them. The question he should then face is this—On whose authority does he accept the world-view he has embraced? On his own, or that of someone other than himself? If it is only himself or another human, I ask, "How do you know for certain that you or those you trust are the measure of all knowledge? Have you considered all that exists and are you then able to decide what is truth?" Likely not. No human is capable of this. Only one who is able to examine and evaluate everything that exists has the right to state truth dogmatically. He must be omniscient. The Christian, of course, believes this omniscient being to be God. Thus, only God's perspective is the right perspective. Only His perspective has the authority upon which man may base his faith-commitments. This perspective is revealed in the Bible.

The Christian will not claim to know everything. He will not be daring enough to say that his mind is greater than the unbeliever's mind. He merely places his faith in the one who knows all things, and he believes that there can be no certainty about anything apart from God’s revelation through his Word.

Well, I wish I had thought to explain all this to my friend on the mountainside that evening, but alas, I am not so quick on my feet. I have a feeling that he would not have listened anyway. The Bible gives an explanation for this—“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2: 14).”

You see, only the Spirit of God can take away the “ suppressor of Truth” that is within the heart of every man. "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).” Knowing that only God could convince my new friend of the truth, I left him with words that I hope he has thought much about. I decided to appeal to what the Scripture says that every man knows, no matter how much he may deny it--that the Christian God does indeed exist (Romans 1:21).

As we walked along the road, he suddenly stopped. We were in a curve, and, right at its apex, I could barely see a stone walk that led to steps in the hillside. I followed the steps with my eyes up to a crumbling, shadowy wall. We had apparently reached his home. The conversation had stopped, so he turned down the walk toward the steps.

"Sir," I began. "I just want to remind you of something."

He climbed about five of the steps until he stopped to lean against the ivy-covered building that was his home. "And what might that be?"

I took a deep breath and mustered all the conviction of heart that I could. "Deep down in your heart of hearts, you know that my God is the true God."

"Or Tao or whatever you want to call it," he responded.

"No sir. I am speaking of the God of the Bible. And your knowledge of Him will forever haunt you until the day that you embrace both him and the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ."

He just looked at me. It seemed as though the seriousness of my tone had arrested him for a moment.

Presently he said only, "Maybe so." And, turning up the stairs, he disappeared around the corner of the building into the darkness.

The Scriptures make the difference between believers and unbelievers clear. The believer has a heart that can believe; the unbeliever does not. Until the unbeliever's heart is changed, he will never be able to believe the fullness of God's revelation to him. He may learn to accept some of the facts that testify to the truth and rationality of the Christian world-view, but he will never experience the Christian's certainty of life until he comes to faith in Christ. It is only the heart that has been changed by Jesus Christ that has the right to certainty of beliefs in this life.

Perhaps you are not a Christian and are dissatisfied with the uncertainty of your beliefs. Perhaps you are now willing to consider a possibility that you had previously rejected--that God does indeed exist and that what His Word says is true. Perhaps you are an honest inquirer and really desire to know the truth once and for all. Continue your search for truth. Pray, asking God to give you the heart of a believer. If you are sincerely seeking, He will give you that heart. Remember that "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews1 1:6).”

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