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Discussion 3 to Meditation 585
Alternatives to Literalism and a Guest Appearance by Saint Augustine

by: Will Petillo

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“The point was that I find it inconsistent that someone can both accept the literal truth of the Bible and also claim that God is not testable.”

No argument there, but a purely literal reading of the Bible is inconsistent anyways and there are more interesting ways of reading it.

Four ways of reading the bible that I am aware of::

1. Literal: the scripture means exactly what it says.
2. Allegorical: expression of truths (such as about human existence) through fiction.
3. Tropological: expression of moral metaphor.
4. Anagogical: relating to the end of the world.

By combining all four of these methods of interpretation, one can imagine that it might actually be possible to find a consistent reading of the Bible. Claims such as: one should believe a particular group of people’s interpretation of the Bible, the Bible should be considered the revealed word of God, or any form of Supreme Being exists in the first place, on the other hand, would require more than cleverness to defend.

As a side note, arguing that Satan was God’s agent by observing that he promised to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world is kinda shaky since Satan could have been lying and, if he wasn’t, I imagine it is not so difficult a problem that a clever theologian couldn’t get around it—it would be much easier to simply point to the story of Job where Satan is actually referred to as God’s agent (again, I don’t have a Bible with me, so I am not sure if this is explicit). Also, although Jesus is (claimed by Trinitarians to be) fully God—and in that sense, yes, God is testing himself—Jesus is also fully human, so that aspect of his nature is as subject to testing as any human would be.

Although I agree with you, just to make things interesting, I will pretend as though I disagree by taking on the persona of Saint Augustine…

No-one becomes ready to find God unless he first believes what he will afterwards know.[1] Although understanding is certainly a good thing, it must be preceded by belief if it is to bear the fruit of Truth. Such a method, however, of believe first, understand second is very much opposed to the scientific method of testing, which concerns itself entirely with showing claims to be false—even when it finds something to be true, it does so by undermining all other possibilities. Such a method is fine—indeed, I would say it is excellent—as long as seeking to discover the temporal truths of this world, but is insufficient when seeking the Divine Truth, which, because it is greater than reason, cannot be grasped by human reason alone, for while your reason may be different from my reason, the highest wisdom is universally present to everyone and is revealed to us through the Holy Scriptures.

Now, as for your initial objection that God does not answer prayers, I would say that your observations are—for the most part—sound, but your conclusions are in error, for while it is true that the advantages and disadvantages often accrue to good and wicked men, it does not follow that God is, as your blindness led you to so blasphemously put it, “Off on a journey.” Indeed, the indiscriminate quality of Providence is an essential aspect of God’s perfect justice. For there is a very great difference in the purpose served by those events which we call adverse and those we call prosperous in good and bad persons. While the good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills, the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world’s happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness. Yet often, even in the present distribution of temporal things, does God plainly evince His own interference. For if every sin were now visited with manifest punishment, nothing would seem to be reserved for the final judgment; and if He gave good things to all who sought them, we should suppose that such were the only rewards of His service; and such a service would make us not godly, but greedy rather, and covetous. On the other hand, God does sometimes mete out divine punishment and sometimes confers goodness on the righteous because if He did not, then it would be concluded that there is no divine providence at all.

Now, you may object that there is no evidence for divine providence in the world, but as I have demonstrated earlier, this is only because you have turned away from his Word and have therefore blinded yourself to the Light of His Truth, the sight of which can only be found if you cast aside your doubt and believe. And there is no better belief, even if you do not yet see the explanation for why it is true.

Also, while I am still being irreverently channeled, I would also like to point out that the writer of Meditation 589 is also in error. God did not exist for an infinite period of time before the creation of the universe because there was no time before the universe was created and God exists outside of time anyways. Although this may sound like a difficult concept, you moderns should be perfectly capable of handling it. After all, I believe it was your own Stephen Hawking who proposed a theory for the beginning of the universe under essentially the same principle—that time is a function of the universe and therefore to ask “what was before the universe?” is a meaningless question. Although this theory contains much truth, is also in error because he does not attribute the creation of the universe to the creator. As anyone can see, everything in our universe was caused by something else. Unless the universe existed infinitely, then it must have been created by some entity that, by its very definition, was not itself created—and if such an entity must exist, then why not call it “God?”

Footnote:

  1. Augustine bases this statement primarily on Isaiah 7:9 (pre-Vulgate text): “Unless you believe, you will not understand”