Life is suffering.
If life is suffering, then what is true in life is true in suffering.
Whatever you believe, it must be coherent with suffering.
The late Anthony Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was a philosopher and something of a genius. He was an atheist philosopher for most of his career and a notable one. By notable, I mean he even invented new arguments against God’s existence, writing many books. However, with increasing advances in science and philosophical arguments for God’s existence, Flew changed his mind to become something of a Deist. This book is the story of how this happened.
Flew’s oft-repeated matra is “follow the evidence wherever it leads” and maintains the importance of being open to changing your mind if the evidence blows that way. I appreciated his candor on this.
The book begins somewhat autobiographically with good bits of philosophy thrown in, an aspect I really liked. I had some schooling on philosophy and philosophers reading this book. He has great discussions on free-will and determinism, as well as some overview of his past debates and writings, all telling the story of his intellectual journey.
Then he launches into the reasons why he changed his mind: His first reason is mainly the argument from design. The new findings of science on the complexity of life and the ultimate rationality of the universe seen in the laws of nature were major proofs of a rational Designer for Flew. Another was the so-called fine-tuning argument. This says that the universe and its laws are specifically designed and tuned for human life on earth. He then goes on into the problem of the origin of life and the complexity of the DNA molecule and how impossible it is for life to come about by itself. He proceeds from there to the cosmological argument (that due to the law of cause-and-effect, the universe must have a cause, a starter for the big bang would most reasonably be God), and its further development by philosophers David Conway and Richard Swinburne that he found very sound. Flew wraps it up defending the coherency of God as an explanation and a few conclusions.
The two appendices are excellent. One is by Roy Abraham Varghese, who helped Flew write this book (Flew was in his eighties at the time), interacting succinctly and powerfully with the “New Atheists” arguments. This alone is excellent and he broke some new ground for me. The second appendix is by N.T. Wright on the arguments for the self-revelation of God in human history through the resurrection of Jesus. Flew doesn’t believe that God has revealed himself in any way (Deist), but he thought Wright’s argument was fascinating and “the one to beat.” While Flew dismissed it as deficient for him at that time, he was still open to the possibility. But again, Wright had a very hard-hitting article for how short it was.
I’m being vague though – it’s better just to read it. It impressed me enough for a 5/5. This is among the top-ten books I’d recommend to anyone (not just eggheads). It’s only a 213 page simple, yet complete, sum-total of the arguments for God’s existence. Before people make definitive decisions about theism and atheism, this sort of book is the minimum that should be read on the pro-God side, and may be all you need for this side (The door-stop books Swinburne and Plantiga write simply cannot be read and understood by everyone… or rather, your average person just won’t). It also won Christianity Today’s book award, so I’m not alone.
It should be noted though, Flew was not a Christian or a believer in an afterlife. Nonetheless, Christians find it useful (not surprisingly), as would Muslims, Jews, Zoroasterians, etc. But really, I think anyone would find it thought-provoking on life’s most important question – is there a God? It’s worth the investigation.
“Progress in philosophy is different from progress in science, but that does not mean it is therefore impossible… To the extent that these things are accomplished with better reasoning and greater effectiveness, progress will be seen – even as consensus and persuasion remain elusive and incomplete.” 41
“I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?'” 88
“Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God. The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature.” 88-89
“The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and ‘tied together.’ Einstein spoke of them as ‘reason incarnate.’ The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked – and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God.” 96
“Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable.” 112
Introducing Wright’s article: “I think that the Christian religion is one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul.” 186-187
I picked up this book as soon as I saw it. The title intrigued me, and I love Ravi Zacharias, the Indian Oxford graduate who travels as an itinerate speaker, apologist, and evangelist for Christ. Also, at several low points I’ve gotten the feeling that Christianity has failed me; and certainly many other people have left Christianity totally with some story of how inadequate this religion was in one way or another. Ravi’s aim is to discuss this question with just such people.
I liked the tone of the book. Ravi is both sympathetic to the straggler and uncompromising in his convictions. I found this commendable because it is not easy to strike that balance. It is easy to try to be so sympathetic that you compromise truth to make them feel better, but this doesn’t do anybody a favour. It is also easy to say with a hard-nose “this is how it is” without any sympathy.
My favorite chapters were the ones on who is Jesus, does prayer make any difference, and points of tension, which was about the tensions of life and how Christianity handles them. That chapter had a good sections on pain, loneliness, and sexuality. Ravi’s approach is to expound beautifully on what Christianity is, and how it answers our deepest needs.
On the negatives side, this is not a definitive defense of the Christian faith if that’s what your looking for. Ravi speaks in generalities rather than specific details, does not have much in the way of analytic argument, and tells many stories and illustrations, or “fluff” if you’re looking for carefully crafted, to-the-point arguments. But I don’t think that was Ravi’s intention. He is basically expounding on various aspects of the Christian faith in a way that is keen to the questions of disillusioned, yet open and sensitive people.
So, I think this book will only convince a certain kind of person. Someone who is already open-minded and has a keen sense of feeling, longing, and sensitivity; Who is doubting or has left the faith for emotional reasons.
It definitely made a surprising impression on me that is hard to describe. Ravi’s strengths as a communicator is to show the existential strengths of Christianity, and this book was him at his best in doing so. It’s worth a read!
“The skepticism about God arises from what we perceive as unanswered questions about life. But in spite of our skepticism, our hearts still beat with those persistent, unanswered longings, and in desperation or cynicism our minds continue to ponder the deep issues of our existence.” (p 27)
“Not only did he [Jesus] love every human being, especially the downtrodden; the core of his message is that he came to embody the rejection and suffering of every person who has ever lived.” (p 38).
“The language of lust and the language of love are much the same. Both say ‘I love you,’ but one says it for a night and the other for life.” (p 46)
“We resist pain because we think of the ‘now’ rather than of life’s ultimate purpose; Jesus endured pain in order to restore ultimate purpose to us and to our existence.” (p 110).
“To all the searches of men and women, boys and girls, kinds and emperors, cities and realms for another way to assuage their thirst for the eternal by any means other than what God has provided – digging their own streams or denying the existence of eternity or giving themselves full autonomy – the Lion of the tribe of Judah revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Bible says, ‘There is no other stream.'” (p 146).
“The paramount need in the church today and in the individual Christian is the indwelling presence of God.” (p 156).
Believers in Christ are usually familiar with the teaching that God is always with us. It is among the most beautiful promises in the Bible.
Oddly, this is one of the hardest things for me to believe in the Bible. My emotions and logic often tell me otherwise. In times of depression or discouragement, it feels as though God’s presence has left, that you’re actually alone. Or that it is illogical for God to forgive yet again after the umptillionth time you’ve sinned or that He can possibly be with everyone at once.
I can think of many reasons why God should not be with me. I am really a rather bad person compared to him (a huge understatement). He is holy, I am not. I am a sinner, He is not. I am the creature, He is the Creator. He is infintely big, I am infinitesimaly small. He is everything that is good, and often I think and act everything that is evil. Why would God even be concerned about this insignificant little life, much less manifest His spiritual presence? God with us? Doesn’t make any sense to believe anything of the kind. No wonder many people are Deists or live as though God is there or doesn’t see.
But here is the question: who dictates what God does? What our speculative opinions say about God, or what God says about God? Consider what God inspired to be written in the Scriptures about Himself:
“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13.5b)
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.18a, 20b).
God lead David to write, “You hem me in— behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Pslam 139.5-10 NIV).
God says in Paul’s letters as well,
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? “(1 Corinthians 3.16)
“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12.5a)
“Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you have died to this life, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3.2-3 NLT).
Lastly, Romans 8.33b-39 “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or perseuction, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is what God says about Himself. It surprises me that any Being can have that kind of unconditional, deep love and faithfulness. It sounds too good to be true! But God has always been much bigger than our expectations. When we glimpse the revealed reality, the truth about God’s presence, oh how it overcomes these other emotions and reasons why He isn’t there, replacing them with the emotion of unhindered joy and mind of total conviction! It must be true – God is with us and indeed loves us – always, all the time, at every moment of every day, no matter what happens.
Many people love them. The food, friends and family, gifts, music, ambiance, etc. all make it a beautiful and deeply appreciated time of year. Others hate the holidays. There are various reasons for this, such as losing a loved one around that time, broken family, lost friends, loneliness, hectic schedules, even music, ambiance, etc.
But regardless of the baggage a man-made holiday can carry with it, good or bad, there is something profoundly significant behind holidays that everyone should pay heed to, especially of Christmas. True, we don’t know when Christ was actually born, and true, December 25th was chosen centuries after Jesus to compete with pagan celebrations on the same date, but one important fact remains on what it has become – Christmas is basically a celebration of the incarnation of God.
God’s very essence became human. Born into the world as a humble little baby and grew up from boy to man. Why? To be served as the King of the universe that He is? No, not this time. That comes later. He said Himself He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45).
And gave His life He did. Dying on a Roman cross on a Jewish holiday He died to pay off the sins of alienated, rebellious, and broken humanity. Incredible. How can God die? He could because of His humanity, but more, He was raised from the dead three days later because of His divinity. Jesus is therefore the personification of resurrection and eternal life with God after death. As He said, “Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has eternal life…. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live even if He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 6.47, 11.25-26) . Jesus calls on all people to believe in the crucified and risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, entrusting their eternal destiny to Him.
It doesn’t matter if you hate holidays or love holidays. They won’t last into eternity. Jesus’ question to you is the same – do you believe this?