Let’s suppose that neo-Darwinian evolution is the best explanation of life and that there have been no non-physical forces (such as a supernatural god) involved in the historical biological development of humanity. The human species as it stands is simply the current product of a long series of random genetic changes, some that were destined to the dustpan of history and some that improved human survival odds. Under these assumptions, the brain waves that purportedly give us our thoughts about the world are also the result of random genetic changes that on average have helped the human species survive. In other words, the thoughts we have today came about because they enhanced our survival value and may or may not have any connection to objective truth. As Francis Crick has expressed, “Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive.” But if this is the case, then any thoughts one has about neo-Darwinian evolution or any other matter cannot be trusted because there is no way to know if those thoughts carry any objective truth value in addition to survival value. Given this understanding, the thoughts of the one who demands that naturalism’s evolutionary story is objective truth that cannot be denied, can be summarily doubted on its own terms.
C.S. Lewis provides lucid prose to this same point:
Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. (The Case for Christianity, 32)
To this Lewis then adds, “Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” A heady thought indeed.
I want to do better. In just about everything I’ve ever put my hand to with any earnest, I’ve wanted to do better. I wanted to be a better tennis player. I wanted to be a better speaker. I wanted to be a better leader. The effort is often there, but I always seem to fall short of my aspirations. And then there is Paul.
Paul shames me. I read about how the once persecutor of the early church made an about-face and then subjected himself to the most intense 24/7/365 world-traveling schedule that often took him straight into the proverbial lion’s den. Of his life following the way of Christ, he writes:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
This was no puffery. Luke, the historian, tells the story of Paul, and it all syncs up with Paul’s words. Needless to say, when I consider Paul’s life and ministry, I fall way short.
No doubt, some of the reason I don’t meet Paul’s standard is that I lack the faith and steadfastness he did, and what I say from this point on is not meant to let me off the hook. But I think some of the disparity between Paul and me is that I don’t have the same horse he did.
I want to be a thoroughbred more than a miniature pony. I want to go fast and hard, and I want to do it all the time. Two problems with that. First, as much as I may want to line up with the world’s best racehorses, I am afraid my ride isn’t fit to run at more than the local racetrack. In other words, hard as I might try, I won’t be like Paul. I don’t have his horse. Secondly, regardless of what horse I have, sometimes it just needs to slow down and rest more than I want it to. In fact, I wonder if that’s what some of Paul’s time in prison was all about.
Jesus once told a parable of those who had been given resources by their master (Matthew 25:14-30). The focus of the parable is on the one who refused to invest what he had been given for the master’s advantage. But I am just as taken by what the story has to say about the two who invested well. One was given five and earned five more, while the other was given two and earned two more. The telling part is that the praise given to each was the same. Let me say that again: the praise given by the master to the two faithful investors was the same. The master did not expect the one who was given two to produce five. He only expected him to produce in keeping with what he had been given. No miniature horse will win the derby, but a friend to a special needs kid she may be. And my horse has its calling too.
Okay, so the horse I have isn’t as fast or beautiful or strong as others. I’ve proven that over and over again. And what I do have tends to breakdown plenty along the way. But it is the horse God has given me. To belittle it is to say that what God made is not good and to beat it beyond what it is capable is only to make matters worse.
Earlier this week I saw a Facebook post that went something like this: Adulting is saying, "It will slow down after this week,” each and every week until you die. Probably a sad statement, but I had to chuckle when I read it knowing just how many times I’ve told myself that things are busy now, but next week things will slow down. Truth be told, all of us have more things to do than we can ever do, and even with our best efforts there will always be some things that just never get done.
Jesus once told a story about a man who invited many people to a great banquet. He expected a full house, but when he sent his servants out to do the inviting, this is the kind of response he got…
As I write this, there is so much that is undone in my life. There are some financial things I need to take care of. There are some maintenance and upgrade issues with our home that need to be addressed. I have phone calls I need to make. There are meetings I need to prepare for. Out-of-town responsibilities dot the calendar and logistics must be tackled. I’ve got to fit in some exercise along the way. And, of course, pay some good attention to my lovely wife too. But clearly, it’s not going to get all done. Not even close. So the question looms: will I leave the right things undone?
In fact, I wonder if this question is among the most important ones we will ever ask. If we answer it well, it might release us from the ever-elusive stress of checking off the entire to do list, but more importantly it might keep us from missing the most valuable invitations in life. As I imagine it, leaving the right things undone probably means leaving the dishes until tomorrow so I can join a group of friends that encourages my faith. Or perhaps it means leaving some emails unanswered and inviting our neighbors over for dinner. It could mean missing the “all-important” business meeting in order to be at our kids’ big event. Or perhaps it means the “bucket list” vacation trip gets put on hold to help build a house in Haiti. In the end, leaving the right things undone could mean a whole lot of things.
I think it is safe to assume that as life goes on there will continue to be things that just never get done. I just want to make sure I am leaving the right things undone. The characters in Jesus’ parable made a big mistake. In one sense, we could excuse them for turning down the invitation. Their excuses were not wholly frivolous. Nonetheless, they missed the banquet. The banquet with the One who created them. The banquet with the One who saved them. The banquet with the One who holds the keys to eternity. That’s not an invitation I want to miss.
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.