The following questions were asked at our recent Apologetics session. The first is answered by John, the second mainly by Michael:
1. How do we help good people understand they are sinful, with gentleness & respect?
The Bible shows us God’s holy standard, and when we comprehend this, we see that we are sinful. In Romans 7:7, the Apostle Paul said he “would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” Therefore, we understand we are sinful when we see how we fail to measure up to God’s standard. So, the Bible is our source for defining sin.
The good news is most people agree with the Bible’s most simple examples of right & wrong, even if they are not Christians. Most people for example agree it is wrong to lie, cheat, steal, covet, etc. These are simple examples we can use. The way to do this with gentleness & respect, is to initially take the onus off the other person and explain how I am a sinner. We can give concrete examples of how we have lied, cheated, stolen, etc., and then ask if they can relate. Ideally the initial examples are ones that everyone is guilty of. If we know the person well, we might choose to give an example of something that is more serious (in their eyes) as this kind of honesty establishes trust, encourages openness and honesty, and can often result in a deeper, more meaningful conversation.
2. Can God break the laws of logic?
John’s short answer:
God created the laws of nature, is outside of them, and so is perfectly able to operate outside of what He created. In fact, operating completely within the confines of the laws of nature would be inconsistent to the character of an all-powerful creator God. God did not however create the laws of logic, nor does He operate outside of them, because logic is part of His nature. Therefore, to violate the laws of logic, would be inconsistent with His character, with who He is. Instead, God is consistent, and logical, and therefore knowable.
Michael’s extended answer:
Jesus said: “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The theological word for this is omnipotence (God is all powerful). First, let’s consider omnipotence, what God can and cannot do. Then we’ll consider logic. Did God create it? Can He break the laws of logic? Then, we’ll make a conclusion.
C.S. Lewis explains God’s omnipotence like this, “power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible,” adding “it is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God” (“The Problem of Pain,” chapter 2). A simple example of this ‘nonsense’ is this statement, ‘God can make a square circle’. This statement contradicts itself by trying to reconcile two mutually exclusive definitions with each other. The statement reveals something that is intrinsically impossible.
But consider something intrinsically possible, a miracle such as ‘a man walks on water.’ This is regarded as ‘impossible’ under the laws of physics we commonly observe, because water has such a low viscosity that a man will sink through it under the force of gravity. Unless, the God who created the universe changes the way that man’s body interacts with gravity or water in that instance. So, when Jesus walked on water, something happened contrary to the laws of physics we commonly observe. Therefore, ‘a man walks on water’ is intrinsically possible if God intervenes, but ‘a man walks on water’ without the intervention of God is intrinsically impossible, because the man is bound to the physics that we commonly observe.
Let’s now consider logic, it is created? Logic is something that comes from God, not something He created. God does not have a beginning and He will not have an end, He simply ‘is’. God ‘is’ loving. God ‘is’ powerful. God ‘is’ holy. God ‘is’ good. God’s character does not change either, it simply ‘is’. There are characteristics of God that are consistent (true all the time). Logic can then be applied when consistency can be observed. So, because a God with consistent character has always existed, logic as a tool could always be used to reason about God (even when we didn’t exist to use it). Logical thinking is available when there is a being who observes consistency. Since God has always existed and is consistent, it is reasonable to assume that He has always been able to apply logic himself before we came to existence. From that perspective, ‘God created logic’ is an intrinsic impossibility because there has always been a being (God or maybe other eternal beings like angels) who could apply logic to observed consistency. God made us with minds that can think, and we can apply logic when there are things with consistency around us. We can think logically about God because His character is consistent. We can think logically about the world we live in when we observe consistency (science in a nutshell). If there was no consistency in something, we could not think logically about it.
So, can God break the laws of logic? Another way to ask this might be, can God act illogically? When we regard a person as acting ‘illogically’, we would say that what they are doing or saying is not consistent with what they know to be best. If a person wants money today, and they know that the only way they earn money is by working, and they decide ‘I am going to try and earn money by not working today,’ they would be acting illogically. Human beings do not always act consistently according to what we know to be true or even according to what we want. The God defined by the Bible is all knowing, and with all that knowledge He acts logically with what He wants according to His character. Numbers 23:19 talks about God and His consistency “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?” When God decides to do something, He will do it, when He says He will do something He will not do something contrary. God cannot act illogically; He is all knowledgeable (so knows what is best) and always fulfils what He desires to do.
On a side note, this is where apologetics comes centre stage. Part of apologetics involves defending against the claims that God cannot exist because He acts illogically with respect to His described character. When atheists try to prove God does not exist, they try to show an inconsistency between God’s character and His actions. For example, “How can an all good and all-powerful God allow suffering?” This is what we discussed in our last apologetics session.
For more information, see chapter 2 of C.S. Lewis’ book “The Problem of Pain”; this video about Omnipotence https://youtu.be/TOHQVSpwEH8; and this podcast about logic and God https://youtu.be/63Pi62c8yZU.