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The Swiss Army Knife of Thought

April 30, 2016

Logic is a wonderful thing. It is the Swiss Army Knife of thought. It has allowed human beings to think their way through incredibly complex problems to produce marvels of science and engineering. Logic has even enabled us to design and build machines that ‘think’ in ever more complex ways – our computers.

I have been educated in science and logic, and they have allowed me to learn so much. I am so thankful for the gift of logic. Logic is, as I have said, a wonderful thing but it is not all. Any multi-tool, no matter how sophisticated and well designed, has its limitations. This is also true of logic. If I want to enjoy the colour and perfume of a spring flower, I wouldn’t even think of trying to use my army knife, it would be nonsense to even try (except perhaps to cut and kill the flower to bring it inside). But sadly, we human beings have elevated reason and logic as the tool of reason, to such an extent that there is a danger of beginning to believe that logical reason is the only tool there is.

Logic is a poor tool for understanding the more abstract parts of life, like emotions and relationships. Logic is particularly limited when it comes to the ultimate questions of existence and faith: These are worlds best explored with emotion and ‘the heart’, not logic alone. Logic can be applied but it never seems to get to answers that make deep emotional sense. For example, logic has led some to see human beings as simply programmed machines, where emotions like ‘love’ have no meaning. These people either despair or ignore this logic when it comes to loving their family and friends.

This is a logic exposed so powerfully by Steve Turner’s poem, “The Conclusion”:

My love,
she said,
when all’s
considered
we’re only
machines.

I chained
her to my
bedroom wall
for future use
and she cried.

This worship of logic seems to lock people out of life and faith. Thankfully, logic is only one tool among many for understanding this gift of life.

When I come to my faith I have found that logic is of only limited use. It gets me so far but then I need something more refined. It is like any relationship. I could set out all your requirements for a friend or a life partner, but in the end it is not this logic that results in the love and friendship that develops (or not!). Falling in love, and building a friendship make only a brief wave to logic.

I can set out my understanding of God. I can set down all the arguments in favour and against there being a God. I can do the same for and against the message of Jesus, but in the end I have to allow myself to get to know Jesus, and the Father that he reveals to me. It is only in that relationship, in that relationship between me and Jesus and the Father and the Spirit, it is only there that faith for me becomes real. This I believe is at the heart of Jesus’ message of Good News. He was and is calling people into discovering a relationship with God, our creator, the source of meaning and of hope.

This understanding then makes sense of so much of what Jesus said. That is one reason why I believe Jesus often doesn’t give simple logical answers to simple logical questions. For instance, when Jesus is asked why he doesn’t explain everything to the crowds he answers (John 14.23-24):

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”

‘Loving’ and ‘making a home’, are written in the languages of relationship and emotion; they become lifeless in the language of logic. If I apply too much logic I can end up with a law which says, “If I obey Jesus then, and only then, will I be loved.”

Thankfully, the reality is far more beautiful and rich. Jesus was inviting people to be intrigued by him. He seems to want them to spend time with him; to get to know him and through him the Father. Here I ‘feel’ Jesus inviting me to get to know him, to learn to love him and his Father.

Today, with Jesus no longer physically here to talk to and be with, I need extra help to learn this love. So, to make this loving relationship possible I receive the Holy Spirit (John 14.25-26). Then my task as a Christian is simple, at least at its heart. My task is to allow the Spirit to make me more loving, more Christ-like and so more like the God I want to worship. This worship then comes out of that love, not out of pure duty. I Jesus’ words, this worship “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4.24).

 

 

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