One of these days, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken.
Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear.
But, son, you do not accept this bet because, as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider.
So said Sky Masterson, gambler and philosopher, in Guys and Dolls. Brother Sky was a skeptic. He believed in cash, odds, rolls of the dice; and nothing else. But he didn’t count on love. And he ended up with an ear full of cider.
There’s only one bet I’ll take, and that’s a sure bet. I learned this from a man who only bet on sure things. One of my old bosses, some 30 years ago, whose name I will leave out since he is probably still alive and may learn where I live, mentioned he was going to get some dip—smokeless tobacco. Now this guy was the least likely person in the world to chew tobacco, at least in my nineteen year-old eyes.
I said, “John, you don’t chew tobacco!”
He replied, “Wanna bet?”
And he proceeded to pull out a big wad of Skoal and shove it between his cheek and gum, while I put a ten dollar bill in his hand. He said to me, “Just in case you didn’t know, I only bet on sure things.” I’ve tried to make that my policy ever since (with some notable and spectacular failures).
There’s certain things we think we know, but we really don’t. We call that sort-of-knowing “giving the benefit of the doubt.” When a man is on trial for a crime, the jury is expected to return a verdict. “Verdict” comes from the Latin vērum dictum, meaning “true word”. In America, the accused is guaranteed a jury trial by the Sixth Amendment—we take our verdicts seriously.
But a jury verdict is not really the truth.
It’s an approximation, heavily weighted toward the accused. You see, the accused gets the benefit of the doubt. The defense doesn’t even have to present any facts or arguments. If we boil a trial down to the simplest elements, the prosecutor can get up, point at the accused, say “he did it”, and sit down. The defense can then just smile and say to the judge, “we rest, your honor.” And the jury is compelled—compelled—to return a “not guilty” verdict.
The benefit of the doubt is a powerful thing. It’s the ace card in the trump suit, the snake-eyes dice roll, the triple-bar jackpot in the uncertain world of truth-seeking. In a world of skepticism, the benefit of the doubt allows us to arrive at definite answers without having perfect knowledge of the facts.
Can we even have perfect knowledge of anything? Leaving out metaphysics or ontology or epistemology or any other -ology, the answer is, no. We cannot know anything with total certainty. We can, however, know that if we drop an object weighing 100 pounds to the ground from ten feet, it will fall and hit the ground no matter how many times we repeat the experiment.
We can extract from that experiment, various measurements, laws, theories, and equations to represent the relationship between the object’s mass, time, distance, and force, to compute gravity. But we cannot know gravity in its perfect form: what caused it to be? Why does it exist?
We know there is gravity, and we give it a very slight benefit of the doubt.
Think about all the things we know are there, and we trust because they’ve always been there, so we give them a very slight benefit of the doubt. Another word which means benefit of the doubt is “faith”. We have faith that gravity works, and we have faith that the sun will continue to shine, that water will still be wet, and that the steel used to make the bridge we cross in our cars daily will continue to have certain strength and tensile properties.
We take these things by faith because they’ve always been so, and we’ve been given no reason to doubt them.
But we’ve only heard one side of the case: the prosecution has pointed at the world and said “it is so, and so has it always been” and we nod in agreement. The defense has not presented any case at all. The benefit of the doubt, in this matter, is with the prosecution. The world is as it is—guilty until proven innocent.
We are incredibly skeptical of any other answer.
This is why God is put on trial daily in the minds of people.
The world goes on as it always has—evil, sickness, death, and disaster rear their ugly heads. Men behead children, set other men on fire, rape women, and there is no answer from the defense. Sickness and death ravage our bodies; floods, fires, and horrible tragedies cut short lives from their full potential, and we hear silence from heaven.
There is no “red pill” like in The Matrix, which whisks you from the fake reality of the perceived world into a more-real reality. There is no totem like in Inception by which you can discern a true-to-life dream from the real, real world. Why should God offer any more certainty?
The Bible contains all kinds of truth claims, but none of them offers certainty in the world, like gravity or sunlight or fire or cold—things you can feel and test and measure. Why should we believe any of it?
But we’ve only heard one side of the case.
Those thousands of small uncertainties, those small doubts which we discard by faith in the world—those billions of slot machine pulls and die rolls and card deals which determine outcomes, life and death, riches and poverty, they add up. Life is fragile, random and downright mean, subject to the whims of cosmic rays and falling meteors, or a tornado that happens to have your name written on it when it crushes your house on top of you.
If we really seek to know anything with certainty, we must withhold our verdict until we’ve heard both sides, and we must become the skeptic, both to what we know by experience of the world, and to what we know of God.
Freeman Dyson, heir to Einstein’s place at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, wrote “The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”
Even noted atheist Stephen Hawking wrote along with Thomas Hertog, in 2008:
A bottom-up approach to cosmology either requires one to postulate an initial state of the Universe that is carefully ﬁne-tuned — as if prescribed by an outside agency — or it requires one to invoke the notion of eternal inﬂation, a mighty speculative notion to the generation of many different Universes, which prevents one from predicting what a typical observer would see. (emphasis mine)
The deeper we delve into our skepticism, the more we realize we don’t know much at all—that all the knowledge we think we possess was really placed there for us to find. We find that the true knowledge of anything lies in finding the outside agency which placed it there for us.
If there is an outside agency, and God is sitting accused, why hasn’t the Master spoken up in his own defense?
In fact, He has.
There is something we can know with certainty, and that’s our own thoughts. If we doubt our own thoughts—denying possession of our mind—we may as well call off the game now and turn out the lights, because we’ve taken the road to madness. There is at least one witness to everything we’ve ever done, and that is the “me” inside. You, me, the essential, lonely consciousness at the center of our perception, which none other can penetrate, lies bare in the knowledge of who we are.
This “self” is what makes us human. It’s what makes me, me, and you, you, and why I cannot become you and you cannot become me. Were we to swap brains, I’m fairly sure I could learn to operate your body, but it would still be me inside.
In this one certainty, the knowledge of self identity (I am not going to expand this into mental illness or schizophrenia or other identity or personality disorders—generally speaking, even mentally ill individuals know the difference between the “me” inside and the “you” outside), is where we sit in judgment of truth, and where we apply faith to our world.
If we think it and believe it, it becomes true for us. We have truths of the world, for which we have faith, and skepticism about other truths, for which we render verdicts without possession of facts.
The fact is, God speaks to each of us, in the one place where we are most certain: directly to our deepest thoughts.
Like the universe “must have known we were coming” in a cosmological sense, our thoughts must have known we were coming in an ontological sense (ontology deals with the nature of being). Humans are hard wired with a desire to know our purpose—our raison d’être—the reason we exist.
Those who believe we exist for no reason do not arrive at that point in some truth-seeking manner; rather they accept by faith all the uncertainties of the world and render a verdict without even hearing the defense—that God is, has been, and for each moment of life, continues to speak to us in the most intimate, certain, and truth-fulfilling way possible. The God who the Bible describes as “love” is there, with us, entwined in our deepest thoughts, always.
This is why the Apostle Paul, an intelligent man, a careful and deep observer of the human condition, wrote in Romans chapter one:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)
God is not here separated from the world, sitting athwart our meager existence in judgment and condemnation of puny humanity, whom he alternately pities and punishes. No. God created this entire universe with us in mind. He created us with knowledge of Him manifest—present—within us, and with His righteousness (right-standing, exactness, perfection, goodness) written in our DNA.
Those who have heard God throughout the short span of human history wrote down His story for us. Their faith in the physical world was balanced by the truth of God’s word. We have these truths written down, and we have God’s truth within us, in the only certain place we know, the only place in which we do not need faith to hear—our inner selves.
So why do we need to have faith in God?
For the same reason I wrote earlier: there is no red pill, and there is no totem. We can’t discern the difference between real reality and our own thoughts. We don’t know God’s truth from our own thoughts because we are not completed beings—something is missing—or something is added, rather.
Genesis chapter three tells of the temptation and “fall” of mankind. The knowledge of good and evil has corrupted us, giving us the very skepticism about God that prevents us from knowing Him intimately.
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
We doubt what God says, and give the benefit of the doubt to the world, and so it has been ever since.
The faith required to know God is simple faith. A simple recognition that “I do not know anything for certain” and a healthy skepticism about the world, along with a simple question.
If God really exists, what is He trying to tell me?
That question, asked with a pure devotion to finding truth—not my truth, or your truth, but Truth as the universe really is—leads to only two possibilities.
One, that Jesus Christ was a madman—what C.S. Lewis referred to as a man who believes he is a poached egg—and there is no purpose for man, or mankind, or any of us. That we are doomed to live and die lonely lives within ourselves, accepting by blind faith the world as it is, without answers, without a future, and without a hope.
Or two, that Jesus Christ lived, died, and was resurrected on the third day, as the Gospel accounts and direct witnesses reported. That Christ’s claims to be a King whose kingdom is not of this world are true, because this world was created for us, and the Creator has so much more for us. That He goes to prepare a place for us, and if this was not true, he would have told us so.
Ultimately, all beliefs are a choice. But not all truths are a choice. The universe is as it is, whether we choose to believe it or not. God is also as He is, whether we hear Him or not. One way leads to death and acceptance of a pointless existence.
The other leads here. Jesus said:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:1-6)
They called Thomas “doubting Thomas” because he required physical proof of Jesus’ resurrection and His wounds. But in John 20:28, “Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!””
Won’t you let your doubts be answered? Won’t you let Jesus speak to you and call him “My Lord and my God!”?
As I began, I only bet on sure things. I would bet any amount in the world that Jesus Christ is God, King, and Savior of the World—and that He is coming back for me.
If I were you, I would not take that bet. No matter how much of a skeptic you are, you, like Sky Masterson, will only end up with an ear full of cider.
(crossposted from sgberman.com)