Extralogical Enlightenment

May 23, 2015 | Martin Weber

How can we trust and obey an invisible, inaudible God? Can we even know what He wants from us?

“That’s simple,” someone says. “Read the Bible.”

OK, but how did we get our Bibles? Did God send 66 emails from heaven to an early church General Conference in session?

Actually, our Bibles are the result of an intriguing and unexplainable process of divine guidance. To select the books that now comprise the Bible, church councils had to reject dozens of competing epistles and other documents, finally emerging with the compilation of sacred Scriptures for which millions through the centuries have lived and died.

Despite their amazing internal consistency, the 66 books of Scripture cannot be “proven” as inspired by mere objective evidence. Archeological discoveries, for example, may endorse the historicity of 1 Samuel but cannot explain why it should be included in the Bible. Nobody can prove, historically or logically, that God intended our eclectic collection of narrative, prophecy, precept, proverb and poetry to be compiled into what we embrace as the Holy Bible.

Well then, what did the books chosen for the Bible possess that other documents lacked? In a word, illumination. Church leaders perceived that these books were “luminous” in a way that other good books were not. With some variances among religious groups, a basic consensus eventually emerged about the sacred “canon,” or collection.

Even for you and me today, enlightenment about Scripture comes through perception more than logical persuasion. Yes, there are established and essential principles of interpretation (known as “hermeneutics”), but ultimately the authority of Scripture is how it enlightens our souls. Many supposed problems with the Bible vanish when we submit our minds and hearts to God, so we can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Then we value Scripture not for what it proves logically but for what it reveals to our perception.

A logician might protest, “Perception can’t be a basis for faith because it is subjective — just inner feelings.” An enlightened Christian might reply, “Yes and no. Yes, perception is subjective, but no, it’s not based on feelings.” Perception is more than emotion — it’s inner knowledge as certain to you as anything else you know. But you can’t prove it to anyone else.

It’s like knowing you want a bagel rather than a cookie. You can’t prove your preference by what you put on your plate. Who knows — you might be on some kind of restrictive diet. But within ourselves, each of us knows the truth about our tastes — as surely as we know anything else that can be scientifically proven.

Consider romance. You can know you are in love and later invent all kinds of logical arguments to defend that relationship to your prospective parents-in-law. But logic cannot prove you are in love any more than logic made you fall in love. Romance is a subjective experience attested not just by feelings but by perception — inner knowledge. And that intellectually mysterious reality should be more important in your life than anything you can prove.

Which brings us back to faith in God. Spiritual seeking blossoms into belief when we supernaturally perceive unprovable value in Jesus. Such inner knowledge not only facilitates faith in God but also reveals to us His will.

In the heyday of Soviet Communism, a young Russian novelist, Andre Bitov, lived in a secure cocoon of atheism until God broke through and got his attention. He was riding the Leningrad subway when, inexplicably, he felt overwhelmed with intense hopelessness. He saw no future beyond this life and no meaning in the present. Suddenly, vividly, a new realization enlightened his soul: “Without God life makes no sense.” He immediately perceived this statement as true. Afterward he recalled, “Repeating it in astonishment, I rode the phrase up like a moving staircase, got out of the metro and walked into God’s light.”1

In a moment, a lifetime of logical arguments against faith vanished. The Soviet’s conversion was based not on objective fact but personal perception. This reflects the statement of the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal: “It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is.”2 Pascal also famously observed, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”3 He even said, “Faith embraces many truths which seem to contradict each other.”4

The noteworthy word there is “seem.” Faith is ultimately harmonious, having a subterranean harmony beneath the landscape of logic. Although faith needs more than logic, it isn’t actually illogical. A better word might be “extralogical.