man's wisdom

The Bible and Rationality

As a human being, we make a decision based on rationality. In this respect, people try to make a logical and rational decision available to them. This kind of priority over rationality became the basis for all the human activities and this makes human beings powerful enough to rule over all other creatures in this earth.

This kind of emphasis on rationality, however, sometimes causes conflicts when we have to face seemingly irrational descriptions found in the bible. They seems to be so much irrational that many conclude that the bible is just a fantasy and thus it is absurd to trust what is described in the bible as true just as in the case of fantasy novels and sci fi-movies.

Then would it be foolish to believe what is written in the bible? The bible teaches that there is God in heaven who is omniscient and omnipotent. He knows everything and He has wisdom and knowledge beyond imagination. If this description is true-and it IS true, how can we explain seemingly irrational incidents in the bible. Is God irrational?

Bible and Rationality: Some Problematic Cases

The Warriors of Gideon

When Gideon was making a war against the Midianites, they were greatly outnumbered by the enemy. The Midianites were 135,000 soldiers and only 32,000 for Gideon. Thinking rationally, everybody would say this is an impossible task and cannot be done. And what God commanded to Gideon was more inscrutable. He said the number of Gideon’s soldiers are too many and He commanded Gideon to cut the numbers through two tests. And finally only left behind were 300 warriors of Gideon. 300 VS 135,000? Who would like to be part of Gideon’s warriors in his right mind? Probably, most would think this is outrageous and would give up. Why? Because this does not make sense in terms of the judgment based on the rationality.

Gideon and his warriors were small in number, but could defeat the enemy not by the sword, but by the words of God.

Moreover, what was more absurd was the weapons given to the warriors. God commanded them to take trumpets and torches with them and blow the trumpet revealing their presence through the lights and shouts to the enemy. This actually does not make sense at all in making a war against the army much bigger than them. In most cases, a rational commander will choose a guerrilla tactics, taking the enemy by surprise and retreating immediately after making the attack. However, this kind of tactic was not in the plan of God. God told them to go to the enemy camp and announce your presence with trumpets, torches, and shouts and you will win. And indeed they did.

The Fall of Jericho

In the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, the first obstacle they have to face was the city of Jericho whose gates were “securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” To destroy the city walls, they have to prepare a lot of weapons such as siege engines, catapults, battering rams, etc. to demolish the walls. God could have given much more advanced weapon to the Israelites, unknown to people in those days, maybe cannon. However, this was not in the plan of God either.

Joshua 6:2  Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

Bible and Rationality: Can a city wall be destroyed just because the enemy turn around it several days?

God commanded His people to turn around the city for 7 days and shout at the appointed time and then-only then-the city wall would give up and they would capture the city. And indeed they did.

The Bible and the Rationality

I gave just two exemplary cases of irrationality in the bible. However, we can see the similar examples all throughout the bible: Naaman healed of leprosy, Jesus’ miracles and healings of the disabled. All these evidences in the bible undermines the credibility of the bible and make people think that the bible is so much untrue and it is just a products of imagination as with a novel.

God’s Omniscience

The bible says God is omniscient, which means God could be more rational than any of human beings. Then how come there are so many evidences that defies this faith in God? How come God gives commands more irrational than any ordinary human beings? Go and wash your body 7 times in the Jordon River. Wash your eyes at Siloam. Turn around the city wall. Shout to the enemy.

All these commands seem to be foolish in terms of man’s rationality. Why not give them more sophisticated weapons? Or give them missiles and artillery? Or give them good medicine? If God is truly omniscient, would it be hard or difficult to him to do that? It does not make sense at all. The bible must be a fiction considering all these nonsensical things described in it.

Wisdom Beyond our Rationality

I want to tell you a story of Solomon also described in it. Once two women came forward the king, calling out for justice about a child. When they came and asked the king to decide who the true mother of the child, people in the scene must have been shocked by the foolish and irrational decision made by the king after hearing their petitions. Cut the baby in half and give each half to the two women. What a foolish judgment! How come King Solomon considered to be the wisest king makes such an irrational and brutal decision! He must have lost his senses.

In the ordinary human standard, this decision was not a rational one which one can get out from wisdom, but a foolishness. However, this seeming foolish decision turned out to be the wisest decision that the king made during his reign. Then how can we explain about this event? To understand this phenomenon, we have to first know about the nature of human rationality. Human rationality is based on the knowledge we get from our senses. Also, it is based on the principle of Utilitarianism, that is, truth is in the agreement among people. The truth is what makes most people happy and satisfied.

Human Wisdom and Its Limitation

Limitations of our Senses

These two, knowledge based on senses and Utilitarianism (or democracy), are the main principle behind the human wisdom and rationality. But the problem is neither of them can be much helpful in finding the truth. First, the knowledge we get from our five senses are not perfect at all and thus we cannot trust them because they are so much limited. They are so much imperfect that it is impossible to make a perfect decision considering every details. For example, since we do not have an Xray-like eyes, we cannot see what is hidden underneath us. Because of this, in the mine field, if we turn in the wrong direction, we can lose our lives, which is one of the main causes of casualties in war. It is same with the rest of the five senses: ears, nose, mouth, and skin.

Democracy and Truth

Second, the Utilitarian principle has never been a perfect way in finding the truth. Everybody knows that we cannot consider one thing to be true, just because it is agreed to be true by most people. Our democratic system (or Utilitarian system) which decides everything on the majority basis, including who should be our President and what laws we should have. Everything is decided by a majority vote and for the happiness of the majority people. However, we already know the negative effect of this principle and find many examples throughout the human history. Even we can see the adverse effect of the democracy in our Congress where the people we choose by the majority vote for our benefit are actually wasting our time and resources because of their foolishness and selfishness. Every four years we are regretting for the decision we made, but still there is no progress.

The Bible and the Wisdom of God

God’s Plan and Its Result

Let us go back to the irrational things in the bible. God is arguably perfect and omniscient. But then why did the perfect God give the seemingly irrational commands to people? In this argument, there are several points we miss. First, think about the results of the commands of God. When we decide if a plan was successful or not, we usually look at the result of the plan. Then what about the plan of God for the two wars mentioned above? Were they successful? Yes. Then we can say the plan of God was perfect. They could defeat the enemy completely without any significant damage on their side.

From the old days, the best way to win a war is to win it without having to fight. God’s strategy was like that. God has shown that He is the best tactician who can win every battle without causing any casualties on His side. Therefore, when we consider the results of God’s plan, we have to say, “Oh, God is the perfect designer for everything”, rather than “What! How foolish and irrational plan it is!”

Reasons Behind the Irrationality of God’s Plan

Second, this is the most important to consider if God’s plan is rational or not: a spiritual world. Since we are trapped in time and space, the knowledge we get from this world is so much limited and narrow. Due to our blindness to the spiritual and invisible world, sometimes human beings are rebuked even by an animal as we see in the case of Balaam, who was rebuked by a donkey because of his insensitivity toward the spiritual things. (We are no better than ignorant animals!) (Numbers 22) We are confined to the three dimensional world where there is the limitation of the time and space. We cannot make a perfect decision because we cannot see ahead of time or beyond our physical world.

But how about God? God is free from time and space. His sight reaches every where far to the past and future, to the physical world and spiritual. Since He can consider all the factors we cannot perceive, He can make a better decision.

Bible and Rationality: Solomon's seemingly irrational judgment and the result

Conclusion

Therefore, when we say the bible is irrational, we are making a big mistake by judging God with our own perspective. However, this kind of judgment is absolutely wrong, considering the limitations that we have as human being: the limitation caused by the senses we use to get knowledge, and the limitation of our knowledge for the spiritual world.

God who are free from all these limitations and who can take into consideration all the related factors can make the best decision for anything. It may seem to be irrational to us, but it would turn out to be the best way for us in the end.

In short, we have to be careful in making a silly comment doubting the rationality of God. God who created all the universe in the orderly and scientific manner should not be called irrational just because the standard does not meet the human judgment. The wisdom of God is different from the wisdom of man. In the same way, the reason of God is different from that of man. We cannot say God is unreasonable by the human standard.

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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