The thing about Reason
by MW Cook
They tell me that I should not rely on my Reason. It’s faulty, after all. Prone to bias and laziness. It’s a good point. But what should I rely on, then? Which rule is higher or more reliable than my Reason?
The Absolute is higher. That it makes sense. There’s nothing Absolute about me. So I’ll never be Absolutely right on my own.
But where is the Absolute? Well, that depends on who I ask.
When I ask the religious friend, they point to God. Rather, they use their Book to point to God. Makes sense. But how can I know that the Book is from / pointing to the Absolute? I can only see one way of justifying a Book: by weighing and judging it through my imperfect but thoroughly lovely Reason.
Sure, I suppose I could engage it through other faculties. A friend once told me he trusted his Book because of the positive spiritual feeling it gave him when he read it. But I get similar feelings when I listen to Matt Redman, Noah and the Whale, and the Portal 2 soundtrack.
Others have told me to engage the Book with Faith. I’ve never been clear on what that means. It sounds like accepting something with the kind of trust a child might have. If that were a good route I’d just accept whatever Book I was first given.
No, it’s my Reason that needs to be convinced that a certain Book or Word comes from the Absolute.
My Reason isn’t perfect. It’s like a sharp tool. It’ll hurt me if I use it wrong. It’ll dull if I use it wrong. I’ve misused it in the past, I expect I’ll misuse it in the future. I’d wager I’m misusing it in some way now. Sure. But it seems to be one of the best tools I have. And using it clumsily is better than not using it at all.
Of course you should use your reason, but it is not your starting point. Man can never make sense of the world autonomously, there must be a creator, and a distinction between creature and creator. A man who uses reason alone to form his world is like a man on a raft on an endless ocean with only the stars to guide him. Without a knowledge of direction, and a guide to the stars he can never know where he ought to go let alone how to get there.
Christianity believes in a God who exists and has not been silent – “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe”.
Christianity doesn’t start with reason, and it doesn’t start even with the Bible, it starts with a Holy God and our guilt. G.K. Chesterton states at the outset of work ‘Orthodoxy’: “Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.”
The starting point for our inquiry, and the starting point for our reason should be the broken nature of our world and admittance that we are part of that brokenness; that we are guilty of willful disobedience before a Holy God in need of a saviour. Unfortunately in our sinful state even our reason is broken, though the reality of God is evident, in our guilt we suppress it (Romans 1:18:22). We pretend we don’t need God, we are part of an endless material creation formed by time and chance in order assuage our guilt.
I believe Van Til’s description of man using ‘reason’ under these circumstances is apt:
“Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of water. Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water. He sets this ladder upon the water and against the water and then attempts to climb out of the water. So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate. On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance. The rationality and purpose that he may be searching for are still bound to be products of chance.”
This is the inevitable result of denying our guilt and starting with material, time and chance. The alternative is admitting our guilt, the our sins have fenced us in, they are crimson, and only Christ can cleanse them. We need a saviour, I need a saviour, you need a saviour, Jesus has provided the solution for our sin.
Trust in the Bible follows, because it tells us of the solution that we absolutely require, the substitutionary atonement of our Saviour Jesus.