Question: I want to ask what the Bible says about the following philosophical questions: 1.) What is truth? Can we know the truth? 2.) What is reality? Is the world we see and live in right now the reality? 3.) Do other people have a mind or consciousness like me? 4.) Do we have free will? Or are we determined by God or genes or environment? Those questions aren`t directed stated in the Bible, but I want to ask your opinion on what the Bible suggests the answers to those question might be.
Answer: The Bible does not address philosophical questions. It addresses sin and God’s remedy for it. Does this mean that the Bible ignores all the other questions in life? No. Just the opposite in fact. The Bible does indeed address all the issues of life…but on God’s terms. He sets the agenda. He establishes the talk points. He publishes the index. He caused his various penmen to write what he deems to be important, and has protected his written word throughout that process and throughout the ages. What we have then is God’s revelation to mankind. We have it in his order, with his emphasize, and with his exclusions. But what do I mean by exclusions?
While the Bible talks about the stars, it is not a volume on astronomy, and while the Bible talks about languages, it is neither a Spanish grammar text nor is it a Chaldean lexicon. The Bible talks about humanity, but it is not an anthropology text. The Bible talks about thought, reasoning, homemaking, music, poetry, art and philosophy...but one cannot consider it a book that addresses (in a full, focused, and direct manner) all the sub-disciplines of human thought and experience.
The Bible does, however (and in a full, focused, and direct manner), address humanity’s primary issue: Sin. And it does this through the agency of revelation. Revelation is God’s reporting on history, prophecy, the nature of people, the nature of God, his relationship to people—and foremost: the person of his Son Jesus Christ. I’ll agree to pull out one or two cogent passages that address some of your philosophical questions, but I do this under scholastic duress, because we cannot help but cheat the context. How so specifically?
No person understands the Bible who has not come to grips with the revelation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, non-believers are at a disadvantage in their studies. Any little text-iods that I might float-out in a thousand-word discussion cannot be effectively evaluated by a person who has not studied the Bible in full. Why not? One who seeks to understand the Bible's parts, must first understand its primary theme: God’s reconciliation of humankind to himself through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ. Once a person adjusts to that academic reality, he should then avail himself of that spiritual reality—responding to God’s offer of eternal life by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Once a person rests in Jesus, he becomes a child of God who is eternally secure in God’s family. He also receives the Holy Spirit, and is thus empowered to live a life of legitimate faith. Only then may a seeker be prepared to rightly divide God’s written revelation. In fact, I submit that most believers (even those without a scholarly bent) find themselves in a better position to receive God’s intended communications than even the brightest non-believing scholar.
Are you a believer in Jesus Christ? I ask, because your questions embody the typical complaints against God—a compilation of “legitimate” reasons for remaining an atheist or an agnostic. If you are not a believer, please note your peril and contact me again. In the meantime, since the proper qualifications are now in place, I will respond to your questions, beginning with truth.
God defines truth in direct and unqualified language: Jesus is the Truth. “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6). Truth is also the way. “Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;” (2 Peter 2:2). Truth is both the person of Jesus Christ and the way of Jesus Christ. Additionally, you can indeed know truth. “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32).
Do you feel the divide here? The Bible plainly tells us that truth exists, that it is a person, that it is an option for living and that it is knowable. But philosophical symposiums generally dismiss the Bible’s counsel out-of-hand, and even if you merely mention that Jesus claims to be the Truth in such a gathering, you will feel the room tightening-up. I bring this up because if you are not comfortable with that very elementary biblical concept—that Jesus is the Truth—then how could we ever advance to an effective result? Everything rests on that. I shall continue nonetheless.
The Bible does not address reality or outside consciousness per se. It assumes that our concurrent experiences are real. It assumes that other individually vital people really do exist, and that the other seven-billion people (and all of the out-of-our-sight structures in the world) are not mere props. It does address arrogance, though…and how else could one classify such a notion—that I alone exist and everything else is either for me and about me?
To understand the inclusions and exclusions of a specific piece of writing (like the Bible), we must first understand one of the ethics of writing in general: No work carries the burden of addressing topics that are outside of its declared scope. We do not consider an American Literature text inadequate because it does not contain data on black holes, nor would we consider our Physics text as inadequate because it does not conjugate Spanish Language verbs. In like manner, the Bible does not address topics that God has deemed superfluous to Scripture.
Concerning reality, I realize that philosophers must expand the envelope of reason by their explorations—that’s their job! But let’s you and I come down to earth for a minute. Are you seriously asking me if our experiences are real or if other people really exist as people? If you are not serious, then why should the Bible waste time addressing something so bizarre? But if you are asking in earnest…well…you have a problem that a few biblical factoids will not fix.
As for free will, we are self-determining creatures, and we have been so throughout history regardless of biblical category—Jew, Gentile or Christian. Our free will, however, will never foil God’s revealed plans—in spite of the fact that we are free to move about and act volitionally. The fact that God's purposes will be accomplished does not mean that we are stymied in performing any of our actions. It is just that any actions that we perform, which are outside of God's purposes, will not affect anything significant. The Bible records and predicts events which seem anything but voluntary, and these seem to fly in the face of free-will. Yet, when we study God’s nature (specifically, what he knows and how he exists), we understand better how the limitations of mortal logic apply only to our thinking, and could never apply as restrictive to our all-powerful God.
We understand (by definition) that God is omnipresent, meaning that he exists everywhere at the same time. You and I, however, are stuck living in linear time. God exists in linear time, too, but only because he exists infinitely, and linear time—including all of history and all of the future—is merely a sub-set of his infinite existence. Remember that time as we know it did not exist before God created the physical universe. God exists purely and infinitely—that is, he merely (!?) exists—regardless of any outside phenomena. From our perspective, we see time as past, present and future. We might even consider an existence outside of time—before its creation and after its usefulness. But as a practical matter, we are quite stuck with time. God uses time to work his plans for us, but he experiences no restrictions because of it.
We also understand (by definition) that God is omniscient, meaning that he knows everything. (God knows all things infinitely, that is fully and at the same time.) Therefore, we can never say that God reacts to events-in-time since his knowledge of events is infinite. Although his actions-in-time may sometimes appear reactive, this appearance is only for our benefit. How else could he fulfill or deny a contingent promise? How else could he discipline? How else could he teach? But any such events are never reactive in essence since he sees everything at the same instant.
Since God knows every event of the past, present and future, and since he exists in every place at the same time and in all times, he can then predetermine certain outcomes without merely reacting to events and without tromping on man’s free will.
I know…that’s a lot of data. But he is a big God.