“I am the Way…”

JewishJesus

I don’t usually talk much about religion here–occasional bits of Asatru but that’s about it.  Still, this point has come up recently so I wanted to discuss a bit of philosophy.

Jesus (Yeshua Ben Yoseph as he would have been known at the time) is reported to have said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me.” This is generally interpreted to mean that one has to be a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ as described in whichever Christian religion is making the claim.

Consider, however, we live on an Earth 12,756 km in diameter, with a surface area of 510 million square kilometers.  It is one of nine planets (8?  Is Pluto back to being considered a planet again?) circling a G class star (and not counting any planets out farther that might yet be found circling our sun). The sun is just one star out of something between 100 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy.  The Milky Way is but one galaxy, which itself is but one of two trillion galaxies.  That, then would mean something like two to eight hundred sextillion stars with possibly septillions of planets.

This is all scattered over tens of billions of light years, sextillions of kilometers.

It’s one thing to write out the numbers, but it’s quite another to actually comprehend what it means.  A single grain of sand might be a half millimeter in diameter.  A billion grains of sand, close packed, would make a ball 22 centimeters in diameter.  Not bad.  A trillion is two meters in diameter.   Still not too bad.  A sextillion is 2.2 kilometers in diameter and an octillion is 22 kilometers in diameter.  All that as grains of sand.

And out of all that, on this one planet, the fall of each and every of the tens of millions of sparrows on just this one planet , along with every other creature here and throughout that incomprehensibly vast universe is noted, in real time, as it happens.

Such a being, if He exists, must Himself be far vaster, far more expansive than we can possibly comprehend.  Indeed, that must be true of any deity, whether the Christian God, or any other god or group of beings that we might call “gods”, that are a significant force in all that vastness (let alone an ultimate creator god).  Such a being would have to beggar our human understanding.  Any human conception of such a being or beings would be, at best, no more than one grain of sand in that 22 kilometer diameter ball.

There is the parable of the blind men and the elephant.  But that dwarfs the situation.  Six blind men touching some random thing in the world would be closer.  One touches a puddle and thinks it’s wet.  Another a fire and that it burns.  Another steps off a cliff and…briefly…thinks it’s rushing air.  All of them have only the tiniest, the most minuscule, picture of the whole, and don’t even know how limited their view is.  They think it is the world.

And so perhaps, just perhaps, even if we grant the opening statement as true, perhaps “by Me” itself encompasses far more than we can possibly imagine.

15 thoughts on ““I am the Way…””

  1. All Christians know is 1) He Said That He Was The Only Way and 2) We were ordered to witness to all nations/people.

    There’s plenty of speculation among Christians (theologists & lay) about what happens to humans who never had the opportunity to accept or reject him.

    But honestly, we don’t know but Christians do know that we have a duty to witness to others.

    Of course, Scripture only involves this small planet not the possible other worlds out there with intelligent life.

    To paraphrase C. S. Lewis’ Aslan, “God only tells us our story not the story of other people on other worlds”.

    Note, the following is My Opinion. To the best of my knowledge, it isn’t canon among any Christian Church. Mind you, there have been clergy who have said “if an alien wants to become Christian, it isn’t correct to tell the alien no”.

    I suspect that if God created other people on other worlds, then He has plans for them similar to His plan for humans.

    Of course, C. S. Lewis in his space trilogy has Non-Fallen people on Mars and showed that the Adam & Eve of Venus did not Fall as did humans.

    Are some of the people on other worlds Fallen like humans are?

    Possible, but the Christ is only the human persona of Godshead and the Godshead may have taken the same route on other worlds as He did on our world.

    We just don’t know the Story of other peoples elsewhere until Heaven and/or we encounter them out-there.

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  2. I don’t recall the name of the scientist who started work on it, but Isaac Asimov wrote about this idea in Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations. I think he considered ten factors. In Habitable Planets For Men, Stephen Dole lists 11 characteristics that must exist. If I remember correctly, others have listed as many as forty. The problem is that if any one of these characteristics approaches a probability of zero, none of the rest matters. This means that you can have ten times as many worlds as you mentioned – throwing big numbers around no longer matters and does not increase the probability. It’s still effectively a miracle that we are here, and it would be a miracle if we found another civilization even if we could search all those planets. (I got both books in order to learn to “create” reasonable alien worlds for stories. I like the idea of (some) aliens, but suspect they’re only story fodder, more’s the pity.)
    Now, as for your parable of the men and the elephant and its parallel. In telling this story, people ignore two characters: The narrator (possibly the elephant’s handler, who sees the elephant and the men and could guide them out of their mistakes, and the elephant, which is more able than the blind men to interact with its surroundings. The story only works if the elephant and narrator are reduced to statues (and if the blind men are reduced to idiots who behave unlike blindmen in that they touch only one place. If you grant a blind person permission to touch your face, they’re not likely to conclude that you’re nothing but a nose.) As I have listened to what is said of nearly all religions, they come down to man earning his own salvation. What else would men say but that we can (and must) do it ourselves? Those religions are all made in the image of man. According to the Bible, however; man can’t earn his salvation. It’s simply not possible. God provides a way, and it is the Way. What man cannot do, God does. It takes away our prideful, “I did it myyyyyyyyy way” that was the cause of the problem in the first place.
    If there is intelligent life out there somewhere, and if it fell as we fell, I believe that they would find themselves somewhere in the story found in the Bible, either looking forward to the coming of the Way, or looking back at the sacrifice He made, and probably with as many variations on ineffective on their part to provide that way themselves.

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    1. None of this really addresses the point of the post. Even if this world is the sole abode of life (and that not likely for reasons I’ll get to in a moment) the Universe remains immense, far vaster than the human mind can comprehend. Anything we might call a god that is a significant power in that immensity–let alone an ultimate creator being that created that vastness–must, likewise, be far vaster itself than the human mind can comprehend.

      It is pure hubris to apply some narrow meaning to “by me” (the scripture quoted at the beginning of the post).

      But if there’s one thing humans of all beliefs are good at, it’s hubris.

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      1. But then there’s the hubris of “All Of You Are Wrong”. 😉

        Seriously, hubris or arrogance is part of human nature. IE Not limited to religious people.

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        1. On the other hand. Quick, pick a number between 0 and 1.

          You’re wrong.

          It’s not hubris to think in advance that you did not pick sin(e^pi)^3. There are simply more ways, infinitely more in fact, to be wrong than to be right. But even if we allow that something could be “right” in so far as it goes, the likelihood that it’s completely right, if it’s at all complex, is…miniscule at best. Which is the point. If the statement “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” is correct, and if that being truly is an aspect of the ultimate creator of the vastness and complexity of the observable universe, then that being must, itself be vaster, more expansive, more complex than the human mind can comprehend. Any human conception of the “Me” in “by Me” is going to be far, far too inadequate to truly understand, let alone describe it. Only hubris can make one think otherwise.

          I am reminded of one of the minor arguments in physics.

          Albert Einstein (having objections to Quantum Theory, even though his own work laid important parts of the foundation): “God does not play dice with the Universe.”
          Neils Bohr: “Stop telling God what to do, Albert.”

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          1. But aren’t you trying to do that? 😉

            Seriously, as a Christian I have live my life by My Understanding of what is meant not the billions of other explanations that you or somebody else might think of.

            Now, I can not nor should not force others to live according to My Understanding.

            Now the following doesn’t apply to you.

            On the other hand, why should somebody else force me to be silent about “My Understanding” because “There Might Be Other Explanations Of What God Meant”.

            That’s what I mean by Arrogance Being A Human Quality, Religious People Or Non-Religious People.

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      2. How is it hubris in your part or mine if Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except by Him? I’m not the one making the claim. I’m merely the one who believes it to be true. If it is hubris, it is hubris on the part of Jesus Christ. But that brings us back to C.S. Lewis’ trilemma. When Jesus made this claim, He could have been lying, in which case we should run from Him. He could have been deluded and therefore displaying the hubris of which you wrote. Or, He could have been telling the truth. (You may add that someone else has put the words into His mouth, but if you’re going to claim that, I’d like to see some evidence that such was so, not just that it might have been so.) If He was telling the truth, then it is not hubris to seek the Father through Him, it’s common sense.
        Further, I suggest that one piece of evidence that it is true (besides the historical event of His death and resurrection) is the fact that what He said is the opposite of what man would invent. Humanity makes itself the hero of its religions. We can and must “make it” ourselves. Jesus Christ says that we can’t make it our way. We have to do it His way, which is deeply humiliating to us – to admit that we are not only traitors but also rank failures? To go to the one against whom we committed treason and ask forgiveness? How is that hubris?

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        1. The hubris is in thinking that you’re able to fathom what “by Me” would mean when the “Me” in question is the ultimate Creator of something as vast and expansive as the observable Universe (never mind what might be unobservable).

          The “Me” in question would, pretty much by definition, incorporate far more than any human mind can possibly comprehend.

          Indeed, that God (and thus Christ) is far beyond human comprehension is an article of faith among most Christian and Christian adjacent beliefs. And then people turn around and with the next breath start placing narrow, restrictive “definitions” on what constitutes “by Me”.

          I merely point out the contradiction inherent in that. If God, Christ, the Trinity, whatever version of Godhood you hold to, truly is “beyond human comprehension” then what constitutes “by Me” (with the “Me” being that Godhood) is likewise so. Pretending that you do comprehend it is the hubris.

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          1. Hubris

            God Incarnate said “Nobody comes to me expect via My Son”.

            He also said “Go out and witness to all of the Nations. Making Disciples in My Name”.

            And You Claim That Because God Is So Big that He Really Didn’t Mean What Scriptures Claim and Christians Believe That He Means.

            Hubris on your part.

            If you had just said “I can’t believe what the Christ Said Is True”, we wouldn’t have an argument.

            The Christ who is claimed by some non-believers to be a Great Moral Teacher is also somebody whose “meaning can’t be clear” because He’s So Big.

            You are like the Asshole Agnostic who says “I don’t know if God Is Real and You Can’t Know If God Is Real”.

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          2. Let’s take “via My Son” as a true statement. Since, in most versions of Christianity “My Son” and “God” are the same being (“three personages, one God”)

            Can you please, then, define exactly what constitutes “My Son” so we can know, in no uncertain terms what the parameters and the limits on those parameters are? After all, back in the day they thought they knew what constituted “Children of Abraham” but then John the Baptist said that God could raise Children unto Abraham from the very stones. When Jesus made that eye of the needle comparison and his disciples considered it impossible, he said “With God, all things are possible.” People kept putting limiting definitions on God and His works and kept getting chided for it.

            But, hey, a limited interpretation based on limited human understanding, is all well and good now? “This Time for Sure”TM

            Note that my starting position here is presuming, for purposes of discussion, that the statement, the line of scripture that I quoted in the post–“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”–is true. What I am saying is that the “Me” that would of necessity be vastly more expansive than the people presume when pointing to that line.

            They’re the ones putting limits on the God they profess to believe in. How is that not the very Platonic Ideal of hubris?

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            1. Prove that your view is true.

              As it is, you are telling US that we are Wrong.

              IE: Why are you Correct and We are Wrong.

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          3. I never said you were wrong. Not once. You might be but that’s not what I’m saying here. I’m saying consider the possibility that while right insofar as it goes, it’s not complete.

            I started with the proposition that the line of scripture was true. I then followed it up with other points of at least most Christian belief systems, and indeed noted that these other aspects follow not just for the Christian God, but for any being that might be called a god that was a significant power in the Universe, let alone an ultimate Creator of that Universe.

            I took those two aspects of Christian belief, presumed their truth, and then noted an implication. This is also not inconsistent as the creating “children unto Abraham” from stones or getting a camel through the eye of a needle. (Yes, I am aware of the retcon claiming that “eye of a needle” was the name of a particularly narrow gate, but that is dubious given the disciples response of “Who, then can be saved” to which followed “Jesus looked at them and said ‘with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”)

            You cannot apparently see the disconnect between “God is beyond comprehension” and then declaring that “by Me” must have some very specific, narrow interpretation even though the same “Me” and his harbinger both were sharply critical of such narrow interpretations.

            I’m not the one in this discussion putting limitations on God and what He can and cannot, or even will and will not do.

            “With God, all things are possible…except that.”

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        2. I’ll simply note that you’re on my blog. If you’re bored, you can go elsewhere, especially if you’re not going to address my actual statements rather than spinning repeated straw men. (And any argument that begins claiming I’m saying–for purposes of this discussion–that the original statement is not true, is a straw man, since I’m starting from the exact opposite proposition, that it is true.)

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    2. Now, onto the likelihood of life elsewhere issue (which, although not really relevant to the point of the post, is itself an interesting issue). Yes, I am fully aware of Cole’s writing (his “Habitable Planets for Man” has long been one of my sources when I work in serious science fiction). I am also familiar with Asimov’s–how can any one serious about working in the speculative field not be? You said:

      The problem is that if any one of these characteristics approaches a probability of zero, none of the rest matters.

      I believe you’re thinking of the Drake Equation:

      Two of those terms are not particularly relevant here: number releasing recognizable signals and length of time releasing such signals. That they exist at all is sufficient for a “god”.

      Still…iIf.” First off, the question about whether they are actually necessary for some form of life “not as we know it” remains open. We can but guess. But supposing they are that’s still a huge “if.” One also has to consider what constitutes “approaches zero”. Most people would think “one in a billion” would qualify as approaching zero. And yet, one in a billion would still have quadrillions of examples in the scale of the observable universe.

      When Cole was writing (Asimov didn’t even have that at the time) we thought we knew of exactly one extra-solar planet–a claim that was later refuted. One could, therefore think that the likelihood of planets was extremely low. However, a couple of factors speak against that. One is that the sun rotates rather slowly, more slowly than theories of stellar formation would suggests. The answer to that is given in the sun’s magnetic field, which interacts with the planets and other bodies around it (weakly, but enough to add up over billions of years) transferring angular momentum from the sun itself to the planetary disk. We can measure the rotation of stars via their spectrum and we find that stars at the smaller end of the size range, the F, G, K, and M “main sequence” stars tend to have slower rotations than the bigger O, B, and A classes. This, in and of itself, suggests that planetary formation is common. But then, starting in 1992 with improved instruments and techniques we started finding them left and right. Planets are common. Eliminating “M” class as too dim to support life (which, itself, may be dubious) we are left with the F, G, and K stars. Those make up 22.9% of all stars. We’re still left with septillions.

      The formation of life (at least as we know it)? Perhaps that’s the “approaches zero”? The problem with that is that the elements that make up “life as we know it” are among the most common elements in the universe. We know of natural processes that can form the basic “building blocks” of life can and are formed from natural processes–lightning, UV radiation (no photosynthesis yet means no free oxygen which means no ozone layer), and so on. Now, in a world like the Earth with an abundance of life, those “building blocks”–amino acids, simple sugars and the like–will be quickly gobbled up by microorganisms as food but absent life that doesn’t happen. They can accumulate, and accumulating interact chemically. And given enough time every single possible arrangement of relatively modest collections of such building blocks will occur simply by chance. It then becomes only a matter of time before a self-replicating form appears. It need not be complicated. A single modest strand of DNA or RNA containing a pattern and a protein, encoded in that pattern capable of replicating. It’s nothing we would recognize as “life” now and indeed would not be able to “survive” in the current world in any but the most carefully sterilized laboratory environment being simply a slightly bigger lump of food to living cells) but since their are no other living cells to “eat” it, it can continue. And once you have self-replicating proto-life, natural selection goes into effect and more complicated. Given the amount of “building block” origin chemicals on the Earth and the rate at which chemical reactions take place, it looks like about 500 million to a billion years would be enough time for this first proto-life to form, even if there is only one possible combination that could produce that initial “proto-life”. This is consistent with what the geologic record suggests as the first formation of life on Earth.

      Add in the fossil evidence of life found in Martian meteorites. Asteroid impacts on Mars eject material fast enough to escape Martian gravity. Some of those reach Earth and enter Earth’s atmosphere becoming meteorites. In some, we’ve seen “tracks” that suggest living organisms present before the stone itself was formed (i.e., when it was still on Mars.) Now, scientists, being an inherently conservative bunch are hesitant to say conclusively that this proves that there was once life on Mars but that is what the evidence points to: that there at least used to be life on Mars.

      Thus the “ifs” don’t seem to be panning out. Stars are, as pointed out in the blog post, so plentiful that it’s impossible to comprehend just how plentiful. A fairly substantial fraction of them have planets. A notable fraction of them have planets in the “life zone” (temperatures allowing for liquid water) And when it comes to planets bearing life, well, we appear to be two for three in planets within the “life zone” on the one star where we’ve been able to check.

      But even if all that vastness out there is completely uninhabited, is dead, without the slightest trace of any life, then it’s still incomprehensibly vast, and any Creator Being would, likewise, have to be incomprehensibly expansive. And so narrow interpretations on “by Me” would still be the height of hubris.

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