I began this series with the conflict between science and theology. I called into question the belief that there should not be such a conflict. Truth is not unified. Human beings can know a lot of information. We can even divine connections within the body of information we have. We can hold differing viewpoints in tension But to know the absolute truth is elusive. The scientific mind considers the world to be quantifiable and predictable. While the theological mind considers this point of view to be naive. The world of human beings is not quantifiable or predictable with any certainty. We did not always think so. In fact, Galileo learned things that now appear so simple that there is wonder that no one thought of it before him. We have no record though that anyone did.
Holding The Tension
Americans believe the phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” They were truths that Thomas Jefferson had no intention of proving. In fact, they are not truths at all in the scientific sense. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are neither quantifiable or predictable. This fact does not stop them for being the grounds of American political theory.
Two people may argue a position based on politics, morality, or logic. Can they both be right? Often we admit that they can. Each position has its merits. Each position has its faults. The Hebrew Bible is a good example of maintaining this kind of tension.
When we read the “historical” books from 1 Samuel to 2 Kings, we are told about the events of the lives of the kings of Israel and then Israel and Judah. Some kings do terrible things. Jeroboam 1 of Israel is always known as the king “that caused Israel to sin” regarding the two golden bulls set up for worship in Bethel and Dan. His crime is a religious one. We can never forget King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Other kings are remembered for good and bad deeds even the great model King David.
The books known as first and second Chronicles tell us about the kings of Judah. There are some bad kings that never do anything good. And there are some kings who never do anything bad. The story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba gets no mention in these books. Solomon’s 300 wives and 700 concubines are not discussed either.
Holding Contradictory Views to Get a Bigger Picture
The rabbinic council of Jamnia (AD 90) set the canon of the Protestant Old Testament. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) (ca. 100 BC) both included these contradictory books. Why preserve confusion about the characters of the Kings? It is a simple solution. The books themselves said to do so.
The story of Hezekiah’s life concludes in 2 Kings with these words. “The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah, all his power…are they not written in the Annals (of Chronicles) of the Kings of Judah?” (2 Kings 20:20) The words from 2 Chronicles also argues for continued reading. “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and his good deeds, are written in the vision of the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.” (32:32)
The writers (or final compilers) of these books know about the other sources. Did Hezekiah do everything a king should? Chronicles says yes, unequivocally. Kings (with the prophet Isaiah), on the other hand, tells us about Hezekiah’s moral failure that eventually leads to the Babylonian Captivity.
The Bible holds this tension of the histories. Why? So that we can learn there is never going to be a perfect human leader in either the government or the Temple? Perhaps, there are other reasons. All we can know is that the compilers of the books deemed it necessary.
Necessity As The Mother of Tension
Authoritarian methods of reasoning will not provide solutions when we need them. Human beings are required to be smart enough to decide the best course. “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom and whatever else you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)
Does Science require a materialist belief? Or does science require a materialist approach? There is a difference. Holding a materialist belief does not guarantee one will be a good scientist. Holding a supernatural belief does not make a person spiritual either. But understanding that there must be a materialist approach to science does not preclude spirituality or religion.
Utilitarianism is a philosophical approach to morality with a more or less materialist assumption. But there are exceptions to the rule as the Pragmatists pointed out a century ago. The pragmatists reopened spirituality and religious belief as potential determiners of moral conduct. It was necessary.
How necessary is theology to understanding reality? Theology leaves the human mind open to possibilities. It allows for spirituality to go beyond the personal viewpoint into an interpersonal viewpoint. It takes us beyond attitudes of simply “my belief or my judgment.” In a sense then, it does for religion and spirituality what science does for understanding the material aspects of the world.