Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Where's the debate?

I have a VHS tape that I love to bring out from time to time -- usually around the start of baseball season, to get into the mood. It's Game 6 of the 1953 World Series: the earliest extant copy of a full televised World Series game. Brooklyn vs. the Yankees, and the Dodgers could have won the series that day. But the Yanks won, sending the series back to Yankee Stadium, where they won Game 7. Another "wait 'til next year!" for Dodgers fans.

I love watching that tape: to hear Mel Allen and Red Barber calling the action: to watch Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson and Yogi Berra as young men, already heroes and fan favorites, to hear Mel call a Duke Snider homer: "Look out! And look no more!"; even to watch the grandstand shadows creep across the field, with the shadows of dozens of photographers, standing on the roof, capturing the action.

But I know the outcome. No matter how many times I play the tape, the Yankees will win and the series will go back up to The Bronx. Not once do I put the tape in the VHS machine (ask your big brother or sister what a VHS was, kiddies!) thinking, "Wow! I wonder if the Dodgers will pull it out this time?"

I got to thinking about that tape recently, reading about a debate last week at UBC, where an atheist debated the existence of God with a Christian.

The Ubyssey, the student newspaper (which has spawned, in times past, such luminaries as John Turner and Allan Fotheringham), displayed the kind of editorial balance that will make this generation of reporters fine candidates for work at the CBC by sending an atheist to cover the debate.

No bones about it: the secondary headline identified the reporter as an atheist.

To my mind, the idea of debating the existence of God is one of the biggest wastes of time imaginable. How can one look at anything in our world and attribute it to anything but the work of a loving, beneficent Creator? And how can one look at miracles in people's lives, which have followed effectual, fervent prayer, and say there is no connection? How can you accept the fruit, but reject the tree?

Debate the existence of God? Might as well stick in the video tape and hope that maybe this time, it will come out differently: the prayer won't get answered, the battle won't come out in favor of an army that seems hopelessly outclassed, David won't bring down the enemies' "Big Man" with a single, well-placed rock; or, failing that, that all these victories, great and small, were due to just plain dumb luck.

Debating God's existence is one of the enemy's great mis-directs. Try to get us into a fleshly discussion, based in "rational, reasoned argument", where the object appears to be winning rather than winning souls. That's one of the reasons why Jesus warned us not to worry about what we'd say if we were called on to defend our faith: the Holy Spirit would give us the words.

Jesus wouldn't even debate whether He was the Son of God. When Satan tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, he started his challenges with "if thou be the Son of God", and Jesus wouldn't bite. Why? Because even to attack that premise -- if thou be the Son of God -- would be to accept the possibility, however remote, that He wasn't the Son of God. And that would open the door a crack. His only reply -- as we know -- was, "it is written ...."

The Ubyssey coverage was strange. The reporter challenged the campus ministry people, who organized the debate, on why a Christian was brought in. DUH! The thought that you could discuss God without Jesus is like discussing the sky without mentioning the sun. The atheist reporter also had a problem that "God's Advocate" was not taking the position that some nebulous, hard-to-define supreme being existed, but was actually referring to The One True God, the God of Israel. Not that there is a god, but that there is only one God and we know who He is.

That's like discussing that, although it's obvious that the sky is blue, there might also be a red sky and a green sky.

(The reporter also made a comment at the end of the article, which was rather telling. He said it was a night that reminded people why they were in university in the first place. Indeed, for centuries, universities have been venues for intellectual self-gratification, even to the point of denying the reality that stares them in the face every day. I don't know if that was what he meant, but we should keep that in mind.)

That being said, was the event a waste of time? No: it did expose a hunger that young people have for spiritual meaning in life. Even the atheists probably wanted some kind of confirmation that it's Perfectly Fine to define life, the universe, and everything in terms they make up out of their own intellect (and at the end of the day, isn't that what denying God means?). Good luck to them: Shakespeare didn't consider himself creative enough; Einstein didn't consider himself smart enough. And look at the raw numbers: 1200 students turned out for the debate, filling six lecture halls -- with live video feeds into the overflow rooms. 200 filled out response cards from campus ministry -- Hallelujah! I wonder how many of the remaining thousand were committed Christians? And how many were committed atheists? And how many young people walked out into the night, with rain cascading down from the skies, firmly believing that there couldn't possibly be a god, that everything was perfectly explainable in the natural realm?

I'm not worried about the answer to that question, actually. God has a funny way of revealing Himself to people -- invariably, it's at times when they really need Him. The fact that those young people came to hear the debate -- assuming that the majority were not there to hear their own point of view reinforced by the debaters -- tells me there's a whole lotta kids out there who (a) haven't been raised up in the knowledge of Christ and (b) still are seeking something. They may try other avenues, other approaches, other world views; they may keep sticking that VHS tape into the machine, thinking, "Come on, Dodgers! Let's beat 'em this time!". But sooner or later -- especially in these end times, as God gradually but firmly chokes off all other "alternative routes to the top of the mountain" and exposes them as the false messiahs that they are -- they will go from constantly asking, as CS Lewis put it, "is that You?" to saying "so that was You, all along!"

For that moment to come -- and sooner, rather than later -- let us pray.

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