Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Knockout Punch

No one wants a fight to go ten rounds with the winner determined based on a judge’s decision. The goal is a knockout, and that as quickly as possible. A knockout is decisive and shows, conclusively which contestant is the better boxer. Well . . . unless the knockout blow was a fluke, or the loser – normally a superior boxer – was under the weather and not up to his usual form. A knockout only determines who won the match, not whose skills in boxing are the greatest.

The knockout mentality pervades our culture, perhaps partly because sport pervades our culture. But for many centuries politicians, theologians, scientists, economists, athletes, businessmen, and lovers have been looking for the knockout punch that will conclusively and permanently make them the winner.

Of course the concept of “knockout” comes from boxing, an ancient sport that perhaps originally was a fight to the death and, even as recently as a century ago, was a bloody, bare-knuckle affair. But, even in its more civil modern form, it still has the unspoken goal of inflicting damage – perhaps even permanent “death” – to a portion of the opponent’s brain, resulting in unconsciousness or immobility for a period long enough for a referee to count to ten. The long-term effects of such damage is tragic and a “Christian society” should be appalled that a “sport” with that kind of brutality as its object is sanctioned by law and enjoyed by millions.

But that is an aside, not an unimportant one, but nonetheless an aside. It is the concept of conclusive proof – the knockout punch – that this essay is intended to address. As pointed out above, even a knockout in boxing can point to something other than an indication of which contestant is the more skilled boxer. And in all the other areas – politicians, theologians, scientists, economists, athletes, businessmen, and lovers – it is equally true that any particular victory over an opponent or competitor is inconclusive as to the ultimate competence of the contestants. That is why baseball seasons stretch over months and involve 162 contests for each team.

But sporting fans are not content to let the record, achieved over a 162 game season, speak for the competence of a team; they want a Champion. And so a special series of “tournaments” has been instituted to declare one team – not necessarily the one with the best record over the 162 game season – “Champion,” based, often on one “knockout punch” delivered in the last inning of the last game of the last series of the post season. The “Champion” may well be a team whose regular season record barely sufficed to get them into the play-off “tournaments,” but if, by some fluke of good fortune, they can strike the mighty blow in the final struggle they are the best!

While it is logically inconsistent to determine a sporting Champion, based on a single win, it becomes ludicrous to do so in other areas. For nearly a century now, a certain segment of the Christian community has been engaged in an effort to deliver a “knockout blow” to atheists and skeptics – and certain “modernist elements” within the Christian community – by discovering ancient Biblical artifacts to prove, conclusively, that the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate in every detail. The belief is that if one could find, and put on display, for example, the Ark of the Covenant with its stone tablets containing the ten commandments, its bowl of manna, still fresh and tasty, and Aaron’s walking stick, still budding and alive, that would irrefutably confirm their version of the Christian religion.

Of course it would only confirm such to those who believed the evidence to be authentic. Such a “discovery” would only initiate a new contest to prove the authenticity of the evidence. And so it would go on into the centuries beyond our reckoning.

In matters of faith, it is faith that matters. And in the Christian religion it is faith in Jesus Christ that matters ultimately; faith that he is the promised Savior, the Divine Son of God; that his death atones for sin and his resurrection guarantees eternal life. No discovery of any artifact changes the equation: faith in Jesus Christ = everlasting life. In fact, the struggle to find and believe in such artifacts can be a distraction, making one a believer in artifacts more than a believer in Christ.

The search for the “knockout artifact,” that will relieve one of the need to have faith, is an un-Christian endeavor. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” More than that, God has so structured the world that it is impossible to live at all without faith in something. If one can put their faith in an artifact, why not simply put it in God, and in his Son, Jesus, the Christ?

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