What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
In his book “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge” it was famed philosopher George Berkeley who once made the statement:
“But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park […] and nobody by to perceive them. […] The object of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden […] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them.”
An 1883 magazine called The Chatauquan later reframed Berkeley’s comment into a questions asking:
“If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?”
…and went on to answer the query:
“No. Sound is the sensation excited in the ear when the air or other medium is set in motion.”
This answer seemed to imply that the question posed not from its original philosophical nature, but from a scientific one. The magazine Scientific American then corroborated the technical aspect of this question a year later when they asked the question slightly reworded,
“If a tree were to fall on an uninhabited island, would there be any sound?”
And gave a more technical answer once again,
“Sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognized as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air. If there be no ears to hear, there will be no sound.”
Albert Einstein is reported to have asked his fellow physicist and friend Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, whether he realistically believed that ‘the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.’ To this Bohr replied that however hard he (Einstein) may try, he would not be able to prove that it does, thus giving the entire riddle the status of a kind of infallible conjecture—one that cannot be either proved or disproved.
At first glance, this might seem like a needless consideration. I mean, who cares if it makes a sound or not, right? Who cares if the moon exists after we’ve turned our backs, right?
Well, not so fast!
This question is predicated on assumptions that contain grave implications for the faith community if not wrestled with and rationally thought out in light of the truth of Scripture.
For one, it’s not asking whether the mere faculty of sound would be aroused, but whether sounds itself exist at all where no one is around to hear it.
For the believer, we affirm that the existence of sounds and sights are not in any way sustained by our human presence, but instead, by God who created them. Since one of His attributes is that He is omnipresent – meaning, He is present everywhere in the universe at the same time – then this means that nothing in the heavens or the earth ever happens apart from His foreknowledge and very present presence!
Because He exists and is present, His presence gives value and existence to all things.
Or as Jesus said it:
What is the price of two sparrows–one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
Yet some have wrongly speculated that because God has set in motion the things of this world in such a way so as to be able to be present for all, yet sometimes seemingly chooses not to act or interfere in ways that override our free will and the dominion He has entrusted to us to steward, that He must not be a loving God because surely a loving God would act to thwart the evils that abound.
But rather than this being an act of His indifference, this is actually an act of His mercy, for if God intervened to wipe out every evil at its root appearance in humanity – the thinking level – there would not remain a single human being left standing at the end of the first day! … But I digress.
The real intention of today’s consideration is to help us to see that the philosophical question at hand is far more than merely philosophical. For the believer, we must grow up in our faith – informed by God’s Word – to recognize that some realities – although seemingly transcendental – must be acknowledged as actually ‘more real’ than what can be resolved through the mere faculties of the senses if we stand firmly upon a faith that begins on the premise that asserts, ‘from the spiritual came the physical’ (Heb. 11:3) Or in other words, from God came everything; ‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’ (John 1:3)
I mean, that is what we’re saying when we say that an eternal and invisible God created every physical thing.
In which case, who then is man to define the terms of reality, when his very existence and ability to think something through was part of a design given to him by the One who knew far more than he did (God’s omniscience: all knowing) in order to so intelligently design us in the first place?
That’s like programming an electric thermostat to recognize and beep when the temperature reaches a certain degree, let’s say, 25. And then concluding that the temperature is 25 because of the thermostats recognition of the temperature, as if the thermostat gives value and brings the substance of temperature into reality, rather than simply recognizing that the thermostat is merely acknowledging something that was true without its intervention.
When we are present – we observe what is true.
When we are not present – since reality is not predicated upon ‘our’ presence, but by God’s presence, it therefore still remains true.
If it were not so, God could never ‘justly’ accuse us of something like “neglecting the poor”, if we simple distanced ourselves enough so as to neglect and negate our responsibility.
As it turns out, some of the world’s most profoundly inconclusive science exists in the wonderful world of quantum physics. But rather than disproving my conclusions, the quantum world actually begins to expand upon our often limited human understanding to see that there are many scientific realities that are not in any way predicated on observation – and in some cases, precisely the opposite, yet they still exist!
Even atoms have existed for thousands of years, long before we were ever able to discover their existence, and no one today would ever say that they only came into existence once we discovered them. Especially since everything in the universe contains them!
So with that in mind, I now have a few questions for you. And although you might feel tempted to treat them as merely philosophical, in reality, we both know what the real answers are:
If a man is taken to jail for a ticket and dies while he is in police custody on account of neglect, does he make a sound?
What if a young man serving a short sentence in a provincial jail is beaten to death by his cellmate and never makes it back home to his family. When he cries out for help and no one attends to his cries, pretending not to hear them, does he make a sound?
Or what if a prisoner serving a sentence is locked in segregation and cries out for medical attention, and no one is around to hear his cries – or even worst – the people who are around ‘choose’ to disregard the sounds that he makes because their ‘superior’ philosophies have taught them that ‘out-of-sight’ means ‘its not really happening’ – and that man happens to die, does he make a sound?
I don’t think anyone in their right mind would ever fail to concede that the lives of Edward Nalon, Robert Landers, Adam Kargus, or David Stojcevski’s and countless others do in fact make a sound.
One we seriously need to stop ignoring.
On this Prisoner’s Justice Day August 10th 2018, we join with thousands of prisoners all across the world to fast and pray and call on the Lord for His wisdom to understand how to best reform our ideas of justice on every level: from prisoner communities, to law enforcement, to the judicial system and governments in remembrance of:
– those whose cries we have failed to hear,
– those whose cries we have pretended not to hear,
– and we also take it one step further and commit to make better efforts in the future to speak up and act in keeping with our profession of faith when we hear the cries of those in need.
For whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
To learn ways that you can get involved to encourage and walk with prisoners, visit: www.prisonfellowship.ca
Trust ♔ Jesus!