One of my summer activities has been to listen to a wonderful series of lectures by Canadian icon Northrop Frye, literary critic who delved so deeply in the bible with his seminal work The Great Code. The lectures entitled The Bible and Literature at the University of Toronto are available on-line at https://heritage.utoronto.ca/content/video/bible-and-english-literature-northrop-frye-full-lecture-1.
One of the statements by Frye, which caught my attention in lecture 9, and made me sit up and take special note, was his assertion that “the more trustworthy the evidence, the more misleading it is.” Frye was asserting this in relation to proof and the desire that people – at least some people - have, to find hard evidence of the events and accounts which are contained in the bible. One example is the craze some years ago following supposed discover of the remains of Noah’s Arc on Mt. Ararat. Then there was the case of the ossuary (vessel) that was purported to hold the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. Especially notable is the Shroud of Turin which is held to be the burial cloth which was used to wrap Jesus’ body after the crucifix. People seem to want and even need physical proof to affirm their beliefs that are the foundation of their faith.
I must confess that I have had this desire at times for proof and I was particularly taken with the Shroud of Turin years ago when it was first in the popular press. It is, perhaps, human nature to desire proof of what is presented to us as reality, especially these days when there is so much in the news and on social media that needs to be questioned. So, when Frye made the statement that the more trustworthy the evidence the more misleading it was, it didn’t make logical sense to me.
However. I was very pleased and relieved that he clarified this statement later in the lecture. Here is the clarification from the transcript:
The point that I want to return to when we come to the Book of Job is that no serious religion ever tries to answer anybody's questions, because in any serious or existential matter the progress in understanding is a progress through a sequence of formulating better questions. An authoritative answer blocks off progress; it blocks off all advance. The answer consolidates the assumptions in the question, and brings the process to a dead stop. That is what I mean when I say that the more trustworthy the evidence, the more misleading it is. Trustworthy evidence means a kind of authority that stops you from asking any more questions.
This is the sign of a good teacher who does not want to close off the human desire to explore possibilities and enable the student to discover what is revealed which will lead to further discoveries. This was the message in the account of the disciple Thomas who demanded proof that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Jesus answered him and us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This is essential when it comes to ultimate truths life and the world. If we look at the belief in God from what is called the God of the gaps in which our faith is based on what science can’t explain – at least at this point. As the result of scientific discoveries, we have to adjust our belief in God and what God is doing in the world based on what science can now explain. However, the discoveries of science do not close off our exploration of how God has created and continues to create life and how God is calling us to be the people God created us to be. Those questions just lead to more questions and I do not believe that science will ever provide the definitive answer or answers in the realm in which God is working. It is love through which God created and continues to create. Love will never be weighed or measured or put under the most powerful electron microscope.
May you be blessed to continue to formulate questions le seek better answers that will lead to yet more questions on your journey.