When Moses pressed God to reveal Himself, the Lord replied. “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14, NKJV). With this self-revelation, the question of “being” is brought into focus, and rightly so because there is no more important question in life than that of being. Some form of the verb “to be” is reflected in normal discourse. Notice the words we use in a sentence: “and,” “are,” “were” etc. When a simple statement is made, the state of “being” is mentioned. “I am going to Church on Sunday.” “I will read a book later on today.” “I love you.” Undergirding these words and ideas is a state of being, a state of acknowledging self-existence.
While many individuals take for granted their being, their existence, some of the Hebrew prophets, and Greek philosophers took the matter under deeper consideration. They began to ask questions: “Who am I?”; “What am I?”; “Where did I come from?”; “How did I get here?”; and, “What am I to do?”.
To the question, “Who am I?” the Biblical answer is this. “I am a person made in the image of God with will, emotion, and intellect.”
To the question, “What am I?” the Biblical answer is this. “Like God, I am a spirit creature, but, unlike God, I inhabit a physical body to express my will, emotion, and intellect.”
To the question, “Where did I come from?”, the Biblical answer is given. “My body came from the dust of the earth, while my spirit life came from the breath of God.”
To the question, “How did I get here?”, the Biblical answer is found in the book of Genesis. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:24-27).
To the question, “What am I to do in life?”, the Bible answer is to know God, enjoy Him forever, and do His will. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen. 1:28-31).
Prior to the coming of Socrates (c. 470 BC – 399 BC), and Plato (c. 427 – 443 BC), two Greek philosophers that gave some serious consideration to the matter of “being,” were Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC), and Parmenides (born c. 510 BC – 445 BC).
According to classical tradition, Heraclitus wrote first, and was answered by Parmenides. Heraclitus popularized the idea that everything that exists is in a state of flux. What is, is changing. The idea that everything that exists is in a state of flux, or change, was illustrated by a flowing stream. Heraclitus noted that a person cannot step into the same river twice because the water has changed, the currents have moved things on. Many of the changes are imperceptible, but they are real. When a raindrop falls on the bank of the water, a tiny bit of erosion has taken place. Not only is the river changing, but the person stepping into the water has changed. If nothing else, they are at least one second older.
Does this state of flux matter?
Indeed, it does.
We watch people grow and we note there are three stages of age: Youth, Adulthood, and, “You look great!”
We all know the ravages of time. We all know we are subjected to decay. The mouth of the grave yawns to receive our body. “It is appointed unto men once to die” (Heb. 9:27).
Despite the change, there is sameness. Sameness and difference define all of creation. Whatever is, is changing.
The contribution of Heraclitus to philosophy was that he recognized, articulated, and focused on the categories of, “being”, and “becoming.”
Later, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), who was taught by Plato, and who founded the Lyceum, talked about “actuality”, and “potentiality”. Potentiality speaks about that which we might possibility become, but have not yet achieved that status. Actuality speaks about that which is. It says what we are becoming. Actuality is what we are.
When applied to humans, the questions arise. “Are we a being?” Or, “Are we becoming?” The honest answer is, both. We are, and we are becoming. As long as we are changing, we are still experiencing potential. Christian theology teaches that we are both being, and we are becoming. We are being changed into the image of God, which gives the Christian hope for a better tomorrow.
Paul confessed that he had not yet personally arrived to a state of mature being. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also, I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). But praise God, Paul, and every Christian shall someday be all that God would have His children to be.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:51-58).
While Christians are in a process, while we are changing, there is Someone who is the only Absolute Being, and who never changes. He is not becoming, but eternally Is. That Someone is God. “For I, the LORD, do not change” (Malachi 3:6; NASB). “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).
It is good to know that God is Absolute Being. It is good to know there is an anchor to our Christian faith.
“Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”
Priscilla J. Owens
There is a word of caution to those individuals who have yet to settle in their hearts the great questions of life. Do not look to philosophy to save you. Heraclitus is no savior, for all he has done is given to modern society the idea of existentialism, whereby there is no relationship between the last moment and the present. There is no continuum between the present and the future. There is no anchor for the soul, only a restlessness of eternal becoming.
The whole idea that there are no absolutes, there is nothing stable, there is nothing permanent, there is nothing changeless, there is nothing eternal, only the now, only the moment matters, is the death of culture, civilization, and ultimate the soul. Yet, these are the very thoughts that millions of young people in particular are being taught in the name of higher education.
The result is a rudderless society of clueless souls drifting from one idea, or cause, to the next looking for purpose, definition, and meaning to life.
Some find their identity in trying to save the planet from global warming, preserving the whales, or promoting PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Others are committed to protecting the legal right of a woman to kill her baby. Still others become involved in racial injustice movements like Black Lives Matter. If Black Lives Mattered in truth, people in the Black community would be tearing down crack houses, not historical statues that harm no one.
Some of those in search of meaning Libertines. They simply want to, “Eat, drink, and be merry.” Tomorrow has no meaning, only death.
The foolish philosophies of this world are promoted in the movies. The character in Miss Meadows, played by Katie Holmes, tells her mother in the opening episode that “everything changes”, and “truth is relevant.” This is the language of the uneducated, but robotic rhetoric of a secular college graduate finding its way into society to corrupt the culture even more.
The Christian has a better grasp on being, and becoming. We have a sure word of prophesy. We have a Rock on which to rest. In times like these, we need something better than the regurgitated philosophies of the ancient Greeks.
“In times like these you need a Savior,
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure,
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!
This Rock is Jesus, Yes He’s the One,
This Rock is Jesus, the only One;
Be very sure, be very sure,
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!”
Ruth Caye Jones
Surprisingly enough, Heraclitus was a monist. He believed there is an essential oneness to everything. Everything is connected. However, in the comprehensive oneness, there is a necessary diversity of conflict.
Opposing Heraclitus was Parmenides, who is famous for saying, “Whatever is, is.” Parmenides was saying that whatever really is, is, and cannot be changed.
Now that is a very foolish line of Secular Reasoning, for, if true, then that which is, can never become something else. If there is no change, if there is no becoming, then the Christian message falls on deaf ears for there is no hope of regeneration, or renewal of the Holy Ghost. There is no such thing as conversion if, “Whatever is, is.” If the sinner is a sinner by nature, and by choice, then that is what he is. The sinner cannot become a saint. But we know that the Creator can make all things new.
Now hear the Word of the Lord, and take hope that whatever is, is not always. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Come to Christ. Jesus can change you for His glory and your good. “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring” (Acts 17:28).
There was a third Greek philosopher to be noted, Zeno of Elea (c. 495 – c. 430 BC). He was a member of the Eleatic School founded by Parmenides. Aristotle called him the father of the dialectic, which involves a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, but wishing to prevail in the truth through reasoning. Zeno wanted to establish reality through reasoning. He enjoyed using a technique called reductio ad absurdum, whereby he would argue a matter to the point of absurdity.
The technique begins by allowing one’s opponent to give their thesis, or main point trying to be made.
Rather than counter the point with the opposite view, the initial thesis is adopted, and carried to a logical conclusion – no matter how ridiculous the conclusion might be.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul used Zeno’s technique to show the foolishness of denying the bodily resurrection of the dead, which some were denying.
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
If there is no resurrection, said Paul, then there is no Christian faith. That is the logical conclusion of those who were preaching that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Oh how foolish and self-defeating such theology is.
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Let the Church be familiar with Secular Philosophies if she must, but, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8; KJV).