Reverse engineering is a technique engineers use to understand an existing system–to learn what it does, and sometimes to understand why it does. That is, to understand why someone created it in the first place. To explore how we might reverse engineer God, let’s take a moment to understand reverse engineering through an analogy:
Imagine you are taking a factory tour, and the guide leads you across the shop floor, stopping in front of a big machine. Feeding the machine are several clear plastic tubes, one of which contains something that looks to be red paint, and to the left of it is another tube that is similar, but feeding a substance of deep blue. There is one other large tube attached to the top, but it is stainless steel, and you so you don’t know what it might contain.
Suddenly, there is a click and whir, as the machine kicks to life. A conveyor belt underneath this behemoth advances an empty pail under the machine. Once the pail is aligned, you see yet another tube on the bottom of the machine, out of which comes a thick stream of aqua-blue, filling the can.
Once the can is filled, our tour guide leads us over to the conveyor belt, hands us a small wooden stick, and lets us dip it into the can, where we can see that it is an aqua-blue latex paint.
Soon after, another click and whir is heard, another pail is advanced on the conveyor belt, and a large selector knob rotates towards the red input feed. As before, this new pail is filled from the tube at the bottom of the machine, but this time, with a paint in a pinkish hue.
As you are watching this, a worker walks over, and begins to turn the knobs on a third plastic tube located to the far left of the machine. This tube appears to be full of yellow.
What can reverse engineering tell us? Well, we can take a guess that the machine is some sort of paint mixer that takes feeds from different input ports. And so a question is: once the yellow is selected, what might come out of the bottom and into the next can?
Based on what we’ve seen, we might guess that the stainless steel feed from the top is white paint, and that a pale yellow will come out of the bottom. But the truth is, the stainless steel tube might be some kind of chemical enzyme that is interacting with chemicals in the red and blue feed to create pink and light blue, but when it reacts with yellow, it could create black for all we know. It could also be that stainless steel tube is simply a clear paint thinner, and the machine is applying high-heat to the pigments to change their color, and so again, it may not be clear how it will interact with the yellow pigments. So there is some level of uncertainty.
Now for the analogy part.
The blue tube represents the culture of the times of King David. The red tube represents the culture in the time of Jesus. The yellow represents our own culture. And the stainless steel feed on top? That represents the truth of God. The machine itself is the workings of God on each generation, and the output of that machine, the paint in the pail, is what we can explore in the pages of Scripture.
We make a mistake when we think the truth of God is squirting out of the bottom. What we read on the pages of the Bible is a narrative of how the truth of God was been revealed to specific people at specific times. If King David was raised as a leader or Jesus was born to us, now, in the 21st century, the color of the paint in the pail would be different. Their actions and stories would be different, but the truth of God would be the same.
When we, as Christians, study the Bible, our primary goal is to understand how God’s truth applies to us today, that is, what should the paint in the pail look like when the yellow hose is activated? When reverse engineering a system, there is almost always some level of uncertainty in the conclusions, and so answers tend to be caveated in terms of probabilities. For this reason, engineers have developed a number of techniques to narrow the probabilities, and these same techniques can be applied to help us understand what God’s Word has to say to us today.
One of the first rules of reverse engineering is to question the assumptions. In this post, we discussed where to find to find God’s truth, but this very question assumed that we understood what this truth is that we have been looking for. We’ll explore this more in the next post, What is Truth?