Friday, November 23, 2012

Truth as what God thinks...

Part of my submission to God is a submission to the truth, whatever it may be.  This sounds fine and dandy at first, until it begins to challenge what you currently believe.  I am convinced that what most people mean by truth is really, "whatever I already believe." When you hear very angry people saying, "We need to stand up for the truth," what they often mean is, "We need to force people to accept what I believe but can't really defend."

Unfortunately, the way most people use the Bible plays into this self-deceiving game.  For one thing, what you think the Bible says is limited by your capacity to think.  A person of relatively little understanding can elevate his or her thoughts to the status of God's thoughts simply by playing the mirror game with the Bible.  I in my limitations see a meaning in the Bible with my puny mind and, voila, I know what God is thinking about x.

Of course this is true of everyone, even the most brilliant.  We're just not going to see more than we're capable of seeing with our puny minds.  What adds to the issue is the fact that God revealed the books of the Bible in the terms of its audiences so that they could understand. This leads to the phenomenon of Christians mistaking ancient worldview for God's thoughts--and making God look stupid today.

For example, there are maybe two places in the New Testament where the Bible uses imagery of a human person being made up of three parts (body-soul-spirit): 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12.  There are other pictures of human make-up in the Bible, of course, since its books were revealed to people separated by as much as 1000 years and this tripartite division is a relatively late one in Greek thought (Philo seems to be one of the biggest instances of it).

So if we were to teach a psychology class today based on this tripartite picture and if we used it as anything but a picture, an allegory, what a bizarre and strange thing we would be doing!  By the way, I have no problem using pictures like these, as long as we know they are just pictures.  But how bizarre it would be for us to use a passing picture of the human constitution from Middle Platonism, one that even Paul and Hebrews may not have taken literally, and to base a modern psychological understanding of the human person based on it!

Christians regularly make God look stupid with this sort of thing because instead of reading the Bible to see God, we read the Bible to see stuff that wasn't really the point of the Bible in the first place.  But by submitting to the truth, I can let the Bible say what it says in the context it said it.

What are the rules for the most likely truth?  The rules are the rules we use everyday.  Does this hypothesis correspond with the data of the world (correspondence test)?  Is this hypothesis consistent with itself or does it contradict itself (coherence test)?  Does this theory work in terms of my ability to predict what will happen under certain circumstances (pragmatic test)? The consistent answers to these questions constitutes the most likely truth on any issue.

The most likely answer is not always the right answer, of course, but I believe the most likely answer over time is most likely to be what God thinks.  Human thinking tends to be tribal, and Christians are certainly no exception.  This is true of Christian use of the Bible no less than anything else.  Political thinking is just as bad. We taut, "truth, truth," but really mean "don't mess with the ideas I'm comfortable with."

This was a strength of the Enlightenment and part of what made America great, especially in the early twentieth century.  If we can see our submission to truth as part of our submission to God, wherever the truth will lead us, then we can find common ground with anyone else who is willing to do the same.  And let me say as a matter of faith, the Christian God is on the side of truth.  If we truly have faith in him, then we won't be afraid of truth, wherever it leads on any subject. Anything less is unworthy of him.


John C. Gardner said...

Christ said I am the way, the truth and the life...(from memory). We need to search for the truth, not assume into Genesis 1-3 modern science(see the works of John Walton at Wheaton College), and interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. I like John Walton and John Collins also believe that there was a real historical Adam(so apparently did John Wesley). Science is discovering God's laws and God's continual providential care does uphold the entire cosmos. Thanks for these goods blog posts.

Martin LaBar said...

A solid post. Thanks!