What Is Truth?

Someone responded to a WordPress blog comment by asking, “What is this truth your referring to? Is it what has been told and believed for thousands of years? Is it empirically proven without doubt? Or is it what certain individuals hold dear? You believe your name is ‘x3737y9z7z’ (the commenter’s username)  because someone told you, and you believe that your parents are actually your parents because the told you they were, these are truths to you, but it can be an entirely false assumption.

My answer: I’ll try to answer that as unambiguously as possible: Belief and truth aren’t necessarily the same. Pantheists believe in a multiplicity of deities. Unbelievers could say they’re daft, or they simply accept different definitions from those familiar to us.

Empiricism, like debate, proves nothing. Both depend upon Method for consistency, and consensus decides the standardized methods. You could say that the Scientific Method eliminates error, but you would be wrong. Scientific Method reduces error’s probability, but never to absolute zero. Also, empirical proofs depend upon technology, the development of which continues advancing geometrically. As new instrumentation, computers, and software enter the laboratory, experimental results improve, but perfect machines will never exist, because their creators aren’t perfect.

Science, in fact, never answers questions without raising many more. It is simply a flashlight that illuminates the darkness of ignorance, but never absolutely. Is such ambiguity a sound foundation upon which to build your world view? If you were to say that religion is even more ambiguous than physical science, I would have to disagree with you; just as scientific schools of thought conflict with one another, claiming to have a lock on their subject, all the while undergoing constant revision, so do all religions disagree with one another, teaching some degree of error, while each claims to own God’s absolute truth. So who can say which is the more questionable? The only absolute source of truth is the One who created it, the One who summarized his absolute knowledge and wisdom, and inspired responsible men to faithfully pass it from generation to generation as oral tradition, until it could be recorded in writing for their posterity. Today, we lack the benefit of such rigorous oral tradition, having to rely on post-manuscript, textual evidence as to God’s actual meaning. The problem is, even the most accurate, most carefully preserved texts require human minds to translate and interpret them. Only God himself can solve that problem, through his Spirit’s influence when we read his word.

You will likely tell me to explain the multiplied thousands of different takes on the same texts. That’s an easy one; God’s Spirit can only influence us as we yield our minds to him, and many of those who claim to be Biblical scholars are influenced more by denominational, commercial, and self interest than by God’s Spirit. And regrettably, I am not immune to error in applying God’s word to my own life, let alone to anyone else’s. That’s why, in the final analysis, honest Christ-followers (and I believe that’s the only kind) refuse the temptation to dogmatize, and expect God to sort it all out and advance his kingdom despite all our frailties and differences.

Only one perfect Truth exists, and Jesus ended all debate on the subject when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

That’s the way it isn’t, …

Nuff said!

… or at least it doesn’t seem that way. I don’t hear the really juicy stuff, if there is any, where I fellowship. Of course, as a relatively new member of the Cornerstone body of believers, I’m not privy the controversies that usually plague congregations. Yes, very occasionally—rarely, in fact—I may hear an almost-under the breath comment about someone, but I try to keep my senses and not agree or join in the negativism. Apostle Peter wrote a mouthful about that:

1 Peter 3:8-11 (ESV) Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Now, that’s what church-life should look like.

There! I said my piece.

I would like to recommend a blog that I just followed: No Apologies Allowed — Weekly apologetics cartoons for the faithful, the faithless, and the full-of-its. The cartoon above is from a post titled, “Are our protestations prepping us for judgment?” I submitted a lengthy comment to that post, and to improve the chances of your reading it, here it is:

You wrote, “Yet just as you can’t ignore natural laws and get away unharmed, so, too, can we not ignore the moral law within our consciences and expect to avoid the consequences.”

I maintain that, while moral law is within our consciences, God’s immutable spiritual law is independent of conscience. One of those spiritual laws is the Law of Sowing and Reaping, which works both in the spiritual and the natural plain. Whether we try to defy God, or gravity, we will reap the consequences.

Regarding the question of judgment for the church’s sin, Jesus bore the world’s sin-punishment on the cross; he paid the price to buy us back from Satan, to whom we individually sold ourselves when we first sinned. But Hebrews 10:26-31 (Darby) tells us, “For where we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins,
(27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and heat of fire about to devour the adversaries.
(28) Anyone that has disregarded Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses:
(29) of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
(30) For we know him that said, To me belongs vengeance; *I* will recompense, saith the Lord: and again, The Lord shall judge his people.
(31) It is a fearful thing falling into the hands of the living God.”

We live under the covenant of grace, and God’s grace is indeed infinite regarding our human frailties. But I’m not sure how far God stretches his grace toward those who usurp his authority, propagate false teachings and presumptuously sin (deliberately test God’s grace). Attempting to walk the boundary between the forgivable and the unforgivable is a dangerous game pursued only by those who do not love God. But those who do stand squarely on the solid Rock of our faith, the incarnate Word of God.

Thing is, those who argue about what is or isn’t sin, or what you can get away with as a Christian are missing the gospel’s point entirely. The writer of Hebrews said: Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV) If God told his church to pursue holiness, he can’t have been referring to Christ’s holiness imputed to us because we already have that. Apostle Paul wrote: Having therefore these promises (that if we separate ourselves from those who are worldly, God will be to us a Father, and we shall be to him sons and daughters), beloved, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear. (2 Corinthians 7:1 Darby) The problem with today’s church is we simply do not fear God. As long as that is true, we will never glorify God and our praises are worse-than useless.

C.S. Lewis on Turning the Other Cheek

We’ve all heard people propound on Matthew 5:38-40. Here, from his The Weight of Glory, we see Uncle Jack’s view of the matter:

There are three ways of taking the command to turn the other cheek. One is the Pacifist interpretation; it means what it says and imposes a duty of nonresistance on all men in all circumstances. Another is the minimising interpretation; it does not mean what it says but is merely an orientally hyperbolical way of saying that you should put up with a lot and be placable. Both you and I agree in rejecting this view. The conflict is therefore between the Pacifist interpretation and a third one which I am now going to propound. I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. . . . . That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. No quarter whatever is given to the voice within us which says, “He’s done it to me, so I’ll do the same to him.”

The lunatic-fringe will always be with us. Lewis mentioned two of their views, then he propounded (obviously, I kinda like that word) his own interpretation which you read, above. Today, though, Evangelical Christians often propound (tee hee hee) a third interpretation; turn the other cheek unless the assault threatens yourself, your family, or your property. In other words, “Shoot now, ask questions later.”

I guess I missed that particular Scripture passage. If anyone can tell me where it’s found in the Bible, please leave a comment.

Lewis’ moderate interpretation of withholding retaliation makes a lot of sense, even though that’s not what Jesus said. What he did say is, “Do not resist the evildoer, but to him who slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” I don’t see hyperbole here, but a statement consistent with Jesus’ previous beatitudes, and most specifically, vss. 10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And in verses 43-44 he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

That opens even a fourth interpretation; we are not to resist those who persecute us—by slapping or any other means—but to imitate Jesus, who submitted to the worst the Romans, and their Jewish lackeys, could do to him (1 Peter 2:23). “Evildoer” includes criminals of all stripes (pun intended) without regard to their reason for attacking you. Does that mean that you must let them have their way with you and your family? Worse things can happen, such as disobeying God’s clear commands. I think the essential idea here is that we must mind our motives; if we strike, or strike back, out of rancor, we sin. Yet, God’s grace is greater even than that. Don’t you think our best response to others’ violence is to return to them the grace with which God deals with us?

The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the the Holy Spirit

Moses at the Burning Bush

If you look closely at Matthew 18:18-20, you will see it refers to one Name—singular—for each of the three Persons mentioned. That strikes me as referring to a family name, common to all three. And what is that name? Well, we address our prayers to our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, but the only actual given name is that of Jesus. So that set me to thinking—a dangerous activity for me.

The only Divine Name Scripture gives us is what God told Moses at the burning bush. 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.’” (Exodus 3:14) In Hebrew, that is pronounced (at least in Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary), haw-yaw’. Doesn’t sound much like the traditional name given to God by the English, Jehovah. Unfortunately, all the references we have to the I AM are at best, transliterations of the Hebrew or Aramaic, four-consonant word meaning, “I Exist Because I Exist,” or, “I am self-existent.”

My own practice is to not use the Divine Name, and according to the custom of not addressing ones father by either his given name or his family name, to simply address him as, “Father.” As Jesus told us to pray to the Father in his own name, that seems to be a no-brainer. And the Holy Spirit? I have found neither a command, nor an example in the Bible, of praying to God’s Holy Spirit. Do we slight the Holy Spirit by not praying to him? Not if we are obeying the Scriptures by not doing so. Think about it. Praying to God the Father, in Jesus’ name, through his Holy Spirit, involves all three in the process and it’s Scriptural.

So, what is the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Bible Doctrine—What Really Matters?

Huh?

Today I happened upon two words that intrigued me: Supralapsarianism, and Infralapsarianism (just sound them out). Only a theologian could come up with stuff like that. So I Googled them and found they are two schools of thought about “ordering the soteriological elements of God’s eternal decree.” That enlightening information simply lit the mud-puddle more brightly. But wait! There are two more, for no extra charge: Amyraldism and Arminianism (don’t ask). Here’s a sample of what the first two describe, as far as the order of events in God’s Plan of Salvation (soteriology):

Supralapsarianism
1. Elect Some, Reject the Rest (before creation)
2. Create
3. Permit Fall
4. Provide Salvation for the Elect
5. Call Elect to Salvation

And just for comparison, here’s another:

Infralapsarianism
1. Create
2. Permit Fall
3. Elect Some, Pass Over the Rest (after creation)
4. Provide Salvation for the Elect
5. Call the Elect to Salvation

As you can see, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of difference between them, and Calvinistic theologians get into long, involved debates over which is God’s honest truth. Funny thing is, most of those fancy, theological words aren’t even in the Bible.

Actually, that’s not funny at all.

My question: Does splitting theological hairs really matter, except for proving oneself right and another wrong? Tell you what, that smacks pretty strongly of vain pride.

Apostle Paul stated this soteriological thing most simply:

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Sure, other Biblical teachings matter a lot, but once you are reborn by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s all a matter of growing toward spiritual maturity. Should you put yourself before the brethren? Of course not; God’s Word teaches us to love others, and put their welfare before your own. In fact, that’s pretty much the bottom line of spiritual maturity.

Trouble is, you and I have witnessed lots of church folks who don’t seem to have grasped love’s importance. Sure, they’re religious enough, but Apostle James had some choice things to say about that:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:26-27)

See that last part, about widows and orphans? That’s called putting others first. God’s requirements are all fulfilled in one word: LOVE. Apostle John put it best:

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:10,11)

And that’s what really matters.

WOW! I just discovered John Chapter Six.

Well, not exactly discovered, as in, for the first time. Today’s BibleGateway dot com “Verse of the Day” feed presented John 6:29 to me, and the effect it had was as if I read it for the first time. I mean, what a beautiful promise! With Jesus telling the people, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent,” he set us free from all of the Law’s righteous requirements. When we do that one work, God’s Ten Commandments become for us, “God’s Ten Outcomes,” because, through faith in Christ, his Holy Spirit will guide us toward falling in line with God’s will.

If I were a less disciplined writer, I’D SCREAM THIS TRUTH OUT TO YOU WITH ALL CAPS AND A LINE OF EXCLAMATION MARKS! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! But I’d never stoop that low.

(Later)

Alright, I’m more composed now. When I said I discovered John Chapter Six, I meant that in pursuing verse twenty-nine’s context I read the whole chapter, and that’s what the WOW! is all about. In it, Jesus presents so many beautiful, key truths that I don’t know where to begin.

I think I’ll have to cover each of them in different posts—and it’s okay to release a sigh of relief.

Well? Don’t wait for me. Get started. Chop, chop.

Faith Thoughts

Sometimes my mind gets locked into word-association games. Driving home from work, I listened to a song about faith, and began thinking of words related to its concept. I came up with belief, trust and confidence, and tried to relate them to faith, to discern their differences in meaning. First, they all flow from faith. The dictionary tells us belief is an idea or concept held to be true. It can be based on evidence, or not. Trust and confidence are closely related as the belief that something won’t let us down. That’s why we assume a rope won’t break when we’re dangling by it a thousand feet above jagged rocks.

After checking any number of dictionaries, the Biblical definition of faith is—wonder of wonders—far and away the best. “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.” (Heb 11:1)

Faith is an abstract idea, rather like love. They both require actions to demonstrate their existence, and a source other than the person exercising them. Really, that’s not such a strange idea. Breathing uses muscles which require energy. That energy comes from the food we acquire, chew, swallow, digest and metabolize. And none of that will happen without the oxygen we breathe. It’s a “chicken or egg” conundrum, answerable only by attributing those actions to God’s special creation.

Jesus provided a prize example of faith’s purpose in Luke 17:5, when he and his students discussed forgiveness. They couldn’t see how it was possible to forgive someone 7 times a day, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They understood that Jesus was their source of faith, and they didn’t even have seminary diplomas.

But there’s another conundrum: To ask for faith, one must exercise faith. So where does one get that faith? The answer is in vs. 6: “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.”

Okay, where do we get that mustard seed of faith? It’s part of our God-given, human nature, like our capacity for love and our human spirit, that God meant to give us spiritual vision. But we perverted all that when we sinned. Since we have warped spiritual vision, we search for tangible things in which to invest our faith, and find plenty of perversions to fill the bill. Only when God’s Spirit takes the scales from our eyes can we see the only worthy Object for our faith. At that point we must choose, whether to continue our quest for perverted substitutes, or to gaze at His beauty in wonderment, and place that mustard seed of faith in Him.

There begins a lifetime of choices between growing that faith, or killing it. Thanks to His Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples know which way to go … we just have to do it!

Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.

C.S. Lewis on Kindness

The Good Samaritan

Uncle Jack frequently took an “out of the box” position on issues of common consent within the Christian community. One such issue was kindness. He wrote in The Problem of Pain:

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly”, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.

Ouch. Lewis differentiates between active and passive kindness. Leaving others alone is not kindness, even though you do them no harm. Conversely, neither is inserting yourself in others’ business a kindness, even for the most benevolent purpose, unless, that is, you are invited. Jesus is the prime example of that sort of wisdom, illustrated in Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. That was the Lord’s offer to the Laodicean church, after he said they were lukewarm and about to be vomited out of his mouth.

To be redemptive people, we must follow Jesus’ example; he showed kindness to “sinners,” but was aggressive toward the self-righteous. He healed lepers, but told the lawyers they were like whitewashed tombs, full of corruption. And most of all, he showed kindness to us, carrying our sin-guilt to the cross so we could live eternally.