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)

C.S. Lewis on Why You Are You

The Brocken Spectre

Listen up, people! This one is important. I’m only posting this excerpt from Uncle Jack’s The Problem of Pain on the off-chance that even one person will read it, carefully. So, here goes:

[God's] signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

I’ve never seen this principle of individuality expressed so well: God is the Worker; heredity and environment are His tools. He loves our differences because He crafted them so carefully. “Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s.” You must not accept any other’s vision of your heavenly Father … Really! I never thought of that before. Didn’t He make our eyes, our perceptions, different? One of the Evangelical community’s great problems is we expect, even demand, that others see God as we do. Brethren! We are not clones! When God’s Spirit moves into your soul, He decides what about you He will change in the new creature that used to be you. You’ll still have the same name (and a New Name), face (but with His glory showing through), personality (unless you were a stinker), family (with the significant addition of your spiritual brethren), interests (unless they were ungodly), and job (unless calls you to another). You will, however, have an entirely new world view, resulting in an entirely new eternal destiny.

So, don’t worry about conforming to others’ expectations. Just be Christ to your world.

Who’s Packin’ Whom?

John Bunyan’s Christian

Where I live, some of the natives speak a bit differently, compared to us short timers; my late father-in-law Charlie spent his younger years working cattle in Montana’s “over east,” which is similar to Australia’s outback. If you’re a ranch hand, you don’t “carry” your tools and supplies, you “pack” them. That’s the way Charlie put it.

Folks who live on the prairie, whether Montanan or Australian, soon learn what survival requires of them: physical strength, tenacity, resourcefulness, family coherency, loyalty, humility, boldness, and it doesn’t hurt to pack a good carbine and side arm.

Back in Prophet Isaiah’s time, folks packed their gods whenever they moved their camp, and it never hurt to have a good fetish along for the journey. But Isaiah tried to enlighten them with God’s words:

Isaiah 46:1-4 ESV Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. (2) They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. (3) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; (4) even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isaiah spoke of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, who burdened themselves by carrying idols around with them. They were nothing more than dead weight; man-made of wood, stone, precious metals and gems, they couldn’t ease the people’s burdens … they were the people’s burdens. They were impotent and mute, so why would anyone think them worthy of worship?

God’s message to his people? “Stop carrying your own burdens. Stop weighing yourselves down with material possessions that are supposed to make you secure. I Am the One who will bear you up! I am the One who will carry your burdens! I will carry and save you!”

Church, we are God’s chosen people, faith-children of Abraham, priests of God’s new covenant of grace, under his High Priest, Christ Jesus. We must not pack around our impotent security-gods, but call upon the living, self-existent God, who created us to rest in him, to be born, and not to bear. If you have any confusion about who’s packin’ whom in your life, ask the Master Packer to open your eyes, then repent of your sin of self-sufficiency.

Father, reveal to me the inner motives that move me. Show me, Lord, my true purpose for living. Examine me, Lord, for any impurity that inhibits my growth to Christ-likeness. And thank you, Father, for the privilege of praying in Jesus’ name and authority. So be it.

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?

THE INVASION — A Review

I just watched THE INVASION, another BODY SNATCHERS-type movie.

Oliver Hirschbiegel and James McTeigue directed Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig et al. in a reasonably entertaining and gripping tale of alien spores attaching themselves to a space shuttle and causing it to crash to earth, spreading the spores half-way across the United States in a swath two hundred miles wide. As those hardy buggers weren’t in the least affected by either the cold of space or the heat of reentry into the atmosphere, they invaded human bodies and began changing them into dispassionate, purpose-driven beings who looked exactly like the people they infected. And their purpose? To turn Earth into a Utopian society with none of the social problems we’ve learned to live with.

That scenario affords a glimpse into the world’s perspective on being reborn in God’s Spirit; they see spiritual rebirth as an invasion of our personhood, changing us into something that we are not. In a way I can’t blame unbelievers for arriving at that conclusion, considering Bible passages and preaching that speaks of being filled with God’s Holy Spirit and death to self. But for one significant error in that reasoning, I could easily buy into it. That error is the assumption that we evolved into what we are through random mutations and natural selection (survival of the fittest), with no higher purpose for it all. Of course, the truth is God created us for a very specific purpose: to be the recipients of his love, and to voluntarily submit to his Lordship. Thing is, God will never override our free will, as he gave it to us in the first place. He doesn’t forcibly invade our bodies with some bland, unfeeling entity. In fact, just the opposite is true: He allows us to become the people he created us to be, and to enjoy the supernatural peace and joy that he affords.

In short, THE INVASION is good movie with a false moral. But what else can we expect from Hollywood.

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.

How could God change His mind in Numbers 14? I mean, really!?

Everybody knows God knows everything. Past, present, and future, he has a lock on it. Yet, in Numbers 14 he seems to change his mind about striking the children of Israel with the pestilence and disinheriting them. Also, in Judges 2:181 Samuel 15:35, 2 Samuel 24:16, and 1 Chronicles 21:15, the observers got the same impression. For the past few years, this question hasn’t bothered me in the least. The only thing that has bugged me is how to explain it to non-believers. I have no problem with it because I know and love God, so I trust his Word not to contradict itself. In his book, Now, That’s a Good Question, R.C. Sproul gives an answer that seems credible to me.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language.

Strictly speaking, that’s not quite true; God’s Holy Spirit speaks to Christ-followers through his Word, allowing us to grasp by faith, spiritual truths that sail miles over the heads of non-believers. We may not be able to explain the concepts coherently, but if we listen to God with our faith-ears, we know that even apparently contradictory statements are true.

The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

I love Sproul’s use of the word, “befuddled,” but if the “we” he refers to are Christ-followers, it only applies when we try to explain it to outsiders. I can do it with my fingers, on this keyboard, but when put on the spot I get all … well … befuddled.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means.

The beauty of God’s sovereignty is, he doesn’t have to conform to our concept of cause-and-effect. Our issues with his actions have no effect on his purposes, and actually serve to bolster our faith in his loving wisdom.

God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there.

With God’s will, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s, and he never really changes his mind. It just seems that way to us. We must simply, “Trust and Obey.”

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!

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.