the truth about us

I know what self-justification and self-protection looks like, because like all of us, I do it far too often.  Into a world of self-justifiers (like me) where we defend ourselves from any responsibility for any specific wrongdoing, the words of Jesus by the hand of John’s gospel cut through to the basic motivations behind such self-protection:

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21)

My simple observation here (which I don’t want to clutter up the sermon for this Sunday night) is that Jesus is not contrasting ‘evil’ people with ‘good’ people, as if life were so simple.  Instead, the one who “knew what was in humans” (John 2:25) contrasts those who do “evil” and those who live “by the truth”.  The words used to describe their actions are also contrasted.  Those who do evil stay in the darkness not wanting their “deeds” to be exposed, while those who life by the truth can cope with “what they have done” being in the light of day, as well as the sight of God.

So the point of difference Jesus is making between these two kinds of people seems not to be that some have been naughty and others have been nice.  Some seem to see God as a God who is out to condemn the world, while others seem to trust that God, as Jesus says a few verses earlier (3:17), did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Fear drives some to hide their sin, while faith/trust (Greek: pistis) enables others to confess it. Johannine material elsewhere in the New Testament agrees.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

knowing God

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:8-9)

There is a lovely tension in Christian epistemology between our ‘knowing God’ and being known by God (both of which, to be clear, are about an interpersonal kind of knowledge, not about simply knowing an infinite quantity of ‘facts’ about God or us).  One of the central announcements of the NT is that Jesus has revealed God in not only a fresh, unexpected way, but also in a full (and thus final) way.  God can at last be known.

But this knowledge of God in the face of Christ does not catapult humans into a state of omniscience.  “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”, asks Scripture elsewhere.  And in the passage above, Paul suggests that the point is not our knowledge of God, but God’s knowledge of us that matters.

There is continuity and discontinuity here with the knowledge proper to the natural sciences.  Continuity in that in both cases, reality often has to surprise us for us to ‘get it’.  It’s often not what we expected it to be.  Truth has that ring to it.  But it also has discontinuity in the obvious sense that nature does not and cannot ‘know us’ as we know one another – let alone as we can be known by God.

this blog

I’m often conflicted about the whole apologetics thing.

As long as people have honest questions ((as opposed to dishonest questions; the kind that merely serve to insulate people from having to believe)) about belief, then it remains a logically legitimate enterprise, but it can be taken too far easily.

For me, I’m interested in taking away needless barriers to faith ((And I anticipate the charge that I have “faith in faith”…)).  Increasingly for me, it’s been exciting to see just how complimentary an evolutionary understanding of nature is with Christianity.  And as long as there are a) Christians who see evolution as a threat to faith and b) people for whom evolution has been a key point on their departure from faith, I think it’s hugely valuable to show and explore just how harmonious they are.

It occurs to me that believers and unbelievers ((I’m inclined to believe that we all ‘believe’ something, however – which makes ‘unbeliever’ a questionable term.)) both participate in the apologetic endeavour.  At their worst, both belief and unbelief ‘need’ a ‘defense’ ((Gk. ‘apologia’.)) for why they are justified in being what they are.  Insert any usual topic (evolution, abortion, morality, cosmogenesis, abiogenesis, sexual ethics, religious violence, etc.): the believer defends belief, and the unbeliever defends unbelief.

The believer (often) needs to feel justified in their belief – “Belief in God is reasonable and logical!” (or the psychological translation: “I’m a totally reasonable and logical person for maintaining my faith!”)

The unbeliever (often) needs to feel justified in their unbelief – “Belief in God is silly and superstitious!” (or the psychological translation: “I totally made the right decision in giving up my faith!”)

I’m aware of this need to feel justified, so I try (as best I can) to be genuinely open-minded.

I genuinely think various theistic arguments (like the First Cause argument) work.  And that’s really cool for me, because I’m a Christian!  But I also think it’s important to recognise that (as Rob Bell has said) ‘What you look for, you will find.’

I hope believers can evaluate their beliefs and challenge them.  I think faith is of the good kind when it is open to being challenged.  Believers that recoil from questions and insulate themselves from challenges to their belief have a kind of faith that I can’t help but see as (perhaps ironically) ‘faith in faith’ – and not faith in the God of all Truth.  My experience is that my beliefs get sharper the more I expose them to criticism.  I’ve changed my views about several things – and long may that continue.  I’ve also maintained and deepened a lot of my beliefs as well – and long may that continue.

I also hope unbelievers can be sceptical of even their own scepticism.  If belief is sharpened by criticism, then this should be true for unbelief as well?  However, for me, this should logically lead atheists to become more and more agnostic – or even ‘fall’ from unbelief altogether?  Or at least go from being a Richard Dawkins style atheist to a Michael Ruse type one…

At any rate, I’ll probably always ‘do’ (with varying degrees of passion) the apologetics thing, but I’m feeling less and less like it’s something that I need to do for my own justification, but rather something that I simply enjoy doing and find worthwhile.  That’s all for now :)

mind over matter

The mind/matter issue is centuries old, and is probably here to stay.

The philosophy of naturalism says that mind is not a distinct category of existence (ontology), but is rather some kind of emergent property or state of purely material elements.  It actually proposes not that matter ‘makes’ or ‘gives way to’ mind, but that mind actually is nothing more than matter behaving in a certain way.  It’s the classic naturalistic insistence that – at the end of the day – there is only one kind of substance/stuff, and it’s natural.  All phenomena can be explained in terms of the most indivisible units of matter. Continue reading mind over matter

moral truth

To demonstrate not only the difference between scientific/descriptive knowledge and metaphysical/prescriptive knowledge, but also the greater degree of both accessibility and authority in the latter, consider the following:

There are scientific experiments which everyone knows (accessibility: tick) without question (authority: tick) simply should not (prescriptive: tick) be performed ((and there honestly is no need for me to give examples of such experiments)).

EDIT: lest it need to be said, the previous post makes no claim, of course, for human omniscience in any area.

true feeling

Just watched The Changeling with my wife (‘endured’ would be the term she’d use!), and really enjoyed it.  There are some real gut-wrenching moments in there, which I won’t elaborate on here.

One thing I found interesting was the particular (and familiar) feeling of deep satisfaction and relief I (and my wife – and anyone with a pulse) when the ‘code 12’ women were freed from the mental hospital, and when the lawyer offered to defend her pro bono. It’s just that familiar, deep-seated, very human feeling we all get when the right thing is done – when a horrible injustice is righted.  The opening scene of Amistad, where the slaves on the slave ship break loose and take over the ship, though violent and bloody, also provoked that same feeling – that kind of fist-pumping ‘yeah!’ feeling. Emotions aren’t infallible, and in terms of epistemology I don’t think any source of knowledge is (reason, logic, etc.); but sometimes they (emotions) can be very, very good conductors of Truth.

And I love how immediate, every-day, down-to-earth, and universal these kinds of emotions are.  No philosophy degrees needed here, no deep pondering or reflection, just deep, gut-level ‘knowing’ that – though we don’t know everything – we know that we know that we know ‘this is right’.

india: different

So I should probably post about my recent trip to India.

I could give a ‘what we got up to’ report of the work our team did (some still over – some still yet to go) on the new Freeset T-shirts building.  But we didn’t only go as labourers – we went to observe as well.  Kerry took us on a couple of ‘walks’ to see the areas around Freeset, and also we saw other bits of Kolkata as well.  I suppose I’m more inclined to reflect on what I observed and the thoughts it brought to mind – many of which will still tick over in my head for some time to come. Continue reading india: different