Tuesday, June 12, 2007
HOW CAN I KNOW WHAT'S 'TRUE'?
We know what's true through our senses, or via the 'authority' of someone we trust. But what about phenomena outside our sensory experience, and/or that of our trusted authority-figures? For example: What is God like? Does God actually exist? Will I live forever - and what will that be like?
Now nobody I know has actually seen God, or experienced a verifiable out-of-body experience, or been to heaven and come back and told us about it.
So Christians have to answer this broad question by submitting to 'outside' authorities, like the Bible, or Jesus, or the Church, or 'traditional belief-systems' or our reason, or, occasionally, personal 'peak experiences' which, for some, open a window through which they see beyond what their senses can verify.
Actually all these 'authorities' can be reduced to three: Scripture, Tradition, and Rationalized Experience.
Another question: how am I supposed to know not only what to believe but how to behave? What's 'normal' here?
My favorite preacher John Claypool tells the story of a small boy who was given a 'quarter' (which meant he was American) to go to the circus. He went downtown and saw the circus parade - animals, gymnasts, clowns - and was so excited by it all he gave one of the clowns his quarter and went home. After questioning by his parents he learned that he'd not been to the 'circus' but only to the parade.
Life's like that. We live on a level which is well this side of our ideal. We fall short of what we in our better moments would like to be. We read about someone like Francis of Assisi and feel we could never be as saintly as that great man. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who disagreed with the State Church in Nazi Germany about how a 'normal Christian' should behave. (He was executed aged 39 on April 9, 1945, and later that year the war ended). Both of these Jesus-followers combined personal holiness with a passion for justice - as their Master and Lord did.
So a good way to be both rational and good, is to encourage in yourself a 'healthy skepticism' sometimes about where others' or societies' standards might be. F W Boreham said the best way to see how crooked a stick is would be to place it next to a straight stick.
Annie Dillard in her Pulitzer prize-winning book Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek wrote: 'We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.'
Watch this space for more...