I traveled for 12 hours in a car recently and spent most of that time listening to podcasts. Among the people I listened to were interviews of Tim Keller and Os Guinness, and joint interview of Lisa Gungor and Alisa Childers. They talked about their own faith journeys, doubt and such things as truth.
As I thought back on those interviews at the end of my trip, some thoughts congealed and took shape. I will try to capture them in this short piece.
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10 ESV
This little tidbit from Paul’s letter to the Romans packs so much into it. God gave Moses 10 commandments, and law followed after law until there were over 600 different laws for the people to follow. Jesus summarized everything in two statements: love God and love your neighbor.
Paul echoes those words of Jesus in Romans when he says” love is the fulfilling of the law” and equating love with doing no wrong to a neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31)
As I read Romans 13:10 this morning, I think about our Christian tendency to preach to the world about sin, a world that does not know God and has not accepted Him. I have heard Christians use the excuse that they are standing up for truth because Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Paul told the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) Only Paul was writing to the believers in Ephesus, and he was talking about quipping the believers in the church in ministry and building up the body of Christ.
This is significant because, when we think of truth, judgment is not standing far off. Paul is talking to the church in his letters and instructing believers. Paul says, “What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) (The context is a man in the church who was acting immorally.)
The audience of Paul’s statement about speaking the truth in love seems significant this morning as I am thinking about all the times I have seen Christians blast their neighbors with “truth” on social media with not a lot of love. Social media isn’t like a sniper rifle; it’s like a shotgun. Anyone in front of the blast feels the sting – believers and non-believers alike.
Of course, what of the unbelievers who potentially face judgment for denying God? Do we have a heart for them? Do we care enough to get to know them and establish a relationship with them? When we speak the truth to them, are we speaking in love?
It seems to me that we often emphasize truth over love, and the result is that we tend to speak only the truth. We might as well not say anything at all. I’m afraid we often do more damage than good when we do that.
Is truth so all-inclusive that it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere? We wouldn’t say that about scientific truths, but what about religious truths?
In particular, are the distinctions between the various religions so minor that it doesn’t matter which one of them you believe? Or any of them at all?
These are questions that arise in a pluralistic society such as we have in the United States and much of the Western world. Pluralism accommodates differences, celebrates diversity and promotes inclusion. Pluralism, generally, is a good and wholesome thing in a civilized society.
Whereas, people with differences once harbored hostilities toward one another, and waged war and walled each other out on the basis of those differences, a pluralistic society tolerates, accommodates and even celebrates diversity.
Pluralism allows people to live as they see fit to live and as they believe they ought to live, within reason of course. (My right to live as I see fit ends at your right to be free from my intrusion.) Pluralism maximizes liberty and freedom and allows people choice. Pluralism is a necessary construct in a free society.
Truth, however, is not so inclusive. We don’t accommodate any or all theories in science. We don’t tolerate views in science that compete with proven evidence without equally compelling evidence to the contrary because truth matters to the scientific endeavor.
Truth is what it is.
This is not to say that people aren’t free to adopt their pet theories, but pet theories are not relied upon by a circumspect scientific world that is trying to launch probes to Mars and program vehicles to drive by themselves without killing innocent people. In the same sense, if truth matters, and if there is any truth to be found in religion, we defy logic and common sense to say that one religion or set of beliefs is just like the next. And the consequences of failing to discern fact from fiction may be just as dire.
Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed. It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters[…]
I’ve often been frustrated with debates as a tool for advancing knowledge and understanding. Many times, maybe even most often, both sides claim a victory, but wins and losses are hard measured in debates. Debates are seen as win/lose propositions, but they rarely deliver that kind of satisfaction.
Listen to any political debate, and both sides will claim victory. Listen to any debate of atheist and theist, and both sides will claim victory. The after debate responses are continuations in kind of the debate – both sides trying to convince the other and the world of their victory. The claims usually fall flat and ring hollow to anyone who makes an effort at remaining objective.
If we want to get at truth and understanding, debates are not the way to do it. Respectful discussion and dialogue are much better platforms for truth and understanding.
Since this is a faith-based blog, a little reference to Jesus is in order. Jesus didn’t debate people, ever. He often asked questions. He spoke in parables. He connected with people where they were – healing them, addressing them at a personal level, touching on their psychological, emotional and physical and spiritual issues.
Jesus treated everyone with respect, even the spiritually high-minded Pharisees. He took everyone seriously.
We can not get “inside” other people’s heads like Jesus could – knowing the thoughts and intents of their hearts – , but we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We should attempt to be more led by the Spirit than by our capacity to debate when we engage with non-believers. Like Jesus did.
This interplay, while fictional, is intended to capture the essence of the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien as Lewis was transitioning from the materialism he embraced as a young man to theism. At this point, he is wrestling with doubts that were arising in his mind about the truth of that materialist world view he had intellectually embraced.
Lewis had been raised on a diet of classical Greek and Latin literature that he learned to read in the original languages, along with Celtic, German and other literature filled with myth, allegory and symbolism that he adored as a child and young adult. His embrace of materialism was clashing with a profound undercurrent of something “real” that appealed to him in that ancient literature. The reality Lewis was confronting is no different than a love of art, beauty, poetry and love itself that the materialist enjoys in common with more metaphysically minded men.
Is materialism all that exists, threatening to undermine the sublime reality we all intuitively “know” and sense in classic, timeless literature and art?
My thoughts today are prompted by a discussion with someone very close to me. We don’t see eye to eye on some fundamental things, though we do have many, many points of agreement. He does not believe that Jesus lived, died on a cross, rose from the dead, was God in the flesh and offers salvation to mankind for sin and restoration of relationship with God. I could summarize his beliefs as he has explained them to me, and as I understand them to be, but that isn’t the point here.
The bottom line is that these are my beliefs, and he doesn’t agree with me. He is very forceful and strong in his disagreement with me about these things. He is an intelligent person. He has read a lot and has a lot of knowledge regarding certain things, but his arguments are not convincing to me.
In our last conversation, which got heated, he challenged me on the basis that I came to the fundamental conclusions to which I still hold (now in my 50’s) in my early twenties. He contended that I have inflexibly held to my beliefs and have spent the last thirty-some years simply confirming the position I came to long ago.
To be honest, I have to acknowledge that he is right in certain respects. I have not changed the fundamental position to which I arrived years ago. And, I have been thinking about that ever since.
Most of us have heard the story about the blind men and the elephant. I heard it in a world religion class in 1978, my first year of college. The story is most often told in the context of the world religions. And, the story is most often told as an allegory suggesting that all religions are really getting at the same thing (the elephant).
If you haven’t heard the story, I will re-tell it. If you have heard the story, please bear with me because telling the story with its original conclusion is an important exercise in understanding the message.
If your antennae are up, you might have caught the hint that this story, with the original conclusion, has a twist. The story usually isn’t told with the original conclusion, so the point of the original conclusion is often “lost in the translation”. And, the original conclusion leads to a very different point than the commonly asserted message.