Doctrinal Hitchhikers

Recently, I had the privilege to share some thoughts regarding King Solomon in the context of the study, The Story: Getting to the Heart of God’s Story. The chapter in the story emphasizes the fall of Solomon into the worship of other gods and its repercussions on the stability of the ancient kingdom. The author equates this descent to a frog in a kettle: incremental environmental changes that ultimately corrupt the truest of believers. While this may be true, I’d suggest another possibility for consideration.

When you look at the Old Testament you see the frequent adoption of other gods and worship styles. Behind every lost battle, enemy encroachment and famine is Israel’s turning from God and/or turning to other gods. In all these writings it doesn’t come across to me that devout monotheists turned to polytheism or changing religions. It reads more like polytheists who are dedicated to one god, but decide to shop around. With this in mind it doesn’t seem as far of leap for the ancient Hebrews to keep turning from and returning to God. It was as easy as switching your car insurance to Geico…or so I hear.

Despite our claims about fidelity to Scripture, everyone comes into faith with views not explicitly endorsed or refuted in it. While the Bible is clear about loyalty to the Lord, it isn’t nearly as clear about the existence of other deities allowing room for orthodox Jewish polytheists. So if you believe in ghosts, hold onto to any superstitions, or that the day of the year in which you were born makes your personality, temperament and destiny the same as anyone else born around the same time, you are holding onto extra-Biblical beliefs. In many cases these kinds of beliefs are harmless but there are times were our priorities and prejudices come in conflict with Scripture and we have to wrestle with it.

In Solomon’s case, perhaps he was simply a wise man who in the end couldn’t resolve a cognitive dissonance within himself that had both spiritual and political consequences. The political maneuverings and treaties with other people groups and their gods came into conflict with his own values to remain singly loyal to the Lord. How are we any different? We face political challenges at work or conflicts at home, and we choose the more expedient option rather than the best option. We may even let our fears keep us from experiencing and expressing love.

Whatever the multitude of beliefs are that we hold on to, may they be ones that build us and our communities up. May we all finish well.

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Perception, Deduction and the Comprehension of Truth

No one can say absolutely that there is no absolute truth. Likewise, there are none who can say they know the entirety of truth absolutely. Whether an apple, a star or your own hand in front of your face, that which is real and true cannot be comprehended directly; it must be interpreted from our perceptions. It is as if we can only perceive reality through a filter that refracts, colors and obscures. So we can see the apple, but not its most basic makeup. We can only see how the star used to look millions of years ago according to a narrow visual spectrum. The visibility and appearance of our hand is dependent upon sufficient external lighting and the quality of our lens, rods and cones and, of course, that nagging question that hits everyone at some point, “When did my hands start to look that old?”

The entirety of truth may be beyond perception, though not entirely. Through our senses we catch glimpses of what is real or true. Through a variety of processes we test our perceptions for patterns and consistencies. Those things that can be demonstrated, replicated and thus perceived are understood as most true. Yet there are several domains of reality and truth that cannot be perceived. These things can only be deduced, such as gravity, inertia and a person’s motives. These are the patterns we recognize behind what we can perceive. While they cannot be perceived directly, they do affect what we perceive. In some ways, they are the rules behind the exceptions to the rules.

We know also that individual perception varies. Vision, hearing, taste, touch and smell vary from individual to individual. Any variation in the ability to perceive means a different perception. I love cilantro, but one of my best friends can’t stand it. He says, “It tastes like soap.” However, even if everyone had an identical capacity to perceive, there would still be differences. As the brain develops, it must attempt to comprehend what it is perceiving. The sequence and circumstances preceding and surrounding what is perceived affect how it is comprehended. This also affects what is deduced as imperceptible behind what was perceived. Ultimately, it is our comprehension rather than our perception that matters.

What we know, believe or hold to be right and true shapes our priorities, values and actions. It even determines our deductions and conclusions to follow. Everyone believes something, even if it is framed in the context of what they don’t believe. As a result, every argument, whether religious, political, professional or familial, comes down to a difference in the comprehension of what is real and true, what is right and good. These conclusions are shaped heavily by our variety of experiences, whether internal or external.

I believe the perception of chaos is simply our inability to comprehend the complex order behind all things. I believe there are beliefs we hold on to that can neither be proven nor disproven, and that is good and right. I also believe that there is absolute truth, and I will spend my life seeing its effects, drawing my own conclusions and having those conclusions challenged. I believe we all believe that to some degree, our beliefs shape our behavior. I believe we can all be wrong in our beliefs and behaviors, though rarely is it absolutely and completely. I believe that in communicating what I believe, I welcome the opportunity of others to communicate how my conclusions are in agreement or conflict with their own.

It is my hope that when we proclaim, debate and discuss our comprehension of truth, we acknowledge that it is not truth in itself, but the nearest we can perceive.

Prophets

Prophets have played a significant role throughout church history by speaking truth to those in power. Some became so influential that not even those they spoke against would touch them. These are passionate individuals who say what needs to be said when it needs to be said when others might shy away or remain silent. Sometimes their passion gets the better of them and they overreact, get in the way of reconciliation or even cause hurt.

Is this any different than any of the other heroes of faith? Many of the people we look to as leaders and examples of the faith were warlords, slave owners, adulterers, murderers, bigots and deceivers. Even pastors, teachers, and other roles within the church have been filled by people with various degrees of corruption, holiness and self-awareness. Of course, the ideal is that whenever someone claims to be speaking for God or from God that their humanity (bias, prejudice and perspective) is tucked neatly away so not to corrupt, compromise or invalidate the message. Unfortunately, personal opinions, expectations and insecurities shape the presentation of that message whether pastor or prophet, apostle or teacher.

Recently, while reading one of the most well-known stories about Elijah, I couldn’t help but question whether everything we read of his activities was actually instructed by God. The instruction is to tell the king that the rain will return; however, before that is even communicated, insults are exchanged, taunts proclaimed and hundreds of people are killed. Were these deaths murder due to the impassioned crowd, or were they capital punishment for acts of treason? This has been debated for centuries and will likely be debated for centuries to come. Either way, the narrator does not affirm that these additional acts were commanded by God. So Elijah finds himself running for his life and humbly admitting to God his zealousness that led to this state.

Throughout history priests and prophets have committed questionable and horrible acts in the name of God. Yet, if there were no prophet who would speak out against the injustice? We desperately need people who will rise up and speak truth to power the best way they know how. We can’t afford to wait for the perfect prophet. May the prophets rise up and speak out against injustice with both confidence and humility. Likewise, may their boldness not introduce or contribute to another injustice.