Tag Archives: truth

A perfect retelling of ancient truths

The other day I overheard someone saying that Christian stories are actually not very original, and that in ancient history there are scores of other stories very similar to those of the Scriptures. Predictably, the Epic of Gilgamesh was mentioned as an example.

The implication was that the Christian Scriptures are merely one tradition among many traditions, and they are insignificant when considered alongside the parallel myths of other cultures.

Actually, the implication is exactly the opposite. If you look in multiple places and in multiple different contexts, and you see the same truths expressed, shouldn’t that convince you that perhaps these things are extremely important? God has revealed truth to everyone:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” -Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)

If the stories of Scripture are true, we should expect to find some of them told in various forms in other cultures. Many of the stories predate the Bible, but this shouldn’t surprise us either. We see in Scripture that the Lord has been speaking to men and women since humanity was first created. Scripture is not an imitation of these ancient stories, it’s the crystallization of the truths in these ancient stories. After all, these truths “have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” 

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The major rift between Christianity and culture is not belief or disbelief in absolute truth

I’ve often heard that the major rift between Christianity and US culture is this: Christians affirm absolute truth, but culture affirms that truth is relative and not absolute. That is, Christians affirm that we’re correct about God and that contrary thoughts are incorrect. Culture at large affirms that there is really no truth, and that people can choose their own truth, follow their own religion, and that it’s most  important for us to all get along.

However, I don’t think this is the fundamental discordance between US Christians and US culture. The idea of relative truth is certainly in our culture, but the silly thing about this idea is that it’s self-refuting. To claim that “there is no absolute truth” is to claim that the statement itself isn’t necessarily true. Because there is no absolute truth, the statement that “there is no absolute truth” can’t be absolutely true. Disbelief in absolute truth is an obviously inconsistent and illogical thing to believe.

I don’t think that most people in the U.S. are actually this dense. Common, everyday people are intelligent enough to see that disbelieving in absolute truth is nonsense. I’m sure you can find a number of philosophy professors who would take issue with this, but I doubt you can find very many everyday people to agree with them. People are smart enough to believe in absolute truth, and I don’t think this is the major rift between Christianity and U.S. culture.

Rather, I think the major discordance is between our values. The general culture in the U.S. believes that the most important virtue is to avoid causing harm to other people–whether that harm be physical, psychological, social, or otherwise. Some particularly virtuous people might say that the most important virtue is to do good to other people and that nothing can be more admirable and moral than to seek the good of others.

The difference between these values and the values of Jesus seems slight if you’ve never thought about it before. About 2,000 years ago, Jesus told us what our chief virtue as His disciples should be:

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” -Matthew 22:35-39

As Christians, our most important virtue is to love God. Secondly, we’re to love people. The central truth of being a follower of the Messiah is that God can satisfy us more than anything else on earth. If we have faith in Jesus’s sacrifice, we can be made spiritually alive, and in this redeemed state we can love the God who saved us.

But our second imperative is to love other people–and this means telling them about God, about Jesus who came to die for us, and about how they too can be made spiritually alive. For each and every person who lives, loving and knowing God is the most satisfying thing they can do. Because of this, there’s nothing more kind than to tell another person about Jesus, and about how He can save them as He has saved us.

And this is where Christians clash with most non-Christians in the US. If you tell someone to seek God, they may not like hearing that. They may want to go on believing that there is no God, or at least that God doesn’t matter. If you tell someone to seek God, you may cause them to be uncomfortable–and this is counter to the number one imperative of our culture: do no harm to other people.

As followers of the one true God, there is no way we can get around this disagreement. It’s the core of our faith to believe that by knowing God, any and every human will be infinitely better off than if they did not know God. If we ourselves know God, then we’ll tell our friends, family, and acquaintances that they should know Him too. It is secondarily important that we all get along and be kind to each other, but it’s far, far more important that as many people as possible come to know Jesus as their Savior.

Why I believe, though I’m not certain of God or his existence

Uncertainty is difficult to accept, and I’m uncertain of two enormous things. First, I cannot, with absolute and complete certainty, tell you God exists, or that I’ve seen him logically proven. Second, I’m uncertain of God’s thoughts and plans. God tells us hard things. Take up my cross and follow him? Lose my life and it will be saved?

The definition of “certain” is this: “known or proved to be true; indisputable” (from Merriam-Webster’s 11th ed. Collegiate Dictionary). I’ll admit to you that I’m not 100 % certain of anything. Everything can be doubted, and to a certain extent, everything should be doubted. How do you know you’re awake right now, rather than dreaming or in a coma?

I’m not certain God exists, but I am convinced he exists. With some thought and reading, I’ve decided that it’s exceedingly more likely that God does exist than that he doesn’t exist. So let’s say I’m 80% certain. What do I do with the other 20% of uncertainty?

This is why faith is essential to being a disciple of Jesus. Faith is not a blind acceptance of an unsupported fact. Faith is a wise and necessary assumption that something likely to be true is true. If God does exist, then this fact is terribly important, and I need to do something about it. Because so much hangs on God’s existence, we can’t afford to waver back and forth for very long. We need to decide. By faith, I’ve decided God exists, but my faith isn’t without reason.

My second uncertainty came after I decided God exists. This second uncertainty centers on the challenging commands in the Bible. Love my enemies? Rejoice when I’m persecuted? I still don’t understand these extreme acts of self-denial. I also don’t know how I can ever do them. I’m a selfish, broken person, and I’m not sure how God will use me even if I can take up my cross and follow him.

But this is where I need to continue having faith. I need to have faith that God is wise, that he will give me the ability to deny myself and follow him, and that at the end of time, he’ll make everything right again.

Faith is necessary both to believe in Jesus and to follow him. I find it hard to accept uncertainty, and I sometimes doubt the most fundamental aspects of my beliefs. But these doubts motivate me to think harder about what I believe, and by faith I can set my doubts aside and press forward. Without accepting uncertainty, I would never accomplish anything for the kingdom of heaven. We need to be convinced of God before we can take action, and we need faith to be convinced.

Romans 6:11-14

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”
-Romans 6:11-14

A Great Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.
-Isaiah 9:2 (TNIV)

A few weeks ago I was camping in the Montana wilderness. There was no moon, and at night, I could see only blurry outlines. I was lucky even to see ten feet in front of myself, and I could only barely discern the outline of my tent so I could walk from the campfire to bed. But by the light of the morning sun I could make out the finest details on the furthest mountains.

This is the effect Jesus had on the followers of God. The Old Testament was the crescendo–it demonstrated our sinfulness, chronicled God’s loving-kindess to Israel, and promised that the Lord would come to earth. The Old Testament was the dawn of God’s light on the world. In Genesis, Kings, Chronicles, and the other historical books of the Old Testament, the Jewish focus is on their development as a nation and how they’ll find their place among the people of the world. They ask God for security, economic welfare, and happiness.

By the time the prophetic books are being written, Israel has been repeatedly ravaged by conquerers, and the Jews are scattered. The prophecies still hinge on Israel as a nation, but the focus has changed a little bit. God cares for Israel’s national well-being, but the prophecies start to spend more and more time talking about knowing God and about God’s effect on the world. You start to see predictions like the one above–on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.

Micah prophesied that God would teach Israel, but also that the world would learn about God from Israel:

Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
-Micah 4:2

When Jesus came and began his ministry, the light of God exploded across the landscape of Israel and eventually to the farthest parts of the earth. All the vague outlines and dawn-lit shapes of the Old Testament were brought into sharp focus by Jesus and his teaching. This is why Paul’s writing is so clearly and logically articulated. Before Jesus, the understanding of God’s kingdom wasn’t quite clear enough to write a detailed theological exposition like Romans.

When Jesus came, the Jews were in great darkness. They were oppressed by the Romans and ruled by Herod, who was infinitely more corrupt than any Illinois politician. If you think Israel wasn’t oppressed, consider that only 40 years after Jesus died, the Romans completely destroyed the temple, the center of the Jewish national identity. Today, we’re still in great darkness, but we’ve also seen a great light, one that can help us understand ourselves and the things that are going on around us.