Thursday, October 08, 2015
A reader asks, "How do you know that the New Testament version of God embodied in Jesus is closer to what God is truly like?"
Let's consider how we know things: In the traditional approach we know based on authority. We know it's true "because the Bible says so." But this is a circular argument, meaning it is a logical fallacy, and does not prove anything.
Really what we are saying is not that this proves it (which a circular argument certainly does not), but simply we are affirming our trust. To someone who does not share that trust, this is not compelling of course. Trust needs to be earned.
We know most things based on trust. We trust the Bible, and so we believe it. We trust our pastor and so we believe them. It's not a matter of certainty based on independent verification (which is a modernist quasi-scientific model), but of trust (a relational model).
There's nothing wrong with trusting what is trustworthy. The question is how we come to believe that it is trustworthy or not. Trust is learned based on positive experience. So the reason I trust that the New Testament version of God embodied in Jesus is closer to what God is truly like (to return to the question posed above) is because I have experienced God's love, and have experienced that it is wonderful and life-giving. When I read the Gospels I recognize that the same "Someone" whose love I have known looks like the person of Jesus who I find in the Gospels. My heart cries out "it's you!" recognizing that the same Jesus described in the Gospels is the one I have met through the Spirit.
I trust that picture of God because I experience that it is good and life-giving, and have experienced this in relationship over a long period of time. I also observe (through hearing other people's stories of their lives) that the not-Jesus-like understandings of God are harmful (harming both the one who holds it, and how they treat others). In other words, I look at the fruits of a not-Jesus-like understanding of God and see that it is rotten, and I look at the fruits of a Jesus-like understanding of God and see that it is good.
That is how I "know" in the biblical sense of the word, which has to do with intimate trust (aka faith). This is the kind of relational "knowing" Paul is speaking of when he prays,
"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph 3:17-19)
As Paul says, through experiential trust we can know (personally through experience) this love that surpasses knowledge. That's pretty awesome, and it's all about relational trust, or to use the word the NT uses for trust, it's about faith. Faith=trust.
Now this immediately brings up another issue. Anyone who, having experienced Christ's love and trusting him sought to follow Jesus more, knows that while his way is indeed good, it is certainly not easy. The Disciples all knew that, and as we become Christ's disciple we find it too.
This is because the way of Jesus is not self-focused, but socially focused. This is good for us because we are social beings made for relationship, but it stretches us as we grow out of self-focus (which is the focus we begin with as infants born into the world), and mature to become social and empathetic towards others.
In short the way of Jesus is good, but it is more than that. It is good but also hard. That's why this way is not about simply following what "feels good" or what we "like" (as so many fear), but rather about following what is truly good for us and for the world, even if doing that is hard. And let's face it, good things are hard.
Next time we'll dig into this a bit more, looking in more detail at what the good/hard way of Jesus looks like practically.