This topic really does deserve it’s own special spot (where? maybe Philosophy? or General Theology?? not sure…) I believe given it’s centrality in so many of our (that is, we Christians) disagreements. I’ve yet to witness a serious group of engaged and interacting believers NOT come face to face with the problems inherent to our views on inspiration and inerrancy/infallibility.
A few thoughts and observations…
All to often, it seems to me, the reality of the Holy Spirits guidance (for the Christian, that the Holy Spirit guides the minds of individuals is an undisputed reality…) is used as some kind of non-falsifiable “evidence” that the way WE see the matter is in fact the way the matter is! But that sort of dynamic is patently absurd and unworkable.
I used to frame the problem this way; If God is telling us, via the Holy Spirit, the same thing (ie Truth) why are we not all HEARING the same thing? (ie why then all the differences in perception and meaning?) The answer is obvious: the differences lie within us – not God. Way back on Feb 28 last year I wrote a post titled “We see things not as THEY are, but as WE are” which I dedicated to my friend JeffA.
And it amazes me still how many Christians so easily see that Paul’s observation that we see through a glass darkly applies to others, but not to themselves. To not internalize that truth for ourselves seems to tread far too close to blasphemy and belittles God by equating OUR insights and visions with HIS eternal truths.
Which of course is why it is so easy for me to dismiss people who insist that the Spirits revelations to them must be accepted by ME as well; they thus display zero ability to recognize the FACT that the glass is “dark” for each and every ONE of us in one way or another. To say I think this person is wrong about something however simply is NOT the same as saying I think the Holy Spirit is “wrong” about that thing.
Well then – this is where it gets interesting!
For we also hold that there IS such a thing as truth, and there IS such a thing as the ability to learn and comprehend it, and there IS the distinct possibility that one person will be “more right” (ie correct) on subject A or B or whatever.
But why on earth would ANY of us hold to any belief that we did not see as true? Don’t we ALL hold our beliefs because we hold them to be true? Yet holding them to be true does not necessarily mean they ARE true. Sure, convictions are great, and they give us a sort of comfort by giving us certainty which gives us … I don’t know, maybe something like a comfort with God. As if we somehow make God happy by being wise enough to discern the “truth”. As if discerning a greater quantity of these “truths” somehow places me further ahead in the salvation drama.
So again, how is all this supposed to work together. How are we to proceed forward, seeking new and “better” truth, yet all the while being grateful for, and embracing the truths we currently hold dear??
One particular reason I find all this so interesting is that I am utterly enthralled with the idea that God did not, and perhaps could not create us as perfect and with minds “free” to choose Him. Surely, the charge might be levied that God had simply programed that mind to choose Him. Our own Tom Talbott has spoken of this as he ponders (over in his section) that maybe God was constrained to bring forth His desired creation in the midst of a necessary ambiguity and uncertainty. That has been difficult for me, since I have found it easy (though not altogether intellectually satisfying) to simply see God’s original creation of Adam and Eve perfect, and perfectly informed. And they fell, and here we are.
Well, the question becomes, if Tom T is correct, how in fact DOES God get us from here (the state of ambiguity and/or rebellion) to there (the state where we comprehend God as He actually IS)?
Necessarily then, our growth to knowledge of the true God – and the life that comes from being thus connected with this God – demands that we have the ability to learn. And what is learning if not the ability to go BEYOND that which we formerly did not know, or did not conceive of, or previously did not think possible. But this very ability to “learn” depends on our ability to recognize that A) our current understandings are incomplete, or inaccurate and B) that we are not the ultimate arbiters of truth; which is merely to agree with the fact that we ourselves do not contain ALL truth. That is there prerogative of God alone.
So this is the utterly wonderful and enchanting place we find ourselves. Able to grasp that there IS, in fact, real truth (we thus can dismiss the relativists who seem to hold that all ideas held are somehow equally valid…) and that we are in fact embarked on a journey of discovery in this life (and the next) of learning that truth.
At the SAME time however, we must ALSO grasp that there ARE forces at work which serve to distort our perceptions and cause us to call the truth a lie and vice versa. (Romans is pretty interesting on this) So here we are, created IN the image of God (wow!!) with both the ability to discern and grasp great truths, while at the very same time vulnerable to deception!!!
This is the absolutely delicious thing about living with God: He empowers us to go forth and learn and grow towards His true character, yet all the while realizing that we have serious proclivities to running off the tracks!!
Enter the Bible. Here the record of God engaging with us (Immanuel! God WITH us!!) as He guides us to full unity with Him. (Unity that was fulfilled at the cross – that’s how I read Colosians 1) It is an ugly and utterly messy affair. Here, God does outrageous things; like bless those whose understandings of Him are far less than perfect! (How often do we Christians see God’s blessings as His endorsement of our specifics!!!) He casts His name and His lot with seriously defective people! (message to earth: God blesses us because that’s what He DOES! not because He thinks we’re necessarily “correct”!)
So God does what He must; He comes to us in the only language He can. That which we already grasp as true. Thus, the ONLY way God can move us along this splendid journey to enlightenment is IF we demonstrate the ability to grasp that we were previously mistaken. And to change our minds and realize we are NOT the truth discerners we thought we were. Which is precisely why pride is such a barrier to the kingdom.
And for me, the implication of this reality for UR is remarkable. ALL humanity is locked in this drama of disobedience (Romans 11:32) SO THAT He may show mercy to all.
Does God speak to YOU in special ways, and bring to you special insights and discernment? Wow – if so that is great!! But would you PLEASE realize that the very God who is able to do this for YOU, is equally able to do it for ME. These messages are intended for YOU. God’s messages to ME may in fact sound (to your ear; hardly the standard for the entirety of humanity) different. That is as it SHOULD be. Which is why we gather together in this body of Christ and compare notes, and celebrate the wonder of learning, and how it is that God brings order to the chaos. (Remember that first world? Gen 2 - formless and void and dark…) In short, disorder. And creation is God’s process whereby His light brings order to His creation. And WE (why He honors us this way I just don’t know…) are offered the unique privilege of participating with Him in this (re)creation!!
(wow – that got lengthy! – sorry)