Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Is Truth?

Facts? Feelings? Faith?

 We fall in love with our own ideas. People often merely reinforce their existing beliefs, in other words “our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept” . “Researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds" How Facts Backfire [1].

I would characterize this as pride of knowledge. And it manifests in all sorts of places, not just politics, religion sadly being one as in “my doctrine’s better than yours”. But not all ideas are right even though we strongly believe our own ideas are. Computers can be good for teaching us that our own ideas aren’t always right. I have what I think are great ideas that don’t actually work on the computer.

Follow Your Heart?

Well if I can’t trust my brain, how about my heart? Feelings just “are”, they aren’t right or wrong, or are they? Consider these well known sayings and songs.

“If it feels good, do it.”

“Search your feelings Luke, You know it to be true.” – Star Wars

“It Can’t Be Wrong When It Feels So Right!” - Debbie Boone.  

“Hooked on a Feeling” - Mark James and B. J. Thomas

 Popular culture appeals to feelings as a source of truth.  We have expressions like “gut feeling” or “trust your gut”. And research shows “Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings” [2] (the title says it all).

But it doesn’t always feel good to do the right thing. A righteous man swears to his own hurt (Ps 15:4). Feelings are real, sometimes very intense, but they may not be true. Sometimes you should listen to your feelings, not my strong suit. Read Blink [3] by Malcolm Gladwell for a fascinating look at how people make decisions.

No matter what issue you pick (abortion, free speech, immigration, terrorism, health care, global warming, GMOs) and within the church (nature of God, calendars, pre-existence of Jesus, Sabbath or Sunday), there are people on both sides, people with strong opinions and strong feelings on both sides. I submit that both sides can’t be right. Yet each side has their facts and “searched their feelings” and is certain they are right.

Here’s how I came to think about these things. I had a stroke in 2011 that hit the pons region of my brain. After that, I suffered from pseudo bulbar affect (PBA), a fancy term for excessive laughing and crying. It’s not unemotional crying, but deep feelings welling up into tears. In the hospital I felt grief with my whole being. It got better, but lasted for months and months, music being a big trigger. Finally, I started medication, and it stopped that day, which isn’t the way it’s supposed to work. I’ve tried to stop the meds and the PBA comes back. I wanted to stop the meds because I thought somehow that the unmedicated me was the real me, that those were my true feelings. And remember feelings are always right. But I have feelings whether I take the meds or not. Which ones are real?

What brought it to focus was when I visited a stroke patient who asked “what about the feelings?” I saw that he was going through what I went through, and I told him it wasn’t real. But I decided later that’s not true. I think it would be more accurate to say the feelings are real, but they’re not true. Just like an idea or thought can be false, so can a feeling. Those of you with high emotional intelligence would probably say I’m stating the obvious, but I’m better with numbers than feelings.

So I can’t trust my thoughts and can’t trust my feelings, where does that leave me? (I overstate my case for effect.) I have to step into the spiritual realm. It’s simple enough to say trust God. But let’s get more specific, in what am I trusting?

Misplaced Faith

Let me share more of my own story. Before I started the meds, I struggled at times with depression. I remember a low point the night I felt God had forsaken me. My feelings bore witness that God had forsaken me. I knew the Bible says “I will never leave you or forsake you”, my feelings told me otherwise. Looking back, I would guess that God was nearer than ever (near to the broken hearted). I just didn’t believe He would do this to me. BTW, God does take responsibility for evil, He doesn’t hide behind statements like “God allowed it”. Concerning Satan’s attack on Job “although thou didst move Me against him, to destroy him without cause” Job 2:3.

So I believed something that wasn’t true, misplaced faith if you will. I used to believe in Santa Claus too. What else do I believe that’s wrong?  What do you believe that’s wrong? With a nod to Jeff Foxworthy:

If you think you’re better than others because you have special knowledge, you might have misplaced faith.

If a loved one died waiting for divine healing instead of seeing a doctor, you might have misplaced faith.

If you believe Sunday is the Sabbath, you might have misplaced faith.

If you think it’s OK to kill infidels, you definitely have misplaced faith.

If you think [insert name here] is a prophet, you might have misplaced faith.

If you believe a trial will be lifted as soon as you learn some certain lesson, you might have misplaced faith.

If you believe a corporation is the church of God, you might have misplaced faith.

If you think you’re one of the two witnesses, you might have misplaced faith.

You get the idea.

 Trust the Bible, Right?

Let me take a shortcut and just state that I believe God exists, the Bible is His word, and it is true. So it should be simple to say just believe what the Bible says. But look at all the different opinions about what the Bible says. How do I determine which interpretation to believe? There’s the rub, we’re stuck when it comes to understanding the Bible. We are influenced by our environment – our parents, our education, our language, our friends, books, TV, ministers, etc. It’s like the Ethiopian eunuch said “How can I [understand], unless someone guides me?” Acts 8:31, that is to say, “reading and understanding Scripture are not the same thing” Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch [4]. Someone has to guide us (especially at first, to give us the milk of the word). We have to believe someone. Well who?

That’s a topic for another day. I sympathize with Pontius Pilate’s question, “what is truth?” Christ had just told Pilate “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” Jn 18:38.  I want to listen to His voice, not my own. I need to compare my beliefs to the light of the Word like the Bereans, “searching the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so” Acts 17:11. I'm trying to root out my misplaced faith. I look at my beliefs differently now, some I’m pretty sure of, others not so much. And I’m trying to shed my own ideas of faith.

I Know the Truth When I Hear It...

But that seems a bit academic. Believe the Bible, absolutely, but that leaves no room for inspiration, insight, revelation even. I believe the Bible was written by men moved by inspiration of God, but what about today? I would be suspicious of anyone who said he got a revelation from God. At one time, God spoke to people face to face, but that ended with Moses. We sing a hymn "God Speaks To Us". How does He speak with us now?  He leads us with His Spirit. In order to understand the truths of the Bible, at some point, God has to open one’s mind, give us inspiration or insight if you will. How does that work? Ideas come from somewhere - other people, books, TV, our own minds, God’s mind, even Satan’s mind. We have all had the experience of sudden insight when the solution to a problem just comes to you. I think when God works with our minds, it is like that, as a still small voice, as if it were our own thought, making it hard to recognize as inspiration.

In New testament times, revelation was accepted in the church “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying”. 1Co14:26

In the end times or “latter days”, old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions Joel 2:28. Again, I’d be suspicious, but it is going to happen sometime. Here is the test for those who claim revelations, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Is 8:20. In order to apply this test, we’d better know what is in this word. We can’t figure it out on our own, but God will guide us, He promised, “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” Heb 11:6. 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. Jer 29:13.

There’s that heart again, I guess I’ll have to trust it sometime.



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