Can we always trust what we see? How about what we hear? I remember the old adage: never trust what you hear, and only half of what you read (these days, I think it’s down to less than half!). How are our perceptions influenced? By our experiences? By long-held traditions? By our admiration for prominent people in our lives who hold a certain view?
Today we celebrated Mother’s Day, and one quote we often hear is “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. I so fully agree, because even as our physical characteristics are shaped in the womb and our life is sustained by what we receive through our mothers, usually our first experience with anything spiritual comes through the person who nurtures us in our younger years. The same is true in any culture, whether oriented toward Christianity or other religions altogether. An aspect of maturing is the reaching a place of determining what from our childhood fits with our individual lives and what won’t be compatible with who we are now.
We’re not intended to be clones of our mothers (or fathers), of course, and as the mother of a sixteen-year-old daughter, I can say that I’m thankful for that! As I see developing character traits that are of necessity emerging (and have been for all of the sixteen years), I know they reflect not only what I’ve taught her, but what she’s chosen to test and keep for herself. I expect her to do that; and feel it honors me as a mother for her to do so, showing she has learned how important her faith is. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and I agree. Faith-related choices on earth lead to eternal destinations, and making them our own can mean they will stand under pressure, vs. being just what “Mom and Dad believed.”
I realize this doesn’t constitute the “norm” in the religious world, and I guess, understandably so. The things we know shape our world, and they are comfortable to us. Self-examination and reflection aren’t things we come to easily when there’s no crisis brewing or some confrontation that requires us to evaluate who we are, where we’re going and what we believe that’s brought us to where we are.
OK, warning: this thought line is about to take an odd twist. Reading is an influence to our thinking, and often provides examples of ideas, word pictures that illustrate thoughts we have, or perceptions of how something works in the world. Though I haven’t been interested in science fiction for many years, as a pre-teen (a very long time ago!), it was my favorite category (“genre” for you serious reading aficionados). A couple of stories I read way back then (and my apologies to the authors – I have no idea at this point who wrote them or even the titles after this many years) expressed similar concepts.
In the first, a post-apocalyptic culture had developed in some underground shelters that were sophisticated enough to sustain life for generations, and that’s what they had done. Lights had long since become unavailable, and adapting to total darkness had become their way of life; for so long in fact, that they had no recollection of it having existed, and their eyes were of no value at all to them. Unknown to them, life on the “top-side” of earth had resumed many years before, and there were those who attempted to reach them and re-integrate them into the life they were made to have. The visitors were considered devils (they carried “lights” which were painful to the tunnel-dwellers). As might be expected, a couple of young people whose drive for more, if it existed somewhere, were bold enough to begin to get closer to the outside, and eventually found the joy of living as they were intended to: in the light that had seemed dangerous to them only a few months before, because they didn’t understand what it was.
In the second story, a group was commissioned to journey to another star, which of course would take a really, really long time in the real world. Since this is fiction, it was actually “possible”, but took many years to do so, and families were born, lived, had families and died during the journey. Generations came and went, and finally the voyagers arrived at a solar system with a planet capable of sustaining life. There, however, they faced an unexpected problem. Their whole existence, and that of everyone they’d known of for generations in the past, had lived all their lives within a few arms’ lengths of a wall. No one had ever been outside of something as confining as their space-going vessel. The open spaces of the planet were overwhelming, disorienting, and almost debilitating to them. Some chose to stay in the ship, but a few realized this is what they were intended to do, and began to grow accustomed to life in the open air that they were seeking for to begin with.
What do these stories have to do with spiritual truths? Not a lot, I suppose, except that they build a picture of how sometimes the things we are so certain of and comfortable with are not the ultimate things we were intended to experience from God and his word. Nice stories (if you like that sort of thing), but let’s talk about whether that concept is reflected in the Word of God: our only source of truth.
What does the Bible say about truth being obvious? Jesus compares finding truth to finding a goodly pearl of great price, and to finding a treasure hidden in a field – both of which, when found were worth selling everything one had to buy the pearl or the field. (Matthew 13: 44-46) Neither were scattered across the ground, as worthless stones are. They were only found by those willing to sell all to find them. He says “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). If it were obvious, why would “searching with all our heart” be necessary?
Does the Bible speak of people who believe they are right, and are not outright sinners who know they need God, or atheists or others who shun godly living? People who are pursuing spiritual things? Many times, actually, he does: Paul spoke of the Jews who had a “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2). Is that phenomenon limited to the Jews? He also spoke of Jewish people who “made their boast in God” and were confident that they were a guide of the blind and instructors of the foolish, but were in fact falling short of what God had provided for them to walk in spiritually. (Romans 2). The judgement scene described in Matthew 7:21-23 portrays a group of people who thought they were living for Jesus and had done many wonderful works in his name, but were utterly wrong when it came down to it.
Is the Gospel hidden, then? According to the Bible, for some people it is hidden. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Jesus said in Matthew 13:15, “…their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes…and should be converted and I should heal them.” Jesus did not fully reveal to his disciples all they needed to see in the scriptures until after his resurrection: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:45)
It’s a pretty scary idea to know that one could believe they’re fully right and be less than right. How do we know for sure? Does God make provision for knowing where we are in this? None of us has a heart that can be fully trusted. That’s why God instituted the preaching of the Word to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:21). He so vividly describes this role of the Man of God in our lives in Ezekiel 33:1-10, where we see him as the watchman on the wall, required to warn the people of what he sees so they can flee the danger. He has a higher vantage point than the people below, and sees more than they can see.
You can, however, find any idea out there expounded on in a pulpit these days, so just sitting o a pew hearing the message come across is not sufficient, unless you’ve done due diligence to insure you’re hearing one preach who understands and preaches the same doctrine as the original Apostles: First of all that salvation comes through repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name and the receiving of the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38), and teach that living holy, godly lives in obedience to the scriptures is necessary to be ready to see God in peace when the Judgement comes (see the post, Who do you believe? for more insight on this). If I’m attached to a certain idea, how likely am I to view a scripture I read as challenging to that idea, to the point that I’m really willing to repent and turn to what God’s saying in his Word, just on my own? It’s essential to hear preaching, and eternally necessary to know if we’re listening to a true Man of God, or to one of Satan’s “ministers of righteousness” (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
(Note: Most of the main ideas for this post came in the during a power-packed move of the Holy Ghost where people were seeking God, and praying in the Spirit, and the power of God was evident, moving individuals to cry out to him. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. What kind of prayer meeting will you be having when your response to what you’ve read here is formed?)