Mike the mallard bobbed on the surface of the pond, the early November wind whipping through his feathers. Driven by an empty gizzard, Mike plunged toward the silted bottom. Halfway down he encountered a rather large bass which caused him to backpedal a bit then come to a full upright position under water. The bass, equally startled, came to a dead stop. The two stared at each other for a few awkward seconds before Mike broke the silence with a little small talk.
“Boy, this water sure is cold today.” He observed.
To which the bass replied, “What water?”
I’ve recently been discussing the idea of truth with an acquaintance. Is it possible to know the truth? Where is truth to be found? We can discover truths by observations in nature or Scripture, but the challenge becomes assembling truths into a coherent model of reality or the truth. Of course, nobody knows how many truths there are to be discovered, so any claim to academic knowledge of the truth must be qualified.
But Jesus promises that those who persist in following him not only can but WILL know the truth. Look at what he says in this familiar passage:
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32
What could he mean? Was he wrong or naive? The answer lies in the definition of the Greek word for “to know” which is used here. Like many other languages, ancient Greek had two words for “to know.” The one used here refers to personal, experiential knowledge as in, “Do you know Jack?” So Jesus promises that those who follow him will know the truth like someone knows a good friend or their spouse.
Finding the truth then becomes a practical pursuit rather than an academic one. Truth becomes the property of the humble rather than the intellectual. Best of all, those who know the truth in this way have just begun an eternity of joyful discovery of limitless truths.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reasons that people have for disbelieving God or for questioning his nature. I myself have struggled and continue to struggle with doubts. In fact, I struggle to believe those who say that they have not struggled with doubts. It’s hard to believe in God. Bad things happen. Prayers go unanswered. Then there are the contradictions between the biblical narrative and scientific discoveries. Not to mention contradictions between the biblical narrative and the biblical narrative. Finally, and most devastatingly, there are the walking contradictions, those who claim to follow Christ yet do violence to his name through their behavior.
We’ve all encountered contradictions in various forms. What we do with them will shape our souls and the course of our lives. By spending some time recently reading literature from unbelievers, I have discovered a pattern in the way they tend to process these contradictions. Their thinking tends to follow an “if, then” heuristic. For instance, “If God is all-powerful and completely good, then why is there suffering?” That’s a great question to ask as are many others posed by those who do not believe in God. It’s a logical question. I respect people who ask good questions and I feel indebted to them for helping to take my thinking to a higher level. I don’t want a faith which is untested or based on assumption.
Having said that, I want to challenge the atheistic challenge by suggesting that drawing conclusions from the “if, then” heuristic presupposes that all variables are known. For instance, a child whose parents take him to get a shot might question the love of his parents for him since he has built a heuristic that says, “If you love me, then you won’t hurt me.” We can easily see that while for this child the dilemma is very real, the contradiction exists only in his faulty perception of reality. Here is another example which I found in Scripture the other day: “The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:36-37) Roman soldiers standing at the foot of the cross could not possibly understand how or why a king would submit to crucifixion. They possessed a heuristic which said, “If you have power, then you will use it in your best interest.” Looking back at this event through the lens of redemption, we can easily see that not only did the cross not challenge Jesus’ identity as the Christ, it validated it. So, there was more to be understood and the soldiers reached a conclusion too early.
Perhaps in the debate over the existence of God, some humility is called for. Perhaps at the beginning, we should all acknowledge that there is much we do not know. I’d like to challenge myself and anyone else who will accept it, to allow contradictions to elicit further discovery rather than premature conclusions. After all, the first definition for “heuristic” in Dictionary.com is, “serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of further investigation.”