Christian Living

How do you know what you know?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a crisis of faith that involved how you know what you know. I remember in college when we were covering epistemology (how you know what you know) coming down for breakfast one morning and announcing I was having an existential crisis 🙂

It still makes me smile even though it felt so serious at the time. How we know what we know is a serious matter. It’s the underpinnings of everything in a lot of ways. How do you know that you exist? How do you know that I exist? How do I know that this computer exists? What about the library table I’m blogging from?

And what about the Bible? Without a solid method of figuring out what’s real and what’s not, there’s no reason to hang onto the truth found there. These no reason even to believe in a God or in truth itself. And from there, we all devolve into not having any best way to live, we’re ships adrift in a strange sea without a compass.

I hope you can see why it’s important to know how you know what you know.

So how do we know what we know?

We don’t. Not without there being someone who can tell us what’s true. We need a third-person perspective on the nature of reality in order to know what’s true. Like the fish in a fishbowl. They don’t even know that they’re in water because it’s what they live in (I actually expound on this in my book, Tales from a Spacious Place). Or like the characters in a book who can’t know everything. It’s impossible for us to know everything about our universe. We need someone to tell us about it. We also need a creator who created the world to have coherence with our senses–a world where we can learn about what’s true through what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and feel (sixth sense sort of feeling). Without that, I may perceive this table as smooth and hard whereas you may perceive it as fluffy.

This is why God’s transcendence is one of my absolute things about God! Transcendence means He is completely other than everything else. He has a true third-person perspective on reality. He created the universe and knows all there is to know about it. He is outside of our “water” (time), and able to see things from the beginning to the end. He knows people’s hearts. There’s nothing that He doesn’t know.

Which is why we can know stuff. He provides methods for us to learn about His creation: our senses, the Bible, and inventions He’s given us the materials and ingenuity to create (microscopes, telescopes, x-ray machines, etc., etc.).

This week on our podcast, Epic Every Day, we got to talk about how all truth is God’s truth. That’s such a huge part of my worldview. If I didn’t believe God had created ways for us to learn truth, I think I would never get out of bed. My soul shrivels up when I’m not doing things that matter, and I’d go nuts if I had no idea what was important.

One of my friends and I were talking about how confusing it is when your parents tell you something is both true and not-true. It leaves you unsure of your own judgment. If someone you trust tells you that something is white and you think it’s black, you question yourself. If they consistently give you conflicting information, it’s impossible for you to trust that you’ve got things right at any given time.

Some of you have had parents like that. But God isn’t that way. He tells us truth. And that gives us the foundation to be able to explore, to study, to learn, to grow. To do things that matter.

God is also a God who listens, so if there’s something we don’t understand, He’s more than willing to answer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV). I’m continually in awe of the fact that God doesn’t tell us how dumb our questions are. He doesn’t make little sarcastic comments when we ask for help. He’s patient and tender with us, like a loving Father with the child He delights in (Prov. 3:11-12).

I love that we can ask God to tell us about life!

Knowing how I know what I know is why God’s transcendence is one of my absolute favorite things about God.

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Tales from a Spacious Place excerpt (fish in water)

“Some restrictions can free you,” I began, like a bored student parroting back a set of half-grasped words. Then understanding came in a blinding flash. I sat stock-still, amazed. “You’re talking about things like music lessons or physical training, aren’t You? If you restrict yourself by practicing or training, it actually opens up new possibilities. It creates freedom to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to accomplish.”[i]

“Yes!”

“But then not all restrictions free you,” I added, thinking back to injustices, like slavery, which were often within the realm of legality.

“Right. Think about physical training. Suppose a person trained to fly like a bird, using only his body. He could spend his life strengthening his muscles and studying birds, but would those restrictions help him achieve his goal?”

“No.” I snickered, then realized I’d done things that were likely just as foolish.

“And would his life be fulfilling, or would it be wasted?”

“Wasted.”

“Do you see that this person is less himself? The wrong restrictions dehumanize you. So, as you were saying, not all of them are freeing—”

I ground my teeth. “And now, I suppose, we’re back to how to determine which ones are freeing and which will suck the life out of you.” I didn’t want to talk about it!

Jesus smiled at me. “There are fish in this pond.”

I blinked at Him a few times, then decided to just go with it. “Yes, yes there are,” I said, noting the many ripples disturbing the water’s surface. The fish were in a feeding frenzy.

“Do you suppose the fish know they need water?” He asked, idly slipping His fingers into the pond.

“I have no idea.”

He stood up and held out a hand. “Let’s go find out.”

I gulped. “Um, okay, sure.” I took His hand.

 

I began to shrivel and shrink. It was an unpleasant sensation, like being squished into a box much too small. Then all at once, I was a fish, out of water. It was exceedingly uncomfortable.

I flopped about, my gills gasping for water until Jesus unceremoniously plopped me into the pond. I gulped deep breaths of water. Much better! What in the world was all that near-suffocation about? I swam a bit and was delighted to discover how well my new fins and tail worked.

Jesus dove in after me, now a fish Himself. “So what do you think?”

“If I’m going to be a fish, I prefer to be a fish in the water rather than out,” I said primly.

“Why’s that?”

“Fish are not designed to breathe air!” I slashed a fin downward, trying to emphasize my point, but mostly just flailing.

“So?”

“They can’t function well without water. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of fish can’t survive outside it.”

“Aha, I see you’ve found another freedom-enhancing restriction.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that. I floated there, my mouth opening and closing repeatedly as I cast about for a suitable reply. None came to mind. My only hope was that I just looked fishy, not ridiculous.

Jesus waited a few moments, then asked, “Shall we go find a fish to chat with?”

I tried to nod, and off we swam with Him leading the way. Here, flecks of something glimmered in the sunlight and the water was comfortably warm. Though it was murky, I found that I could see clearly enough. In fact, near the surface a plethora of bugs lingered. I thought hungrily of dinner, then brought myself up short. I may have looked like a fish, but I refused to eat like one.

The farther down we went, the gloomier and chillier it became. After a bit, we found a large fish swimming purposefully along with an air of self-importance.

“Excuse me, sir, could you spare a moment?” Jesus asked.

The fish looked us over and apparently decided we were worthy of his attention. “I suppose so. You are not denizens of our fair country. You must be from the other side,” he said, as though uttering a shrewd pronouncement.

I wished I’d had a fish-sized monocle to hand—or flipper?—him. It would have perfectly completed the picture of his pomposity. I stifled giggles lest I offend his self-importance.

“You’re right, we aren’t from around here. Would you tell us about your country?” Jesus asked pleasantly.

The fish bobbed up and down in the water. “Of course. It is always wise to familiarize oneself with the locality one is visiting. Our country is a delightful place, almost magnetic. Obviously, you must be aware of this fact since you, too, have been drawn here. Food is plentiful and so are neighbors. There are plenty of the right sorts of fish who make their homes here.” He seemed to swell ever so slightly. “I, myself, am a fish of some standing in the community and can recommend a hostelry, if you so desire.”

“Actually, we were wondering if you could tell us more about your country. Where are its borders?”

The fish stared at Jesus for a moment, as though trying to ascertain if his intelligence was being insulted. Apparently he decided that we must be applying to his magnificent wisdom, or perhaps were merely impaired in some way. In any event, he answered the question kindly. “The borders are, of course, the murk and the standing stones.”

“And what exactly is the murk?”

“The murk is part of the shallows, where the world is smaller.”

“Where the shallow water is?”

“Water? What is that?” he asked.

“Water. The liquid medium we’re moving through. Separate from the air.”

The fish’s eyes bulged out even more. “You’ve been talking to those frogs, haven’t you? Well, I’ve no time to waste on nonsense. I should have pegged you for that sort of fish immediately!” And with that, he harrumphed away, muttering something about troublemakers.

“I think that should be enough. Would you like to stay here, or shall we find somewhere warmer to talk?” Jesus asked me.

“I think I’m ready to be a human again, preferably one on dry land,” I said, thinking longingly of sunshine. The water was mostly dark now and getting cold as the sun continued to sink.

“Okay, let’s go somewhere more comfortable.”

Jesus swam toward a pile of large rocks in the middle of the lake. I wondered if these were said standing stones. He headed for a small tunnel in their midst, and I hurried after Him. The tunnel abruptly darkened, then I found myself standing, once more human, in a narrow hallway with Him. He opened a door in front of us and invited me in.

[i]       Keller, “Absolutism.”

Christian Living

Faithfulness: Aligning with Reality

Normally, I write about things that I learned over the previous week/month in the course of Bible study or daily life. Today, I’m going to write about something I learned today because I’m super excited about it!

Okay, so this morning in my Bible study (I’m still doing Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself) I started the section on faithfulness. Now, I don’t know what you think of when you think of faithfulness, but I usually think of doing something consistently regardless of how difficult it is because it’s the right thing to do. Hmm, guess that says a lot about my life, eh?

Anyway! Beth Moore quoted The Complete Word Study Dictionary where they defined faithfulness this way: “firm persuasion, conviction, belief in the truth, veracity, reality or faithfulness” (Spiros Zodhiates et. al., ads., The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament [Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992], 1162).

Now the part that struck me was that “reality” bit. It actually cracked me up because Beth Moore made a similar point only a paragraph later–after I’d already scribbled in my margins. The thought I was having is that faithfulness equals living according to God’s reality or aligning with God’s reality.

Why am I so excited about this?

Aligning with something is kind of the easy part–at least in my experience. You don’t have to figure out where to cut if there’s a pattern you’re following–you just cut on the lines. Aligning with God’s principles works the same way: we just follow the pattern.

In Tai Chi, we talk a lot about body structure and how to align your body with the way it’s designed to work. If you’re out of alignment–for example, bending forward when you’re trying to lift something or trying to grab something with your arm behind your back–it takes a LOT more work to accomplish anything. Aligning with God’s principles actually makes life easier. It may not feel like it sometimes–Lord knows, there are days I wish I could eat whatever and still be healthy, but that’s not the way my body is designed to work–but it actually is. When we do things God’s way, we miss out on the consequences. As you may have noticed, I’ve been blogging a fair bit about money lately because I’m working on changing my perspective. If I come at money from a fear standpoint, I won’t handle money well (regardless of how much or how little I actually have). Aligning with God’s principles means recognizing it’s all God’s money anyway and just being intentional about how we spend it.

And finally, I love that it’s reality. This is the rubber meeting the road. This the way things actually are. This is life-changing on a day-to-day basis. One of my very favorite things about God is that He is transcendent–He has a third-person perspective on the nature of reality; He knows the truth of everything. When God tells us a principle about the world, we are absolutely guaranteed to prosper when we follow that principle–whether it’s a moral principle (for example, don’t lie or don’t have sex outside of marriage) or a life principle (“the borrower is servant to the lender”[Prov. 22:7 or “stress makes you sick” [e.g., Prov. 3:7-8; 14:30; 17:22; ]).

Why can we be faithful? I love that Beth Moore talked about both the fact that faithfulness is part of the fruit of the Spirit (and thus only possible via the Holy Spirit’s work in us) and that our faithfulness is a response to God’s faithfulness. We can be faithful because God is faithful. We can believe God because He’s always trustworthy and honest. We can align with God’s reality because it’s always the real way the world works.

How sweet is that?! I love that we can trust God and that He never leaves us.

So, now that you have this perspective on faithfulness, are there any areas where you need to align your life with God’s reality? And if so, how?

 

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Loving the Truth

This morning when I was doing my Bible study, this verse jumped out at me: 2 Thess 2: 10b They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (NIV)

Now, obviously, if you read 2 Thessalonians this passage is talking about people who reject God, however, I think there’s a principle there that you see applied to believers throughout Scripture: loving the truth saves us from more than just hell. It’s like that passage where Paul talks about how a little yeast spreads throughout the whole dough (Gal 5:7-13). I have that marked in my journal along with a note about how the lies I believe can affect more than just the areas they seem to be related to.

It’s so easy to believe lies. Lies the culture tells us. Lies the people in our lives tell us. Lies our pasts tell us. Lies we tell ourselves. And lies lead us into dangerous situations, places we don’t want to end up. It was so crazy: last week I was shelving our Bible study books, and I came across this study I did a few years ago on moderation by Dee Brestin. It was a good study, but the reason I chose that particular study was because I felt out of control in my eating habits. Looking back though, I can see that I felt so out of control because I had been dieting for so long that my body was literally starving. So the healthy solution was to eat more, rather than eat less. But because I believed various lies, I thought my hunger showed a lack of self-control. Lies can get us crazy places.

The story I’m currently working on is about two realities that intersect and a character that’s stuck travelling between the two. It’s actually coming out of a recurring nightmare that I’ve had for over a decade. In my dream, I’m shifting realities, and I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not–sort of Thirteenth Floor-ish if you’ve seen that movie.

I hate situations where I have no clue who or what to believe. It’s actually why if you were to ask my what my favorite attribute of God’s is, I would answer His transcendence. I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to me that God has a third-person perspective on reality and can tell me what is actually true.

Anyway! Getting back to loving the truth. I think there’s something there. It’s more than just accepting the truth or tolerating the truth. Loving the truth seems to involve actually spending time with it–pursuing and hanging onto it. I was reminded of that old sermon illustration about banks and how they train tellers to tell the difference between real money and counterfeit money–not by having them study counterfeits, but by having them study real money. If I really love the truth and know it in every fibre of my being… if I revel in it to where it’s deep in the essence of who I am, I’m not going to accept lies.

But there’s also something there about wanting the truth too. I think this is the hardest thing for me. There are lies I believe because I want to believe them, because the truth is so hard and so painful that the lie seems preferable. Anybody else have that problem? But I’ve learned that avoiding those truths is actually sacrificing the future for the sake of false-comfort in the present.

One way I’ve been trying to put this into practice in my life (which I may or may not have already shared here) is to use my journal. I’ve kept a journal since junior high. The past several years it’s gradually evolved into a place where I write the things I’m learning–whatever God showed me in my Bible study, things that hit me from sermons I’ve heard, books that I’ve read, random events God uses as object lessons, etc., etc. Anyway! Writing it down has helped me remember things quite a bit, but last Fall I started starring important entries and then reading back through those entries almost every day. It really grounds me in what’s true, in who I am and who I want to be.

It’s clear from this verse that we have a choice whether or not we love the truth. May God show us the lies we’re believing and help us to choose to love the truth.