Friday, January 16, 2009

Subjective Truth versus Objective Truth

When did subjective truth become the enemy of Christianity? As a teacher in Christian schools for about five years, one thing I noticed in the curriculum and in the overall academic stance is that, in the quest to insure that students have a clearly articulated belief system, the knowing that takes place in the head is emphasized over and above the knowing that happens through experience. In fact, I have very often heard postmodern thinking, which emphasizes experiential knowing, pegged as the enemy of Christian belief. Specifically, subjective truth is generally regarded as the biggest threat to Christian belief in such circles. Recently, I have come to realize that subjective truth is a victim of aggressive pendulum swinging. In efforts to protect objective truth, the subjective is often wrongly invalidated. It is the baby that goes out with the bathwater.

Perhaps semantics is the issue. When some think of subjective truth, they think of one’s own personal truth from within—as if each individual makes it up for himself. That is a problem. But truth can be personal or subjective without originating from within. In fact, I believe objective truth—or what some would call absolute truth— must be experienced subjectively. That’s not to say it originates from within, but objective truth must be moved there. Truth is not simply an object; it is given life when it touches our hearts and minds, when it is experienced. Otherwise, what good is it? Objective understanding has no value if it does not lead to change. If it simply sits, dead, it can’t change you. That’s not to say objective truth doesn’t matter. But it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t change you. Truth has to be both objective and subjective.

What we get without subjective truth is generations of Christians who know all about God, but have no personal experience of God. Personal experience of God leads to transformation. Ideas about God cannot substitute for experience of him. I’ve heard it said that a truth not practiced is a truth not believed, and I tend to agree at least in this sense, I don’t really believe something is true unless I’m willing to act on it. Last year, when I was coming to terms with this idea, I wrote these lines:

I know You rescue, but I won’t leap
I know Your gifts are good, but I won’t receive
I know You won’t leave, but I don’t want to wait and see
Because I know, but I don’t believe
So I don’t know
I don’t know You

If I really believe what God says is true, then I will take the leap of faith that Kierkegaard writes about. According to Kierkegaard, our choice is either to take a leap of faith and truly live or to just conform and exist inauthentically, “To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

In Deference

Though you could teach
You don’t have to speak
Each word as it beats through your heart

Every now and then cease
And let the truth be
And watch it take shape in the dark

Let quiet strength shout
And beauty cry out
From a life lived in graceful repose

Then you may learn
When seasons return
That God’s been at work in the throes

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Significance or Safety?

"Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" I hadn’t considered before that John the Baptist asks this question from prison after he has already professed that Christ is indeed the awaited Lamb of God. Yet, he asked the question. Like John, I ask this question. “Hey, are you gonna come through for me? I thought you were the Son of God. Should I find somebody else?” Jesus didn't come through. Later, when John was beheaded, Jesus was around. I guess no one told him how the game works.

I was just reading about this in Erwin McManus’s book The Barbarian Way. He writes, “The civilized view of Jesus is that he always comes through for us. Like Superman, he always shows up just in time to protect us and save us from disaster. His purpose is to ensure our safety, our convenience, and our comfort.” I guess somewhere along the way, I became civilized. If I’m faithful to him, he’ll come through for me, right? As I read this account in Luke 7, I realized I’m a lot like the people Jesus described,

“They are like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends,
‘We played wedding songs,
and you didn’t dance,
so we played funeral songs,
and you didn’t weep.’”

Jesus wasn’t playing their games. He won’t play mine. He doesn’t respond the way I think he should. I’m coming to terms with my own tendencies to exploit and manipulate God and others to get what I want or think I need. I start with pleasing. If that doesn’t work, I rely on pity. I’ll resort to complaining and even tantrums if I have to. “Hey, are you gonna come through for me? Should I find somebody else?” But God has another purpose that is beyond me and my plans. It’s not about me.

McManus says, “Even then Jesus understood his purpose was to save us not from pain and suffering, but from meaninglessness. For Jesus, John was exactly where he needed to be, fulfilling God’s purpose for his life. Why would he save John from that? … God’s will for us is less about our comfort than it is about our contribution. God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance.” God invites us to enter his grand epic. But he didn’t say it wouldn’t cost us. So why am I insolent when it does?

My pastor, Eric, said on Sunday that he’d give up everything else— friends, possessions, status— as long as he had Christ. Bold. I mean, what if God heard? I guess that’s what is meant by surrender. “He wants us to surrender our lives to Him and follow Him into the unknown. And if it means a life of suffering, hardship, and disappointment, it will be worth it because following Jesus Christ is more powerful and more fulfilling than living with everything in the world minus Him.”

Do I believe it? If I do, if I want to enter the story, I think it means I have to stop writing my own subplot with a script full of insolence and ease. Gotta surrender my pen.


So now we come to it
The really deep-seated shit
The stuff I can’t quit
The me that I hate
My native state
So much for truth that dazzles
This truth just unravels
All my facade

Then there’s Your blood

You say that’s what it’s for
Still I treat it with scorn
A last resort
I don’t want to need
I prefer to sit here and bleed
Just get it together so I won’t have to ask
So I can keep on the mask
But behind my back
I secretly pray

Please don’t leave me this way

Then my dam breaks
I’ll do whatever it takes
That’s when Love falls
Because You see it all
And You stay with me still
So do what You will
My desire is for You
Only Love can undo
The me I won’t miss

You died for this