Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Safety, knowledge, faith

Sometimes you come across disagreements that seem to be totally intractable, things where the differences are so great that it seems almost impossible to discuss the issue.  Sometimes this is because we are emotionally invested in particular positions; sometimes, I think the disagreements cannot be overcome because we are not talking within the same epistemological structure.

For example, where Christian views of truth - which have of course been predominant in the West from late antiquity to the mid-twentieth century - think from the top down, beginning with God at the top and proceeding downwards via the concept of revelation, contemporary Western culture tend to think upwards, starting with the safety of the individual, and putting that at the centre of the epistemological world.  Whereas for the Christian view (which has its antecedents in, for example, Plato) there is inherent value in truth, a value which stands irrespective of the human effects of truth, for our culture certain opinions ought not to be held, certain beliefs are automatically invalidated, because they are considered to be harmful to the individual or society.

For Christians who are used to thinking primarily in terms of truth, real truth - what Schaeffer called 'true truth' - this can all be very disorienting, and can even appear so ridiculous as to be worthy only of mockery.  Truth, we know, does not bend to the individual; reality will not shift to make us comfortable.  But it really isn't ridiculous.  It is a move that is more or less required by the loss of faith in God.

If you don't believe in the Christian God, it takes immense courage to pursue truth, and it is not clear that it even makes sense to do so.

Christians have often tried to make the case that without the existence of God the very concept of truth is hard to maintain.  I agree with that, but it's not the point I'm making here.  What I'm saying here is that without the love of God, it probably doesn't make sense to pursue truth at all.  Because the Christian knows that God is love - and the Christian knows what that love means, because it has been demonstrated at the cross of Christ - it is possible to approach reality with a confidence that what is true is also good.  Truth may be hard to take; the truth may hurt me in many ways.  But I can be sure that ultimately the truth is good for me, because the Person who defines truth and creates reality is my Heavenly Father, the God of love.  Therefore the Christian can pursue the truth, with the knowledge that nothing ultimately harmful to me lies there.  I can be safe in the pursuit of the truth, not because every truth that I find will be comfortable, or because there will be no pain in the truth, but because behind every fragment of truth stands The Truth personified - Jesus Christ, the revelation of the love of the Father.

Now take away faith.  There is no reason to believe that truth and reality are good; there is no reason to believe that there is safety in the truth.  It may be that you nonetheless conclude that you want to know the truth.  You may decide to face the potentially very bleak reality.  But why?  What is the value of so doing?  In an atheistic world, what is at stake in pursuing the truth - why is it better to know than not to know?  If knowing the truth is harmful - and we have no reason whatsoever to believe that it will not be - why should we want it?  Shouldn't we value human comfort and safety, which are real, concrete things, which make life more bearable, over the abstract value of truth?

It is only the Christian, who knows that truth is not abstract but personal, who can therefore trust that truth is good, that Truth and Love are essentially the same - the same Person.  Out of this faith can come a genuine pursuit of the truth, in the confidence that however hard the truth is, we are ultimately safe with God.

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