Experience the truth of God this Christmas
Regular columnist Mark Fairweather-Tall explains that our experience of the presence of God goes beyond a debate about proof of His existence.
Each year the Oxford Dictionaries announce a ‘Word of the Year’ – a word or expression that has risen to prominence during the previous twelve months and reflects the passing year in language. Examples from previous years include ‘Credit Crunch’ from 2008 and ‘selfie’ from 2013.
The ‘Word of the Year for 2016’ was announced recently as ‘post-truth’. It is defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ Perhaps we could put it another way: ‘feelings’ are more important than ‘facts’.
The rising use of the word ‘post-truth’ has been explained by recent events in the political sphere. First there was the EU referendum leading to ‘Brexit’ and then more recently the presidential election in America won by Donald Trump. Its increased usage might perhaps reflect rising distrust towards the establishment and institutions that has been fuelled by many scandals of recent years.
As a Christian, the term ‘post-truth’ causes me concern. After all, the value of truth is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6). He also spoke to Jews who believed in him saying, “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).
Truth is to be valued because we need it in order to make wise decisions. Truth is important because it is the foundation of trust and the basis of good relationships. Furthermore, there is a danger in making decisions based on feelings. Scripture warns us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
J John, in an article he wrote on the word ‘post-truth’ points out the danger this concept poses to justice: “It’s revealing how, in the trial of Jesus, once Pilate dismisses the idea of truth (John 18:37) he is immediately forced to yield to the will of the crowd (John 18:40 – 19:16). That pattern has been repeated ever since. The first casualty of the loss of truth is justice. When truth is weakened, it’s the bullies who shout loudest who win. In a ‘post-truth’ world it’s all too likely that the innocent will be found guilty simply because that’s the verdict the mob outside the courthouse is howling for.”
However, it is just possible that there is something positive about this trend for Christians to focus on. And this might be especially true at Christmas. One of the common objections to the Christian faith we may come across is that we cannot prove the existence of God. Yes, there are arguments for the existence of God but the ontological, cosmological, teleological and moral arguments will only ever take people so far. I don’t ever remember hearing a conversion testimony when someone referred to any of these arguments as the reason for their accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
It is much more common for people to refer to ‘seeing something that other people had because of their faith’ and wanting to experience it for themselves. Ultimately, experiencing the presence of God is going to have greater impact than arguing about the truth of his existence.
Recent figures released by the Church of England were reported as showing a fall in average Sunday attendance over the last five years. However, attendance at Christmas services continues to increase. Maybe at Christmas, with the wonderful atmosphere of services where we sing carols and tell the story of the first Christmas, people are willing to follow their feelings, and this allows them to override objections they might have based on their understanding of truth.
Is it possible that our Christmas services could be so shaped as to cause people to wonder whether there is something more to explore… a truth that they have not yet understood?
And ultimately, truth is what we all need. And the Christian hope is that this is found in Jesus, the One who is called Immanuel, ‘God with us’; the One who is the way, the truth and the life.
Angel image is courtesy of https://pixabay.com
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