Seven truths, and the greatest gift
As we think about the approach of Easter, regular contributor James Knight presents us with seven fundamental truths that he has discovered in the bible.
A friend of mine, a keen philosopher and atheist, asked me to state some truths that can be discovered by reading the Bible. In thinking about a response, I started thinking about what I consider to be the most profound truths I've discovered from twenty years of reading scripture. I came up with a list of seven that I thought worth sharing.
I'm going to state my seven by assuming, sine qua non, the basic assumptions and understanding that underpin the reality in which scripture operates - namely, that there are only two principal categories of reality: God and everything else. That everything that isn't God is part of creation, and nothing that is created is on the same qualitative level as God. That God is tri-aspectual: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That our triune God is the Creator of everything that exists apart from Himself. And that existence, therefore, cannot be without sentience – only conscious cognition can shed light on reality to make it concrete, both at an upper level (God) and at the lower level (created observers).
Assuming the recognition of these scriptural claims, here are seven more of the most profound truths I found in the Bible:
The idea of perfection: there’s not a single perfect person in the world. Everyone is sinful, full of faults, flawed and doing far less well than we ought to be doing. Apart from death, there isn’t anything else that's truer and more inevitable about human beings than that. The most fundamental truths about our being are represented in scripture.
To think of perfection, just like thinking of Divine sovereignty in Genesis 1, is a remarkable human feat of discovery within our categories of discovery. Somewhere in the rich experience of the sun, moon, stars, and sky, and within the exploration of human behaviour and that of all animals, the writers of scripture discovered the standard of God's perfection, and the standard to which we should all be trying to ascend. When Jesus uttered the utterly Divine words "Be perfect" (Matthew 5:48), He was not only showing us God's standard, He was also showing us God's love and grace by bringing every human together into a calling to love as He loves.
2) Truth is a person
One of the most important things we've ever discovered is that truth, in all its fullness, is a person - an active personality - the person of Christ. In John 14: 6, Jesus declares "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." And in John 8:32 Jesus tells us that through Him we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. Truth, we discover, isn't just something God helps us find (although it is that too), it is instantiated in the person of Christ Himself. It is Christ Himself who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Discovering that Truth is a person means discovering that seeking God is seeking the truth.
3) That God created us to be in relationship with Him
There is no grander purpose to our creation than to be in a relationship with Him. Remember Christ's words, "Knock and the door will be open to you." What ingenious words they are: all we have to do is know that there is a door awaiting our knock, and our first faithful knock gives us the certain path to a relationship with Christ, and the key to discovering eternal life.
4) That fear of God is the beginning of wisdom
We should think very carefully about why Proverbs says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. There are lots of ways to be fearful, and most of them are good. We should be fearful of things that can harm us, and to avoid physical and emotional danger. This fear is inherent in our evolution. We should be fearful of making mistakes and not doing will enough, because it should inspire us to do our best.
Conversely, we should not live ‘in’ fear, because that is unhealthy. Psychoanalytic theory has confirmed for decades that we are better when we confront our fears and deal with them. We become stronger, more courageous, more honest, and more truthful people - and that engenders a multitude of benefits.
So let's think a bit more about what ‘fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’ means. By fearing things it’s good to fear, we become stronger and closer to the truth. To fear God is to subject ourselves to the highest standard possible, and to understand how much we are failing, and how much better we should be doing. Not to elicit guilt or shame (although sometimes that’s appropriate) but to understand that there is a higher standard indwelt in a perfect God, and that it’s wise to respond to that truth.
Our perfect God knows everything about us – He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows all the things we suppress, the true depths of what we are capable of behind the mask: He knows the real you that would bring you utter shame and humiliation if it were ever made known. He knows the Hans Beckert that lives in us alongside the Atticus Finch; He knows the Goneril and Lady Macbeth in our personality competing with the Cordelia and Desdemona. The deepest human fear is surely getting found out; being exposed for what we really are. And it is only before God that this can possibly happen. We are even capable of lying to ourselves, living with subdued deceit in order to avoid facing up to how fallen we really are. It’s only God that sees through all the deceit – our true and real selves before God would be the most fearful thing of all. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
5) That the truth will set us free
I’ve been thinking a lot about Christ's words that “the truth will set you free”. It’s such a profound message that needs a lot of unpacking. What kind of truth will set us free? And what does being free even mean? It can’t be that scientific propositions will set us free, because we are not bound in captivity by any physical propositions we may or may not know.
Where we are in captivity is when we are not living our life as we should be – we incarcerate ourselves within the hellish prison walls of our falsehood, our lies and our immorality. When Jesus says, “the truth will set you free” He means live in accordance with God, where you can seek the truth, believe correct things, eradicate untruths, and live the best and most moral life you can possibly live.
We’ll see this when we look at the verse in the fuller context: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We get to know the truth by remaining faithful to Christ’s teachings, and a fundamental part of Christ’s teachings is that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is, in order to be set free in the truth we have to understand that Christ is the Truth. Living with the knowledge of Christ as the truth means following His two principal commandments: love God and love our neighbour.
This is a very profound truth in scripture. Life is full of badness and falsehood that both keep us in chains, but we can be set free from these things by Christ. By searching for the truth and living in accordance with the truth everything becomes better: at an individual level, at a familial level, at a societal level, and ultimately at a global level.
Truth is what sets us free to produce truths and goodness. It also means that in any area of our life where we are wedded to falsehood, not behaving well enough, not thinking things through clearly enough, etc, we are in some sense beset by mental incarceration.
But it goes even deeper than that. If we don’t live for the truth, then what’s wrong in our life becomes cloudy: we develop a fuzzy blur between what’s right and wrong and what’s good and bad. And we become deindividuated – we can’t really know our true self if we don’t live as though the truth is the most important thing - because God is the truth.
6) In all things God works for the good of those who love him” Romans 8:28
We should always remember that God wants to bless us and help us to become wise, even more than we want these things for ourselves. That being the case, then everything God allows into our lives must in the deeper sense be to make us wiser and more like Himself, and bless us in doing so.
Everything God lets in to an unbeliever’s life is to help draw them into a relationship with Him and an understanding of Him, and everything He lets into a believer’s life is to help us become wiser and more like Christ. That’s a remarkable thing to discover – that there are no neutral things happening to us: everything has significance in either turning us a bit more of a Heavenly creature or a bit more of a Hellish creature.
Even though Christians are guaranteed our salvation because of the cross, despite the quality of the work we do being different (1 Corinthians 3.10-15), I wouldn’t be surprised if each day it’s quite possible to take x steps closer to a Heavenly creature and y steps closer to Hellish creature. Our job is to ensure that each day x is a larger number than y.
As for the relationship between God’s eternal perspective and our temporal one, I think God gave us the concept of time to enable us to work towards a Heavenly state – to prepare ourselves to be in His presence, because nothing unholy can exist there. If we could look back from the perspective of eternity, we would be able to see Romans 8:28 in action – that everything within the plots, good and bad, held together and worked themselves out to achieve God’s purpose.
From our perspective, it is within time that we grow, we learn, we progress, and we eventually become more like the creatures we were created to be. Inside time we rejoice the good things and fight back against bad things. Time is what enables us to piece together a gradual understanding of the beautiful whole – the complete story and the reason God chose to create us. Without time, all these qualities would just exist – they would just linger in reality without any redemption or renewal. And that’s now what God wants, which is why He is going to come again to make everything right.
7) The revelation of cosmic justice and Heaven & Hell
The biggest revelation about Heaven that it's not some kind of afterlife place that mainstream Christians obsess about or even think about as a detached entity - it is a dynamical process that is part of the here and now. The Incarnation is seen as the intersecting point between heaven and earth - it is God becoming human and through His death and resurrection beginning the process of our dimension of heaven in daily living.
The Christian journey, then, is not based on an afterlife as a distinct place 'up there' or 'out there' to which we may one day travel, it is the continuation of the gospel of grace and the concomitant good works, kindness, love, forgiveness, mercy and generosity of heart that Christ laid down for us. After Jesus ascended to be with the Father, the Holy Spirit came to be our mediator between the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, where our job as Christians is to try our hardest to bring as many of those gospel qualities to this life. That is the intersection of heaven and earth.
Underpinning these truths and every other scriptural truth is, of course, Christ's death and resurrection - and the news that despite how readily we miss the mark, we are loved so much that Christ thinks we are worth dying for. His death and resurrection was an act of love and grace to pay a price that we could never pay ourselves. The overarching truth found in the person of Christ is that the cross is God's greatest gift to us - the free gift of salvation - and all we have to do is believe and recognise Divine grace to have eternal salvation.
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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