Written truth vs. revealed truth

In a previous post, “Empirical Evidence for Spiritual Truth” , John R. posted some great comments about the subject, which made me think more about it. I responded to his comments in yet another comment, but to me, the subject was still lacking something. In another recent post on MindOnFire.com, he gave me more insight into his faith struggle. The interesting part of the discussion in this post revolved around his internal struggle with the validity of core truths of Mormonism. With all reasonable effort, he tried to test these beliefs to see if they were true or not. One method, proposed by a Mormon elder, was just to verbalize them through witnessing, and through this process, belief is instilled in the believer. Another method proposed within the Book of Mormon itself, which seemed more reasonable, was to read the scriptures and then pray about them, and belief will follow. John’s openness about the methods he used to internalize spiritual truth led me to analyze how I came to believe the spiritual truths that I believe today. I was surprised by what I discovered.

I argued before that spiritual truth, like all truth, can be empirical, repeatable, and measurable. I have further argued that anyone, no matter what they believe, needs proof that what they believe is real. This includes religious beliefs. Depending on the intensity of your integrity, you can deceive yourself for just so long, or on the other side of the coin, you can live a life contrary to what you believe for only so long – eventually you need to be true to what you believe. Like Epictetus said, inner serenity is a coherent set of beliefs – and I would add that coherency includes living life in accordance with your beliefs. I have known many Catholic friends that felt this way. They had long ago stopped believing in what the Church taught, and then one day, when they had enough evidence and an atmosphere of reduced social ramifications (distanced themselves socially from the Catholic society and influence) to deter them, they dropped it entirely. This all makes sense to me — internalizing spiritual truth (in this case throwing out wrong beliefs) seems to be an intellectual exercise.

So where do we get spiritual truths from? For both John and I, it was told to us by others, probably spiritual elders, and it was also written down in our holy books – the Bible and the Book of Mormon and others. But what was the key thing that made us capitulate to faith, or to gradually be convinced that it wasn’t true after all, or simply the process of acquiring spiritual truth on any level? I can’t speak for John, but I can speak for myself – it was not the words of others, nor was it the truth that was written in the Bible or any other book, but something else entirely. God himself had to reveal it to me in my own personal way. There is no other way to believe core spiritual truths that lay the foundation (presuppositional framework) for the plausibility of the myriad of beliefs that rely solely upon it, nor is there any better way to believe any other spiritual truth regardless of my supportive presuppositions. If God reveals it to me, then I can believe it. If He does not, then I will not be able to believe it, or I believe it without the substance that makes it truly internalized. So internalizing beliefs doesn’t seem to be exactly a book-knowledge based intellectual exercise.

“God himself had to reveal [truth] to me in my own personal way. There is no other way to believe core spiritual truths that lay the foundation for the plausibility of the myriad of beliefs that rely solely upon it, nor is there any better way to believe any other spiritual truth regardless of my supportive presuppositions.” I remember before I was saved, I believed in God, had a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible and its many stories from Sunday school and what my father told me, but that was about it. I prayed to Him before bed when Dad asked me to, and we read the Bible together. It was interesting stuff, no doubt. But my desire to draw and develop a Star Wars role playing game were far more fascinating to me at 13 years old then the Bible. My spiritual input came from Phil Collins, the creek next to our house, and the forest beyond that. I had knowledge of spiritual truth, but I had no revelation of it to me personally. Without the revelation, written spiritual truth is dead. Men quoting written truth will not make it any more alive either.

It appears, however, that the written truth is important to know first, even thought it is dead, because once it is divinely revealed, it which existed as dead, is now given life through the revelation. This statement may at first seem esoteric and mystical, but isn’t the same principle true in the physical world? If I read about Russia and about the characteristics of its people but have never been there, it’s like reading the Bible – neat facts without substance – I may believe they are true – but it seems there are different dimensions to belief – superficial (second-hand knowledge only) and experiential (first-hand knowledge). It is important to note that in both believing that Russian people are like Americans and that God loves me – that both need a strong foundation of repeatable, measurable, empirical evidence of presuppositional facts before we can believe in things that depend on them. For example, we need to already believe that there is a planet Earth and it has nations on it to believe that Russia could exist, and we need to believe in the existence of human beings to believe that some live in Russia. By the same methods, we must believe that God exists before we could be told the truth that He loves us. But even with our presuppositions to help us except the plausibility of a belief, what is that substance that makes it real and alive? Experiencing it. I will understand Russia differently when I fly there and live there for a decade. I will believe in God much differently when I experience Him day after day than if I just read about him, or just take someone else’s word for it. It seems to me that spiritual truth cannot be internalized through another’s account or through someone else’s revelation of it’s truths (the Bible), it must be divinely revealed (God must reveal Himself personally to me.) The same is true of Russia. I can read that people in Russia are similar to people in America, but to really believe it, I probably need to go and live there for a while to be absolutely sure. I can read quite well — the Bible says that God loves me, but I cannot believe such a crazy thing. That’s not how the world works – if I screw up, I am NOT liked. Simply because I believe the Bible is true does not help me to really believe that God loves me. God himself must tell me it is true.

I really hate religion, and I really hate people who blindly follow it. I relish the opportunity to roast such people. When I left my 5-point Calvinistic church, I couldn’t wait to write about how incredibly stupid such people are for believing such diabolical things.

And then I had a dream.

I was sitting on an enclosed porch in my house in my neighborhood. Neighbors started coming to my door, crying hysterically, and told me that terrorists had taken over the neighborhood and were killing everyone block by block. They were coming in a bus and they were armed to the teeth with automatic weapons. It was only minutes before they would be on this street. Terrified, I ran though the house trying to find something to defend myself with, and found an fully automatic weapon in the basement with tons of ammo. Good. I won’t go down without a fight. I ran back upstairs to my enclosed porch to see what was happening, and that’s when I saw the bus coming down the street. I could hear intense gunfire, shouting, but everything was hard too see because the smoke from burning houses was filling the streets. When I saw the dim form of the bus approaching my house, and through the missile blasts and explosions and screaming and rapid non-stop gunfire, I saw men jumping out of the bus. Immediately, I pulled out my gun and mowed down every moving thing that caught my eye though the smoke. Finally, all activity ceased. The gunshots stopped. The smoke cleared.

And then I saw it. The bus had stopped next to my neighbor’s house. Little children were lying dead and screaming all over the yard – about 20 or so. I realized to my horror that I had not killed terrorists, but some kids on a school bus that had been attacked by a couple of terrorists (who I had killed as well). I dropped my gun and fell flat on my face and cried… I could not stop crying – weeping uncontrollably in gut wrenching sobs… what had I done? Good God… what have I done?…

I woke up instantly, tears streaming down my cheeks in real life. It was in the middle of the night, but the message filled me like any song can do. Be careful who you attack without kindness… for you don’t know who you are hurting. Christians, like anyone else, are just like little children. Scared, confused, uncertain about most things, and trying their best to make it in this world. Why deliberately hurt them? Are you not like them as well? Are not all people, Christians or otherwise, the same? When you attack them without kindness for a greater cause, be careful and remember what they are and what you are… children.

And so I will treat them. On this web log, I will treat Sam Harris no differently then if he were sitting next to me when I write, or if I were writing a review about a book my wife wrote that I didn’t entirely agree with. I will not treat people who believe like I do with more contempt because some Christians think it’s ok to judge other Christians harshly, but give grace to non-Christians. Bull. Everyone gets grace.

The written truth is:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. -1st Peter 1:22
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. -1st Peter 3:8

My revealed truth was this dream; it has raced though my spirit like a raging fire, and has brought these dead verses alive. My dead knowledge has been consumed and I am reborn with true belief.

    2 Responses to “Written truth vs. revealed truth”

    1. Elise
      1

      I like where you are going with these thoughts. I, too, feel like truth must be revealed in some way and not simply read from the written word. I think the dilemma, however, is the interpretation of revelation. You point out the following:

      “It is important to note that in both believing that Russian people are like Americans and that God loves me – that both need a strong foundation of repeatable, measurable, empirical evidence of presuppositional facts before we can belief in things that depend on them.”

      I understand this to mean that in order to believe God loves me, I need a foundation of repeatable, measurable, empirical evidence that God exists (the presuppositional fact required to believe that God loves). How can such a foundation exist? God’s existence cannot be proved or disproved by observation or by any kind of experiment, much less a repeated one. One family prays and a child is healed and the credit God, and yet another family prays (repeating the experiment) and the child dies. Perhaps feelings are an indication of spiritual things, and yet sometimes when I meditate and try to grow close to God I feel peace and sometimes I feel anger, loneliness, or boredom. I believe in God, but I feel I must recognize that it is because of a combination of my heritage tradition, worldview, up-bringing, and chosen faith – not at all based in repeatable, measurable, empirical evidence. Where can one find such evidence?

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    2. Jonathan
      2
      Author Comment

      Elise – some great questions and thoughts. You inspired me to toss around some ideas from my perspective, which ended up being so long I had to turn it into a post rather than just a comment.

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