From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
We live in a God-created, God-inhabited, God-haunted world.
That’s the clear message of Scripture. Everything in this series so far points to that reality. God is among us. “In him we live and move and have our being,” said Paul in Acts 17: 26. The line was not original with him: he was quoting a Greek poet, probably Epimenides of Crete. This insight is not unique to Christianity: others have seen it, too, though not in equal fullness.
So why don’t we see it more than we do?
The Bible says that all humanity suffers from a natural blindness to spiritual realities. Eph. 4:17-24 says,
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The apostle Paul here speaks of the “futility of their minds;” “darkened … understanding;” “ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their heart.” This hardness has to do with sensuality and impurity, he says, but at the root of that attitude there is resistance to God himself. (That conclusion comes more from other Scripture passages Scripture than this one.)
Unbelievers’ eyes are darkened. Believers, in contrast, have the opportunity to see. This is a hard truth, especially for those whom it identifies as beset with ignorance. No one wants to be told that about themselves. No one especially wants it to be blamed on their hardness of heart. How could morality affect rationality? Aren’t they separate functions with independent effects? No, they are not. Even secular psychology tells us of rational biases, of which confirmation bias seems to be the most familiar on this blog. One’s ability to see reality is closely tied to one’s willingness to see reality.
But doesn’t that arrow point both directions? Isn’t it as much a problem for me and for other believers as it is for unbelievers? Is there any way to know who’s really seeing reality? Postmodernists would say no: none of us sees beyond our own “constructions” of what we take to be real. To a limited extent they are right, and we all have room for humility, for no matter how much we may see accurately, there is much that we do not. We all see the world through our own biases.
There is an amazingly wide divide between the way believers and unbelievers see reality. It only takes a few moments reading comments on a blog like this one to see that. Obviously much of the explanation for this consist in our biases. Both sides are biased, because both sides are human. Maybe one side’s biases are more aligned with truth than the other. Or, you may think, maybe not.
So maybe it’s hopeless. Maybe there’s no way to overcome our cognitive and perceptual limitations. Why should we think we could apprehend truth, anyway? I can’t think of any reason, except for one. If we were made—intentionally, purposely designed—so as to have the capacity to apprehend and recognize truth, then maybe there’s hope for us. If on the other hand we simply evolved, I don’t know why we should think we could climb out of whatever reproductively adaptive cognitive ruts natural selection has carved out for us, and see the landscape for what it is.
In other words, if we were designed to know truth, then probably we can know truth, if we pursue it truly. If we weren’t, then chances are we’re stuck in the blind trenches of bias. If anyone’s viewpoint happens to be correct, it’s accurate only by accident.
We’re all human, after all. If there’s no way to rise above our human biases, then there’s no way to rise to truth. Thus the atheistic viewpoint not only denies knowledge of God, it denies knowledge almost completely; or at least knowledge of what lies beneath the perceptual surface of reality. Maybe that’s why secularists keep insisting that science is the only route to knowledge: for science is about what can be perceived, whether that be with the naked eye or with the perceptual enhancement provided by our tools and our theoretical structures. Still, as Descartes, Kant, and in a way even Hume warned us, we don’t really know what it is what we are perceiving.
The biblical viewpoint, on the other hand, supports the view that those who pursue truth truly can apprehend truth. We were created in God’s image, which includes having his capacity to know at least some things truly. We were created for relationship with God, which means we can even know some things about deep, ultimate reality truly.
The Bible also tells us that such knowledge come by God’s initiative toward us, not by our own wisdom. In the Ephesians passage we have already looked at, Paul reminds his believing readers that they too were once darkened and blind, and that we who believe must put off the old and put on the new. Implicit here, and stated more clearly elsewhere (see Eph. 2:8,9, for example) is that believers cannot take credit for knowing the truth: whatever light we have is by way of God’s gift of grace, not our own goodness. We do not hold the truth. The truth holds us.
And we have a long way to go before we catch on to that truth in its fullness. In Ephesians 1:16-21, Paul prays that we really will come to see it (emphasis added):
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
To believe in God is to have one’s eyes partway opened. To grow in God is to have them opening ever wider. Jesus Christ explained in John 16:13 that this growth would come by the work of the Holy Spirit, God himself, within us. We depend on him utterly for knowledge of God.
I’ve come a long way around from where I started, but I think I can land there again now. We live in a God-created, God-inhabited, God-haunted world. God is here. We will see him to the extent we pursue his truth truly, with hearts and minds open to his reality. He is among us.