Tell the truth: who is man?

The third lesson of Focus on the Family’s Truth Project is Anthropology: Who is Man? Our culture’s assumptions about mankind conflict with the Christian worldview in significant ways: beliefs about the essence of man, his moral state, and the purpose of his existence. Is man purely the product of mindless forces? Is man basically good? Is our purpose for existence nothing more than self-fulfillment or do we have a higher purpose?

Is man merely a physical being or both flesh and spirit?

The first chapter of Genesis say that God created the heavens and the earth; before the earth was formed, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. So from the earliest scriptures, God is described as a creative being with a Spirit. According to Genesis 1:27, “God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” If God has a Spirit and we were created in his image, it follows that humans are more than a physical being.

Spirit is defined as “the nonphysical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.” Scientists study the brain to find physical or chemical explanations for emotional or even spiritual experiences. And while scientific knowledge is useful, it doesn’t disprove what intuition and experience tell us is true. Many of us have a strong sense that there is a powerful life force within us that is independent of our physical bodies.

Is man inherently good?

In the video lesson, Dr. Tackett asked one of his students: do you do what you want to do? I don’t think the student understood what Dr. Tackett had in mind because he responded yes. The apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul realized that the sin living in him kept him from doing the good that he desired to do. (See Romans 7:15-25).

I don’t do what I want to do. I want to be good. I want to be in control of my emotions. I know that I shouldn’t get angry when things don’t go my way. But even though I want to be patient and calm under pressure, evil is right there with me making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. No matter how good my intentions are, I am a slave to my impulses.

Christians believe that when God created the first man and woman, they were good. Sin entered the perfect world God created when man disobeyed God’s command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man still bears the image of God within his being but he also has a sin-prone nature. As a result of “the fall,” our sinful nature is in constant conflict with the Spirit of God. As Tackett says, there is a “conflict between humanity as it was meant to be and what it has actually become as a result of sin.”

What does our culture say about our moral state? Dr. Tackett quoted psychologist Carl Rogers, who said, “I do not find that evil is inherent in human nature.” If people are not inherently sinful, where does the sin come from? Why do good people do bad things? Secular psychology places the blame on cultural influences. But as Rollo May asked, who makes up the culture if not people like us? And how can a culture become evil if there is no inherent tendency towards evil within each of us?

What do we need to be fulfilled as human beings? What gives our lives purpose?

Dr. Tackett says that the notion “that man is basically good and that his greatest need is to self-actualize and get in touch with his inner desires” is a “pernicious lie.” We certainly deceive ourselves about our sinfulness. We focus on outward appearances of goodness. We compare ourselves to others and conclude that we are not as bad as they are even though other people cannot see the sins hidden in our own hearts.

What is our greatest need? Dr. Tackett spoke dismissively about Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of human needs. According to Maslow, once our lower level physiological needs are met, we ultimately seek self-esteem and self-actualization. Self-actualization can be defined as self-fulfillment or reaching one’s personal potential. Maslow’s original five level model has since been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs and a level even higher than self-actualization – transcendence.

I am not as dismissive of Maslow’s ideas as Dr. Tackett. I don’t see the hierarchy of needs as necessarily self-centered. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be your best and reach your potential. To me the pernicious lie is the objectivism philosophy expressed by Ayn Rand. She said that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”

How does this contrast with the Christian view? Christians believe that we exist because God created us. Christian’s believe that what humans need is not self-fulfillment but grace, redemption, and spiritual transformation. Christians believe that our ultimate purpose is to love God with our whole being and to love others as we love ourselves. Christians believe in living sacrificially, in serving others and putting the needs of others before your own. The reality is that we have a moral responsibility to look out for the interests of others.

The human dilemma

Thinking about human nature reminds me of the essay written by Rabbi Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith. He pointed out something I had never noticed before about the story of creation in the bible. In the first chapter of Genesis, it says that God created both male and female at the same time. He told them to be fruitful and fill the earth and to subdue it and to rule over every living creature on earth. In the second chapter, the story is very different. In this version, God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. He put man in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it but prohibited him from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then God decided it wasn’t good for man to be alone so he created woman from man’s rib to be a helper for him.

The rabbi believed that the reason there were two versions of mankind’s creation is that there are two natures in man. Each nature has its own needs and purpose for being. The personality described in Genesis I, Adam I, strives to control his environment. He is achievement-oriented and has a practical, utilitarian approach to life. He is on a narcissistic quest for human dignity – to feel important. In contrast, Adam II yearns for a relationship with his Creator. He is humble and not self-centered. He is on a quest for redemption and so he strives to control the self and its selfish impulses.

Personally, I do not think it is truthful to look down at our culture from a religious point of view. Every culture is flawed because mankind has always been flawed. Many people who are outwardly religious have never honestly confronted their own need for redemption.

However, pragmatic modern man – whether secular or religious – works only with categories of the intellect, not realizing their limited purview. He adopts religion to the extent that he deems it as being useful and comprehensible to him. His is a religion of convenience, not commitment; it is geared to suit his own needs, not to serve God’s will. He does not comprehend the meaning of total devotion and does not sense the need for redemption, which constitute the essence of faith. The danger, then, is not just that secularists have ceased to understand the man of faith; it is that adherents of religion have ceased to understand themselves and their commitment.

Reuben Ziegler, an Introduction to The Lonely Man of Faith

The truth is, God designed man as a complex physical and spiritual being and he created a world in which we are in constant conflict with our human nature. Man often suppresses or ignores the Adam II part of his nature. He denies that God exists. He denies his need for transformation. For those of us who do pursue the quest for a relationship with God, we must honestly face the ugly reality of our own brokenness. We must confront the truth about who we really are and who God meant for us to be.

Truth: Philosophy and Ethics

I am studying Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” this year. The topic of the second lesson is Philosophy and Ethics. The lesson guide states that “there is a formal and vital connection between our ideas about the nature of the world (philosophy) and our understanding of right and wrong behavior (ethics).” What happens to this connection when you exclude God from your search for knowledge and wisdom? How can you really understand God’s truth if you conform yourself to the ways of the world?

Dr. Del Tackett says that philosophy is the love of wisdom. Dr. R.C. Sproul defines philosophy as “a scientific quest to discover ultimate reality.” The website, The Basics of Philosophy, lists many other definitions of philosophy including “the study of knowledge” and “thinking about thinking.” Philosophy is a broad subject that includes thinking about the nature of existence and reality and the search for knowledge and truth.

Because truth is based on reality, the quest to discover ultimate reality should be aligned with the quest to discover ultimate truth. Dr. Tackett notes that contemporary culture has excluded God from the search for ultimate reality. Many people only believe in what can be perceived with the senses. As an example, Tackett quotes Carl Sagan:

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Carl Sagan

Tackett calls Sagan’s philosophy the “cosmic cube.” It’s the belief that the material world is all that there is, that nothing exists outside the box. And yet human beings long for something beyond the material. We long for a higher meaning and purpose. We sense that we are not just physical beings.

Tackett points out that many people accept the words of people like Sagan because they use powerful and deceptive “assumptive language.” If you don’t critically examine the assumptions, they may sound plausible. He makes a good point. I have long noticed that when explaining human conduct, people claim, without proof, that evolution explains our behavior. For example, they would explain my husband’s inability to find something in the kitchen cabinet and his concurrent ability to spot a deer far away with evolutionary psychology. 

Tackett reminds us that there are scriptural warnings about being taken captive or sucked in by hollow and deceptive philosophy.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

Dr. Tackett didn’t say much about ethics but he explained the difference between morality (the rightness or wrongness of conduct; that which is) and ethics (principles of conduct; that which ought to be).

I have taken ethics courses but I have never formally studied philosophy. So how do I connect philosophy and ethics? How are my ideas about ultimate reality connected to my beliefs about right and wrong and how humans ought to behave? Why do I believe God exists? How do I defend my faith in an age of profound skepticism?

Those of us who believe in God believe that he is inside the box and outside the box. He’s everywhere. We can’t see him with our limited human senses but we see physical evidence of him in the wonders of creation.

C.S. Lewis said that if there is a controlling power outside our universe, it could show itself as one of the observable facts, as an influence to behave a certain way. He said that if this power behind moral law is interested in morally right behavior, then it follows that it would not approve of wrong behavior. I think it also follows that this higher power would want us to know what it means to be upright and moral and he would want us to live together in peace. And what better way could he show us the way the world ought to be than to come down to us like a Son of Man?

We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill.  We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things?

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.

In Defense of Truth

Five years ago, I wrote an essay In Defense of Truth. I decided to revisit and update it a bit in preparation for my blog series, Testify to the Truth.

One of my nephews once wrote that Buddhism “teachings are far more modern and applicable to life than any other religion” and that it isn’t fair to have to choose a religion “because most religions are fragments of stories and ideas passed down from other cultures anyway.” I did not comment on his statements for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t have a defense of my own religious beliefs ready. Two, I tend to worry too much about offending when I should have the courage to stand in my truth.

Relative Truth

My nephew’s thinking reflects the ideas of Postmodernism, a philosophy based on the idea that truth is subjective, a matter of personal preference or point of view. Postmodernists believe that there is no objective reality. They believe that our sense of morality is shaped by our culture, thus the casual dismissal of Biblical teachings passed down for thousands of years.

The Postmodern religious philosophy trivializes the distinctions between religions. Choosing a religion is not like choosing a flavor of ice cream. Jesus Christ is very different from Buddha, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Mohamed, and the leader of every other religion.

To the postmodernist, the individual defines his or her reality. This a dangerous way to think. Not everything is a matter of personal interpretation. It is important to be able to discern what is real and true based on objective fact.

Objective Truth

What is truth? If a statement is true, it conforms to fact or reality. Because truth is based on facts, evidence and reality, it is objective. It is not dependent on personal feelings and opinions. Truth exists outside the self; it is independent of the human mind. 

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams

We can resist facing the truth. We can deny the truth. We can suppress the truth. We can hide the truth. We can bend and distort the truth. But truth is immutable. We cannot change facts to suit our own desires. 

Objective truth matters. Truth holds humanity accountable to facts, to reality, to the consequences of our words and our actions.

Trust

Not all truths are knowable with the same degree of certainty and not all truths are provable. Sometimes a personal relationship is enough to give you confidence that what someone tells you is true. You believe what they say even it you can’t prove it to be true. This is the trust I have in my friend Jesus.

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV)

I know that the teachings of Jesus Christ are right and true because I’ve tested and tried them. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be merciful. Forgive. Focus on your own sins and let God be the judge of others. Don’t be a hypocrite.

Jesus made extraordinary claims about himself that I cannot prove. He said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He claimed to be able to forgive sins and promised everlasting life to those who believed in Him. He equated himself with God yet lived humbly as a servant.

Prophets predicted the life and death of the Messiah. I take as “gospel truth” the testimonies of his life and resurrection from those who were there even though I can not prove the veracity of their accounts. Yes, the stories were written and passed down long ago, but truth stands the test of time.

The Law of Noncontradiction

Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction is a principle used in logic that means that a statement cannot be both true and not true at the same time in the same context. Truth cannot contradict itself.

C.S. Lewis and others have made the “trilemma” argument that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, or the Lord.  Jesus was either telling the truth when he said he was the son of God or he was a liar or he was insane. 

Jesus could not be the good, moral teacher he was shown to be and at the same time be the greatest conman of all time. He spoke this truth: A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 

Truth is on trial

When Jesus stood trial before Pilate, he said “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Truth is on trial, standing firmly against the dark side of deception. It may not seem fair to have to choose which side you are on but you do have to choose.  If you choose to stand on the side of truth, be prepared to stand your ground with the full armor of God. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17 (NIV)

 

Worship in the Spirit and in Truth

The inspiration for my blog title, Innermost Being, was Psalm 51:6 (NASB):  Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. I am naturally inclined to self-reflection; my innermost being is my comfort zone. I believe that I grow spiritually by being honest with myself about my sinfulness and by seeking God’s wisdom. Truth is more important to me now than it ever has been. Truth isn’t just a quality I desire in myself; I seek God’s truth and truth is the lens through which I see and evaluate the world around me.

My small group has just started to study The Truth Project, a Focus on the Family study led by Del Tackett. As the only progressive Christian in my group, I see the world differently than everyone else. I am not interested in engaging in the culture wars of our time. I have seen the casualties of this war – wounded souls who miss out on the grace of God because too many Christians put moral law above God’s grace.

Instead, I am interested in holding to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Del Tackett says that Truth is at the heart of the Cosmic Battle – the battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. I have long sensed that there is a cosmic battle between good and evil. Truth is good; lies are evil. I believe that God is the Father of Truth and Satan is the father of lies.

In the first lesson of The Truth Project, the intriguing question Tackett asked was this: why did Jesus come into the world? Most of us think that he came to the world to save it, which is true. But when he appeared before Pilate he said, “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me (John 18:37).” 

As I dive into this study, I am on guard against being pulled into a culture war. That sort of battle allows a bitter root to grow in the inmost being. But my mind and heart are open to the Word of God, to the Spirit of Truth. I will listen to Jesus and hold to his teaching.

There is no better time than now to seek Truth. The world distorts truth. The world rejects the truth. The world exchanges truth for a lie. The time has come for true worshipers to worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  – John 4:23