Jesus said to him, I am the true and living way: no one comes to the Father but by me.John 14:6
We live in a time where a large part of society doubts the existence of absolute truth.
Truth today is defined in many ways.
Correspondence theory defines something as true if it corresponds with reality. Semantical truth tells us that truth can only be absolute in formalised systems such als logic, IT, or math. For evidence theory, true is what makes sense, for consensual theory whatever people agree upon. Coherence theory wants coherent models that are derived from statements, while pragmatic empirical theory wants things to be practical.
More and more, truth is defined as subjective. As we all experience the world differently based on our nature and nurture, above theories would agree that truth is different for all of us.
Traditionally, absolute truth existed. It was expressed by the church in medieval times, after the reformation by the bible. Other cultures and religions have their own sources of absolute truth.
In churches today, truth would be based on the bible, often based on a literal exegesis and interpretation.
And of course, based on our verse of the day, truth is a person – Jesus Christ.
A Clash of Truths
It is obvious that the notion of absolute truth based on a literal understanding of the bible is problematic.
There are many “literal interpretations”, maybe as many as there are Christians, but certainly as many as there are denominations. The problem certainly lies in the word “interpretation”.
Since we truly all experience the world differently, another interpreter is needed than the individual. We find it in the Holy Spirit. Certainly, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will interpret scripture the right way.
If this is true, all prophecy will be not only compatible, but congruent. All teaching will not only overlap in parts, but be interchangeable and in essence the same.
Far from it. Let’s only look at the interpretation of the book of revelation. Future historic account, past historic account, metaphor? Part of each? Which part then is future, which is past, and which is metaphoric?
Let me just give you an example. Revelation 12, the birth. Some interpret it as the birth of Jesus, some as the birth of the church, some as the birth of a future generation of mature sons of God, some see it played out in the stars with Jupiter spending 42 weeks in the constellation of Virgo (right in her lap) ending September 23rd, 2017. All of them claim the Holy Spirit as source and revealer of this information.
We could now say that all interpretations are correct, as prophecy can be multilayered.
But what about pre/mid/post-tribulation rapture and no rapture at all? How about rapture as a metaphor for our being seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)? Here, the options mostly exclude each other.
There are many other areas in the bible. Let’s look at one more. The creation story.
Is it a historical account that cannot be reconciled with science, a historical account from the viewpoint of an external observer, namely God, that using Einstein’s relativity theory and intelligent design could be reconciled with science, or a story portraying the most important principles of creation in a way that Moses and his people could understand?
This not only leads to quarrels within the church, but to a veritable war between the church and science, with many lost in between the two.
A Problem Description
When I look at the bible and at prophecy in the church, I find that God wants to be understood by his people. At any time. Therefore, he wrote the bible in a way that it can be interpreted with the worldview pertinent to the reader at hand. Stories are a wonderful means to such an approach, as are proverbs and poetry.
Historical accounts are valuable as they show us how people in their time interpreted and lived their faith, how they saw God, and what consequences came from both.
This is why Jews minted the word “Halacha”, the way. It is the interpretation of God’s word for the time. This is why the church was first called “the way”. The church was the interpretation of God’s word for the time.
They later defined themselves as christians and then as church. Instead of naming themselves with what they are and are to be, God’s timely letter to the world, they defined themselves by whom they belonged.
This fit into the worldview pertinent to their time. Belonging was key. You belonged to a nation state like Rome or Israel. And now you belonged to Christ and his church. This belonging was defined by rules and hierarchy, expressed in its name: We submit to Christ. Therefore christian. We submit to the Lord. Therefore kuriakon (belonging to the Lord), the Greek word church is derived from.
A literal reading and the worldview of the time led to a hierarchical church with rules.
In such a system, truth needs to be absolute. Otherwise, there can be no standards for belonging and no prototypes for church organisation. (And frankly, there are none, only hints depending on interpretation.)
But, since almost all accounts and models of the bible of importance for world history – I am talking about age of the universe, creation, a worldwide flood, the biblical model of the universe – have been falsified scientifically if taken as literal and historic, we have to define truth differently. Or fight, giving in only when there is no other way any more.
How long did we fight the geocentric worldview we derived from the bible? We can today argue that it was bad interpretation. But how then can we be sure that today’s battle grounds are not bad interpretations? And of course, the bible still talks in the creation story about a space between two bodies of water, one below and one above, with a firmament keeping the upper waters in place, and the lower waters divided, giving free landmasses. We can try to reconcile this stating that during the flood the upper water body fell down to earth, but there is no worldwide record of a flood, as much as it is postulated by christian scientists.
Most of us have now adopted a heliocentric solar system with a multitude of galaxies, and ours nowhere near the center of the universe.
Will we give in with other problem areas? Will we compromise truth, that is, we secretly still believe the old way, but give in to be relevant to others? A true compromise. Or will we give up our beloved believe just to please others and believe otherwise? Or will we search God and the bible for misinterpretations and grow?
A Higher Truth
The bible is full of paradoxes. The kingdom is coming and it is here. Just to name one. God’s thinking is so much higher than ours. One way it is higher: he can live with what for us seems to be contradictions.
Our knowledge, our understanding is patchwork, it is limited. He is truth, and he is absolute truth. Do we understand truth absolutely? No. But we can relate to it.
Just as God has done for ages, he talks “Halacha” to everyone of us. He talks in a way we understand. What he says is true, and more importantly, life-giving in the situation we are in, and absolutely true in God’s dimensions. But as our circumstances, our life stories, our needs, our situations are different, the solutions provided are different and may contradict at times.
Paul tells us that we have the mind of Christ. We are able to think bigger than rules, regulations, hierarchies, and one size fits all. We have been restored to the tree of life and are not stuck in the knowledge of good and evil, true and false, right and wrong. We are to bring life.
How do we bring life to people living today? What answer do you have for somebody that asks about creation in light of science? What answer do you have for somebody that searches for true relationship and only finds hierarchy? What answer do you have for people that look at whole systems instead of small details and that believe that knowledge and competency supersede rank, power, status? What do you tell people that see God as energy permeating everything?