By Tony Hunter — Humans like to confuse their words.
We conflate terms and then don’t correct them, and then everyone starts interchanging the terms and suddenly we aren’t saying what we think we are saying—good vs. well. We interchange these all the time. Except, “good” is about being righteous, and “well” is about how you are feeling and your general state of being.
Or Factoid. We use this regularly when speaking of some little tidbit of information. A small piece of truth. When the truth is, it was a term created by Norman Mailer in 1973 to describe information that has been printed and disseminated so many times that people believe it is true, when in fact, it is not. #Fakenews.
Imagine rules and doctrine being formed around this practice.
Let’s take truth and knowing. There is truth and there is what we know. On a good day, these things overlap. But considering how much information there is in reality vs. how accurate our perceptions are, that overlap might not be as large as we’d like.
A hypothetical scenario. You walk into a room and there is a dead man on the floor with another man standing over him with a bloody knife. There is a terrified child hiding behind his terrified mother. What do we know?
We know the man is dead. And… well that’s about it. We know that the child and mother look terrified, but of what? We know a man is holding a bloody knife, but why? Did he kill the man, or did he pick up the knife that someone else left there? Was the dead man an aggressor? Or was he the father/husband? If he was the father/husband does that mean he wasn’t the aggressor?
Is the standing man the husband/father? Is the husband/ father even in the room? Was the dead man an aggressor and the standing man the savior, or was the dead man trying to be the savior and the standing man the aggressor? Are the family terrified of the standing man or the dead man?
Truth exists in absence of my knowing. Some truth exists within my knowing. Most exists outside of it, and not everything I know, is true.
So, what is truth? What do we know?
Some people know the world is round. Others know that it is flat. Both of those things can’t be true. Or what color is a color? Do we all perceive the same color the same way? Is blue actually blue? The sky is blue, except it sort of isn’t because it only appears blue based on the angle of light shining through it and the amount of atmosphere the light has to travel through and the make-up of the atmosphere at the angle of viewing, which is why, sometimes, the sky looks red/orange. So, which is it?
How much of what we know is true, and how much of what we know is perception bias? Or experience bias? Or desire bias? Can accurate knowing even take place at all until one let’s go of all their bias? Can truth and knowing overlap at all if there is even a little bias?
I mean, we think we know a person, but do we really know them?
The Adventist denomination has put a lot of focus on “knowing the truth”. But how do we know that what we know is true? Because a bunch of people agreed on it? Does that make it true? (See my Factoid about Factoids above. See what I did there?)
Let’s talk exegesis. Exegesis is a word that means “to bring out”, or “to read out”. It’s the term used in biblical scholasticism for how we hope to interpret the meaning of things. It’s about bringing the meaning out of the text.
Now let’s talk eisegesis. Eisegesis is a word that means “to put in” or “to read into”. It’s what biblical scholars hope to not do when trying to interpret the meaning of things. It’s about putting the meaning into the text.
But the question is, because of all of our different biases and inaccuracies in what we think we know and how we see the world, can we ever truly do accurate exegesis? Or will we still be doing eisegesis no matter how hard we try? The odds of me meeting an author from 2000 or 3000 years ago when studying today seem slim. And short of that, any interpretation I make of that author’s writing will be biased by my own perceptions either in subtle or large ways simply because I cannot know his/her mind. I can never completely know or understand the context within which they wrote or spoke. I can know some, but not all. And therefore, any conclusions I come to will be questionable in some way.
Jesus spoke about truth in John 16:13. “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth…” Jesus is suggesting that, because we are all fallible and untrusting, that the Spirit will do all the convicting and convincing in regard to truth.
Well, that makes it easy, right? Just listen to the Spirit, then you can know.
How many sincere, dedicated, devoted, seekers and followers of Christ have studied, prayed, begged, and listened for the Spirit, and come to different conclusions about, well, everything? And that’s just within Adventism. Go beyond that and the differences become even more dramatic.
So, how do we know anything? How can we know what we don’t know? Well, just because people come to different conclusions about that which we perceive differently doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying, and that we don’t keep seeking God’s help.
But I am going to suggest something else. Are you ready?
Knowing is not the point. We are so focused on knowing things from a religious/theological standpoint, that we completely miss the fact that we are not judged by our knowing. We are not saved by our knowing. Nor are we condemned by our lack of it.
As long as we are imperfect, we will always know imperfectly. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul states that we see as though through a dark glass. Imperfectly. Unclear.
This is important for us to accept because while it is good for us to continue always seeking and learning and growing, we will never know it all, and we will constantly be incorrect.
And that’s OK. It’s OK to be incorrect. Jesus didn’t die for us because we know it all or are correct in everything, or even anything. He did it because He loves us. Our knowing didn’t even come into play one way or the other.
We should stop trying to be known by our knowing, because to be a disciple of Jesus is to be known by our love.
So, love each other and love God. The rest will take care of itself.
–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a Hospice Chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife, Nirma, live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]