Wisdom comes from admitting you can be an idiot (but would like to be less of one)

I can be an idiot, but that doesn’t mean I *am* on every point… and I can learn.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15 ESV)

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12 ESV)

If there’s one mistake that comes from binary thinking, it’s the assumption that the opposite of a particular error is the truth; if X is wrong, then anything that is not X must be right. This is the reason people imagine that because communism is bad, capitalism must be good, and because capitalism is bad, socialism must be good, instead of looking at each of these things critically and seeing that all of them have good points and bad points.

Christians are not immune to binary thinking, especially when it comes to the concept of clarity. Some Christians, in response to questions of the truth of Christianity, retreat into artificial clarity, whereby they imagine that absolutely everything that they believe must be definitionally the truth, and never be questioned. For them, the very question is the same as disbelief. 
On the other side of the equation, and often in reaction to the undoubted dogmatism of the above, some Christians seem to think that because we question things, we must never make a claim to truth. For them, to make any unambiguoius claim that something is “correct” is the same as saying that nothing can be doubted. In both cases, they are mistaking personal conviction for truth. In one case, saying that in order to have truth, you must be unambiguously convinced of it, in the other case, saying that in order to have any ability to question things, you must never make a claim to truth.

A moment’s thought undercuts the false dichotomy. My car keys are in a place whether I have forgotten where I put them or not. The acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s/s whether I know that or know it or not, and murder is wrong, even if I were a psychopath.
Even more to the point, the Bible undercuts the false dichotomies of truth rather clearly. In the two proverbs I quote above, the Word of God explains to us that we must separate our own view of ourselves from wisdom itself. Firstly, we are told that it is foolish to assume that are ways are definitionally right and will brook no dissent; we are fools to be merely right in our own eyes. Rather we should listen to advice, and that to fail to do so makes us worse than fools.
But the opposite error is also avoided. The author of these proverbs doesn’t just give us the bumper sticker “question everything”, but rather lets us know that there is are “right ways” and “hope”, but that they are not found in a lack of questioning, but in truth. We listen to advice so that our ways might be corrected.
Christians are called to have the humility to both accept that there is knowable truth, and that we are not the ultimate arbiters of that truth. That is to say. I can be an idiot, but that doesn’t mean I *am* on every point, and I can learn.

Love is more real than we think.

 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:8–12, ESV)

Given the fact that the Bible tells me that “God is Love”, it’s surprising how long I lived under the impression that love was primarily a need or lack in me that was fulfilled by someone else. This leaves me imagining that God loves me because He needed someone to love, or because He was lonely or some such thing. Yet love is, when we get right down to it, more real than that. Love is not the result of need, but the power by which needs are fulfilled, primarily by God.

It is true that love needs an object (one of the reasons I believe in a trinitarian God…. that and the Bible tells me so). We talk about a love interest romantically as someone who “completes me”, or who I “need more than air” (or some other romantic verbiage that looks kinda silly outside of the romantic films they feature in). In the regular friendship situation, we think of friendship love as that which staves off loneliness, or gives meaning to our lives.

Love does those things, but I’m learning that the instrumental way we define things (something is like this, because this is the way we can use it) is at best a little deficient. It makes something the Bible seems to speak of in powerful and glowing terms into a mere method of fulfilling a need. It serves to make me as the object or subject of love more important than the love involved, as if love is valuable because it helps me, instead of being something that is valuable whether it meets my felt needs or not.

Even when John talks about love and how God is love, he says that God’s love is made manifest (revealed, made clear) in that He sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. It’s not that He is loving because he sent His son, but that he is love, so as a result He sent His Son. God’s love is not a result of God’s loving actions, but is the ground for God’s actions. He is not love because he does loving things, but he does loving things because He is Love.

Seems like a minor distinction? It’s actually very profound, especially if we see God’s love (as Paul does) as the ground for our own actions. You see, we do not love because we want to be loving, but because we have God’s love in us, we should do loving things. It is a reuslt of having been love.

Love is a positive thing, a real thing,not a fulfillment of need. It is not a corruption, but real in itself. Thus love is not about how we need others, but ultimately about how God’s love overflows in us, and through us to others.

Bradley Hook / Pexels

 

Blogging for the new year?

Here’s how I hope to keep up on a discipline I’ve failed to do for years and years.

So my new year’s resolution is to have some discipline in the new year. It’s not that I completely lacked discipline before, but that I always see the need to improve in that department. The weird part is that developing discipline is not quite a thing in itself as much as it is seeking to change your habits form bad ones to good ones. You don’t gain discipline by seeking to develop discipline in the abstract, but by more directly seeking the things you should (and as a result ignoring the things you shouldn’t).

The Christian life is, in the end, not so much about primarily avoiding things, but seeking after things; primarily seeking after the God who is the proper object of our affections, but also concretely seeking the things that mark such an ultimate pursuit. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, sbut in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, vwhich surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:4-9, ESV)

Notice that Paul doesn’t leave his hearers seeking to *not* do something primarily, but to avoid the evil by seeking the good. You don’t become a lover of truth by hating lies (or false news, or whatever you call it), but by seeking truth. You gain joy by thinking on worthy things, you become a man of prayer by seeking communication with God, you avoid sin by seeking to be holy etc.

This year, I’m trying (yet again) to become a regular blogger. I am not sure it will work out, but I think my failures in the past can be informed by some of my recent successes in discipline. I have found myself more able to spend time in the Word, and in prayer, not by seeking to be a man of prayer and the Word, but by keeping love in mind, and acting accordingly. That’s how I power the long obedience in one direction that is discipline.

The prayer list program was helpful, but what drove me to my knees more regularly was the memory that I loved the people I was praying for, and I loved the God I was communicating with (and I realized that love was as much long-term action as it was gushy feelings). I found it easier to keep to my Bible reading schedule because I wanted to hear from the God I love. The discipline came as I held that before me and acting accordingly.

Hence the renewed interest in blogging. I am commanded to tell of the glories of God, and to reflect on His goodness in my life, living as Paul did, an example of godliness (not perfection). So here I am aiming to reflect on how God is teaching me, and share it with you, my readers.

I have no idea if this will bring me the discipline (and the ultimate joy) of daily blogging. Telling of how God is working all things together for my good mediately, and His glory ultimately. But that is the goal.

One year from now, lets see how it went.

Keep me in coffee

The author is often highly caffeinated. Keep him that way!

C$2.00

Online Reading (November 9, 2010)

Welcome to reading some of the things I’m finding interesting today:

November 11: While in my present home of Korea, November 11 is “Peppero Day”, back home in Canada, it’s Remembrance day, and there is a debate this year about the white poppy as opposed to the red poppy.

Abortion and Slavery: Thabiti Anyabwile gives some ideas about making the link to abortion while not being disrespectful about one of the millennium’s (other) greatest evils.

Gay Rights and Freedom of Religion: The Daily Mail reports on a case where the two are coming into direct conflict. I have passionate opinions on this one, but it’s a difficult dilemma to say the least.

How to Listen to a Sermon: For those of you who listen to me on the itunes feed, here are some ideas on how to get something out of the preaching of a very fallible human.

Thoughts on Intelligence from watching Election Results.

“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” Proverbs 29:9

“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.” – Proverbs 17:10

One of the advantages of living in east Asia is that election results I’d have to stay up late to hear when I was back in Canada, come in at pretty regular intervals during my waking hours in Korea. It’s even better when it’s during a US election, which tends to have interesting commentaries, and honestly has very little to do with me, a Canadian expatriate.

That said, it also gives me an opportunity to see the opinions of friends of mine as they express their own understanding of the situation in the US. To be blunt, very few wind up agreeing with me on much of anything when it comes to politics, which is honestly okay, because I’m not too worried about being silenced for my difference of opinion quite yet.

That said, I have been noticing a very troubling trend in public discourse over the last little while. I don’t think it’s a new thing, just something I’ve only noticed recently.

Political satire can cause us to question cherished beliefs, but it can also harden prejudice. The ability to laugh at something does not mean you are more correct than those you laugh at.

It has become common to make moral judgements about people who come to different conclusions than you do. I noticed this first when I expressed my right wing proclivities to a friend of a friend, who said that the only person who could be right wing was either evil or stupid, and I was forced to ask which he thought me to be. Of course, he stammered for a while, since previous to this, he had had no reason to doubt either my love for my fellow man, or my intellect. I never really got an answer.

The reason he had made his statement, however, seems to me a rather common set of assumptions in modern western dialogue, and I think stems from a mixture of pride and a misunderstanding about intelligence. Quite simply, people want to be seen as smart, because in the modern technological age, it’s seen as very important to be intelligent, and to be seen as intelligent. You can see this most readily in the way people denigrate opposing positions (as my friend did) as “stupid”. Note that the problem isn’t that the opposing position is incorrect or dangerous or immoral, rather, the opposing position is seen as lacking in intellect, meaning that the person holding the position is also seen as stupid.

The problem is that this shows a fundamental failure to understand the nature of intellect. While it is true that smart people often know a lot of details about things, it is not the knowledge of details that makes one intelligent. Even less is intelligence marked by holding “correct” opinions about given subjects. The simple fact is that there  are many very intelligent people, who for very good reasons, have held incorrect opinions; most commonly due to a lack of pertinent information (or a lack of seeing information that is pertinent as pertinent).

Intelligence is not marked by the ability to hold correct opinions, but rather by the ability to come to correct conclusions. This is NOT the same thing. Anybody can learn correct opinions and not know the reasons behind those opinions (which means they cannot adequately critique their own opinions). An intelligent person is one who, once given the necessary information, will be able to synthesize that data into valid conclusions based on the data.

Unfortunately, finding out about that takes a great deal of work. To know if a person’s opinions are intelligent based on that kind of synthesizing of information, you need to look at the information, and the person’s reasoning, not just the conclusion. It is far easier to simply look at the concluding opinion and make a judgement on that. Unfortunately, the result is that people who do that often then label conclusions that are different from their own as stupid without actually looking at the evidence and reasoning, meaning that the opposing position cannot do any work to correct errors in our own thinking.

This is compounded by a level of pride in society that wishes for us to see ourselves as intelligent. Being corrected is hard, and often not comfortable. It can lead to the questioning of cherished beliefs, or to isolation from a majority position, and is almost always a blow to pride. Thus it is often much easier to insulate our own opinions from critique, by grading opposing positions based on the conclusions rather than on the reasoning that got there.

This is why it is important to know, not just correct opinions, but the reasons behind correct opinion.

I think that is also why in the recent political movements in the United States, denigration of the opposition as unthinking or stupid became the norm, with statements themselves seen as being stupid without looking at the reasoning behind them (why do Keynsean economists think that government spending can stimulate an economy, why did a failed senate candidate think that the first amendment did not contain “the separation of Church and state”, etc.).

The question then is simple. Will we take the easy road of acceptable opinion, or the much harder road of humility and examination? Will we do the work of finding out why an opinion is correct or incorrect, or simply rest on the perceived intelligence of our own conclusions?

I fear in my own heart, I often do not answer that question well.

Humility and the Triumph of (Over)Confidence

So this morning I again ran into the issue of fan death in Korea through a facebook comment, and I had a chance to reflect on my experience…

A quick explanation: Fan death is the belief that if a person on a hot day closes off their room and falls asleep with a fan pointed at him, there is a chance that he will die.

Sounds kinda strange, especially coming from a country with an extremely high level of scientific education. There is no shortage of people who think this is a very stupid belief, and to be honest, I used to be one of them. But then, I actually got past my immediate dismissiveness and looked into it a bit. Now, I’m still not sure I’m fully convinced of the need for timers on fans (which are standard in Korea), but I do have to agree with some climatologists and the American EPA (see appendix B)  that there is at least something to this.

So what happened here? Why was I so convinced that people who believed something that was easily checkable were wrong simply because their belief did not fit into my preconceived ideas. I had forgotten the fact that it is best to not just know THAT something is incorrect, but do the work of finding out why it is incorrect. I think this is one of the reasons

behind the Biblical statement that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. (Ps 111:10, Pr 1:7; 9:10) That is to say, you will be strikingly unable to learn if you believe yourself to be the apex of knowledge and truth (thus have no fear of God).

I think this is common in society at large as well. Reading opinion pieces in the world’s newspapers, you will often find them full of confident assertions (some true, some less so) with little basis in either argumentation or reference to some place where I can go check myself. It seems to be part of almost all debates (climate change, capitalism/socialism, religion, politics, and on and on).

The upshot is that I wonder if the dominant culture has trained people to be so confident of their own beliefs, that very few people are even listening to opposing positions anymore, and even fewer are learning anything.

A Return to WordPress (and to blogging)

Well, seems that the mobileme hosting of my website is messed up, so now that I’m deciding to return to blogging, I’m also returning to using wordpress for my blogging. So here I am back blogging on my wordpress account.

In any case, my wordpress account has always had more traffic, so it’s probably best to stay here (cheaper too).

That said, I’m not the naive person who first started blogging years ago. I know that the internet has some strange people, and many who would never say a bad word to you in person can be downright mean from behind their iphones; especially when I use bad grammar or talk about politics or religion (my favorite topics) For that reason, over the next couple of days I’m going to write a few basic posts to explain the ground rules. They aren’t going to be up for debate, and I’m going to hold to them.

You may also notice a slight shift in focus over the next few months. I guess I am mellowing in my old age, and diversifying a little. I’m going to talk about whatever interests me, which will be wider than the Christian theological and apologetic rants. Those won’t vanish, but I’m going to talk about favorite hamburgers, experiences as a foreign pastor in Korea, and the frustrations of being a mid-30s single guy. If you are interested in the sermons I was posting on the mobileme website, you can get them via podcast from my Church website here.

Hope you all enjoy the new year with me!

In Him,

– Steve <><