DISCERNING TRUTH & GOODNESS

My friend Joan Ball said...

I too believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and working to guide and counsel-as promised. I also believe that the Holy Spirit of God is not the only voice whispering in our ears. Leads to the question: How you test the Spirits? Said another way, how do you assure yourself that it is the Holy Spirit of God and not Screwtape you're listening to?

Let me start by saying that I don’t like the practice of “proof-texting” – grabbing carefully picked Bible verses that conveniently support one’s agenda – because the Bible has been used to justify all sorts of wrongs like slavery and misogyny.  However, I do think that there are genuinely consistent messages that stream throughout Scripture (like “rivers of life,” Rev. 22:1) that cannot and should not be ignored.  That’s what I’m would attempt to discern here, to Joan’s question, still recognizing that we all come to Scripture (and to God) with existing agendas.



To begin, Psalm 51:6 reads, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”  God has always been intent on teaching us truth, and I have a hard time believe God would allow the voice of truth to be easily undermined without our own willful, intentional subversion.




In Zechariah 8:19
, “truth and peace” go hand-in-hand, which necessarily conflicts with many contemporary concepts of “Christian truth” that sow heartache, resentment, conflict and oppression in the name of cultural or religious warfare.




In John
, Jesus tells of the coming counselor: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)  “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”
(
John 16:12-14
)  


The Spirit of God purposes to teach us what is true.
These are general descriptions of what Jesus promised the Spirit would do.  But Joan is right, without a doubt there are voices in the world – and in our lives – that threaten to confuse and deceive, to twist what is good and true into a lie that undermines itself.  

However, Jesus tells us we’re not alone in the struggle to perceive what is right.  Jesus seems quite clear about what we should look for in ascertaining the truth: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”

(
Matthew 7:16-18
)  


Jesus re-emphasizes this idea later in Matthew 12:33-34
, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”


Even Paul (not one of my personal favorites) wisely supports Jesus’ conception of goodness in his description of fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
(Galatians 5:22-23)


“Against such things there is no law.”
  The law is not in opposition to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control.  And yet the Christianity of my own upbringing was in suspicious opposition to “peace” in the world, because it gloried in rumors of End Times apocalypse.  In fact, I was taught to assume “peace” to be a deception of the Anti-Christ and a precursor to the Beast’s one-world government.  The direct result of that being distrust and suspicion over things identified by Jesus himself as good and true.  Gentleness?  Self-control?  Not when there’s a holy war to be fought!  Patience?  Not when someone is articulating a different worldview from my own!  Love?  Not without limits – boundaries – exceptions – provisos – requirements – demands!


But in these clarifiers we undermine the ultimate definitive of Christ’s own agape: dying for one’s own enemies.  Jesus said, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
(John 15:13)  But Jesus did show an even greater love than to die for his friends by dying for his enemies.  And in the verse preceding, he exhorted us to do the same:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  
(John 15:12)
 


And Paul…


            “He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.”
(Romans 13:8)


For me, personally, I cannot keep trying to reconcile a Gospel that undermines love, grace and goodness for the sake of legal accuracy.

“If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.”
(Matthew 12:7)

It is in this spirit, as a Christian, that I hope to perceive the Holy Spirit’s voice in my life and in the world around me.

5 comments:

Joan Ball said...

Hi Peter: I was surprised and delighted to see my comment propel the conversation forward about a very interesting and important topic. As I read the piece I was with you until you made a turn. I am not calling it into question, per se, rather would like to note it as a stepping off point for continuing the conversation.

Here goes...

You eloquently discuss the fruits of the spirit as being a barometer for discernment - and I agree. What I found fascinating was that you immediately - in the next sentence actually - began using it as a hammer with which to criticize (and, perhaps judge?) those who hold your former beliefs. In doing so, you effectively allow their legalism (or your perception of them as legalistic) to shift your tone and approach away from the very fruits you were just discussing. Now I know Jesus kicked over tables in the temple, which is the scripture most people reference when they perceive others as having gotten things wrong and decide to call them on the carpet for it, but I believe that we are more frequently (speaking to your running themes statement above) a way to confront gently or even self sacrificially. In fact, I would argue that Jesus' submission to and on the cross was the ultimate assault on his enemies.

All this said in the context of no context.

If the Holy Spirit prompted you to come out strong and you did, all power to you. But, if the response was unintentional or reactive...

Sue said...

On the other hand, regarding strong language, we in the American evangelical subculture tend to have a very narrow range of emotions that we consider "good." Our Canadian neighbors generally tend to be more accepting of strongly-worded statements and are less disturbed by strong emotions. In this discussion of determining what is good, how does one cut through cultural bias? How does one determine if cultural bias is behind our perception of goodness as opposed to a Holy Spirit perception of goodness?

Peter said...

Joan, thanks for the gentle counterpoint. I think it's helpful, and that the Body of Christ necessarily has "checks and balances" so to speak.

I didn't intend to come out angry or harsh - only passionate! And I'd like to think that I specifically reserve that passion for issues which I have personally experienced or gone through. I am a recovering fundamentalist, and I am so thankful to have escaped.

I do believe that the idea of placing limitations on LOVE in the name of Christ is absolutely appalling (hence the red text).

But I don't want to be an angry anti-fundamentalist. That's just a fundamentalist of another stripe ;)

Sue, great observations, and you're question is a tough one. I don't think it's POSSIBLE to cut through cultural bias. I certainly don't think the writers of Scripture were able to. It's a decidedly human limitation that we can only do our best to stretch and expand by inviting other (foreign) worldviews to participate in dialogue and community.

That's my thought. What do you think?

Sue said...

Peter, I'm not sure what you mean when you say you don't think it's possible to cut through cultural bias. If that is the case, then where did William Wilberforce get the idea that slavery was wrong (when people were using the Bible to justify its existence) and how did he convince others of the same? How did American women get the right to vote? How could Romeo and Juliet fall in love?

Richard said...

I think he ment that it would just be hard to please everybody with just one type of view or universal statement. Because in fact, everybody was not okay with abolishing slavery, and with romeo and juliet falling in love..

I think it was 'on point'. He deffinately hit the points he wanted to hit and kinda strayed at the end.. I mean, I was acually expecting something that had more to do with discerning the truth than loving my enimies, but it still made a point.

I'm writing a paper for an ethics class about 'Reasoning and Ethics' and was looking for some verse that talk about how the God made us and that we can discern truth because He's Spirit is inside us and pulls our heart strings to a certain decision. Or something like that.. lol

Anyways, good post.. I'm a month behind the last post butt it would be cool to see someone comment after me :)

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