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We're All Going to Be Wrong (Thoughts on Ultimate Truth)

After yesterday’s blog post about “why you can’t just read the Bible”, my friend Hannah brought up a question that I hear many people asking:

“How can we say anything confidently about God if we are biased and limited?”

This theological question is important, and the answer, I believe, has implications for all areas of life. 

First of all, I do not believe it is possible to prove anything. That might sound a little crazy, but allow me to explain what I mean when I use the word “prove”. 

Many people use the word “prove” to mean the use of evidence to determine the likelihood of a claim. An investigator uses evidence to “prove” whether or not someone committed a crime. Scientists use data and tests in an attempt to “prove” their theories. 

Within Christianity, many people cite Bible verses to “prove” their beliefs.

This is not the kind of “prove” that I’m referring to when I say that we cannot prove anything. I’m referring to the concept of being able to *definitively* say what is true or not true. 

For those wondering, *definitively* means 100%. It means being able to verify something completely. Such a feat would require a perfect and complete understanding of everything.

You could have a lot of evidence and be 99.99999% positive of something, but it still wouldn’t be definitive. A lot of people think they can prove things definitively, but they’re really fooling themselves. 

Of course, everything I’m saying in this post (and everything I’ve ever written) is just opinion. On a fundamental level, everything we believe is opinion.

So, why should you trust me? Why should you trust anything or anyone? Why should you trust yourself?

Deep inside, most people know the answer to this question. It just takes a little bit of observation to uncover it. 

The answer is evidence, though that might not be the whole story.

While you may not be able to *definitively* prove something, you are capable of careful study, research, and thought. All of us do these things when we form our beliefs (some more than others).

The Truth About Peanut Butter

peanut butter ultimate truth

Here’s a scenario to illustrate this point: 

Amanda and Frank are both shown some data about Peanut Butter. The data seems to clearly indicate that Peanut Butter is good for your health. Frank decides to trust the data, even though this is all he knows about Peanut Butter. He’s never read anything else about it.

Amanda responds to the data differently. She agrees the data seems to clearly indicate that Peanut Butter is healthy, but she too has never studied the subject. She wants to be able to make a more informed claim, so she reads several books and talks to an expert or two. Afterwards, she analyzes everything she learned and comes to a conclusion. 

Amanda and Frank might very well come to the same conclusion about Peanut Butter. They might not.

Let’s say after all is said and done, Amanda believes Peanut Butter is healthy too. She has developed her belief more strongly than Frank has, but neither of them has definitively proven that what they believe is actually true. If asked by a friend or colleague, Amanda is in a position to more effectively persuade someone of her belief, but she still doesn’t know everything. She still could be wrong.

What if 30 years passed and more research was done that gave a huge amount of support to the idea that Peanut Butter actually is extremely unhealthy? Amanda didn’t have that data at the time, so she wasn’t able to factor it in to her worldview.

All of this is to say that we can only work with what we’re given. We can only work with what we have. If you have a small pool of evidence and you refuse to look further, you’ll come to a conclusion based off of what you know.

You might be right. But you could also be wrong. How can you know “for sure”? You can’t.

You can trust, have faith, use evidence to support your belief as best you can, but you can never definitively say that you’re right.

You can have confidence though. I am fairly confident about several of my beliefs. Why? Because I’ve taken the time to examine evidence, look at multiple angles, contemplate, discuss, pray, etc.

But, I’m also open to new insights. I’m open to expanding my worldview. There is still a lot I don't know. I may talk about theology and spirituality a lot, but I'm not a seminary student or something.

“So, do you believe in Ultimate Truth?”

This is another question I get asked a lot. It’s the go-to question that many Christians use as a litmus test by which they’ll choose whether or not to write people off. If someone doesn’t believe in Ultimate Truth, why bother listening to them, right? (It's sad, but people actually do this.)

Before I answer the question, let’s pump the brakes. What is meant by Ultimate Truth? Many people use the phrase to say that the world we live in is Black and White. There is Truth and then there is Untruth. 

This is an extremely simplistic view of Ultimate Truth that will not take you very far in life and will limit you severely.

There are other people, like me, that believe Truth is more mysterious and complex. There are people, like me, who believe Truth can act and function in more than one way. 

Let’s go back to my Peanut Butter scenario from earlier. What if Amanda and Frank were asking the wrong question to begin with? What if they were asking a question that wouldn’t ever lead them to the Truth they needed to know about Peanut Butter?

What if there are multiple truths about Peanut Butter? What if Peanut Butter is healthy for some people, but it isn’t for others?
  
What if you’re allergic to peanut butter? If you are, then Peanut Butter isn’t just unhealthy, it can be deadly.

Asking the question, “is peanut butter healthy?” might be the right question for some people, but for others its the wrong one completely.

So, when someone asks the question, “is peanut butter healthy?” Someone could easily answer “yes” and “no” at the same time.

“Okay, but we’re talking about God, not peanut butter.”

Right! And if the truth about peanut butter can be more complex than a simple “yes” and “no” answer, do you think God might also be that complex? Maybe more complex?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At the end of the day, I believe in Truth. I believe that there are things that are definitively true. I just don’t think anyone can definitively say which things are.

This is part of why we need things like trust and faith. We need humility amidst the things we hold so dearly.

Lean Not

There’s a well known Proverb that many people have never thought to apply to their theological beliefs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Lean not on your own understanding…

… of God
… of the world.
… of yourself.
… of others.

This is hard stuff. I still wrestle with how to do this. I wrestle with how to be confident about a belief while also not leaning on my own understanding.

Want to know one of the beliefs I’m confident about? 

I believe we’re all going to be wrong about something.

We can talk about truth all we want, but we must always remember that no one has a corner market on truth. No people group, no politician, no leader, and no religion. 

God is available to everyone everywhere regardless of whether they’ve been told about a particular religion.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Are we going to lean on our own understanding of God at times and make our understanding of God an idol without even knowing it? Yes. 

Are we going to be extremely confident about something and turn out to be wrong in the end? Yes. 

Are we going to have to lower ourselves and be humbled by the reality that we’re looking at the world and God through a relatively small lens? Yes. Yes. Yes.

This path is not appealing to the people that want to trick themselves into thinking they have 100% certainty.

This path is not appealing to the people that want a ‘get out of jail free card” to use in what they think eternity is going to be like. 

This path is not appealing to the people addicted to reaching the end of the path.

My Limitations

All of what I’ve said in this blog post is inadequate and limited. I am not a philosopher or an intellect. I'm just trying to navigate my way through life, and I try to communicate some of that to other people in terms they can understand. There's a lot more to the subject of Truth than what I've said here, and there's even more that I have yet to study.

In other words, there's more information, data, and insight that I haven't even considered when I formulated the beliefs articulated in this post. Even after I hit the publish button on this thing, I will change and grow.

I hope this limited post will fill your imagination with more questions than answers.

I have many myself.

I don’t know all of the answers, but I’m fairly certain (not with 100% provability of course) that it will be fun searching for them.

If you have any interesting questions that you’d like to share with me, leave me a comment below.