Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

What should we look for: right answers or creative solutions?

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When you are creating or using your world-view, what should it be like? What makes for a “good” world view? Do you have a coherent framework in which everything makes sense and has a place, or is it chaotic and random? Is there a way life should be, or by having a fixed view are you limiting your creativity?

I have two examples of what I mean, taken from Terry Sissons’s blog – in a pair of posts beginning with “Still thinking like a Catholic.”(Terry, if I have the thrust of your post wrong, I apologise… oh yeah… we are reminding ourselves that wrong answers have a place!…) Here’s the link to the second blog post.

Firstly there is the picture of religion. Perhaps, if you take as your premise that what your religion says is true, then everything else you consider in life, you filter through the teachings of your religion to find out what you think – rather than thinking what you think.

And then there are scientific disciplines – where you come up with a theory and set about substantiating it or modifying it in light of experience – but with the hope that your theory is right – that your original idea was the right one.

In both of these pictures, science and religion come up with an idea that is “right” and then set about showing it and proving it.

The question is whether or not this is a good way to be – or is there another way to see life and truth that doesn’t require life to fit the mould you have ready for it?

I was brought up to question and criticise, to squeeze meaning from scripture and to make my own decisions. Rather than being told “this is fact”, it was rather “…if this is fact, then…?”

Rob Bell, in “Velvet Elvis” argued that, traditionally, belief systems were like “walls”. And if enough of the bricks that supported the wall were taken away, through discovery and life experience and science – or whatever, then the wall came tumbling down. He argued that belief should be more like a trampoline where you bounce on life and find joy in the living of it. I suppose even if a few springs became unattached, you wouldn’t necessarily hit the ground. The same should go for bricks.

Where Terry came from a Catholic tradition and I did not, there is perhaps a different relationship with the concept of authority in religion. As I say, I was brought up to question – but I didn’t have to try and make my beliefs match with Catholic beliefs that I’d struggle with. I don’t “need” to believe in incorruptible saints, various things about celibacy and contraception etc in order to still believe in God, grace and mercy. In my tradition the only authority is the Scripture – and the interpretations are (almost?) infinite – and so, through that filter I try to discern what I think is true. I like the bit in the bible that says we are to “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” – that it isn’t a belief to be adopted, but it is a lifetime of consideration and figuring out and questioning – all coming down to the key question: if the bible is “true”… then what?

We then have the debate about the bible being “true” – and I find that it is. I don’t need it to be literally true in every story – I have no concern about how long it took to make the earth, how old Methuselah was, how Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal… It’s the whole story I find fascinating – about the relationship between God and his people – and, by extension, me – and everyone else. However, if God is God, then, theoretically, it could all be true, literally… (I never had any bother believing in the Virgin birth, the resurrection etc – should be do-able, if you were God, wouldn’t it?)

Does it not matter that I don’t “believe” every word? Not really. What I think is neither here nor there. Whether I believe in all the core beliefs of conservative evangelicalism, or not, has no bearing on the actual question of God’s existence. Either there is a God or there isn’t. Or there is the Christian God or there isn’t. Or there is precisely the type of God I think there is, or there isn’t. And what’s the chances of me being 100% right? Nil?

Luckily, that doesn’t matter, does it? Or does it?

I can have faith. I can trust. I can live, working out my salvation.

So, are there limitations to “right answers”? For sure – insofar as anyone thinks they have the “right answer”. What are the chances of them being 100% right? I am reminded of the song:

Christ is the answer to my every need
Christ is the answer he is my friend indeed
Problems of life my spirit may assail
In Christ my Saviour I need never fail
For Christ is the answer to my need.

Maybe they are right. It is what I think. Does that make it true? No. Does that make it false? No. But they might be right.

Given that I have a stance, fallible though it may be, does it limit my creativity? Does it force me to think inside a box?

Is there a box?

If there is a box, for me it is Scripture. I enjoy thinking inside that box. So did the Apostle Paul. He said:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

From Philippians chapter three

What I like about this passage is the forward-looking attitude. Despite all that had happened to him, he does not sound like a man with all the answers here. The phrases that show me this are “I want to know”, “somehow”, “not that I have already obtained all this”, “I press on”, “I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it”…

He is wrestling with his hope, his faith and his trust, focusing on it towards his goal. He believes there is a solution – but he is going to have to “press on” to attain it.

So, right answers or creative solutions?

I think I vote for creative solutions… and I will continue to work out my salvation which is certainly creative, and also a solution.

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10 thoughts on “What should we look for: right answers or creative solutions?

  1. I think that you think in an elastic box, you seem to love exploring and expanding your understanding, so your box has to be elastic to be able to accommodate your beliefs and thoughts. I always enjoy your posts about scripture and philosophy.

  2. I’m struggling with Paul at the moment (as usual). His rules for women never sound God-given to me.

    I believe in the truth of the Bible, but each generation brings its own context when reading it, and I puzzle sometimes over the things that seem plain wrong to me, in this day and age.

    Then I come back to one simple truth: God knows what He’s doing; I don’t. I just have to trust Him.

    My idea of heaven is that He will finally answer all of my questions. 🙂

  3. theotheri on said:

    I was looking forward to your response to my post and it was worth waiting for. Thank you.

    Surprising as it may seem, given are very different backgrounds, I agree with just about everything you have said. There are several caveats, though. One is that though religion and science both may begin with certain ideas they believe to be “right,” Roman Catholicism and science disagree on one critical issue. For R Catholics, those “right” ideas are infallible and cannot be overturned under any circumstances because the pope has infallibly decreed that his infallible declarations are infallible absolute truths given to him directly from God. (Yes, I do find it circular, but that is what the doctrine of papal infallibility says.)

    Science on the other hand assigns to itself the task of proving with objective evidence that these “right” ideas are indeed right. If the evidence is not strong enough, then those “right” ideas are dismissed as “wrong.” Far more scientific theories have been dismissed this way than most people realize.

    Protestants – at least the original followers of Luther – argued that the Bible is a source of God’s truth, and that each of us must look into our hearts to fathom that truth. It is a life-long task which each of us must engage in during all our lives. It is not the role of priests and popes to enlighten us. We must do it ourselves. Of course, this is a grave assault on Rome’s absolute authority, and that is why translating the Bible into the vernacular so that people besides educated clergy could understand it brought forth so much persecution.

    In this sense, this version of Protestant doctrine is more like science than Catholic doctrine. It sounds to me as if this is the path you follow. You are the one who must discover the truth of the Bible, and you do not think that you have (or probably every will) attain absolute truth.

    One other thing I would like to say lest I appear to be elevating Protestant thought at the expense of Catholicism, is that we all need certain constants in our life. We can’t keep re-processing all of our “right” ideas every single day, whether or not they turn out in the end to be as right as we assume. But we do differ in just how solid we think our certainties can be, and what the source of that certainty is. And then, of course, very few of us come in undiluted forms. Not all Catholics think in the way I have described, nor do all Protestants. I’m really just exaggerating tendencies in the different persuasions in order to understand some of the strengths and weaknesses I am still discovering at this late age in my own thought processes.

    Thank you for the dialogue. I hope you are getting as much out of it as I am.

    Terry

    • Always. I find it annoying that I have to set aside time to think, though- that was about a week until I had time to do any processing. The story I have posted today is inspired by this debate – perhaps a little too obscurely.

      • theotheri on said:

        No, it isn’t too obscure. I had just read your Cat & Mat story when your comment arrived and guessed that you were thinking about it. The same thing can be seen – validly – from many different levels. So it’s a cat and it’s atoms and it’s particles, and it’s probably even just “Molly” for somebody. And they are all true. Metaphors are just as true as literal interpretations; they are just looking a things on a different level, using a different level of expression.

        Which, it seems to me, is something that you are unusually good at. You find truth through writing stories and poems. But to some extent we all do — it’s the way we humans think.

        Be interested to know what you think about my reply to Rickster. Do you think 90% of the bible could be metaphorical and still be true?

        Terry
        I’m glad it sometimes takes you a week to respond. Makes me feel less rushed myself. Especially if the issue isn’t a trivial one for me.

  4. San, Fio read this blog post and immediately asked me if I’d been talking to you recently… ;o)

    I used to have much the same outlook on the bible, that it was “true” even if some stories in it were clearly not “true” in the literal sense of the word. Then I looked long and hard at the implications of that way of reading the bible and I found that there is no method available to us (beyond what ‘feels right’) to distinguish that which is literally true from that which is only metaphorically true. If you hold that the Elijah vs the prophets of Baal story is not literally true, how can you decide that Jesus and Peter walking on water is or is not? If the walking on water thing is only a metaphor, how about faith moving mountains, or the raising of Lazarus? Soon you get to questions of did Jesus literally die and was he only metaphorically raised.

    I’m sure there must be a justifiable middle ground between believing it all as fact, and rejecting it all as myth, but I have yet to find it…

    • theotheri on said:

      I can’t see why believing that 90% of what is in the bible is metaphorical should be a problem for believers. We know that the Hebrews used metaphors very broadly — would God not have spoken to them in the language they understood? I know practicing Christians who believe that everything you have listed – from Lazarus to walking on water to the resurrection and more – is metaphorical and it does not shake their faith in the bible at all. Research suggests that quite possibly the majority of early Christians until about the third century accepted a broad metaphorical interpretation. Augustine of Hippo it for granted.

      Even today we use metaphors and do not think we are lying. Our neighbour’s son got up about noon after a night on the town last Saturday with the words “I’ve risen from the dead.” Nobody thought he was lying. We all understood it was a metaphor. When my father-in-law referred to his wife as “the rose bush in his garden,” we all knew he wasn’t speaking botanically.

      I think much of this insistence on the literal truth of the bible in modern times is the result of the scientific revolution. Scientists emphasize the importance to the scientific method of using as evidence only that which can be objectively observed, so that the findings of various scientists could be verified by other scientists. This has led to some quite extraordinary discoveries about how the universe works. But scientific thought is not the only valid method of understanding the world.

      Many religious believers misunderstand this and have come to believe that the same principles apply to the bible as they do to science. But they don’t. Just as they don’t apply to literature or poetry. I remember finally understanding at about the age of seven what my mother meant when I used to ask her if something was “true.” “It depends on what kind of truth you are talking about, honey,” was her answer. And in the process, she wasn’t suggesting that I was the syrupy product of a bee hive.

    • I think the Baal one is true- that was just an example. My point is that any of them can be true if God is God. Why not? Surely he can mess with the laws of physics if he wants to.
      Then there is ‘truth’ in writing- I find “1984” to be an enlightening book that we know is not true- but there is truth in the story for sure.
      My other main point is that our lack of faith has no bearing on the truth or falsity of anything.

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