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Friday, January 4, 2013

On simplicity and complexity within faith in Jesus

            Yesterday, I was watching a tv program, in which a reporter was interviewing Walter Isaacson, the writer who wrote the biography of Steve Jobs.  In it, it was said that, while Jobs and Steve Wosniak visited India for seven months after they first became financially set, one idea that influenced Jobs’ later career that he absorbed from Zen was the idea that simplicity was the ultimate sophistication.  One can easily see how that influenced the products Jobs was connected with for the rest of his life, and how those products have influenced the world.

            As a believer in Jesus, I recognize that every philosophy has some element of truth in it, and sometimes we can learn from it without saying that such fact negates the ultimate truth of God, as centered in Jesus.  I fully recognize that some people, including some of my fellow believers, have problems with that.  One great example is Martin Luther King.  He went to Boston University Seminary to study whether the principles of Ghandi on passive civil disobedience for the purpose of social change, which he based on Buddhism, were equally applicable within a Christian belief structure.  Under normal instances, I wouldn’t recommend Boston University Seminary to any believer, and one only has to go to their website and spend a few seconds to see why.  Also, I am certain that King already had the conclusions of his doctoral thesis in his head, to a degree, before he ever even applied there, in the sense that Ghandi’s principles would also apply within a Christian framework.  In this case, there was a professor at BU that was as significant an expert on Ghandi as one could find at that time.  That also would be why King chose to lead a church in Montgomery, AL after graduating from seminary, when he could have had a professorship at many evangelical seminaries.  That is why, as I have stated previously, that Soledad O’Brien of CNN’s statement, in the documentary on King CNN aired, that King was “an accidental leader” is, at the least, untrue, and, at the worst, revisionist history to make a point that isn’t held up by the facts.

            Back to Jobs.  In marketing a product, the idea that simplicity is sophistication is true.  I was just given a used iPod for Christmas, with no directions.  So far, I have figured out that it has about 300 R&B recordings in it.  One of these days, I’ll figure out how to actually hear something out of it.  Then will come erasing what’s in it and putting in something I actually want to hear, provided it doesn’t cost too much, which at this time is any number over zero.  Part of the MacIntosh’s genius, with other things have followed, is that people like a product far better if it is simple enough that one can just guess what to do with a thing and be able to use it.  If you question that, when was the last time you read a car’s owner’s manual before driving it for the first time?  To quote that famous Ed Asner tv commercial, me neither.

            As it applies to faith in Jesus, though, this idea is largely not true.  There is a sense that all a person needs to be saved is to accept, “Jesus loves me.”  I am thinking of a man I know with about an 80 IQ. That’s about what he can handle, and that’s got to be OK from the standpoint of us humans.  It raises a lot of unanswerable questions that none of us are big enough to handle.  The larger idea is that, if (in the sense of the logical if-then sentence) God created the universe, which includes man, who, after the Fall, has a body, soul and spirit, and can give or not give his/her self to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord (however that works, which God alone understands), then mankind, in having been given dominion over the earth, has the God-given ability to learn about this universe while we live here.  Whether we choose to live to honor Jesus or not, we can learn facts about the complexity God put into His creation.  This includes people who do not honor Jesus with their lives learning such facts, even though they may misinterpret them, and people who do live to honor Jesus either misinterpreting those same facts in a different direction, and/or not caring about the details of God’s creation or being unable to make sense of the details, as with my aforementioned brother in Jesus, above. 

            Further, God, somehow, in His all-powerfulness, has chosen to make how we come to faith in Him beyond our understanding.  He has told us in scripture that He chose us, and that we didn’t choose Him.  I think back to when I came to faith in Jesus.  It felt in my spirit that I had a choice to make.  We have heard this wording, “make a decision for Christ”, or something like it, in evangelistic messages for our lifetimes, and most of us can look at a specific moment where we know that we moved from the unsaved to the saved, but we don’t understand how that works.

            I recently have been in correspondence with two persons who see themselves as leaders within the church.  Both occasionally write in a manner that seems to imply that to be intellectual in one’s approach to life and faith is a negative thing.  I have minimal doubt that neither has any significant amount of persons who respect them as a leader who have significantly greater education than they do.  They have valid points that, over history, many persons have used their intellect to deny God or, while affirming the God of the Bible, lead others down various dead ends or into incorrect understandings.  Part of the problem is that there is no simple rule for being able to determine who presents a proper understanding of a point of faith, and who doesn’t.  Oftentimes, as with the two persons I mention above, there is an implication that intelligence and education is a mark of improper teaching.  I also can find others who imply the opposite.  Even more irritatingly, some teachers are correct and excellent on one topic, and are off track on a different one.  An example is the second century church leader Tertullian.  His writings tell us about what was going on in the church in the generation just after the church in the Bible.  Still, for some reason, he wrote that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, which, for a number of reasons, we can see is incorrect.  We can recognize that he was a respected leader in the church of that time.  He tells us details about those times that, if one throws them out, we know nothing about.  Was he not feeling well the day he wrote that?  I think of that given that, over the past few months, I have not been thinking as well as I used to.  If you knew me slightly, you might not be able to tell, but I can.  That’s why I’ve written few blogs over the past few months, as I just didn’t feel like even sitting and typing.  Could he have been going through something like that?  I believe that many of us believers have felt like crawling under a couch when Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, Gene Edwards, and others have said certain things.  I guess I think of that in that I’m still about twenty years younger than those three men, and I’m beginning to struggle to say things just right.

            Now, on the opposite side, sometimes I see things said due to a person thinking he/she is saying something bold, when it is just faith mixed with ignorance.  I know a leader that has personal leadership ability, but has had the tendency to read one book (which may be a popular, but unbalanced view of a subject) and go running with its conclusions, without bothering to examine writings that hold to the opposite side of a subject.  If this is mixed with the traditional “sermon” system, he gets up and says things again and again, the situation is such that others cannot challenge his point of view, but don’t change their lives with regard to this point because he just hasn’t been convincing. The results are that the leader is frustrated, and he is actually building a wall between him and the people who are supposedly looking to him as leader, putting up with him for other reasons, such as liking the other people around the group, or that it is always easier to keep the status quo than change.

            I feel the need to be sufficiently vague in what I’ve written above, and possibly it just doesn’t make sense outside of my head, but I cannot recall seeing or hearing someone attempt to address this point, so I’ve given a stab at it.  As an elder at a church I once was part of named Walt Thompson said more than once, “Take what’s good and pray about the rest.”  Even better yet, if I was unclear or flat our wrong, in your opinion, write me and tell me why.

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