January 13, 2014

Cliff's Edge

Truth, absolute truth, exists. Sure, whatever we glimpse of it we glimpse tinted with the colors that drip from the palettes of our own brains. But truth is still truth, and disbelief doesn’t make the true false any more than belief makes the false true. Though quantum theory has blurred the subject-object distinction in the subatomic realm, in the classical realm, i.e., baseballs, waterfalls, and wars, belief or disbelief doesn’t change the truth or falsity of what we believe or disbelieve. What’s true remains true after everyone stops believing it, and what’s false stays false, though everyone believes it true. However much I loved Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman’s words “Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so, Only what nobody denies is so” are silliness.

With such epistemological precursors, how then do I deal with this quote from Ellen White?

“In like manner you are a sinner. You cannot atone for your past sins; you cannot change your heart and make yourself holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ. You believe that promise. You confess your sins and give yourself to God. You will to serve Him. Just as surely as you do this, God will fulfill His word to you. If you believe the promise—believe that you are forgiven and cleansed—God supplies the fact; you are made whole, just as Christ gave the paralytic power to walk when the man believed that he was healed. It is so if you believe it.”*

It is so if you believe it?

Belief in the tooth fairy doesn’t make it so. Belief that if a = b and b = c, then a ≠ c doesn’t make it so. Belief that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday doesn’t make it so.

But belief that I am forgiven and cleansed by Christ makes it so? Belief changes reality? A sinner, rotten to the core (Rom. 3:10-23), alienated from God (Eph. 2:12), and condemned (John 3:18) is cleansed (2 Peter 1:9), reconciled (Col. 1:21, 22), and justified in God’s sight (Rom. 5:1) if the sinner believes it is so?

How else? If it were by works, she would have written, “It is so if you do it,” or “It is so if you work at it,” or “It is so if you keep the commandments.” She didn’t. She said, “It is so if you believe it.”

Of course, we can debate the meaning of “believe,” about it being more than an intellectual assent, which is fine. But belief, whatever outward acts it leads to, is still a mental state within one’s mind only. It’s a configuration of neurons and electrochemical reactions that are somehow (no one knows how) inseparable from our consciousness, which in this case includes belief in Jesus. And though personal, subjective, and interior, this internal state causes the Creator of the universe (John 1:1-4) to view us not as sinners but as beings clothed in the “righteousness of God” Himself (Rom. 1:17).

The closest analogy, admittedly weak, is how technology, using electrodes attached to the brain, helps people with physical disabilities to use computers or move prosthetics. How does something that happens internally, inside the depths of a human mind, impact heaven itself?

Existence, as it appears raw to our eyes and ears, is remarkable enough. But add to that the layers of reality revealed in the Scripture, and what can we do but tremble at the shallowness and limits of human knowledge? “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4). We don’t, which is another reason Paul wrote, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Cor. 3:19).

It is so if you believe it. If you believe that you are forgiven, cleansed, and made whole—you are. Don’t ask me how it works. If my neurons are stretched and tortuously pulled by my attempts to learn formal logic, how could I understand the parts of reality much too sublime to be encapsulated by “and,” “or,” and “not”?

Truth, absolute truth, exists, and the good news is that it’s better and more hopeful than we can imagine.

* Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 51.