Test the Spirits

[1] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

– 1 John 4:1

False prophets very rarely say, “Hey everyone, I have a message from the devil!” No, they say they have a revelation from the Spirit.

John is warning us that while a spiritual experience is important, it alone is not enough to guarantee that it is from God. Spirits must be tested. If a random guy told a girl, “God said you’re supposed to marry me,” the girl would not immediately believe him. She would be discerning.

Who we marry is important, but who we worship is more important. When people say things about God, we should be discerning. We should test the spirits.

This includes testing ourselves. Our hearts, our emotions, our logic can so easily go astray. Haven’t we done enough foolish things to know that we can’t be trusted implicitly? We are biased and selfish and the first “spirit” that must be tested is within us.

True or Not

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

This categorization of faith and religion in one box, and facts and truth in another, has a long history which we have already touched upon.  It is a distinction, however, that ultimately doesn’t hold up, because the claims of religion and ethical systems cannot be partitioned off from the real world.  They exist in the world.  They make claims, and assert certain things to be true about the world – and indeed, about the God (or gods) who made the world, and may have some present influence over the world.  These claims are either valid or not; that is, they are true or they are not.  Either there really is an all-just, all-merciful Allah, who rules all events in this world, or there is not.  We may disagree and argue about whether it is true, but it is either true or not.  It’s nonsensical to say that Allah is God of all the world in one breath, and then to allow that he is not in the next.

On what basis, then, can we assess whether a religious system, or any system of thought, is true?  There are endless philosophical debates about questions such as this, but put simply, there are two basic tests that we can apply.

Firstly, we can assess whether a system of belief or philosophy is internally consistent; that is, we can check to see if there are contradictions or internal conflicts bound up within the system itself that render it unlikely to be true…

This brings us to the second test.  The most basic way in which humans have always established or tested the truth of a claim is to compare it (and its consequences) with the world outside the system – that is, to ‘check it against the world and see.’  To the extent that a religion or system of thought makes claims about the world, and events in the world, we can try to see if these claims are externally verifiable, if they can be attested by other sources, and if they give a good account of human experience…

Things are true or they’re not.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they are or not – that is, it’s hard to get enough evidence to tell one way or the other – but at least you can try, and in principle get there.

Religion Exists in the World

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

This categorization of faith and religion in one box, and facts and truth in another, has a long history which we have already touched upon.  It is a distinction, however, that ultimately doesn’t hold up, because the claims of religion and ethical systems cannot be partitioned off from the real world.  They exist in the world.  They make claims, and assert certain things to be true about the world – and indeed, about the God (or gods) who made the world, and may have some present influence over the world.  These claims are either valid or not; that is, they are true or they are not.  Either there really is an all-just, all-merciful Allah, who rules all events in this world, or there is not.  We may disagree and argue about whether it is true, but it is either true or not.  It’s nonsensical to say that Allah is God of all the world in one breath, and then to allow that he is not in the next.

On what basis, then, can we assess whether a religious system, or any system of thought, is true?  There are endless philosophical debates about questions such as this, but put simply, there are two basic tests that we can apply.

Firstly, we can assess whether a system of belief or philosophy is internally consistent; that is, we can check to see if there are contradictions or internal conflicts bound up within the system itself that render it unlikely to be true…

This brings us to the second test.  The most basic way in which humans have always established or tested the truth of a claim is to compare it (and its consequences) with the world outside the system – that is, to ‘check it against the world and see.’  To the extent that a religion or system of thought makes claims about the world, and events in the world, we can try to see if these claims are externally verifiable, if they can be attested by other sources, and if they give a good account of human experience…

Things are true or they’re not.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they are or not – that is, it’s hard to get enough evidence to tell one way or the other – but at least you can try, and in principle get there.

Tolerance and Relativism

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

As it has been historically expressed, tolerance is the willingness to live side by side with people with whom you disagree, as expressed in the famous saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Relativism, on the other hand, is the removal of the possibility of either agreeing or disagreeing, since there is no ‘truth’ to agree about.  There is just a multitude of personally held views, each of which is as valid as the other.

A tolerant society values discussion, disagreement and persuasion, and allows freely for the possibility of changing one’s position, since the truth is something we can argue about.  Relativist societies often cease to be tolerant, because they outlaw disagreement.  In a relativist society, the statement “You are wrong” is not allowed.  Since rational argument and debate about truth-claims are put to one side, all that is left is prejudice, cultural preference, tribal/family allegiance and political power.  The phenomenon of ‘political correctness,’ although now often joked about, is a manifestation of the intolerance of relativist societies.  There are certain thoughts, ideas or philosophies that are not allowed to be expressed in some contexts, because they are utterly offensive to the ruling group in that context.  To express them, in whatever form, is to risk censure, ridicule, harassment or worse.  It would be a brave lecturer, for example, who sought to mount a critique of feminist thought in a university humanities department.  It’s not that he/she would be bound to lose the argument; they would be bound to lose their job.

The irony of this situation is one of the features of modern Western society – that those who most vehemently deny the concept of absolute truth are the ones who most vehemently suppress open debate and the expression of alternative viewpoints.

A Day in History

[1] Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

– Luke 1:1-4

christopher-columbus-1492-boatTwo thousand years ago, Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Most people, whether Christian or not, do not seem to think that these are the same kinds of statements (i.e. statements of historical fact).

The statement regarding Jesus is often spoken of as a belief that will lead to a happier life or a means to cope with problems. If a Christian is asked, “why do you talk so much about this?”, a common answer might be, “because I love you and want the best for you.” Less often we might hear, “because it’s true.”

Luke did not intend to write an allegory, a myth, or an inspirational story but an accurate history. Christianity is unique in that it is an historical faith. It claims that an actual event happened in human history (the death and resurrection of the Son of God). The Christian Scriptures make clear that if this event did not happen, then Christian faith is completely useless (“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” 1 Corinthians 15:17).

There are plenty of other means (religious or otherwise) of obtaining psychological comfort.  To be perfectly honest, many of them are a lot less hassle than Christianity. But the Christian claim is that Jesus actually is the Son of God and He did die and rise from the dead, defeating sin and death. This is either true or it is not. If it’s not, it’s a cruel hoax on those who believe. If it is, then it’s the most important news in human history.

The Ugly Truth Will Set You Free

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:8-9

It’s a rare person who is foolish enough to say that they are perfect.  Nearly everyone will admit that we’re all human and we all make mistakes.  Yet at the same time, we all believe that deep down we’re good people.

One thing that makes this believable is that we know how to compare ourselves favorably. My Sunday School boys tell me how good they are at basketball and how they can beat my son. Well my son is three, so I tell them that’s not saying much. Somehow when it comes to our character and faith, we always compare our best to other people’s worst. We proudly say that we’re better than a murderer or a drug dealer and if all else fails we can always compare favorably with Hitler.

Another reason we are tempted to believe in our own goodness is that we are experts at self-deception. Have you ever met an angry person? The last person to know that he’s angry is always the angry person himself. We know how to play this game. We don’t hate anyone but there are people we’d just rather not speak to ever again. We’re not greedy or envious, we just want to be financially secure.

But God is not deceived by any of this. He is light itself and in Him is no darkness at all. His light exposes darkness! So John is pleading with us, don’t be deceived! The lie is tempting. It feels good to think we’re better than others. It’s painful to face what’s really in our hearts. It’s tempting to believe the lie and avoid the pain, but this does not lead to real joy or real life.

It’s only when we acknowledge and confess our sins that we are free! When we downplay our sin before God and others, relationship is impossible because we have to lie. If we claim to have no sin or if we always excuse our sin, we have to try to deceive each other and God. But if we confess our sin – not that we are sinners generally, but that we love specific things more than Jesus, that we are willing to hurt others to get what we want, that today and not just in our former life that we like our sin – then He’ll forgive us! Jesus can wipe away our sin and make us clean, but He comes only for the sick.

To live in lies is tempting but this only leads to slavery. The truth – no matter how ugly – is what sets us free.

Your relationship with God is just a psychological crutch

Amy Orr-Ewing

For Freud, God is made in humanity’s own image, the ‘ultimate wish-fulfilment’, the end product of human desire for a loving father.

How might Christians respond to this? Can God really be explained away so easily by one aspect of psychology? One obvious point to make is that the argument about crutches1projection cuts both ways. After all, isn’t it equally possible to say that Freud and other atheists deny the existence of God out of a need to escape from a father figure, or to argue that the non-existence of God springs from a deep-seated desire for no father figure to exist?

Clearly this doesn’t prove that God is real, but it does help us see that Freud’s arguments cannot prove that God does not exist while at the same time helping us tackle the question of projection. After all, dismissing God as a psychological projection while claiming neutrality in our own psyche is disingenuous as best and cannot be an adequate basis for rejecting God.

Ultimately for the Christian the important question is not whether I have a psychological need for a father figure, or a desire for a father figure not to exist. Rather, the question is about what actually exists: is God really there? The way to come to any conclusions about that is to investigate the evidence for his existence.

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