Thursday, November 19, 2015

Follow the Evidence

Secular humanists frequently start with an agenda and worry about details later, if at all.

The justification for any course of action is often jerry-rigged into the mission statement after the mission itself is well under way; the why comes after the what has already been decided.

For instance, Alister McGrath points out this interesting fact about Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis:

“Freud’s atheistic view of the origin of religion comes prior to his study of religion; it is not its consequence.”

In other words, Freud first decided on his theory then went about doing the research to back it up, not the other way round. His theory did not arise inductively from his studies but from his own prejudices.

Conclusions Precede Evidence

Ernest Jones’ biography of Freud reveals him complaining about having to do research at all:
“I am reading books without being really interested in them, since I already know the results; my instinct tells me that.” *
Freud’s methodology is regrettably common. But for those who are really after truth, the why must always precede the what.

On the other hand, we have Christ’s disciples.

Seekers After Truth

Poor disciples. In hindsight they make easy targets for modern readers here and there throughout the gospels, stumbling along after the Lord and obligingly putting feet in their mouths at what seems like every possible opportunity.

I’m not sure I would’ve fared any better; very likely considerably worse.

But whatever we may think of their learning curve, the disciples stand in stark contrast to modern rationalists in this: They were seekers after truth. When the Lord asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

No chance of the tail wagging the dog there. The disciples wouldn’t have known an agenda if it smacked them between the eyes. Except Judas, of course.

And when you think about it, it’s not exactly a given to assume that we might have walked in their sandals if presented the opportunity, let alone done so more wisely or effectively. After all, they took a pretty massive leap of faith from the moment the Lord entered their lives.

Fishers of Men

When the Lord called, Simon and Andrew were fishing — and not recreationally; they were making a living. But when the Lord said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” we don’t read that they inquired as to whether one could support a family on that, or whether it was a more lucrative occupation than their current one.

Mind you, Luke does tell us that they had just witnessed a miracle that brought Simon to his knees and caused him to recognize his own sinfulness, so the Lord’s call was not without a certain amount of evidence that he was someone well worth following. But “immediately”, Matthew reports, they left their nets and followed him.

That’s something, I think.

James and John

The sons of Zebedee were not just hard at work on the job; they were in a boat with their father mending nets. Just as immediately, they left the boat — and their own dad — and they too followed the Lord.

When you consider how important it is to many modern fathers that one or more of their children continue in the family business — and how much more significant it was to family survival back when there was no social safety net — this seems quite a bold move. Supposing that Zebedee was one of the faithful Israelites of his day, after the miracle he may actually have encouraged his sons to follow Jesus.

But we have no evidence of that: for all we know, Zebedee may have been hollering Hebrew or Aramaic imprecations after his departing children and their business partners as they set off down the beach, leaving him alone with a boatful of hired men and four fewer responsible bodies to manage the business.

Or perhaps Zebedee never had much of an opportunity to voice his opinion one way or another.

Assessing the Risk

The point is that whatever their lives may have been about up to that point, in one moment each of the disciples made the rather radical decision to ditch family, income and responsibilities to follow an itinerant preacher of uncertain means.

Would you or I have done the same? Not everybody did.

A rich young ruler in search of eternal life went away in distress when he realized that, at least in his case, the cost of following the Christ was the forfeiture of all his possessions. He choked on that one.

Another disciple was told that following Jesus might cost him the opportunity to be with his family in their old age. Still another was warned that obedience might well lead him to homelessness.

No Life for Dilettantes

Freud pursued an agenda that suited his disposition. But there was very little about following Christ to suit anyone’s disposition. The evidence is that so many turned away when the going got tough. And each of the disciples who remained with the Lord paid a price for doing so.

When Peter says to the Lord, “See, we have left everything and followed you”, the implication is that it has not been without a significant cost.

So as much as, in hindsight, their spiritual insight occasionally fails to impress a modern reader, it should be evident that the disciples were no dilettantes. And they were certainly not in it for the money. They were (eleven of them, at least) genuine seekers after a truth so astounding that it was bound to take many repetitions, object lessons, patient explanations and ultimately, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to make it fully understood.

The Testimony of the Senses

John, like the rest of the disciples, followed the evidence presented to him over the three years he walked with the Lord. When he gives us his theory about the Christ, it is not, like Freud’s, a mere preconceived notion, the product of pursuing an agenda, or maudlin wish-fulfillment. He says:
“That ... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life ... we have seen it, and testify to it.”
And having seen, heard and handled, he can declare confidently that:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
That is a stunning declaration; one that we would not have apart from John, and one that, I am positive, was not evident to John when he left his father by the shores of Galilee and followed Christ.

But he followed the evidence.

Modern truth-seekers would do well to follow his example.

* Jones, Sigmund Freud, Vol. 2, p.123

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