Last night I attend a presentation/book selling event featuring a Multnomah Seminary Professor and a local Buddhist monk. They have presented together on many occasions, attempting to bring people together in peace to discuss issues that matter to both of them. There wasn’t much deep substance spoken (it was only 45 minutes, after all), but one of the questions from an audience member really hit home for me, and I think it’s an important question to ponder. She asked, paraphrasing:
“I can understand mathematical truth, and I can understand scientific truth, but when you use the word “truth” to describe Jesus and faith and spiritual things, what does “truth” mean in this context?”
Talk about a million dollar question. The presenters vaguely stumbled around the question, but didn’t really answer it. It’s not their fault. It’s a huge question. But as I think about faith issues, I find myself torn between two different desires. I desire to follow evidence where it leads, and be ok with whatever conclusion the evidence leads to. But I also desire to find comfort in life, and in the spiritual conclusions that I reach. Most of the time, I don’t think both of these things are possible. As the Buddhist monk pointed out in the presentation, for fundamentalist Christians, there is a huge, unmovable piece of the discussion that simply is beyond question (the book of John, essentially). In my opinion, this unmovable object prevents the fundamentalist from following the evidence where it leads, because if it leads away from this object, either the evidence must be wrong, or some kind of faith-speak must be used to whisk it away like evidence doesn’t matter. (well…if we could really know all the answers, we wouldn’t need faith, and we obviously need faith, therefore it must not matter much if we can prove things).
But on the comfort side, faith, even if it’s unbelievable, provides really pleasing answers. Faith tells me what I want to hear, and asks me to quit worrying about whether or not it all makes sense, because I can live my day-to-day life without worrying that my brain might turn off one day and never come back. Heaven, eternity, these sorts of things.
So what is a person to do? Some have chosen to pursue the evidence, in all its gritty little details, exposing exegetical truths that don’t matter to most people. For these people, every single truth matters, and either supports the person’s faith, or supports their reasons for rejecting it. Others decide the truth of the matter isn’t as important as the ability to let go of the need to solve the puzzle. For them, the embrace of forgiveness and eternity is reward enough, and it includes the promise of even more after death.
So does it matter what’s true? And if it matters, should unmovable objects be allowed to exist? And if the truth doesn’t matter, would it be so hard just to say so?