On our recent east coast trip we left DC on a warm October morning heading for a Hampton Inn in Danbury CN, leading to our return flight in Boston. So I loaded the address into Waze on Sheila’s cell, those marvelous silicon chips did their work and spat out the directions, with a distance of 286 miles. I hit start and followed what it told us. I trusted Waze; she’d never led us wrong.
But Sheila had some doubts after we’d traveled about 100 miles—Waze announced just 22 miles to go. The destination, the Hampton Inn in Lancaster PA, on Greenfield Ave. Yeah, we’d stopped there on the way down, and Waze decided we should return. No idea why. It took us 50 miles out of our way on an already longish day of driving. I learned to not trust those hidden silicon chips in my phone. Live by the chip and you might get lost by the chip.
A nice metaphor for who or what do we trust, isn’t it? True, the paper map might have been more cumbersome, but we could have discovered sooner we’d lost our way. But let’s move beyond maps into the heart of life—truth. Right and wrong. Where do we find it, how can we verify it?
Philosophers call this axiology: our values and their source. Sources like parents. Society. Our bad experiences. Our good ones. Books. Our fears and hopes. For me and many others, God’s word in the Bible provides that. I grew up in church but left for three years of searching, only to find the evidence for God far exceeded all voices. The Bible makes that claim itself, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
But even so, people disagree on the Bible, so maybe we should follow Paul’s advice, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). How do we test spiritual claims about right and wrong? Here’s a brief extract from a piece I did for Christianity Today back in March 31, 2004 that gives three questions we can use.
First, does it match the entire witness of the Bible? A verse out of context is a pretext, and too many disagreements come when each “side” camps on just the verses to support their positions. We need to search all that God has to say about an issue. Yes, that takes work, but truth is that way.
Second, does it match our historical understanding? Tradition is not on a level with God’s word, and much of the entire church has missed truths at time from hanging on too tightly to what they’ve been taught. Like racism. Slavery. Salvation by works. But if a new idea seems inconsistent with historical understanding, then its proponents have the burden of proof.
Third, how important is the issue? Scripture distinguishes between matters of opinion and essential truths, like in Romans 14 and 15. How can we determine them? Ephesians 4:3-6 teaches how we build unity, or foundational truths: does it deal with the nature of the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the church as the body of Christ, eternal life, the need to make a personal decision for faith.
Fortunately, our Waze mishap just cost us 50 miles. Mishaps on biblical truth can have more serious consequences.
Kick Starting the Application
How do you determine spiritual truth? Do your desires and opinions carry more weight than God? If you think about God as Creator, what does that imply about him best knowing truth and right and wrong? As you think and pray about all this, do you need to reevaluate some of your beliefs? Will you do your best to examine all of scripture on that issue?