William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Human Tendency To Rely Upon Scripture Or Prophets As Inerrant

The question was put: "My meetings with my neighbor continue, and I am absolutely blown away with how respectful he has been of our differences of belief. One phrase that he used regularly and that I have heard many time concerns me though. You could summarize this stand as, 'No I will not pray to God to know the truth; The Bible IS the word of God and so only my ability to align what you say with the Bible determines what is true.' When was God replaced by the Bible? I see this as a graven image, where God is literally standing there waiting to speak to his children, and like the Pharisees and Sadducees, THE LAW has become preeminent above God himself, while in this case it is 'The Word.' The parallels are striking IMHO."

To which I responded:
While this is a keen observation, what it really highlights is the human tendency to want a simple answer to what are in effect very complex questions. Whether you are a fundamentalist evangelical Christian who believes that the Bible is the inerrant and complete word of God, or whether you are a conservative LDS member who believes that a Church President's sermons are the inerrant word of God which must be followed without exception or question, you have something in common: you are looking for a simple answer about how to know the truth. History has taught us that theology is not an exact science, that people's acceptance of various theological doctrines depends largely upon subjectively-chosen methodologies and assumptions, and that for millenia, reasonable minds have disagreed over such fundamental questions as the existence of God, etc. Attractive as it might seem to be able to solve all of life's questions by an appeal to canonized scripture, or by reliance upon the words of an imperfect human being (even a prophet) who has his own fears, prejudices, ignorance, motives, and weaknesses, we must accept that the discernment of truth is not, and likely never will be, so simple.

For my part, I see no reason to assume that the Bible (or any other canonized scripture) is either inerrant or complete. Nor do I see any evidence to suggest that purported prophetic utterances are the inerrant word of God. God commands us to pray, study, and ponder for a reason; only by being forced to grapple with uncertainty and imperfect evidence will our spirits, intellect, and faith mature. Sure, we will necessarily make some mistakes and poor choices as a result, but we will grow more. God generally does not spoon-feed us the truth. He commands us to study things out in our minds. Even when we have done so, our ability to obtain revelation may be hindered to some degree by our continued ignorance and the unavailability of information. I believe that is why God give us wisdom "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." There are truths that we will never grasp until our minds are sufficiently prepared.

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