“When God opens our eyes (2 Cor. 4:6) and grants us the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25), through the Scriptures (1 Sam. 3:21), we know that we have met ultimate reality. – John Piper (A Peculiar Glory, 19)
What is reality?
That’s a question many would feel belongs in a classroom instead of the pew. It might be seen as redundant because everyone knows what reality is, right? It consists of what is right in front of us. It’s self-evident and doesn’t need abstraction or a lengthy explanation, or questions in order to be discovered. However, based on Scripture, we see this is not the case. According to 2 Corinthians 4:4, the world is “blinded” by Satan; people are kept from seeing the light of the gospel.
If the gospel is about a historical Jesus, who was both God and man, and who died a death for sin that a real Adam brought into the world (Rom. 5:12), and people are not believing or receiving that message…well, think about it. It means they are not seeing themselves for who they are as sinners, and God for who He is for us as Savior and Lord. We by nature are out of touch with reality. We are missing a piece of the story of the world- the most important piece, the most important news ever.
Now, let’s go back to this first question:
The answer to the opening question is not as simple as you might think. Consider these words from the philosopher P.F. Strawson in his book Analysis and Metaphysics
So what is involved in the notion of sense perception yielding true judgements about an objective spatio-temporal world? Of course, in asking this question, it is not implied that sense-perception always yields true judgements. We can, and do, misperceive, make mistakes. But it is certainly a feature of our ordinary scheme of thought that sense perception is taken to yield judgements which are generally or usually true. Remember that in thinking of the world as objective, we are thinking of it as being the way it is independently of any particular judgement about it; the truth of the judgement, if it is true, consists in its conformity to the way things are in the world. (60, emphasis added)
What Strawson is getting at here is that although your senses can help you understand true things about the world you are observing- although you are at the same time in the world and having an experience of it- that does not guarantee that everything you perceive is true. Your senses, like your heart (Jer. 17:9), can deceive you. It is important at this point to mention that you are a fallen human being observing a fallen world. There is beauty in it still, just as you are made in God’s image while still being a sinner, but that beauty is tainted and your Image is distorted. You are not guaranteed that what you observe is what is there- whether that’s through intuition, sight, smelling, or any of your other senses. The mind and heart that processes those senses is imperfect, and the ship is guided by a small rudder that loves sin instead of God.
Taking things a step further, Bertrand Russell in his book The Problems of Philosophy speaks of two types of knowledge: knowledge by acquaintance, and knowledge by description.
By knowledge of acquaintance he means, “anything of which we are directly aware, without the intermediary of any process of interference or knowledge of truths. (46).” So, you can see light and the sun and know that you are seeing the sun giving out light to see what is around you. You do not need any description of how light works in order to see it with your eyes. There is no truth needing to be explained for you to see this light. But, as you are acquainted with this light, you can from there learn things about it. On the other hand, knowledge by description here refers to statements that involve more details to help us understand specific realities. His example is, “‘ a man’ is an ambiguous description, and ‘the man with the iron mask’ is a definite description. (52)”
When it comes to who God is, we in one sense are acquainted with Him through nature, and in seeing His power and beauty displayed, but are not acquainted with Him as Savior and Lord until we are given His description in Christ. We can see the works of God displayed with our senses. But, when it comes to the truths of Scripture and the meaning of the gospel, we are not by ourselves capable of becoming acquainted with it, and seeing it for all that it is, without God first giving us the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Until we come to believe the gospel, we are only acquainted with God in a general sense; we only know Him as Creator, but we do not know Him truly until He is described to us in Christ. We are out of alignment with reality until this happens. Our thinking is out of sync with where everything is. The Fall affects everything, and we often try and shield ourselves from it.
As Christians, we understand that we live in a created universe where everything in existence has a meaning and a purpose directed under the sovereignty of God (Prov. 16:1-4). We are able to understand that our suffering cannot be fully explained in this life (Job 38-40), but as Christians we also know that nothing can enter our lives that will destroy us, or keep us from the love of Christ and all of the good purposes intended for us (Rom: 8:28ff). We do not have a house on the sand, but a house on the rock (Matt. 7:24-27)- we have security in our Shepherd (John 10), an anchor for the soul (Heb. 6).
In your thinking you can relate things back to God and Scripture- you know the “ultimate” reality, the ultimate truth, and are not left to wallow in despair to be taken by the wind of varying beliefs (Col. 2), or be deceived by plausible philosophies. But, consider this Christian: what does your neighbor have to stand on? What can they do with their guilt? How can they know what a right decision is? Where do they go when they desire knowledge? What roof is over their heads?
Francis Schaeffer in his book The God Who Is There writes
The more logical a man who holds a non-Christian position is to his own presuppositions, the further he is from the real world; and the nearer he is to the real world, the more illogical he is to his presuppositions (The God Who Is There, 133-134).
We need to reach people with the truth by listening to them and discovering where their own presuppositions go; we should gently push them to seeing that what they believe does not align with the way the world is. We could demonstrate this by showing there is an explanation for their guilt, and the Bible says this is the conscience and God’s law at work in us (Rom. 2). We could point to the order and form of the universe to show that it is being held together by a Personal Creator, and Scripture mentions God sustaining everything by the word of His power (Col. 1; Heb. 1). The unbeliever lives in a Christian universe- the only universe that exists. This means they are on our playground, and we need only to describe the playground to them that they are observing each day.
Further on, Schaeffer writes,
At the point of tension the person is not in a place of consistency in his system, and the roof is built as a protection against the blows of the real world, both internal and external…Taking the roof off involves showing man his need. His need is addressed in the Scriptures which show his lostness and the answer found in the person of Jesus Christ…but we must allow the person to undergo this experience so that he may realize his system has no answer to the crucial questions of life. He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is; and then we can talk to him about the storm of God’s judgment. (The God Who Is There, 140-141).
Perhaps I will write more another day. If you’d like a related post, feel free to check this out.
Go out- listen well, struggle well, and describe to others the Savior you are now acquainted with.