Thinking Well, Part 3: What Truth Are You Afraid Of?
The truth is a stubborn thing. It is true whether we believe it or not. It resists consensus; it is not impressed or intimidated by office, rank, or power; it is impervious to feelings. Agreement with others may comfort us, but it has no impact on what is true. It doesn’t matter how strongly we feel about something; the heart has no influence on the truth.
Man’s problems stem from our attempts to deny what is true. When it comes to truth, there is only one reliable source: the inspired Word of God! This is a reality mankind has chosen to reject. No matter how strenuous our denials; how committed our disagreement; how strong our feelings; we cannot change one tittle of the truth.
The title of this last installment on Thinking Well poses a question: “What truth are you afraid of?” Our first reaction might be, “That’s silly. I’m not afraid of the truth.” But have you ever stopped and thought about this question? Let’s take a closer look at the implications of this question in our lives.
We are all acquainted with cliches that express this type of thinking: ignorance is bliss; turning a blind eye; a fool’s paradise. These expressions all point to a desire to avoid the pain or the responsibility that comes with knowing the truth about a matter. We may believe we don’t think this way, but is there evidence of this thinking in our own lives? Here are a few short examples:
I discover a mole on my arm that has changed shape and is now sensitive to the touch. But I’d rather not go to the doctor. It’s a pain to setup an appointment and take time out of my day! So, it becomes something to ignore. No diagnosis is a good diagnosis. “If I ignore it, it will go away.” The danger is that the pain may subside but the cause remains and continues to do harm.
I see serious red flags in a developing relationship, yet I turn a blind eye in fear that addressing my concerns might end the relationship. I have chosen to live in blissful ignorance. When others take this approach to a matter, we say they are living in a fool’s paradise.
Often, we choose to remain uninformed or refuse to consider the truth about something to escape the pain. Not knowing allows us to not have to worry, feel responsible, or become upset over it. I know of cases where people have experienced years of pain. It is only when they could no longer manage the pain that they reluctantly heeded the pleas of a loved one to seek help. Here’s a quote from M. Scott Peck in his seminal work The Road Less Traveled discussing this very issue:
Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. When we try to circumvent the pain instead of meeting it, we must rely on strategies that cause us great harm. We deny the reality that is causing the pain. We justify not dealing with the pain with well warn phrases like “what I don’t know won’t hurt me”.…we must always hold truth…to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.
I would add that spiritual health is an ongoing process of dedication to the truth at all costs. So, I ask you: what truth are you afraid of?
Truth in a Napkin
Then another came, saying, ‘Master, look, here is your pound, which I have kept put away in a napkin. For I feared you, because you are an exacting man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ – Luke 19:20-21
Many are satisfied with what they have. A satisfaction that I believe is fueled by the fear of digging deeper. “Leave well enough alone”; “no news is good news”; “you’re just opening up a can of worms.” Some who may be well meaning tell us that digging deeper will only lead us into error. They are afraid. Are you?
The dedication to and the pursuit of the truth is a labor of love. It is the hunger that should be in each one of us. But it does take significant effort. This effort must be done carefully, patiently, and in humility. When we tremble before God’s Word, we are submitting ourselves to be corrected by it.
The servant in Luke 19 was afraid. His fear led him to be frozen in place. He earned nothing but condemnation for his fear. What truth are you willing to ignore for the sake of avoiding the pain of correction? What are you willing to do to justify a careless approach to truth?
Strategies That Cause Us Great Harm
Dr. Peck tells us that denying truth requires a strategy. I might add that the strategies we develop are complicated. We are often consciously unaware of the flaws in our thinking that are designed to keep us blissfully ignorant. Thinking well requires us to expose this faulty thinking and move beyond them. These strategies that we create are the cause of great harm to us and those we love.
People tend to seek information that confirms their beliefs rather than disproves them. Our wishes, hopes, and fears make us likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe. We are likely to weigh facts differently when those facts are personally threatening.
Motivated reasoning relies on emotion to make the decisions we desire rather than accurate evidence. It helps us find arguments in favor of what we want to believe while rejecting arguments against what we believe. Motivated reasoning can lead to forming and clinging to false beliefs despite substantial evidence to the contrary.
These two mental shortcuts are roadblocks to critical thinking. Critical thinking approaches beliefs in a skeptical and unbiased fashion. In effect, it proves all things and holds fast to what is true.
When Jesus Christ healed the man possessed with a demon, the Pharisees had to scurry around to find reasons for such a dramatic occurrence. “This fellow casts out devils, by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” The decision to condemn Him was based on emotion. That emotion was the fear that Jesus would sway the people and turn them against the religious hierarchy. Jesus offered them evidence to the contrary, evidence that was ignored.
And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? – Matthew 12: 25-26
When we fear the truth, we turn a blind eye to it. We are dedicated to maintaining that blindness. We portray the blindness as steadfastness to what was delivered to us. We demonize anyone who challenges our beliefs. The Pharisees sought to kill Jesus because He told them the truth. So, I ask again: what truth are you afraid of?
A Personal Journey
This question came to my mind in the mid 1990’s when the Worldwide Church of God was undergoing massive doctrinal changes. Everything that I believed was being challenged. I was being told that I had it all wrong. Many went as far as to categorize my beliefs as heresy. There were months of anger, resentment, and confusion. One day in a moment of clarity, I heard the words of Gamaliel ringing in my ears. You may remember the story. The high priest decided to put a stop to what the apostles were doing. The apostles were thrown into prison and then that night miraculously set free. They were preaching in the Temple courts once again when the officers seized them and brought them before the council. During the deliberation Gamaliel stood up and gave the following very sound advice:
And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God. – Acts 5: 38-39
I was particularly impressed with the last clause of verse 39… “lest you even be found to fight against God.” I did not want to be working against God. Yet, I found a reluctance in me to examine my time-honored beliefs. I feared that I would find reason to question those beliefs and maybe even have to renounce them. One day driving home from work I heard the question: “What truth are you afraid of?”
I had to ask myself: if something is true before God, don’t you want to know it? Don’t you want to right the ship and head in the direction that leads to Godly knowledge? I realized I was afraid. The fear was palpable. It had been with me all those months, yet I was acknowledging it for the first time. I was afraid of the truth. If the Law had indeed been done away with, if the Sabbath and the Holy Days had been made obsolete in Christ, why would I be afraid of that truth?
In my search for the truth, I came to reaffirm the truth I was taught! God’s Law, Sabbath, and Holy Days were still very much in effect and not obsolete at all! The Gospel that Jesus preached was the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God. This kingdom will be ruled in righteousness and truth. Not our “truth”, or our culture or our tradition. Not the “truth” that most agree on. Not the “truth” that comes from a human governing authority. But only that truth which emanates from the throne of God.
If the Church is the pillar and the ground of truth (1Tim, 3:15), and God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (2Th 2:13), why is it that so many of us resist the truth? Can we rest, content with what we know? Can we rest in the illusion of “safety” provided by what we already have? Do we not see a compelling reason to look any further?
The Conclusion of the Whole Matter
Yielding to the truth is such an important aspect of our conversions. But so is holding fast. Are you committed to what you have? I hope the answer is yes. But let me follow by asking a few questions: Have you proven what was delivered to you? Are you willing to admit when an “accepted truth” is founded more in tradition and church culture than it is on a solid scriptural foundation? Are you willing to put in the time to do the work of proving all things? I wonder how many of us never seriously considered these questions before!
What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination…A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. ― M. Scott Peck
Dr. Peck’s comments bring us full circle in our discussion of thinking well. His council with regard to stringent self-examination suggests that we are always trying to understand why we do, say, feel, and think the way we do. It suggests a willingness to root out magical thinking when we recognize it in our lives. It suggests a dedication to put aside our fears and pursue what is true regardless of the consequences. Thinking is what is targeted in the process of conversion. Conversion takes place in the mind. It is the process of changing not just what we think but changing how we think.