Absolute God

by Joel on November 24, 2004

I consider myself to be a believer in absolute truth, but my take on it is a little different than that offered by some, particulary those I might consider as more fundamentalist Christians. For me, absolute truth begins with God. For that reason, my starting point is faith rather than fact, and besides that, we don’t have all the facts.

In understanding absolute truth, as opposed to relativism, I note the following concerns.

1. The idea that every question can be resolved as an absolute truth is very questionable. Some things in life have to do with judgment and discernment more than truth: What is the proper age for emancipation? For voting? Should liquor stores be required to be closed on Sunday? Is it always improper for a Christian to see an R-rated movie? Should infants be baptized? The high school in one town where I pastored had a danceless prom because the churches had lobbied for the view that all dancing is immoral. (My own belief is that Jesus danced.) My church tried to take up the slack by sponsoring a dance ourselves at another time. Needless to say, many were displeased with us. I am unable as an absolute to prove or disprove the morality of dancing, however.

2. The Bible doesn’t say, in my opinion, that God will never tell us anything beyond what is in the Bible. God is the source of all truth and may reveal new truths as we are prepared to understand and address them. The ultimate Word of God is Jesus, not the Bible. The Bible does, however, represent the highest written authority. Christ’s examples of love and compassion cannot be overridden by what I might consider narrow culturally-bound understandings. The Bible is living only to the extent that Christ is doing and the Spirit is moving.

3. Absolute truths must sometimes be limited to ideals, such as justice, fairness, love and humility. How to carry out those ideals may often be subject to legitimate differences of opinion. The United Methodist Church supports some government intervention to promote social justice; others prefer an entirely private approach within the market system. Some people tried to present the invasion of Iraq as absolute truth, for instance. While I see opposition to terrorism as an absolute truth, how to defeat it is subject to debate. Fianlly, I don’t think the search for truth will necessarily ever answer, as a matter of good versus evil, whether capital punishment is moral.

4. Although finding truth is the ultimate goal, the search for it should be honored, even when a strong concensus emerges against the position of the truth seeker. To say that the search for truth has no value in itself dishonors God. Now I’m not talking about the extremes of adults having sex with children. I might be considering the question of homosexuality, however. For example, even if the Christian concensus remains that homosexuality is wrong, those of us pushing for acceptance of committed gay relationships might have taught the other side something about compassion and inclusion.

5. Certain truths, particularly those relating to the mystery of God, will never be fully known simply because God will preserve his sovereignty and our humility. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vigorously study theological matters. It just means we will all be relativists in so far as we fully understand God’s nature. While most truths may be knowable given access to all the facts (and we frequently don’t have all the facts), “all truth” is represented by God, whom we don’t see face to face.

6. Rigid views on absolute truth may set us up for the trap that we become so wedded to a false idea we believe to be true that we aren’t easily able to back away from it even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. Examples of such rigidity might be slavery and segregation.

7. Practices, as opposed to ideals, that are true for one culture may not be true for another. Arranged marriages might be one example of that.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Mike 11.24.04 at 4:58 pm

As always Joel, you have managed to display a written eloquence that succinctly and honestly portrays all that many of us yearn to say, but often fail to find the words to do so.

Thanks for this.

2

Richard 11.24.04 at 6:12 pm

I’d echo what Mike said.

One of the things I know for certain is that I’m wrong about some things. The trouble is, I don’t know which things. The trick is to remain willing to listen to the views of others, but at the same time living as though I’m right - otherwise nothing would get done! I wish I knew how to keep the balance.

3

timsamoff 11.24.04 at 8:14 pm

Wow. Cool. :)

4

Joel Thomas 11.25.04 at 4:23 am

Thanks to Mike, Richard and Tim for your kind and encouraging words.

5

dh 11.26.04 at 7:43 am

While I agree with on 1, 3, 5 and 7, I do not agree with you on tyhe others. I do beilieve that God speaks to us and He does it within the context of His Word. I believe that God cannot contradict His Word. I do believe that many times it may appear that God is saying something in a new way that seems outside of Scripture and in those cases we need to evaluate 1) is it truly God by way of the Holy Spirit 2) if it is it can be explained within Scripture. Could you give examples of situations where revelation is beyond the Bible? I truly don’t know of any. When I was in High School God told me to go into finance. This may appear to be outside of Scripture but many times in Scripture God told individuals there career. (Paul to be an Apostle, Priscilla and Aquilla tentmakers and so on) I also feel that while I can accept Homosexuals I cannot accept the behavior because of what the Bible says. This also goes for other behaviors that the Bible explicitly says are wrong. I can truly love the person and hate the sin. Why should we accept homosexual relationships when the Bible says that it is wrong? I still love them I just don’t condone the action. Jesus would also do this when he told people “…go and sin no more”. I will leave you with 1 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration from God and is profitable for doctrine for reprove ….. and instruction in righteousness.” I love you in the Lord. I enjoy your sight. :)

6

Joel Thomas 11.26.04 at 7:37 pm

dh,

Even within much or most of the Christian community, God has moved us beyond what the Bible has to say about the role of women in church and society, slavery, disease, the Creation, etc.

Paul encouraged folks not to marry (if they had the strength to do so) because he considered the end of the world to be imminent. Most Christians today understand a different context for “end times” than that advanced by Paul. In the last thirty years, I don’t remember any preacher giving a sermon in which he urged people to choose a life of “celibacy in singleness” over marriage and children. In fact, the church tends to look down on never-married celibate folks.

On the topic of homosexuality, I’m not convinced that the problem was same-sex relationships as much as it was engaging in sexual bheavior against one’s own nature and orientation. Thus, it would be wrong for a heterosexual person to engage in homosexual relations because that would almost certainly be about nothing other than gratification and exploitation.

Finally, I believe as a Methodist, that Scripture contains “all things necessary for salvation.” I do not believe, however, that Scripture contains all things, including truth, in their entirety.

7

dh 11.29.04 at 3:45 pm

There is a difference between encouragement and saying what is wrong. Read entire Romans 1 also Paul says that no one who commits homosexuality will enter into the kingdom of heaven. I seems that your view on homosexuality is a weak one in light of Scripture. Ones “own nature” does not include homosexuality that is why he created male and female. Although, you can be born to be tempted to be homosexual just like any other sin but we still have choices. I still love homosexuals just like God loves them I just can’t condone the behavior in any way. You may need to read 1 Timothy 3:16 again. I also don’t believe that the community has moved us past in those areas. Just because the Bible addresses slavery doesn’t mean they condonded it as well as all the other in your first paragraph. I believe in Creation, slavery is refering not only to slavery but employment, women can be pastors as long as there is a covering of a man and disease comes from sin the world not God.

8

Mikey 10.12.09 at 7:02 am

Try moving beyond the Bible and into the realm of Pan_en_theism. Then you begin to get a whole different perspective of what “absolute” means. Not just some silly person who sits in Heaven and judges according to his whims, but the absolute of all: True absoluteness.

9

Richard 10.12.09 at 7:53 am

Another old thread back from the dead. I’m glad of the opportunity to re-read it. Good stuff, Joel.

Mikey, what do you think it means to ask a *Christian* to go beyond the Bible and into panentheism?
You don’t seriously think that Christians think of God as a “person who sits in Heaven and judges according to his whims” do you?

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