Tag Archives: Subjectivity

God’s People, part 67: Beholder’s Eye

Read 1 Kings 1-2; 1 Chronicles 28-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” (Proverbs 23:23 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

PerspectivePart 67: Beholder’s Eye. There is an old adage that says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I would argue that so is history and any other form of knowledge. We as humans, especially in Western Civilization, tend to compartmentalize things. If it is right-brained, artistic, creative, and aesthetic in nature, it must be subjective; however, if it is left-brained, logical, scientific, historical, and fact-based, it must be objective. I believe that this reasoning is no more than a false dichotomy and that such fallacious thinking gives us an excuse to not deal with true human complexity. The world is seldom, if ever, so simple.

Just as it is true that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so it is true that history, science, and other such disciplines are as well. Yes, there are facts, there are scientific laws that never change and there are subjects can only be seen in black and white (such as mathematics); however, how we interpret those laws, those facts, and even (in some cases) numbers, can often lead us to wildly different conclusions. It is also important to acknowledge that we can use facts in ways that support our conclusions, and we can skip over facts to not muddy the water in the well of our conclusions.

As a philosopher, I have long concluded that while facts must be true, the truth need not be factual. For instance, Jesus told the story about the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Parables are, by nature, not factual. They did not ACTUALLY happen. We could, possibly, imagine them happening. They may not be far-fetched; however, they did not actually happen. They are not factual, historical accounts. With that said, they convey THE TRUTH and through them, we are hopefully enlightened to a whole new way of thinking and living.

Yet, a fact cannot be a fact if it is not true. That is a simple, yet solid maxim. Unfortunately, we conflate the two realities and often resort to thinking that if something is not factual, then it must not be true. When we look at the Bible as a history, and parts of the Bible are recording history, we often measure its veracity by adding up the facts.

In the case of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, we often see two sets of accounts (one set in 1 & 2 Kings and the other set in 1 & 2 Chronicles) that tell the same basic story, yet the facts are different. The author of one might have written more favorably about, let’s say, David, than the other might have. From a 21st century stand point, the contradictions might cause some to put up red flags indicating that this account might not have happened because there are apparent contradictions; yet, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, both accounts could be true despite the contradictions.

What’s more, just because a text is written against another nation, does not mean that the other nation was all-evil in God’s sight. We have to remember that history is written in the beholder’s eye and that history is most often written by those who come out on top as the victors. Just because the Northern Kingdom of Israel is listed as a wayward Kingdom does not mean that they were all that the kings and scribes in Judah hyped them up to be. There may be facts in there; however, those facts get presented to us through the lenses of those writing them. This makes the truth hard to discern without grace, but it does not cancel the truth out.

This is an important lesson to learn, not only for studying the Bible, but for all things. Do we judge others based off what one side says about the other? Do we judge other nations based off what the leaders in our nation have to say about “them over there”? It is time for us to challenge ourselves from seeing the world in such a “true or false” way, for none of us truly live “true or false” lives. We all live in the “not sure” zone, as it were. Let us learn to be careful in our interpretation of facts. Let us be cautious in not just discarding potential truth because the facts don’t seem to line up. Let us also remember that, at the end of the day, God’s grace is what is ULTIMATELY TRUE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
While fact is dependent on truth, the truth is not dependent on fact.

PRAYER
Lord, let me seek you and your wisdom out so that I may be more humble in my quest for truth. Steer me from making rash judgments. Amen.

Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnowIn the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.