I want to share an idea that helped me on my spiritual journey.
How do we know something is true? Your source(s) for truth is your epistemology.
Here is an example: As a doctor, my sources of knowledge are medical research, then standards of practice based on the thousands of doctors who have practiced medicine, then recommendations from medical bodies, then my own experience. That is how I know what is true, my medical epistemology.
For spiritual matters, what should our epistemology be? How do we know something is true?
Here is a recent exchange with my five-year-old son Danny.
Danny: “When are we going to heaven?”
Me: “Not sure.”
Danny: “When we go, how long will we stay there?”
Danny: “Can I take some toys with me when we go?”
Like Danny, we all have spiritual questions, many of which we don’t have clarity on. How should we answer our questions?
The way we are tempted to explain the Bible: reason.
We are all strongly shaped by the age of enlightenment, summarized by René Descartes’s famous statement: “I think therefore I am.” With these words, Descartes ushered in the age of rationalism, meaning we know something is true through reason, through our thoughts, logic, or results from the laboratory. If it does not make sense in these rational mediums, it must not be true. This sounds so normal to our post-modern minds. Of course we must use reason, and not using reason to make sense of the world is a foreign concept.
The correct way to explain the Bible: faith.
But for you and I, as Christians, reason cannot be our primary spiritual epistemological authority. The Bible is our source of truth, through faith. One of my seminary professors said, “If you use reason to make sense of the Bible, you will not get far.” The Bible conveys supernatural events that cannot be explained by current knowledge. It’s like solving a puzzle by putting the pieces in a box and shaking it. That’s not the method for solving a puzzle. When we use reason to explain the Trinity, the omnipotence of God, or the miracles in the Bible, we will fall short.
Another luminary who preceded Descartes said a famous phrase, by which we as Christians must adopt. Anslem said, “I believe in order to understand.” Like Anslem, the belief in Scripture must be our primary epistemology. While we must think about what the Bible says, rational thinking cannot be our primary tool for explaining it.