–by Peter Law
So I have a confession to make. I don’t know everything. Shocking, I know, and very hard to admit. I’m simply unqualified to give answers to some of life’s most vexing questions. But that has never stopped me from trying. I suspect in this regard that I’m not alone.
Life is complex. All the time new questions that challenge basic held assumptions assault my basic structure for making sense of the world. These questions often feel like a threat (since they call into question the very framework I’ve set up to understand reality) so I simply ignore them or deride the person who asks them. I can use my existing world view to dismiss the questions as self-indulgent or irrelevant, all the while I’m completely blind to how my attitudes harm others. I have a heard of sacred cows and I don’t care how many people I have to destroy to protect them, I will not let them go.
My worldview helps me to construct a vision of the world that is comfortable to me and I’ve built it so well that reality can’t interfere with it. Evidence is that points in other directions can be summarily ignored without any meaningful examination or investigation. This way, I can keep the cognitive dissonance that comes from uncertainty under control.
But is this theoretical framework really what I need in order to understand reality? Can I really hope to understand poverty without knowing some poor people? How about understanding gender dysphoria if I’ve never had meaningful contact with a transgendered person? Honest investigation is hard, time consuming work, while relying on my world-view’s pre-packaged beliefs about things I’ve never experienced is so much easier. I admit, I often opt for the shortcut. I don’t have enough time to investigate everything, but in my places of ignorance, do I have the humility to say, “I don’t have enough information to make an informed judgment on that, so I’ll have to keep and open mind.”
I’m going to wager a guess that you have done this just like I have. If you say you haven’t, then you’re either a very diligent person at investigating everything, or you’re kidding yourself. In the church, we’re especially notorious for this. The Bible tells us the way things are, so we just take it at face value and dismiss all else as anti-God propaganda. The trouble is, that even when we read the bible, we’re interpreting it. The very act of figuring out what someone means from their words is an interpretive act. Sometimes it’s fairly straight forward as in, “it rained this afternoon,” but most of our communication has some ambiguity built in. When we take documents that are thousands of years old, written in languages that most of us can’t read and write in a culture that none of us are all that familiar with, the chances are that we might make mistakes in how we interpret it.
But, “The Holy Spirit will tell us what scripture means,” you might respond. Yes, the Spirit convicts and guides us, but our own prejudices, our captivation by our culture, and our ignorance can also shape our understanding. When Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV), he’s really telling us that the process of sanctification is an ongoing one. God has begun a work of remaking our minds in order that we can understand his ways, but we’re not there yet. We all have blind spots, places where the fullness of God’s truth has yet to transform our thinking. The Spirit may be telling us the truth, but sometimes we’re not interested in listening. We’ve got the truth figured out just fine without him.
Now I’m not suggesting that we can completely rid ourselves of bias and prejudice. But what I do think is incumbent upon Christians is to take a hard look at our beliefs when it comes to judging others. We’re often very keen to denounce people, to declare them outside God’s grace, at least until they become more like us. All the while, we haven’t done the hard work of looking through their eyes, and trying to understand their perspective and experiences. As Jesus enters into our experience in the incarnation, becoming a priest who has not sinned, yet sympathises with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:15) so ought we to enter the experience of others (by this, I don’t mean by sinning, but by entering into relationship with those we think of as “other”) in order that we might be God’s priests to them.