I’ve been involved in many religious discussions over the years. Sometimes I’ve started them. Just to prove a point or impress people with what I know. But winning an argument and leading others to the Truth are two very different things.
No one wants to be considered ignorant. Or unknowledgeable. Untaught or unlearned. So most of us set out to prove to others just how much we know. And most of our churches and Sunday School classes promote such attitudes. We sit and listen, and are told to go and proclaim. Take it in, speak it out. Learn it by rote, tell it by formula.
We are right. They are wrong.
We usually listen. But we usually listen very selectively. We listen to those we have decided are right, or those we have been told are right. But we certainly never listen to those whom we have been told or believe are wrong. They might influence us, and cause us to believe wrong things. Before we influence them and cause them to do right things.
Of course, everyone can’t be right. And there are those who will influence others to do wrong. And there are folks who teach error, either intentionally or ignorantly.
So what are we to do? To whom are we to listen? How are we to know the truth?
I make the following suggestions, and invite your comments, toward learning and living the truth:
First, there must be a genuine desire to know and do the truth, as opposed to knowing and doing what we have been taught is the truth. The Jews of Jesus’ day crucified him while believing and doing what the religious leaders urged. But Jesus promised that those who really want to know the truth would, in fact, know it. (John 7:17) Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would, in Jesus’ physical absence, lead people to know truth and righteousness. (John 16:8-11)
Judge righteous judgment. (John 7:24) That is, don’t think or do something just because someone tries to convince you it is right. Jesus challenged people to use reason and judgment, and – while sincerely seeking to know the truth rather than justify beliefs and actions – examine the thing themselves.
Examine the results. (Matthew 7:17,18) We can’t determine how others respond to us, but we can determine how we respond to others. And if our beliefs or actions produce tension, anger, bitterness, anxiety, harshness, or similar things in us, we should examine them closely. No matter how others act, right thoughts and actions produce peace and quietness in us. See Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22,23.
Jesus, of course, demonstrates and embodies each of these principles. And because he is such an example, we can then examine his teaching to learn even more about what he taught about the Truth. Through his teaching, we learn that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor – and we add these to our principles for knowing Truth. And ultimately, we come to realize that Jesus Christ is God among men, that he came to show us Truth and Life, and that to know Him is to know God, to know Truth, and to have Life. But sometimes, to come to really know him is to let go of things we have been taught, to realize how little we actually know, to plead our ignorance, and to start fresh with only a desire to actually know him. Perhaps in our knowing about him, we’ve lost sight of really knowing him.
Perhaps the best place to start is in confessing our ignorance.