TLDR: 1. How can we get an honest evaluation of our opinions (especially our opinions of ourselves)? 2. God the Holy Spirit enables us to view things (and ourselves) rightly.
Have you ever been wrong?
It is a legit question, because it is becoming extremely rare to hear someone admit, “I could be wrong, but here is what I think…”.
More and more people just spout declarative statements with no apparent consideration at all that they could possibly be wrong about something.
Think about a time when you realized your belief was incorrect.
What did it feel like to realize you were mistaken?
How do we come to realize we have a mistaken belief? Is this an act of the will? How can it be? We are learning something that goes against our will.
What or who lets the contrary facts into our mind? I have seen that changes of mind are almost always unwanted.
The philosophy of ‘knowing’ is called epistemology.
The Stanford Encyclopedia has an excellent article on epistemology and defines Knowledge as “justified true belief”.
My use of the word “opinion” above is “belief” in their article. The various epistemologies outlined in the article center on the evaluation of the truthfulness and justifiedness of these beliefs.
Likewise, I have used a similar approach in my series of “No Such Thing as Blind Faith” posts.
But this post diverges from an analysis of epistemology and explores the phenomenon of opening your mind to the possibility that YOU might be mistaken. That your belief might be false in actuality.
You might be familiar with prominent skeptics like Peter Boghossian who use epistemology to argue against religious belief. I’m arguing that epistemology cuts both ways. And I’d like you to explore how it feels to change your mind.
It is built into the Christian world view that the reliability of our faculties is compromised.
I believe the Bible contains a few exceptions. This is controversial, so those with opposing viewpoints, I welcome your dialog in the comments.
My church body teaches total depravity not just of behavior but also of our perceptual faculties. Because of this, many of my friends take a presuppositional approach to apologetics, claiming that “there really are no atheists” but only those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18 and 21).
I believe in total depravity, but I propose that the depravity exists not in our perceptions, but in our depraved desire to act on the truth of our perceptions. We may discover a true belief about the world or ourselves, but we are unable to fully bring our behavior or our beliefs in line with that truth. More on this later.
The support for the truthfulness of our perceptions comes in the very next verse in Romans.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them [mankind], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [Romans 1:19-20 ESV, emphasis added]
With the above I wish to emphasize that clear perception of the world around us is a gift of God. He is showing us that we can rely to some degree on our senses to form Justified True Beliefs (Knowledge) about the “things that have been made”.
Back to the feeling of being wrong and changing one’s mind.
That strange and externally-powered “uh-oh” feeling should become more and more familiar to us as we age.
I like the word conviction for these discovered truths. A conviction is imposed upon the convict. It is an externally-sourced internal judgement that one cannot help but act upon. Your convictions become your world view, and they are very difficult (often painful) to change.
One of the deepest convictions that is stubbornly difficult to change is the conviction:
“I am basically a good guy. Sure I make mistakes, but who doesn’t. We are all deep down inherently good and don’t really deserve punishment for the wrongs we have done. I mean, there are always external causes for the bad we have done. Right?”
Sorry to knock you off your horse, but you might be wrong about that.
10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12 ESV]
Whoa! That’s tough to accept!
But is it? Forget about everyone else. Ask YOURSELF if YOU are righteous. Do YOU understand? Do YOU seek God? or have YOU turned aside? Do YOU always do good?
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus in Matthew 5:48
Do you feel that familiar irritating tension? Namely, “I may be wrong about being a good person”.
Perhaps, you are distressed by the Law, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Good. You should be distressed by the Law.
That is a major mistake people (you?) make about Christianity. It is not a moral code. It does not teach that you can work your way to God.
There is no way to be perfect if we are fallen.
Christians talk incessantly about the Gospel (which means good news). Or, at least they should be talking incessantly about it.
What is the good news? Jesus fixed this impossible situation.
“If you would be perfect,… come, follow me.” Jesus in Matthew 19:21
Bold claim. And an evil claim if Jesus was a mere mortal man.
I don’t want you to mistake the purpose of this post. I’m not asking at this point for you to “trust Jesus”, believe the Gospel, etc. Although if you did, I’d be thrilled.
I am asking you merely to consider the possibility that you might be mistaken about what you believe.
Just crack the door on your heart. If there’s light out there it will come in. If not, it won’t.
I believe there is light on the outside of your dark heart.
The Holy Spirit’s Role
Jesus, when he was wrapping up his ministry with his disciples discussed what would happen next. He knew he was going to die, rise, and then go away (ascend) to Heaven. He shared that he would send the Holy Spirit back for a very specific purpose:
7 …I will send him [the Holy Spirit] to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” [John 16:7-8 ESV emphasis added]
Once again, we see an external source for our Justified True Beliefs (Knowledge). Only this time it is not merely beliefs about the external world. This counselor will convict us regarding our distorted self-esteem. We will be given new convictions externally applied that tell us we are broken and in need of fixing.
That’s why I am focusing on this feeling that we might be wrong about our deepest beliefs.
If you feel like you might be wrong about YOUR view of your own goodness, this is God speaking to you. Let that light in, even if it hurts.
C. S. Lewis relentlessly resisted admitting that he was wrong. But as with all externally-imposed realizations, the fact that he was wrong was involuntary. It was a conviction. It was light that burned his heart and began to soften it. It was a gift of God.
This is a reliable progression.
There are three uses of the Law:
We are all familiar of the law behaving as a curb. These are the “don’t’s”. And unfortunately, most people stop there. They think that this sums up all of Christianity. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t have any fun! If it tastes good, spit it out!” (Oh, that last one was not Christianity; that was my doctor.)
But the second use of the law is how the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives, uninvited.
The Mirror is God’s gift of self-awareness.
The Mirror of the Law says you are “not good”. We hate this, naturally. But we also know this to be true because of the Spirit of God working in our very own consciences.
The spirit’s desire is to bring us to the foot of the cross, with an attitude like David in Psalm 32.
And Paul in Romans 7 “Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The curb leads us to the mirror. The mirror leads us to the Cross. And God the Father sees us through the window of the Cross. Our imperfections do not get though because of Jesus role in cleansing us from all unrighteousness. We are made perfect in God’s eyes because he sees Jesus’ holiness when he looks at us.
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. [Isaiah 1:18 ESV]
Jordan Peterson understands the curb and the mirror very well. This is painfully clear in his latest video where he wrestles with the question, “Do you, Jordan, believe in God?”
Like Jacob, wrestling with God, Jordan wrestles with all he has. He’s familiar with the mirror that tells him he falls desperately short. And he is left dumbfounded at the audacity of one claiming to believe in God.
But there is one more piece to the puzzle that I wish desperately for him to discover. He says we can’t know because we are separated from eternity by the veil of death. WHO KNOWS?! he asks.
THAT is why Jesus came, why he died, and why he rose.
He is not just a moral teacher. He is the champion over death and can heal our epistemic blindness.
Jesus pleads, “28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30 ESV]
I have great respect for Jordan Peterson. If you know him, please pass this along.
P.S. The Guide use of the Law turns the law into a positive tool for action. The Curb says, “do not lie”, and the Guide says, “tell the truth”.