A.W. Tozer often said that faith is reckoning upon reality. I love that statement as it rings true down to the depths of my soul. Faith is acting upon the truth, or we could make up our own term and say, “Truthing the truth.” If you believe something that is not true, it is not real faith; it is simply a false belief. A kid can believe in Santa Clause who lives in the North Pole working with elves and reindeer all he wants to, but it will never make Santa become more than a man with a white beard, dressed in a red suit, who works at the Department stores in the Christmas season, taking photos with kids and receiving their wish list. If we believe something falsely about God or something that simply is not true about God, then it distorts our view of God and hinders our relationship with God. In fact, it is worse than that because when we shape our beliefs about God on a lie, or something that is not true, then we are shaping God into the image of our own making, or we are forming another golden calf.
For much of my adult life, I thought what I believed about God was completely correct. I thought I understood the Bible so accurately to the point of believing that I had special revelation far superior to 99.9% of other Christians. I taught, preached, and defended my beliefs constantly. I was sincere and full of zeal, but I would later discover that I was zealously and sincerely wrong. For the past few years, I have been on a new journey, a journey of investigating and discovering the truth that has been the greatest journey of my life. Jesus is the truth, and to know the truth is to know Him. It is so very liberating to be on a new adventure with Jesus as He teaches me the truth of His Word.
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
There is an old, famous analogy that has been often used through the years to illustrate this point. Six blindfolded men who were good friends, were led to an elephant. They did not know the object to which they were being led was an elephant. They were each told to touch the object and then describe what they had experienced. The first touched the end of the trunk and said, “It is a snake.” The second felt a leg and said, “It is a tree.” The next man touched the side of the elephant and said, “It is a wall.” The fourth man touched the tail and said, “It is a rope.” The next man touched an ear and said, “It is a big fan.” The last man touched the end of the tusk and said, “It is a spear.” All six men described what they felt, what they perceived, or what they experienced. But none of them said, “It is an elephant.” The six men sat down and compared notes about what they observed, perceived and believed to be true. As the story goes, their observations were so conflicting and contradictory, they got into a heated argument and afterward were no longer friends. What they did not do was to integrate their findings. Had they collected and pooled together what each of them observed, felt, and perceived, they may have concluded that this was indeed an elephant.
In their book Transformed Thinking, authors Curtis and Brugaletta write:
While it behooves every Christian to have an accurate understanding of reality, many seem to make the mistake of the blind friends in the story, each assuming that his/her individual perspective on an issue is comprehensive and exhaustive. In order to perceive reality accurately, we must first identify all of the relevant data, including data genuinely perceived by others, and then integrate all of that data. Integration, in this case, means combining facts in such a way as to form a complete, harmonious, and coordinated concept. Integration, in other words, pulls all the facts together into an entity. It is the opposite of segregation, which in this context means the isolation of facts and then limiting one’s concept to only one or to a few of those facts. Isolation was the sort of thing the blind men did.
When we think that God is only like our past experiences or only what we have personally learned about God, then we are certainly limiting God within the realm of our personal understanding. God is much bigger than the box of what I understand about Him. Any preacher or teacher who truly believes that they know the complete truth about God and they are the sole authority concerning God’s Word is a dangerous person. Of course, there are many great and precious truths that I embrace, articulate, and defend. These are more valuable to me than great amounts of silver and gold or any treasures of this world. However, God is infinite, and I am a finite human being; therefore, I realize there is much more for me to learn about God than what I already know.
In our quest to discover and define reality, we need to understand that we acquire knowledge in four basic ways: though empiricism, reason, intuition, and faith. We should integrate all four means of obtaining truth.
Empirical learning is learning through observation and experience, usually through our five senses. It is the primary method of the sciences and constitutes a legitimate way to know the truth. This method has the advantage that we can at least theoretically repeat our observations to check their validity. On the other hand, information gained this way is somewhat tentative because it is impossible for us to observe the totality of reality, for the portion we observe might not be representative of the bigger picture. Again, like the six blind men and the elephant, some people assume that their observations and experiences are just like everybody else’s and thus provide a clear picture of just the way things are. Many people are often dogmatic, thinking that their view is the complete and correct picture of reality.
Our church is going to visit a new tourist attraction in Kentucky where a man built a full life-size replica of Noah’s ark. This could be a fantastic ministry and could possibly inspire thousands to want to study the Scriptures and come to the realization that God flooded the earth a few thousand years ago and preserved life through Noah and his family. However, I heard, but have not yet verified, that in this attraction, he has dinosaurs living 6,000 years ago. It is apparent to me that he got many of his facts right, but this belief that dinosaurs lived on the earth between the time of the Garden of Eden and the time of Noah’s ark is obviously too narrow and incorrect. Scientists know that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, and I believe that there was a previous creation that got judged between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. I have both scientific and scriptural evidence to back up my theory. I fear that this man, who had a great idea and was willing to invest millions into this awesome ministry, might do more harm than good if he further divides scientists and Christians. Again, we should be open-minded and integrate all the facts before making judgments toward defining reality.
We also know and learn things using reason, a term that describes a more orderly form of thinking. Logical thinking can often lead us to truth. There are both deductive and inductive forms of logic that thinkers use each day, maybe without being aware of it. Logic is the basis of mathematics which relieves us of having to empirically determine what 2+2 is each time we encounter the problem. In deductive logic, certain correct premises, when put together in a valid way, lead to true conclusions. We could say that all the books of the Bible are inspired and very interesting. Then we could say that the book of Nahum is a book of the Bible. Therefore, Nahum must be inspired and very interesting. This conclusion is the fruit of deductive reasoning, even if you have not read the book of Nahum.
Conversely, wrong facts can lead to wrong assumptions, even to the most logical learners. We may state that my Bible teacher is the best in the world because he has such an amazing relationship with Jesus. Then, we could hear a sermon which we don’t understand, don’t feel right about in our spirit, and which doesn’t add up logically; yet, we could conclude that this was the truth because he is the best Bible teacher and has an amazing relationship with Jesus, thus, the sermon must be true. Just because A is bigger than B, and B is bigger than C, doesn’t always mean that A is bigger than C. What if you are judging the size of planets by the way they look through a simple microscope instead of their actual size. Under this scenario, the moon looks bigger than Mars, and Mars looks bigger than Jupiter. In reality, the moon is much smaller than Mars, and Mars is much smaller than Jupiter.
A third way to perceive truth is through intuition. It is by this means that people will perceive truth by no logical or empirical reasons and draw conclusions by just simply feeling that something is right or wrong. I have often made quick decisions simply through intuition. I have heard but not verified scientifically that we have more neurons in our guts or intestines than in our brains. I often made business decisions by using a method I called, “going with my gut.” While this method of knowing or learning the truth cannot be discredited as a valid means, it is hard to prove to others with no empirical or logical argument to back up your conclusions. We may judge whether we like or dislike, trust or don’t trust someone by simple intuition, instead of taking the time to sincerely get to know the person. Frequently, this proves destructive and unwise. Sometimes when you feel that something is right or wrong, this is the Holy Spirit prompting you. However, sometimes it is the devil trying to trap you with an error in judgment. While intuition may be a great means of making good and wise decisions in life, one must be careful when making judgments based solely on intuition. We should always be prayerful and under the direction of the Holy Spirit when making decisions instead of just going with what we feel.
It is also possible to know the truth by faith or trust. Much of our education is based upon this method. We know that things are true, not because we have determined for ourselves either empirically or logically, but simply because we accept the testimony of a teacher, a parent, a scholar, or a trusted authority. This is especially true concerning history. We accept accounts of history are true, because a teacher states it to be so. The teacher believes it to be true, based upon many teachers from the past. History is often rewritten and distorted because of this system of trusting what a past authority has written.
This method of learning and knowing truth is no better than the knowledge and integrity of the authority. To put our trust in someone who is not trustworthy will lead to error and faulty knowledge. Just because a preacher or teacher of God’s Word says that something is true, that doesn’t make it true. I am consistently open to allowing God to teach me through anyone that He chooses, but am always on guard against falsehoods that can come from any human being. We should never put our complete trust in any one single person.
The only place we should put our complete faith is in the Word of God. The Holy Scriptures are inspired, inerrant, infallible, eternal, unchangeable, pure truth. The Bible, authored by God, is His gift to us to guide us so we can know and understand much about Him and His plans and purposes for our lives. There is no problem with the Bible, it is perfect and without contradiction.
However, man’s faulty interpretations of the Scriptures do present a problem. The church is deeply divided over many false and erroneous interpretations of the Word of God. Using good principles of hermeneutics joined with the leading of the Holy Spirit is the only way to approach the Bible. We can use an integrated approach of empirical learning, logic and reason, intuition and faith as we trust God to give us the true revelation of His Holy Word. God is a God that wants to reveal Himself to us, but He will not do so to the proud, or those that believe themselves to be wise and prudent in this world. God reveals Himself to the humble, the repentant and the people that are asking Him for truth, instead of always trying to prove themselves to be right.
Many Christians try to interpret the Bible based upon their experiences. For example, the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second experience, promised to all believers (but not needed to enter heaven) is a precious truth and a precious experience to me. It was one of the greatest days of my life when I received this gift from God. The experience is grounded and founded in truth and is in multiple places in the Bible. However, some believers who haven’t experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, instead of prayerfully seeking the experience, hold to a false interpretation of the Bible. They use something man created called the doctrine of cessation, which basically teaches that all gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased operating after the first apostles died. They indeed must twist and bend the Scriptures to even be able to use them in their argument, yet would rather do this than admit there may be a greater experience that God has for them than what they have previously experienced. I would hate to stand before God after spending a life time believing such nonsense. Why don’t they fast, pray and ask God to give them everything He has for them? The human heart is so full of pride that many Christians had rather prove themselves to be right instead of receiving another glorious revelation from the LORD.
If we try to understand and define reality based only on a segregated means, there is a good chance that we will get it wrong. We will say, “I believe it is a rope, instead of an elephant’s tail.” For a long season in my life, I put way too much trust in one teacher who I thought was the best authority on God’s Word in the world. I was using faith, but it was my human faith in another human’s beliefs. The Bible says that if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into a ditch. I was basically only using one person’s description, interpretation or understanding of God as a basis of my entire belief system. This proved to be a costly error in my judgment.
If faith is reckoning upon reality, even when reality is unseen or invisible, then faith is putting your trust in the invisible promises of God’s Word over and above what you are seeing, feeling, perceiving, or experiencing. This is difficult to do as it is like Peter stepping into the water because Jesus said, “Come.” Peter believed the authority of the Word of Jesus over the natural laws that told him that he would sink as soon as he stepped out of the boat. Faith is like walking from the visible world, through a door into the invisible world of God’s promises. Peter walked on water because he believed in the authority of Jesus’ words.
The Oxford Dictionary defines reality this way:
The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. A thing that is actually experienced or seen, A thing that exists in fact. The quality of being lifelike. The state or quality of having existence or substance. In Philosophy: Existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines reality like this:
The true situation that exists, the real situation, something that actually exists or happens, a real event, occurrence, situation, etc. The quality or state of being real, a real event, entity, or state of affairs, the totality of real things and events, something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily.
From my perspective, both of those definitions are formed with a temporal and natural view of life instead of an eternal and spiritual view, and I consider them to be lame and weak-minded. I like A.W. Tozer’s definition of reality the best.
That which has existence apart from any idea any mind may have of it, and which would exist if there were no mind anywhere to entertain a thought of it. That which is real has being in itself. It does not depend upon the observer for its validity.
Of course, we awaken each day to know that the world is real. We know that this world was here when we got here, and it probably will be here when we leave it behind. We experience days and nights, the four seasons, the rain and sunshine, and we realize that everything God created is real. With our five senses, we engage this real world that God created and equipped us to enjoy and experience.
But then again, by Tozer’s definition of reality, God is also real. He is real in the absolute and final sense that nothing else is. All other reality is contingent upon His. The great Reality is God, the Author of that lower and dependent reality which makes up the sum of created things, including ourselves.
God and the spiritual world are real. We can reckon upon them with as much assurance as we reckon upon the familiar world around us. Spiritual things are there, or here, inviting our attention and challenging our trust. Tozer goes on to write:
“At the root of the Christian life lies belief in the invisible. The object of the Christians faith is unseen reality.”
To bring heaven down to earth, to have the mind of Christ, or to be transformed by the renewing of our mind each day, so we can walk in the newness of life that Jesus will give us is to put our complete trust in the authority of the Word of God and to believe it over what we feel, see, observe, perceive, or experience. This is walking by faith and not by sight.
We can only define the invisible reality of God through studying and gaining understanding of the Word of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Furthermore, we should humble ourselves as a little child, because God hides Himself from the wise and the prudent. We should give as much time as we possibly can each day to the study of the Holy Scriptures and in prayer. We can learn the reality of what God is like, how He operates, and what His will is for our lives, but it will come through Him giving us the revelation.
When I reflect upon where I am today in my relationship with God and where I was just a few years ago, I conclude that the biggest difference between then and now is the fact that I use to spend my time and energy trying to defend my rightness, first to myself and then to others. Now, I spend my time and energy praying to God, asking Him to show me any and everything that I am thinking that is wrong. I pray that He will show me clearly any errors in my thinking or lies that I have unknowingly embraced. If I have a golden calf, I want to know about it, and I want it destroyed at once.
Lots of Christians never pray this way. Therefore, they will spend the rest of their lives continually defending their positions as being right. That is simply too big of a risk for me to take, because I only have one life to live and must give an account of my life to Jesus Christ when this life on earth is all said and done.
We also need to discover and understand the reality of what we are in the eyes of God. Looking at ourselves the way the devil defines us or the way the world views us is wrong for a Christian. If we are saved and ‘In Christ,’ then we need to learn what our new identity is like, and we need to see ourselves as God sees us every day instead of viewing ourselves the way the devil sees us or the way we feel about ourselves.
A true image of God and a true image of ourselves will change everything about our lives and will give us a strong faith and a victorious life as we walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I encourage you to keep learning and stay on a course toward discovering and defining reality. Faith is reckoning upon reality. Just make sure that what you are putting your trust in is the truth.