Where do I look for God's message?

Adam responded to my earlier reply to his question on Why doesn't God give us proof? with this dear, sincere, yet anguished response. His words are in bold and mine are in 'regular.'
Dear Glenn.

No one has ever before given me any kind of a non question-begging, non issue-evading, non circular reasoning type of answer to my question about why God does not give us proof. You were the only one to not only be sincere and dialectically (or syllogistically, or whatever word it is I'm trying to find) correct but also the only one to clarify (actually, to even make me aware of) the difference between epistemic and psychological certainty.

I realize now (from reading your response, from "Looking at the Linguistic Wall" and from the Self-Stultifying Arguments) that the kind of certainty I wish to get is impossible for me to receive and have any use of while maintaining an unaltered sensory system. I suppose I still prefer to have communion with God now the way I will in Heaven (therefore, after death, in a "resurrection body"), rather than the kind of communion and communication available for me now (did I just adopt a rude, inconsiderate and unappreciating attitude toward the provision of my God?); but, since this is impossible for the reasons found in the works referred to above, I suppose the only way for my wish to be fulfilled would be to die immediately after "conversion". And yet, God has reserved for me so much extra fun stuff to do here on earth, on top of eternal life in Heaven.

I am not sure I would go that far in characterizing your response(!), but I have been pondering the relative 'undervaluation' we often assign to this present mode of experience of God. I find it odd that the only MAJOR thing "missing" is some sort of pre-semantic visual sense data. When I think about this, this is such a tiny, tiny piece of our meaningful experience anyway. The vast majority of my personal contacts in life I only see a small % of the time that I consider to be 'in personal relationship'.

The other MAJOR piece that is somewhat missing, is the real-time AUDIBLE piece, although the way the Bible functions in my life approximates the communicative aspect of that, and when correlated with providential structures of my life, often manifests an almost- 'real time' character. I do a tremendous amount of personal interaction with many, many people via non-spoken language--chiefly email, so even the audible piece is not a huge component of my experience of other people.

The linguistic-based (e.g. bible) and pattern-oriented (e.g. providence) experiences I enjoy of my Lord are deeply meaningful, and although they often "invoke" a low-level, para-mystical experience, they are vastly more constitutive of our relationship than are the intuition/mystical perceptions I get of the Awesome One during high-quality worship situations (e.g. overpowering hymns or community prayer).

I have often wondered how overpowering the presence of the Lord was or WAS NOT to pre-Fall Adam...I suspect that the relationship was characterized more by a 'holy casualness' than by a volitionally-violent numinous-type experience of some "Holy Terror" or some such! Respect and a noble demeanor would have been present, no doubt, but not radically different that the 'cautious and self-conscious familiarity' that many of us experience in prayer today.

I DO expect the character, quality, and intensity of the experience-part of the relationship (not the relationship itself) to change/escalate at the eschaton, but at the same time, I must treasure the grace-based "common-ness" of this one-to-one interaction with the God of the Universe now. (This is completely apart from the epistemological mystery of how in the world He can manifest Himself so vividly in the lives of believers, and still remain virtually 'hidden' to others--an incredible and incredibly complex subject.)

I also realize now that the impossibility of the realization of my wish (that is, my wish for certainty of the existence of God and of life after death) need not be of a mathematical nature (in fact it cannot be) for me to know that Jesus and the claims about him CANNOT BUT BE true.

So now I would like to ask you: What do I do now in order to eventually develop the psychological certainty I need? I know you mentioned the Bible as one possible source of divinely proscribed information (God's "family history"); you also mentioned the need Christians have of one another, of community; and you also mentioned the need on my part to wait for the development of confidence (psycho-certainty) as I live the Christian life and follow Jesus, and as I progressively begin to identify his work, love and presense being more and more tangible as opposed to just beautiful concepts.

Before we get into the details of your question, let me just sketch out my position just a bit.

My basic point is that psycho-certainty is progressive and derives exclusively through interaction. Cf . Heb 5:14: But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

This is true in ANY area. The more I interact with scientific data via a theory, the more vivid and psycho-certain the relationship between the data and the theory becomes (i.e. confirmation or falsification become more obvious the more and more tests I perform). The more I interact with my kids, the more I have a certainty of what they are like. The more I interact with a text (sacred or otherwise), the more psycho-certain I will become of my understanding of the author's intent/message.

Psycho-certainty is a spectrum thing--not a 'yes' or 'no'. You have a certain degree of it, seeking more. I have a certain degree of it, also seeking more. If I stop consciously interacting with God in my life, my epistemic vividness of Him will fade (just like my memories of childhood friends have faded due to lack of interaction with them/those memories.)

Interaction with God--at a cognitive level--for me essentially means several things.

  1. to address Him verbally in I-to-Thou contexts (as opposed to think ABOUT GOD, in "I-Him" contexts exclusively). I do this CONSTANTLY--often audibly when alone-- but generally in my mind (sometimes, I literally address the interior Holy Spirit by one of His biblical titles--"Counselor..").
  2. Look for His patterns around you (the model of the invisible roommate). Look for the odd coincidences, odd timings, odd little things you all of a sudden 'noticed' for the first time. Look for the big picture trends--how have you changed over the last 5 years (compare your journals--if you keep one; ask your friends and family how THEY think you have changed in the last 3 years, etc)...Look for His fingerprints in the major structures of your life. Ask Him to help you see these patterns--they are NOT semantic nor composite, but will require gestalt like perception (a la the Wall).
  3. Face Him in the Word--override the cognitive filters you have toward it, by simple over-exposure. Read the epistle of I Thess 20 times straight in one sitting--it will blow you away! The power somehow coded into the biblical documents (esp. the NT dox) can 'break through' our cognitive defenses, in a similar fashion to how scientific or experiential data can break through our paradigms/grids IF WE INTERACT with the data over and over and over and over. Sometimes it just 'breaks through'. Data is NOT passive in the universe; it somehow has dialogical power. The Word has extra power in our lives (due to the fact that our 'receptor facilities' are permeated somehow with an epistemically-active personal agent--the Holy Spirit--I Cor 2.10ff).
  4. Actively look for elements of His character in others--believers and non-believers. As we penetrate the veil of the ambiguity of people's lives, and deliberately look for the 'best' in someone, we come face to face with aspects of God's character--according to 2 Cor 3.18 NAS.

Anyway, you probably get the picture. It is NOT an issue of study, arguments, logic, or sense experiences--it is a matter of long sequences of tiny interactions with a person that create this psycho-certainty. This is not the 'Big experiences' of mysticism, but the day-to-day life with an invisible Roommate.

Now, on to your questions...

Certain obstacles inhibit me from using the above-mentioned mechanisms, so I would like to ask your advice.

1) I think that I have identified certain elements which might demonstrate that certain passages in the Bible are definitely not divinely inspired because they are unfulfilled prophesy (whether literally or figuratively approached with regard to interpretation). Other passages seem to be clearly unethical. I may well be wrong on those counts, and I know that I haven't explained precisely what passages I have in mind and what my reasons are for rejecting them.

Two main points here:

  1. If the passages are HUGELY problematic for you (in your conscience or spirit), then do the following:

  2. If the passages are only mildly 'irritating,' give them the 'benefit of the doubt' and do the above cycle compressed into 6 weeks or so.

  3. A couple of other points to remember:

    Practically speaking, I have learned over the years that number One above is not the case...;>)

    [And philosophically speaking, it is probably self-stultifying to create a proposition that "The Agent that defines BY HIS ACTIONS the term 'good' does an ACTION that is not 'good'". This is probably a logical contradiction.]

    I have found SOME cases of number two, although if my conscience is seriously disturbed by my understanding, I have learned to fall back to number three. If the God-given and progressively-rebuilt conscience I have now SCREAMS out inside me with grief or distress over some understanding I have of a passage, that is a strong indication to me that I have obviously misunderstood the passage. In these situations, I suspend judgment on the passage, and treat it as I do very difficult passages (above).

    I have experienced situations where I have absolutized a culturally relative moral dictum, and experienced a conflict within my conscience, but I have learned to detect this situation very quickly.

    So, in these cases--even more so than the prophecy ones--we must be very careful, and humbly patient and/or temporarily agnostic, about some passages. (Although I have found that God is eager to calm our hearts when we approach Him with a good-spirit and with a trusting heart.)

2) Other passages, we really cannot be certain that were divinely inspired (but we cannot be certain of the opposite either).

This situation needs to be seen in a historical perspective. We need to realize that we have no monopoly on discernment, and that a certain historical humility is in order.

When we come to faith, we step into a historical process of salvation history. We become part of a community of people, spanning all of time. We inherit the work and fruits of others, and we try to add a little ourselves. We 'wake up' within a community or tradition, and we inherit their research, their thinking, their community understanding of how God created the community and how He deals with the community.

We do not have to re-invent the wheel.

We 'wake up' with a canon already. Over the centuries and millennia, the church has argued and worked through discerning the formative revelation of God. The church of the 1st millennium was driven by the Spirit's actions in history to public identify those works that created it, that kept it alive during its birth, that fed it through the attempted infanticide by the world.

We inherit the fruit of that analysis, that argumentation, that discussion. We 'start with' the presumption that the book delivered into our hands represents the COMMUNITY-recognized (and therefore, less subjective than only LEADER-recognized!) Word of God.

What this means practically, is that we should NOT start with a 'assume each verse is NOT the recorded message of God, and therefore re-do all of the labors of the early saints' but RATHER with 'assume each traditional verse IS the recorded word, unless there are extremely strong and compelling arguments that the global church, closest to the facts and events, was wrong.'

Again, this amounts to a certain humility in this regard. We should give the benefit of the doubt to the books held in common by ALL the branches of the early church.

[Just for the record, I am writing an extensive piece on the canon--so some of the more obvious issues associated with that I cannot go into here.]

Now, the above comments applied to whole books, but YOUR question MAY have been related to 'textual' criticism proper. The bible that we have today has already been sifted through by solid text critics for a long time. Disputed passages are generally so marked, and good discussions about them can be easily found in commentaries and textbooks. But, as in the case of the canon itself, we should NOT doubt verses WITHOUT historical/textual/literary evidence that warrants such a doubt. If we don't understand a verse, or think it unworthy of our Lord, this is no reason to doubt the verse, but rather a reason to doubt our understanding of the verse.

And, obviously, we should not construct our worldview on the basis of those few texts with a high number of 'substantive' textual variants (nor even on the basis of single texts without variants--you are on much safer ground to argue from patterns of verses to beliefs).

So, regarding which passages are the word of God and which are not, how do I study? How do I avoid the trap of looking for calculus type of certainties? How do I avoid the other extreme, the trap in which people fall when they just "pray that the Spirit will enlighten them", and then they proceed to believe whatever it is they say the Spirit told them (no matter how inaccurate at times)?

I think I sorta gave my approach to the first question above--DON'T try to be a textual critic. Use a modern bible that notes any highly-debatable textual passages, and avoid taking strong positions on/from those texts.

One thing to be careful of here. You will find a lot of 'soft arguments' that this or that passage was 'inserted by the early church' or 'made up by the gospel writer'. But these are nothing more than speculations (although sometimes well-sounding) The HARD DATA is the ancient textual manuscripts we have dug up. All theories about some 'originals' that we DO NOT HAVE, is just that--THEORY. The more reasonable approach is to bank on what history/archeology has demonstrated WAS the text used by the young church.

Remember also, that it takes MUCH MORE DATA to support a position that a passage was 'added' to the text (in the absence of ANY textual or archeological data available to support that), and this is what renders most of the 'emendation' approaches so questionable.

Now, as for the 'extremes'...The way to avoid the extremes is to avoid the extremes! As you recognize in your terminology, these are extremes on a continuum. In between the two is the spread of 'psycho-certainty'. As you study passages, in some cases you simply say "I don't know"--"I dont have a clue what this means". Go on to the passages that are understandable. God WILL teach you over time, but it will NOT come through some mystical voice. The Holy Spirit speaks to us from within in OUR OWN IDIOM. We cannot often detect a difference between our renewed spirits and His Spirit in us--we are so closely joined in our agencies and faculties.

We will get progressive clarity, and in many cases progressive 'rebuttal' to our positions(!)--and this understanding will come through dialogical interaction with the biblical material. But if we are honest with the truth we have TODAY (and can understand and apply in good conscience TODAY), He will reveal more for us to work with (cf. Luke 12.48).

I've been a Bible student for the last 10 years, so I have an idea of schools of theological and philosophical thought, bibliographies (but certainly not as extensive a knowledge as yours, so please, keep the bibliography suggestions coming whenever you think they are in order). However, I need to study the word of God AS SUCH: the word of my loving Father; not necessarily and exclusively something I'll have to write a dissertation on. But in order to do that, I'll have to identify which the divinely inspired parts are; but I also need the Spirit's help on that; but charismatics, spiritualists, Mormons, David Koresh and the like have also said (and BELIEVED) that they were divinely guided/appointed/inspired. How do I sort out what's genuine from what's not?

A couple of comments here:

How do I make sure that my bias, wishful thinking, "sinful nature" (whatever) doesn't make me blinded (doesn't inhibit my discernment)?

There are several considerations here:

All in all, the best approach is to (1) trust the Lord's "engineering" of both you and the situation; (2) maintain a healthy and continual self-critical operation--looking for signs of bias etc.; (3) keep interacting with the data; and (4) ask others to critique your position for bias/hidden assumptions.

Why should I place any trust on the Canon when Canonicity itself is questionable with regard to certainty and even integrity? (why, for example, should I believe that a book is the word of God just because a bunch of priests and laymen came together at Niece, Chalchedon and wherever else, in order to decide on such matters?)

The question of canonicity is a bit more complex than that, and I am trying to write a piece explaining that issue. It is not as "odd" as it first appears, once you look at it from God's perspective instead of ours. A very brief overview (albeit VERY simplistic) goes like this.

Imagine that God (1) has inspired a select number of pieces of literature and that (2) He is constrained by His operating principles to NOT be 'spectacular' or "hyper-public" in His revealing of that list of literature. (In other words, He cannot carve the list of books on a mountain somewhere, use sky-writing to force it on us, or suppress wholesale the production of malignant counter-revelation pieces by the Enemy.) How could He get a community of His people to recognize this list? One of the more obviously effective ways would be to 'move from within' (via the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers-only) the community, such that leaders and laity alike 'recognized' the inspired quality of these works. Certain books would be favored by some (e.g. if it spoke more urgently to THEIR situation and interests) and other books would be favored by still others (e.g. speaking to DIFFERENT urgencies and issues in THEIR lives.) The result would be discussion over the whole mass of possible books (but with the obviously heretical ones being rejected by the vast majority), and with SOME 'persuasion' going on. We would typically agree on a majority of the books (that spoke of more common interests), but might disagree on those that touched the different and individual concerns (e.g. eschatology, Jewish-Christian communities). The councils would accordingly NOT be 'decision making' bodies, but solely 'representative' recognition bodies, expressing what the church at large had experienced of God's communication. This group would only be a communication/"rubber stamping" kind of function--and not an 'innovator' in any sense of the word.

Thus the various "canons" delineated by any of the Church Fathers or councils functioned only as a 'consensus statement'--NOT as a 'new policy/edict announcement'. As noted above, these Christians and the entire community were created by these messages from God--and NOT vice versa. Jesus spoke to Paul--converting Him--and THEN Paul wrote the message down. Jesus revealed His message to the apostles--converting them--and THEN they wrote the message down. These written messages (as the word of God themselves--cf. I Thess 2.13: And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.), then created the churches (e.g. Thessalonica), who then could only acknowledge the word which gave them birth (cf. Jas 1.18: 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. and I Peter 1.23: For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.)

Once again, then, we must give the centuries of saints the 'benefit of the doubt'--for God was just as interested in them getting the 'list correct' as He is getting US to! Accordingly, we should approach the matter with some level of respect for the labors of the past--WITHOUT assuming that they were perfect. But this gives us a more than adequate starting point for study--the books agreed on by all the branches of the church by the end of the 7-10th centuries.

3) With regard to community, I think you probably got an idea of how disappointed, distrustful, cynical and pessimistic I am about churches (and about people in general, since wishful thinking, arrogance, spiritual and intellectual laziness, need for attention and approbation, suppression of fears (burying heads in the sand), self-righteousness, hypocricy, and internal politics are most usually the norm within large groups of people) from my last email (the one titled "Name").

I am aware of (most of) my shortcomings. I'm not being arrogant. I know that it is by grace that I too have been saved. So I'm not scornful, only afraid (that is, mistrustful and cautious) of Christians. The amount of hypocrisy, distortion, circular reasoning, double standard, spiritual bullying, narrow-mindedness (I can go on and on; regretably I can write MY name to the list of the perpetrators as well from time to time) that I have and do come across is PHENOMENAL. I thank the Lord for making his love enough of an incentive and teaching device for me to use in my attempt to tolerate and love (sincerely) such people. But how can I learn from them?

Short answer: The way to learn from them is to watch them, more than listen to them! It is the seeing the image of Christ in them that transforms us--and this image more often shows in what people do, rather than what they say. Look at them and isolate the good qualities of their character and action. Just about everyone (even Christians!) has some aspect of the character of the Father, Son, or Spirit that can be isolated (through analysis and perception) from their bad traits. Focus on the good, look for the acts of love and sacrifice they make, 'believe the best' about the benefit of the doubt things.

I personally always focus on what I call the "four percenters". In the various groups of Christians I have known, there are generally AT LEAST 4 out of 100 (in the USA--more in other cultures) that are visibly sold out to Jesus Christ, and who have been walking with Him for decades and decades. These people show the distinct marks of the being around the Lord (the 'glow' of Ex 33! And 2 Cor 3.7-14). [I am NOT saying that these 4+ are the only believers or disciples or 'good folk' or any such OTHER slur on the others; only that you can COUNT on these to provide input for you to 'look at' --cf. Heb 13.7: Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith..

These individuals tend to show me different nuances of Christ's character--kindness, encouragement, challenge, endurance, mercy, etc. [They also tend to foster humility in me, by the sheer beauty of their spirit sometimes.]

When I go into a new group, I try to ask around to find the people who share their faith, or who work in relief/service work (charitable, not professionally), or who are in charge of the 'prayer chain' or 'hospital visitation' committee. These (and other functions ) often are performed by these 4%'ers. There is much that can be learned from watching and listening to these folk--as they demonstrate the love of Christ in action.

We should listen to all, but as Paul admonishes us--"test all things" (1 Thess 5.21).

More importantly, how can I keep from getting corrupted? They, deliberately or not, appeal to the two most sought after items on a human being's agenda: our need for the attention of others (a remedy to loneliness and to the knowledge of our mortality) and our need for a firm ground ("certainty", stability, security etc). How can I maintain my sincerity and intellectual (let alone moral) integrity and not compromise them? (I think you get the general idea; I could tell you of encounters I've had with prominent members of Christian communities in various places of the globe; I could reproduce conversations, and let you draw your own conclusions; but I don't think it's necessary).

Well, the first thing to note is that I am not necessarily talking about the 'prominent members' when I talk about the 4%ers. They MAY be the same, but that cannot be assumed at all. Often those advanced in the ways of the Lord have the meekest character, and hence, do not often 'rise to power' within the institutional church. There are different gifts and different strengths--some result in visible leadership; some don't. The areas I tend to be "in school for" (!) are those quieter aspects of Christ's character, and hence, I tend to seek out the 'quiet warriors' of the Lord. But, your case may be different. It's a function of what your Father is trying to teach you at any given point.

If I read that Jesus rose from the dead or that the disciples were accused of stealing the body, or that Jesus performed a certain miracle in the middle of the Temple area during "rush hour" in front of hostile witnesses, I can feel confident that this is what really happened. But with other passages (like the ones about the Israelites in the desert and God's repeated and gracious intervention) I find myself saying, "ah, but DID this happen?". How do I sort out which is which...

Notice that there is a POSSIBLE inconsistency here. If you can believe that the miraculous occurred in public settings in the 1st century, why would you suspect miraculous events in MUCH LARGER public settings in OT times?

What evidence would (1) argue that these cases are paradigmatically different and (2) that the former is SO LESS LIKELY as to warrant a skeptical approach TO BEGIN WITH?!

There is nothing immediately apparent to me that cries out for a 'different approach' in those two situations.

In fact, with Jesus' words (historically nearer to us than the OT literature is) we have a HIGHER LEVEL of support for the historicity of those weird OT events. For example, Jesus' references to OT events seems to pick out the miraculous elements in the main!--cf. Just a few of the refs. Below:

  1. The brazen serpent (Num 21--John 3.14)
  2. Jonah and the big fish (Matt 12.39ff)
  3. the manna (John 6.30)
  4. the Flood (Mt 24.37)
  5. the burning bush (Mark 12.26!)
  6. the destruction of Sodom (Luke 17.28)

Since Jesus did not mind confronting error whenever he saw it (Matt 12.39!), we have no reason to assume he 'accommodated' his truthfulness to the 'false beliefs' of 1st century Jewry. Therefore, His usage of miraculous events from the OT history must be seen as an endorsement both of their factuality and of the accurate RECORDing of those events in the OT scriptures available to him. Of course, the other NT writers are also convinced of the veracity of these accounts (esp. since Jesus also accepted them):

  1. Paul:
  2. For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did -- and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did -- and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did -- and were killed by the destroying angel. (I Cor 10.1ff)

  3. Hebrews: Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. (Heb 9.3-4) ...and 11:29: By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. .
  4. Peter: who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (I Peter 3.20)
  5. James: Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (5.17)

.....and how do I learn to reconcile myself with on of the most boring and at times hateful environments like churches and Christian communities? Please understand, no disrespect or offense is meant. It's just the way I feel. Every fiber of my being is crying out for me to describe in detail the many many instances of lack of sincerity and integrity, and everything else I've encountered among Christians (but, like I said, I won't). I don't believe that I was just unlucky; it's a trend: people become fat, complacent, arrogant and self-righteous. Add to that the need for purpose, attention and self- assurance, and you got the worst kind of propagandised crusaders.

Couple of points here:

  1. Recognize that this situation is to be expected! Jesus was rather clear in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares that the kingdom on earth would be full of impostors (Mt 13.24ff):
  2. Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "`An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "`No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"
    and also Luke 7.22:
    Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

  3. Then, work on changing your approach to one of trying to HELP them, rather than focusing on their negatives. Accept the same servant's heart that Christ had among us--He obviously 'bears with' our weaknesses, in order to help us improve. We should have the same attitude (cf. Romans 14).
  4. And, in some cases, you may need to find a different group to worship with. (But, remember, most groups have 4%ers--and you should seek those out, wherever present.)
  5. Also, definitely check out Christian para-church groups--Christian relief missions, specialty ministries, new missions. Get involved with them and find the true 'heartbeats' within those. Find out where THEY worship/fellowship and try those out.
  6. But do not get your expectations up! The church is fallen, as you and I are. There are no doubt people complaining about US as well! But, at the same time, progress is being made in most believers' lives--although only parts of that work may be visible to us. But we MUST go in with a positive attitude, hoping to see the progressive work of the Spirit in their life, and trying to encourage them to 'love and good works' as well (Heb 10:24: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.) We are NOT called to judge them (Rom 14.10), but we ARE called to 'build them up' (Rom 15.2; 2 Thess 5.11)
  7. Carry your disappointments and betrayals to the Lord--He knows EXACTLY what it is like (both from His earthly experience of Judas and the disciples; and from OUR frequent betrayals of Him in our ethical lives.)
  8. And don't forget to learn from their BAD examples--remember I Cor 10.5b: Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. I learned very early that it was so much less painful to learn from the mistakes of others that from my own mistakes!

You know Glenn, whenever I would ask someone I REALLY respected "Have you had an encounter with God? Can you guarantee that he exists? Will I live eternally and with God?", I would already have a doubt in the back of my head, no matter how much I respected that person. I'd inevitably say, "maybe even he cannot avoid wishful thinking and convincing himself of what he wishes to be true".

My friend, it is very important to realize that 'doubt' is a built-in gift/faculty from GOD! He wants us to use doubt/skeptical/critical thinking in our lives. This is part of the myriad of references to 'test this' , 'examine that', 'discern'--and to 'throw away the bad stuff!' passages. [This critical thinking is NOT the same as the hard-hearted doubt that IS condemned in Holy Writ--cf. James 1.] Doubt will be part of the tools He uses to keep you honest. Doubt will be important to keep you from doing the 'wishful thinking' thing. But doubt about some things will scale down to almost nothing.

For example, I may never see the woman I call 'Mother' again (although I hope to soon!). But there is NO evidence whatsoever that could be raised to convince me (or even really to cause me to 'feel' doubt) that she NEVER existed! She may not have been my mother (someone could easily prove that, I suppose), but that this person was a figment of my imagination--that I had imagined decades and decades of detailed and variegated interactions--is ridiculous.

Against the epistemology of skepticism, the major killer of the position is the impossibility of sustained illusions. The countless stream of robust and varied experiences I had with my mother is too sustained to be an illusion. Experience has a way of 'bringing us back' to epistemic reality. I may believe for a long time that I can fly, but eventually I will have enough "reverse-flight" experiences ;>) so that I will be forced out of the illusion (or to so radically qualify it that it dies the "death of a thousand qualifications"). "Wishful thinking" and "bias" are NOT desired traits by God--He seeks us to grow up into the truth--whatever the cost!!! (See I Cor 14.20: Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. and I Cor 13.6: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. and 2 Cor 13:8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. .) And "wishful thinking" and "bias" are specifically singled out in the NT (often under the rubric of "itching ears"!)--cf 2 Tim 4.3ff: For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. And again, remember that "wishful thinking" (called "deceiving oneself" in biblical terms!) is targeted for extinction by God over time. No, God is working to try to eradicate "wishful thinking" in our lives, and move us on to "belief in the truth" (2 Thess 2.13).

Decades of interaction with God has left me "stuck here"! These interactions were in the Book, in groups, in providence, in my conscience, etc--but the myriad of detailed and variegated interactions (some obvious, some ambiguous, some questionable) leave me 'beyond realistic doubt'. There is a strong argument that could be made that I would NOT be epistemically justified to doubt the existence of this Transcendent Person I call "God" (arguing solely from my personal experience, that is--there are separate issues in argument from historical and philosophical evidence, of course.)

You are sincerely the first person I've come across whose word I can absolutely find enough for me (this is not a compliment, only a realization). I don't even have to ask you the question; I already got the answer in your response (these are your own words):

"The interesting thing about this discussion for me is how 'strange' the question seems to me now. My waking life is spent in vivid awareness of God's consciousness in my life. I am never aware of being away from Him--even in those occasinal moments when I wish to `flee from Him' --Psalm 139! I live in an incessant stream of in-audible dialogue with Him, in which His responses are increasingly obvious over time , and in which my sensitivity to His patterns of disclosure grows. I am not at all sure how this transpires, but I know that my invisible `Room-mate' is constantly leaving messages coded ONLY for my eyes: love notes, work assignments, instructions, moral comments, encouragement, rebukes, `directed readings'".
I wanna be able to say these things too. I am dying to be able to say these things too. Every word. I know that I believe you mean what you're saying; I know that you are not just trying to convince yourself.

What do I have to do?

Thank you, wholeheartedly, for everything. Adam

Hmmm...well, I hope the ramblings above will help you start sorting through this stuff.

I may be the only such type you know now, but I personally have met (over the decades--only 3-5 per year) scores of folk who REALLY know the same Father, Son, and Counselor I do. I can see it in their words, their lives, their eyes, their challenges. I learn from them, I can relax with them, and we are all flawed enough for us to help each other grow! These are folks He has brought into my life, as I have grown in His way myself.

You have been studying the Book for 10 years or so, and I know from private correspondence with you that you are roughly the same age that I was when I gave my life to the Lord. I did not know Him well then, was filled with doubts (many the same ones as above), and approached the matter from a very 'scientific' paradigm (with certainty as an 'all or nothing' thing--not as a continuum.)

[ That is, I was the only active agent in the system--the experimenter. The data was passive and did not 'interact' with me at all. I was responsible for ALL THE CONCLUSIONS--it was NOT a personal communication model at all. It was physics, not exegesis. But over the decades I learned that the data was a message from a Conscious Agent, and not simply marks on a page. In the context of a personal communication, those marks became letters, the letters became texts, and the texts became love notes and a 'users guide' to life! The model is one of personal communication--in which I am both speaker AND hearer. This is critical to make sure you understand, Adam. It will radically change the questions for you, but yield much more semantically-intense experiences in life.]

You have a 'head start' on me--having studied the Book for a while, but as you have indicated, it may have been more like a science lab than as a 'letter from Dad'. I encourage you to approach the Book, your daily events, and your encounter with people, always asking the Father: "what is the significance of this?", and ALSO to expect Him to transform your mind in the most wonderful ways. We are charged with mental renewal of course (Rom 12.1-2; Col 3.10), but we should also expect GOOD things from our Father--Heb 11:6.

I truly hope this wild assortment of thoughts above contains some items of use--they are very brief, and each is worthy of much more extensive treatment. (The only one I KNOW I am working on currently, is the issue of the canon.)

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From: The Christian ThinkTank...[https://www.Christianthinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)