Postmodernism and Christianity (Part 6)

There is a problem with truth. The problem is that we are subjective and finite beings, which our postmodern culture rightly recognizes. By “subjective” I mean that it is difficult to think clearly and without bias. Everything we know is shaped by who we are (where we were raised, our parent’s values, our education, our will and emotions, etc.). For example, I would say my closest friends know me very well, but there is a sense in which each of them sees me through a veil made of their own expectations, wishes, preconceptions, and experiences, leading them to come away with slightly different pictures of me. By “finite” I mean that our ability to know is limited in quantity and quality. We are not omniscient, nor do we have the ability to be so. As Paul said, we “see through a mirror darkly”. For example, take the question “Can we know God?” There always must be disclaimers given when saying “yes” to that question. God is infinite and we are not, so always what we know of God will only be a small piece, and there will simply be some things which will be beyond us. Even the largest and clearest treatises on God will still have a last page, and there will always be places between the first and last page where the answer simply points toward a mystery that cannot be fully ironed out into words.

There are two things to do with the problem of our subjectivity and our finiteness.
1. Despair of knowledge
2. Humility of knowledge.

Postmodernism has largely taken the first option. It takes our subjectivity and finiteness as a given and then draws the conclusion that certain knowledge is impossible. It builds a bridge of uncertainty that ends in the abyss of the death of absolute truth. Then postmodernism bids people to cross that bridge, painting this as the only logical path to take given our human limitations.
But this is one place that the Christian cannot follow our culture, for the Christian the problem of truth must lead to a humility of knowledge. By this I mean that the Christian must acknowledge the difficulties inherent in the process of knowing anything, but not mistake difficulty for impossibility. Despite our subjectivity and finiteness we are still able to have confidence in what we know. I believe that this is the position of the Bible on the subject of truth, and it is the logical position given the nature of God.
What do I mean by that? Though we are subjective, God is not. Though we often see in shades of grey, God sees in black and white, discerning truth from falsehood and judging between the two. Where we see “as through a mirror darkly,” there is a God in the universe who sees all things clearly, and, as Francis Schaeffer has said, “He has spoken”. This is the foundation for our own knowledge. We do not live in a universe where truth is spinning head over heels in a maelstrom of uncertainty. There is solid ground. What is needed in light of this reality is not to give up on truth in despair, but to set feet on that solid ground. Because you cannot see the sun for the clouds does not mean the sun does not shine above them. God’s truth still reigns in the universe he made, though our vision of it is clouded and our understanding is often confused.
As for our finiteness, to cite Schaeffer again, we can know things truly without having to know them fully. Yes, we are finite beings and total knowledge is beyond us, but total knowledge is not asked of us, nor should that make us despair of knowing anything at all with certainty. Think of the example from above: my friends do not have to know every facet of my soul to be able to say true things about me. It’s said that extremes prove the point, so to take an extreme example: think again about the question of whether we can know God truly or not. It is one thing to say our finiteness does not lead us to despair in friendship or even math or science, but is that still true if we talk about knowing God, an infinite being who is utterly beyond even our best thoughts of him? God seems to think so. The Bible itself is an example of God speaking to his people, telling them true things about himself. The Bible proclaims that knowledge of God is not only possible, but it is exactly what God desires of us, so he has communicated to us in language that we can understand so that we might know him and worship him in truth.
In this light despair becomes even lesser of an option. Because God exists there is hope that truth exists, and because he is such a God that he desires that we know him truly there is hope that we might understand and believe those truths. The Christian must hold out these truths to a postmodern culture without arrogance or presumption, but in humility. The Christian realizes that sin even affects our ability to know and see what is true, but this does not lead us to back away from God’s truth. We must say what God has said, and we must say it as he said it, in a way that is understandable, relevant, and winsome to our generation.

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