Spiritual Truth never changes, but the forms that express spiritual Truth do. Spiritual Truth is expressed through the words of Scripture, but it is also expressed through people, music, film and nature. The forms themselves are not Truth. Truth is not a what but a who. Truth is God Himself. Truth is a spiritual reality, and it belongs to the spiritual realm.
Our physical dimension contains the little-t truth of this world, a mass of information and a collection of temporary facts. We encounter the truths of the physical dimension through our five senses. Many of these truths change depending on our environment, our circumstances and us. For example, if you’re standing in the middle of train tracks, they seem to come to a point out on the horizon, but from the sky we see they remain parallel. In that sense, truth is relative and depends on your perspective.
God gave every human the authority, power and right to know what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad, what is beautiful and what is downright ugly. God enables people to decide Truth by listening to His voice within them. So deciding what’s true is an individual, personal judgment that comes from the heart or the God-life within us. The Scriptures say we know the Truth by the Spirit of Truth. So confirming Truth with physical data is a really bad move. Like the people who evaluated Jesus by physical data and surmised He was just a nice but poor carpenter and philosopher. God is Spirit. It is His Spirit within that makes Him known to us. The real confirmation of Truth is God’s Spirit setting us free in our spirits, telling us, Yes, this is True; it brings freedom.
Religion too often teaches people to depend on others for Truth. It’s easy to understand how this happens. In the physical dimension, we are taught that the smartest, most educated people know more truth than we do. The scientist knows more truth about the universe. The doctor knows more truth about the human body. The lawyer knows more truth about the legal field. Our knowledge in these areas is miniscule compared to the knowledge of these professionals. They really know.
Religion applies this rationale to the spiritual realm and spiritual Truth. We come to assume that the people who know God best are people with seminary educations and positions of Christian leadership. Let me show you.
If you need surgery, you go to a surgeon.
If you need legal advice, you go to a lawyer.
If you need a new alternator, you go to a mechanic.
If you need understanding about some spiritual matter, you go to … ?
Do you go to your hairstylist, a UPS driver or your garbage man? Well, maybe if your pastor is bi-vocational. No. You seek out a pastor, a Bible professor, someone who knows Greek and Hebrew—a person you perceive as highly knowledgeable about God. Perhaps you purchase the latest book written by the person you are confident has a deeper knowledge of spiritual things than you do. What if you picked up a book titled Knowing God and the author’s bio read, “Fred Brown never completed high school. He cleans fish on the docks of Daytona Beach. He lives with his two monkeys, three ducks and one ferret in a camper”? Would you buy it?
The idea is that a “professional minister” has a better functioning spirit with which to discern Truth than you have. So, let me ask you, can higher education further develop and improve upon the Spirit’s capacity to discern Truth? Why do some of the most highly educated people in the world think there is no absolute or big-T Truth, and consider the Bible nothing more than fabrication and fairy tales? On the other hand, some of the most spiritual people I know do not have formal Bible training or schooling of any kind beyond high school.
Many people like to know about things so they study and study, learn and learn, memorize facts and figures, and fill their head with all the knowledge on a certain topic. But we all realize there’s a different between “knowledge” and “knowing.” For instance, my wife, Pam, and I went to a marriage conference before we actually tied the knot. We thought it was a great idea to get a head start on learning what it meant to have a healthy and fulfilling husband-wife relationship. During the weeklong conference, we filled a thick fill-in-the-blank notebook covering topics such as accepting each other’s differences and weaknesses, dealing with conflict and the importance of communication.
This was all well and good, but there was one big problem. None of this information applied to us. How could I accept Pam’s weaknesses? She didn’t have any. Pam was perfect! Resolving conflict? What conflict? We loved each other. It was hard to imagine ever getting to a point where Pam and I would disagree or argue about anything. Why did I need someone telling me how to communicate with Pam? Our relationship was one continuous and euphoric flow of sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Instead of paying attention to the speakers, we doodled little love notes to each other on our workbooks and referred to each other with endearing names like “Pumpkin” and “Birdy.” Recently looking through our conference notebooks, I noticed that one of the little notes Pam wrote on mine says, “I radically love you.” Hmm … brings to mind that line from that old Olivia Newton-John song, “I honestly (strike that) radically love you.” OK, seriously, I don’t really listen to Olivia Newton-John … or Cher.
There are all sorts of things you don’t truly “know,” even if you’ve got all the correct information filled in the blanks. You can’t accept your spouse’s weaknesses until you discover there are some, or learn how to resolve conflict until you start having them. Pam and I know what a fulfilling marriage is because we have experienced each other’s human flaws, but we allow God’s unconditional love and acceptance for us to spill over into loving and accepting each other. Sure, when we are operating out of our worldly selves, we sometimes wound each other with hurtful words and attitudes. But the fulfillment of living and sharing life as best friends supplies plenty of motivation to seek forgiveness and resolve conflicts so we can get back to what we both most enjoy—each other. Some things you can’t truly know unless you experience them for yourself.
Too often we become dependent on other people—a favorite leader, teacher, speaker, author—for determining Truth. Rather, it’s helpful to see those roles are really “sheepdog” roles. The sheepdog role is to get sheep (people) to the Shepherd (God). That’s it. Then your knowing and interacting with the presence of God within you takes over.
There is a sizable gap between the number of knowledgeable Christians and the number of Christians who express the reality of God. Why is that? Really, why is that? I wonder if it’s because we too often take someone else’s word for it, rather than experiencing for ourselves God’s Spirit confirming Truth within us. Maybe that’s the difference between knowledge and knowing. We acquire knowledge by absorbing teachings others show us, but knowing occurs when the life of God within you reveals a truth and your spirit says, “I know that I know.”
Excerpted from Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity (Thomas Nelson) by Jim Palmer. (Used with permission). You can see his upcoming book tour dates at his blog http://www.divinenobodies.com/blog/.