TMOC: Common Sense
(This is offered as a proposed fourth chapter of our book.)
If you were born in Europe or the US during the past two centuries, your fundamental assumptions about reality are distinctly different from those the Bible.
The West is inherently materialistic. There is only one reality, and even if we posit multiple dimensions, it’s all an extension of this single continuum of reality. Further, it’s all subject to human science. Given enough time and resources, everything that can be known will be fully understood by the human intellect. The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is the atheist asserts there can be nothing beyond observable reality, while agnostics admit there might be something else, but it can’t be known and it won’t make any difference in our choices. Thus, while Western Civilization has room for Heaven and Hell, they stand in the realm of mythology.
Most people who claim to believe in God, and in Heaven and Hell, speak of it as if it were an extension of our physical universe, perhaps in a Fourth Dimension or something similar. It’s all understood in terms of known reality, so that God, Heaven and Hell are bound under literalism, with all the silliness of things like a physical body, literal fire and literal worm; or they are pushed into the realm where it’s essentially treated as fiction. Lip service to the ideas we find in the Bible don’t change how our minds handle them. Faith must either be reasonable, or a matter of mere sentiment. That’s because the entire mental frame of reference for Westerners excludes anything outside this reality. Convincing yourself to believe won’t change your basic mental operations. You have to understand the false assumptions about reality and make a concerted effort to shift over to the Biblical worldview.
The Bible asserts, often in parabolic language (the language of parables), this reality is broken and unreliable. While Westerners can make sense of the phrase, “you can’t trust your senses,” it’s meant only as a caution you don’t know enough. In the ancient Hebrew culture, that phrase is more absolute. What you can discern by senses, knowledge and logic are not enough to understand the moral fabric of this reality, much less the Ultimate Reality beyond it. Our current reality is a bubble, an existence limited by distinct boundaries, with a distinct expiry. It came into existence by a conscious act of God, and will end the same way. In essence, our entire existence here is meaningless, not in the sense of despair or existentialism, but in the sense it’s all one big lie and the Truth is somewhere beyond the end of this life.
Jesus was the only person we know who came here to his plane of existence from the other, voluntarily confining Himself under the limitations of space and time. Rather than eternity being limitless space and time, they are regarded as limitations on the human awareness as part of the penalty of the Fall. He showed we were designed for that other plane of existence, and explained how the revealed Justice of God helps us prepare to go there when we have completed our mission here for His glory. In other words, the Law Covenants are the pathway to understanding and claiming our place in Eternity.
The truly massive differences in the basic assumptions about reality give rise to a totally different outlook, a different brand of common sense. What follows is a sample comparison. From history and writings we can deduce a bit about cultural substrata, and offer at least the flavor of the ancient Hebrew mind.
Hebrew culture assumes we can use the subconscious in our planning. It’s common knowledge Eastern logic is more deductive than inductive. Truth is revealed from above, not built up from below. One learns by absorbing revelation. Revelation is far more than propositional statements, so Eastern logic is also symbolic in nature. It more often comes as an image within a context. Indeed, for the Hebrew mind, context is everything. Hebrew language is more a collection of symbols and images than a vehicle for passing data. It’s a mistake to discount this as communication essentially by emotion. There is, indeed, a good bit of emotive expression, but it’s more for the sake of drama than brutish gut reactions. The objective is to impart a message that requires one sit down and ponder one’s own response.
Such contemplation is the primary learning activity. There is a recognition that we cannot see well below the line of conscious mental activity. Even Western science recognizes the mind is not only mostly subconscious, but some of the best work is done below that line. The Hebrew language is primarily oral, and only secondarily written, and the doorway to the subconscious is more auditory. Thus, we hear the spoken message today, and reading is supposed to evoke a voice in the mind. Then we go about our normal business while letting that message echo in the mind, and gestate in the subconscious. Even Westerners know that dreams often reveal to us the content of the subconscious. For a Hebrew, dreams are the place where God may light the fire of revelation from fuel previously delivered while awake. We would assume that at some point, we come to a working conclusion what changes are demanded of us. We would further assume other other implications of that message will eventually leak over into conscious thought later. Only in our old age, after a lifetime of hearing and considering, could we claim to really understand much. Meanwhile, we would expect subtle mental associations which are at first difficult to formulate, perceived in half-shadow. This is what many Westerners mistake for simple sentiment. The half-shadowy realizations are the way God works, whispering in our mind’s ear subtle imperatives.
To the Western mind, the Hebrew God is capricious. For the Hebrew, it’s a matter that God reserves all prerogatives. In no way shape or form is He accountable to any other agency, logic or anything else. Accepting we never really do come to the end of understanding leaves room for God to act in ways wholly unexpected and wholly incomprehensible. We may well be close confidants in the Court of Heaven, but any lord would be silly to trust all his secrets to any one servant. Servants inevitably fail, and so there must be an alternate route to getting the business done. We are blessed just having one small part in it. We are included by His grace, not by our virtue. Thus, knowing intimately the design and content of our hearts and minds, He wisely reveals what we need when the time is right. Time is not measured precisely, and events are not scheduled by the ticking of the clock. Nor are they are scheduled to follow preceding events, but are driven by Justice. Time is primarily a matter of ripeness.
We are expected to plan for contingencies based on what we know, but are prepared to suffer any discomfort for the sake of the mission. He knows our pleasure, of course, but will have very good reasons for denying us that pleasure. We take the sorrow as part of our due service. Westerners call this “fatalism,” with the implication it’s not a reasonable way to operate. A Hebrew would war against apparent fate if he is certain fighting is the will of God, a moral imperative regardless of outcome. Comfort is a gift of mercy, not our just deserts, and certainly not a right. There is no concept for rights as we conceive of them, only God’s personal justice. The Western concept of equality, primarily in the sense of interchangeable, is an insult to God.
The fundamental assumption of all God’s Law Covenants was the utter necessity of the extended family setting. That is, your kin are your society and government. DNA is one thing, but kinship by covenant was actually more binding, as it carries the moral element of solemn choice. Favoring your kin above the rest of humanity is a fundamental imperative, and only evil minds imagine otherwise. The rule of the household, clan and tribe is sacred, and any political authority seeking to interfere is automatically illegitimate, including many matters of capital punishment. The notion your daily life could be governed by someone not related by blood or covenant is anathema, because no one else has moral standing. Family cohesion was an ultimate value.
Everyone serves someone; only God has no superior. The concept of the loner was that of an outlaw, a sinner rejected and barely allowed to live. While there was a place for the individual hero who saved the day, it was assumed he would arise from his own people at God’s behest. There was no glory for the individual virtuoso apart from community, and the Great Man is a peculiar Western myth. Heroes and experts were gifts of God to the community, and He could as easily use animals or inanimate objects. There was an assumption of balance between the individual and community. The only good loner was the prophet who stood for God against the sinning masses. Even then, the nature of his calling was to serve God by serving the community. While great works were ascribed to great men in the community, it was quite rare for great men to do the work themselves. Almost no one went about their calling individually, but would have at least one servant or apprentice at his side. The warrior had his young shield-bearer, the prophet had at least one servant, as did every nobleman. They never traveled alone, and the presence of an entourage was assumed, hardly worthy of remark, unless specifically stated otherwise. Thus, any number of people might represent a great man, and would be treated as the man himself in many ways. It was said such a representative was going in his master’s name. Delegation was a basic assumption of life. One gained glory most from sharing in that of another.
Finally, Western versus ancient Hebrew cultures differ on two fundamental concepts, love and belief. In Western lore, romantic love is completely irrational and cannot be tamed. It follows its own whims and is proper justification for all manner of devotional behavior. On the other hand, belief is chosen, but may also be irrational. True convictions are viewed as intransigence in resisting reason. To the Hebrew mind, this is backwards. Love is a conscious choice, and romantic attachment is the natural result of marrying appropriately. Yet religious conviction is ordained by God. It is based on revelation coming down from God, established long before the believer was born. In covenant with God, revelation is brought to life in the believer’s heart, and grips the soul eternally. The content of conviction may expand, but is not subject to change from human forces. It is ruled by God; it is intransigence to resist commitment to Him.
Thus, you come to your beliefs, not because they make sense. True faith is imminently unreasonable in its demands. Rather, you come to your belief as a result of your commitment from the heart to someone worthy of devotion. There is none more worthy than God as known by His Son, Jesus.
(Now we need to look at specific events in the Gospels. I need your suggestions; currently we have three we’ve already covered in background notes.)
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