Common Thoughts 11


When the first homo sapiens woke up their minds (don’t make too much out of this turn of phrase) the first thing on their minds were these questions:

Who am I?

What am I?

Where am I?

Why am I?

We’ve been asking these questions ever since. These aren’t frivolous questions. I was in Redding visiting my brother sleeping in my hotel room when something (probably a loud noise from outside) shocked me awake, or at least my body awake for my mind was still asleep and I couldn’t get my bearings. I didn’t know where I was, what direction to go once I got out of the room, even what room I was in (at home or where?). It was a nightmare until my mind began to wake up and I remembered where I was and who I was. Can you imagine not knowing your past, your present, or your future?

How do we answer these questions? Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “table rasa”, a blank sheet. John Locke (1632-1704), yes, the same Locke we get many of our political ideas from in his book, Second Treatise on Government. He also wrote Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In it he writes that the basic units of knowledge are simple ideas, which come exclusively through experience. Knowledge is not a priori or innate as Plato and Descartes taught, learned from deduction or reason. We are a table rasa, that blank sheet that experience impresses her knowledge upon. Locke argued that people acquire knowledge from the information about the objects in the world that our senses bring. People begin with simple ideas and then combine them into more complex ones.

Let me apologize up front for this inquiry into Reality will be laden with philosophical terminology and phrasing, but it can’t be helped. Religious fundamentalists condemn any thinking outside simple scriptural references (all you need to know is God, nothing else) and secularists deny any need to think outside material thought (there is no God, no immaterial world so no need to think in those terms).

It’s somewhat easy for me to delve into the idea of knowing because I’m familiar with the language philosophers and scientists use. Every discipline, whether it be art, architecture, psychology, sociology, religion, science, philosophy, and more has its own basic language. Even auto mechanics have their own language. Every discipline I mentioned and those I didn’t, every one of us participates in them and they affect how we live our lives and relate to others even when we don’t know the language.

Growing up part of my childhood was spent on a peach ranch. The boss had three horses and several cows that he kept behind our farmhouse, including a large barn, the second-story dedicated to housing hay. We would get the hay to the second story by use of a winch from a hayloft door. My brother and I loved to jump out of that small door into the loose hay left on the ground. Every time we jumped out we fell to the ground. Every time. We never once thought about why we always fell to the ground, we just knew every time we jumped out that door we would not float in the air, or take off flying, we’d fall.

Galileo was the first scientist to postulate the idea of gravity when he dropped balls from the Tower of Pisa. In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton (the man the supposed apple fell off the tree and hit him on the head giving him an idea about the universe) wrote in Principa: “I deduced that the forces which keep the planets in their orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the Earth; and found them answer pretty nearly.”

He and Galileo had discovered a Law of Nature, rather they formalized something known from the beginning of knowing. Is it crucial to know this? Absolutely. It’s one answer explaining what we see in the universe and explains why the earth on which we find ourselves doesn’t just careen off into space or crash into the sun. It’s also why we have the ability to launch a rocket from earth and land on the moon. The Bible does not explain the Law of Nature called gravity, but in not explaining gravity in no way means it doesn’t exist. It’s not the purpose of the Bible, yet we do read this in the Bible: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” (Romans 1:20.) And “In the beginning God created . . .” (Genesis 1:1.)

Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton were scientists who were Christian and never once did they deny the relevance of their religious faith because the Bible didn’t explain gravity, or that discovering gravity through a scientific methodology outside of scripture did they deny the Bible as relevant. Scripture did not give them, per se, the understanding of gravity, a method of searching was used that we know as the scientific method which simply put is to:

  • Formulate hypothesis
  • Collect data
  • Test hypotheses
  • Conclude

Because we have established a method of inquiry doesn’t mean it is infallible. This is true whether we are asking questions about scripture or nature. The modern phrase “garbage in garbage out”—“incorrect or poor quality input will always produce faulty output”—has always applied to our inquiries.

I want to find Truth, the meaning of life and for life, the meaning of me. I want to answer those Who, What, Where, Why, questions that we have always been asking. We have come up with competing answers so there are a lot of choices. As for me, I have to come up with my own answers because unless I am personally involved in my answers they are not mine and if they are not mine they won’t have honest impact in my life. A truth we often ignore is that every generation must for itself determine their truth, not just accept the answers from past generations. This doesn’t mean that we are that table rasa, that blank sheet. We aren’t starting from nothing. We have all those answers our past generations gave us from their search. But we don’t pick and choose what sounds good, what feels good, we put them through our test to see if they bear fruit for us.

Yes, this requires from us thought. It requires us to ask questions. I’m not saying trust nothing from the past. I am saying test everything from the past. As Christians our churches, our Sunday Schools should be helping us. We don’t need to spend every minute in this search, but we do need to spend some minutes in a day in research. In everything we won’t have the same answers but in the most fundamental things about life we should think more alike than not. I understand this comes from a belief that there is truth, that it is universal and this is my beginning ground. Yours may be that there isn’t truth, that truth isn’t universal. We both must put that at risk, to test it, to change it if is what we find in our search for the answers to who, what, where, and why.

I’ve made my search in my past, but I’ve been encouraged to go over it again knowing that in some things I will find new truths, or at the very best find better answers for my truth. This is why I’m wring these “Common Thoughts.” I’ve realized I haven’t looked deep enough and I realized that I didn’t make God as big as he really is and it’s my making him small that keeps me from really experiencing him. If nothing else, my thinking on God will make me a better person.