What do you believe? How do you know?
- Is humanity responsible for climate change or are you a skeptic?
- Do vaccinations cause autism?
- Will cutting taxes juice the economy and thus raise more revenue for the government?
- Do diet sodas really make you fatter?
- Is the earth flat like a table top or round like a globe and why do you think so?
- Were the Apollo missions a hoax?
- Are “organic” foods worth the money?
- Is it dangerous to eat GMO foods?
To be a human being is to have an interesting relationship with the outside world. You might think that “seeing is believing” but even with simply seeing things aren’t so simple.
You may or may not know that each of you has a blind spot. Here’s how you can “see” yours by not seeing the plus sign. If you simply close one eye you don’t see a hole in your vision because your brain interprets what you see and fills it in for you even at the risk of being wrong. You may not consciously know you’re doing it, but you are.
With a number of the issues in the above list people may find opposition to their views on these things a matter of amusement, annoyance or anger sufficient to provoke violence. We all hold ideas about them and believe in our ideas to one degree of conviction or another. How people believe in these things changes society and in fact changes the world. Consider the promotion of radio active ingredients sold to as health products.
We look at this and say “how nuts” but how does the practice of food irradiation sound to you and why would the FDA try to educate us about it? Do you trust them? Does how you feel about who the president is impact whether or not you trust them?
You might say “well I understand the scientific difference between drinking radioactive water vs. food irradiation.” Didn’t this man a man of science who understood DDT? His audience, however remained unconvinced. Who now seems the wiser?
My purpose is not to throw you down a hole of skepticism but to draw attention to how complicated this business of knowing really is.
Objective, Subjective and Inter-subjective
In his book Homo Deus Harari talks about three realities we all regularly engage.
Most people presume that reality is either objective or subjective, and that there is no third option. Hence once they satisfy themselves that something isn’t just their own subjective feeling, they jump to the conclusion it must be objective. If lots of people believe in God; if money makes the world go round; and if nationalism starts wars and builds empires – then these things aren’t just a subjective belief of mine. God, money and nations must therefore be objective realities.
However, there is a third level of reality: the intersubjective level. Intersubjective entities depend on communication among many humans rather than on the beliefs and feelings of individual humans. Many of the most important agents in history are intersubjective. Money, for example, has no objective value. You cannot eat, drink or wear a dollar bill. Yet as long as billions of people believe in its value, you can use it to buy food, beverages and clothing. If the baker suddenly loses his faith in the dollar bill and refuses to give me a loaf of bread for this green piece of paper, it doesn’t matter much. I can just go down a few blocks to the nearby supermarket. However, if the supermarket cashiers also refuse to accept this piece of paper, along with the hawkers in the market and the salespeople in the mall, then the dollar will lose its value. The green pieces of paper will go on existing, of course, but they will be worthless.
Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (pp. 143-144). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Harari is a atheist materialist so he doesn’t include “God” in the objective category. Christians of course do. Christians believe that God isn’t just another thing in the universe but that God is in fact the ground of all being.
That sounds philosophical but it isn’t that hard to imagine. There are many ways we can picture it. Elon Musk postulates that in his opinion its far more probably that we are not living in base reality but that we are part of a far more advanced being’s computer simulation given the fact that we now can easily imagine in the not to distant future creating computer simulations filled with programs who imagine themselves to be conscious beings.
Believing this, as we’ve seen, is an inter-subjective truth. Just because a truth is inter-subjective doesn’t also mean it can’t relate to subjective reality. If the inter-subjective truth is that eating DDT or drinking radium water is bad for you we would say that it corresponds to objective truth. Whether or not that applies to your life, however, will depend mostly on the inter-subjective community you live within. In 1947 a white guy with a mission to improve the life of tribal Africans believed eating DDT was absolutely safe. The Africans thought it wasn’t. We all get that. We are deeply shaped by our communities especially when it comes to what other people believe. We have a harder time believing that is true about ourselves. We like to think as individuals we can see through it and are above it all.
Human beings are the kinds of creatures who believe in communities usually through implicit or explicit authority figures. In the DDT video you’ve got two competing authority figures, the tribal elder and the science missionary. All sorts of complicated biases we develop move us one way or the other in terms of what our subjective opinion will be in any given moment.
Peter and the Resurrection
Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about the resurrection of Jesus, how it changed the lives of those who gave witness to it and those who followed them as it created the inter-subjective reality of Christianity and the Christian church.
On Easter we saw how Jesus prioritized his appearance not according to our inter-subjective assumptions about importance but with a view towards his plan. The Epistle of Peter in many ways is an explanation of the implications of the resurrection. Peter claims the experience of the objective empty tomb and encounters with the risen Jesus and works the implications of this into the lives of his audience within the emerging inter-subjective reality of the Christian life.
Peter’s interaction with Jesus had changed him from being a reasonably successful and secure middle class Galilean tradesman into an itinerant preacher who would eventually wind up leading the church in Rome and dying for it. He spoke with people, who like all people face suffering and loss in life but whose suffering was sometimes complicated or increased by their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and the way of life that Jesus taught. At the same time Peter understood the objective resurrection as pointing to a new birth into a living hope and an inheritance that doesn’t decay like all other achievements in this world. In 1 Peter 1:3-12 the primary idea was that we rejoice, even while we suffer. In what follows Peter is going to offer four imperatives, or commands in the middle of two governing images to invite his listeners to dig deeper into Jesus’ resurrection.
Set your hope
1 Peter 1:13–14 (NIV)
13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
In reading the text it is important to pay attention to the main verbs and how they move the argument forward.
The argument here is that the “inheritance” in the previous verses that is preserved for us in heaven, outside of the age of decay should orient us.
If you’re walking through a forest with not path to guide you you will probably get lost. If you can see a mountain you should look beyond the trees to that mountain to guide you through the trees.
To live in this world you must “gird up your loins” which basically means to soberly access your situation, find the destination, and head towards it in a disciplined, intentional way.
The distracting factor in the picture is the word “epithumia” which in Greek is an over-desire. The NIV translates it here “evil desires” which is kind of misleading. This is an disordered desire more than simply wanting to do a bad thing. In other words it is something your heart is deeply attached to which is warping or eclipsing other legitimate attachments. It isn’t necessarily an attachment to a bad thing.
Consider this list:
- financial stewardship
- civic responsibilities, volunteering
- caring for the poor or disabled
- creation care/stewardship
All of these and other things are important but if they become a single orienting factor in your life Peter thinks you will go astray.
“Set your hope” orients this in terms of our heart and our emotion.
Someone might say “well aren’t your prioritizing the religious aspect over the others? Won’t this have the same impact of the ‘epithumia’ issue?”
What I hope we’ll see is that God is a unique thing to set one’s heart on because He really isn’t in competition with the other elements, but rather gives meaning and importance to the other elements and helps keep all of them in relative importance rather than exclusive importance.
Conduct Yourself As Holy Refugees
1 Peter 1:15–21 (NIV)
15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Peter’s first imperative is “set your hope”. The second is more about conduct than the orienting heart.
Although we are located within the age of decay and subject to it we are in Christ’s resurrection we become something like refugees of the imperishable age to come located in the present age. Peter wants us to act in keeping with the reign of heaven while we live in rebel occupied earth.
People today like to use the term “the wrong side of history”. In Peter’s mind that turning point of history is the second coming of Jesus when the resurrection already at work in our souls happens to our flesh. Our conduct should now be in keeping with that new reality liberating the rebel occupied land. We ought not betray our true allegiance to the right side of history which will be revealed in Jesus’ return and his resurrected flesh that will be our own.
1 Peter 1:22–2:3 (NIV)
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The first imperative is about our heart, the second about conducting ourselves as in the age to come, but the third gets the most practical. What does this look like in our most ordinary, common, repeated relationships? It looks like love.
It is interesting that the application of imperishability is love. Why does this make sense? It does if you look around to imagine that the people around you are going to live forever which means that your main challenge is not simply getting enough money for retirement to survive but stewarding your own character and your relationship with others. This is exactly opposite of how Americans imagine we need to do. We imagine that we need to first secure our own material well being and that the big threat against this are others. This makes sense because people in relationship are the most dangerous, volatile, disruptive and uncontrollable thing in our lives. Hell is other people as the Jean Paul Sartre play illustrates.
Children in the Temple
There are four imperatives and two themes. The four imperatives are
- Set your hope on the grace to be revealed in the coming of our Lord
- Conduct yourselves with holiness
- Love one another because this is the most important and permanent reality
- Long for pure, spiritual milk
The two themes are
- you are children, only starting your journey
- the goal is temple.
In verse 14 he calls us “obedient children” and in 2:2 like newborn infants we are to long for pure spiritual milk to grow up into this salvation. When it comes to resurrection we are just babies. We are just newborn, in some ways still in the hostile womb of the age of decay awaiting our arrival into the age to come.
The goal of the age to come is the image Peter has of the living stone and the living stones into a new spiritual house. “Spiritual” here is meant dependent on the Spirit, it doesn’t mean immaterial.
In Peter’s image the tensions all come together in Christ, who is, as in many ways the temple itself, and then in the church, that becomes the new temple.
This is where the Inter-subjective Comes Into View
- If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead
- If you believe that your future is one of a restored creation in union with Christ
- If you believe that all of this is objectively true
How are you going to be able to live this radically new reality?
You have to do it within the church.
- The church keeps you oriented on that hope in the grace that will be revealed
- The church supports your holy conduct
- The church is the place where you practice love, often poorly.
- The church is the place where we like infants are fed
- The church is the first fruits of the new creation because it is the body of Christ still living in the old.