Christian Witness

Refraction: Unintended Results Acquired and Passed On

Take a straight pencil and dip it into a glass of water. What do you see? The pencil appears bent. This is called refraction. When light waves travel through air and water the speed is altered and a distorted image ensues. An educated person understands that the pencil is not truly bent, but only appears to be so. A young child on the other hand will try and convince you (if asked) that the pencil really does bend when it goes into the water.

Why the different conclusions?The “educated person” has had their reasoning aided by an external source; whereas, the child is attempting to determine the reality of the pencil on their own without having their reasoning aided. One is using the mental tool of reasoning dependently, the other is using the same faculties of the mind independently.[1]

The point should be obvious to all: reasoning alone does not lead to the correct interpretation of the facts/evidences. This was true before the Fall recorded in Genesis 3. So, why would we assume that this is different when we present to the gospel of the Christian worldview to a non-believer?

Arguments to the Contrary

Jesus very clearly taught that without a dependence on God-given revelation people would not believe even if someone were to come back to life (cf. Luke 16.30-31). The human mind as a result of the fall has been grossly distorted, now man’s point of view suffers refraction.We can thank our foreparents[2](Adam and Eve) for this gift. They took it upon themselves to reason (judge,discern, determine) without any aid or dependency upon God’s revelation(natural or special).[3]We have no right to complain, for given the same circumstances we too would have tread where they did. Thus, our foreparents (along with the rest of humanity residing in them) assumed authority over their own minds, positioning themselves as judge over and above God.

That is now the default position of all people. Yes, even professing believer’s struggle with this truth. As maybe seen in the warning given by the apostle Paul to his protégé Timothy. A text, which is often conveniently overlooked or ignored, and sometimes misapplied. 

  • “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2Tim 4.3-4).[4]

That the Holy Spirit thought it necessary to offer such a word of caution to a minister of the gospel, ought to give all Christians pause. Christians have not had their former nature so eradicated that they no longer struggle with the desire to be the final arbitrator of truth; even when it comes to the Word of God.[5]Like Eve, we all struggle or are troubled at times to reason in the same fashion she did. We take the propositional truth of God found in Scripture, and the world in which we live, and the testimony of others and set ourselves above these things as judge.

As Scripture says the human mind is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer 17.9). For every intention (imagination, plan) of human thought is wicked continually from childhood (Gen 6.5; 8.21; Psa 51.5). The human mind is, as a result of the fall, naturally hostile towards God’s instruction (Rom 8.7; Col1.21), and so darkened that it is incapable of discerning spiritual things (Eph4.18; 1Cor 2.14).[6] 

At this point in the discussion there is an argument raised by some in the Christian faith regarding evidence.I have heard it said, but didn’t Jesus give evidence and tell people to believe on the evidence that He is from God; the Son of God, the Savior of Men?

  • “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John14.11).
  • “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.30-31).

Although, there are other similar texts, these should suffice to make the point I am driving at. To be sure, by themselves, these texts appear to show that belief is possible on evidence or facts alone. We may even appeal to the Psalmist who states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psa19.1). And in another place, we are told, “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psa 92.4-5). However, these texts do not nullify what has come before. Nor do they disprove what has already been stated.

In John 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. After four days in that arid climate the body of Lazarus, sealed in the tomb, would have been a nasty sight to be sure. Not to mention the grotesque smell! And yet, as we know Jesus shouts in the midst of those gathered there “Lazarus, come out” (John 11.43), the dead man comes out alive.

This text was chosen for two reasons. One it looks back to what I have been saying in this post and in others with reference to Jesus comments in Luke 16:30-31 about people not believing even if the dead arises. For, not everyone believed in Jesus even when they saw the dead man walking. All Jesus did was give them another person to want to kill (cf. John 11.46, 53, 12.9-11). The evidence by itself was not enough to convince the person of the truth.

Two, Jesus guides the reasoning of the individuals who witnessed Lazarus having been raised. Rather than allowing them to interpret the event in light of their own worldview, using unaided reason, the Lord prepped their thinking. In other words, he gave them the necessary framework to properly interpret the evidence before them: “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe you sent me” (John 11.41b-42; emphasis added).

Without a dependency on God’s revelation, fallen people will never see the truth. In other words, it is impossible to come to a knowledge of the truth apart from God’s revelation. We were created to be dependent upon it, and after the Fall our disposition has switched to the default setting against it.

  • “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this” (Psa 92.6).[7]
  • “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10.25-27).

Notice the emphasis Jesus put on the proper interpretation of the evidence He has presented to the Jews. The works He does are done in His Father’s name and the bear witness to the truthfulness of who He is, but those who are not members of His flock fail to believe.

Inner Light is Necessary

Furthermore, before I finish this post there is another aspect of dependent thought that serves as a necessary prerequisite for comprehending the truth. We are told in Scripture that in the Lord “…is the fountain of life [and] in [His] light do we see light” (Psa 36.9). The inference being: There is a divine element to seeing, understanding and accepting the truth; which, apart from the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work in the hearts of fall people is impossible. In other words, we cannot see the light (life/truth) apart from God’s light (life/truth).

Until God puts a new heart within us we are left with a heart of stone that stubbornly suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. As Stephen said to the Sanhedrin in the 1st century,fallen man is continually stiff-necked towards God resisting the Holy Spirit(Acts 7.51). This is the reason Jesus was killed (from an earthly perspective) because“none of the rulers of this age understood…for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.8). Without the Holy Spirit revealing to fallen people the truth of God (cf. 1Cor 2.10), they “[do] not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him…” (1Cor 2.14). This is what separates the Christian from the non-Christian. We have been given “…the mind of Christ” (1Cor 2.16).

In order to see things correctly and to reinterpret them after God’s own thoughts the unbeliever must have his/her mind renewed (cf. Rom 12.2; Eph 4.23). They must become a new creature(Rom 6.4; Eph 2.24). They must be fashioned after the image of Jesus Christ(Rom 13.4). This they cannot do, for it is a gift from God for we are His workmanship (cf. Eph 2.8-10).

Now, if we as Christians who have been given new life in Christ, have circumcised hearts made of flesh rather than stone (Col 2.11-12), and are being conformed into the image of God’s one and only Son (Rom 8.29) by the Spirit’s power still see things dimly (1Cor13.12), then why would we suppose that fallen mankind is capable of seeing the truth on their own? People who Scripture reveals are in bondage to sin, have darkened minds and hearts made of stone, and are mortal enemies towards their Creator’s will, law and word. Why would we assume that without the proper biblical framework and the Spirit’s acting upon the core of their very being would be able to come to the knowledge of the truth on their own?

Closing Remarks…

Independent rational thought is always irrational at base. This fallen world understands this, so why do we Christians have such a hard time putting two and two together? Obviously, in this post I’ve spent some time discussing the nature of human depravity or radical corruption. What I have been arguing is that apart from a dependence upon God’s revelation—His Word and His action in our lives—we never draw the right conclusion about the world in which we live. This is our Father’s world(as the old hymn goes) and therefore the only way to come to the right conclusion about any of it, is by reinterpreting after Him. Ultimately, this is what it means to be His image bearers. In my next post, I want to spend sometime speaking a little further on how the fall effected our image bearing status with a look at Psalm 115.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas…!

ENDNOTES:


[1] Perhaps a better way of expressing this is to admit that the child’s reasoning, like the educated adult, is likewise aided but in a very limited fashion. Primarily,the child’s reasoning—apart from parental instruction—is based upon sensory experience, and the presupposition guiding that child’s thought is that their past experience and the use of their senses is sufficient to determine the nature of reality. In essence, they assume they are able to properly interpret the evidence before them without any external guidance. Therefore, for the sake of the argument presented this should suffice to show how one’s reasoning leans heavily upon what one is dependent upon.

[2] The creation of this word was chosen over using “forefather” or “ancestor” or“progenitor” in that we are all descended from both Adam and Eve, our foreparents.

[3]Something interesting to note about the folly of both Adam and Eve in the encounter with the serpent in the garden is their two-fold error. First, Adam had been given special revelation as God spoke to him the prohibition of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2.16-17). Secondly,natural revelation demonstrated that human kind was above the animal kingdom.God had given both the man and woman dominion to rule over all lesser creatures. On both counts they willfully turned a blind eye to what God had revealed to them.

[4]Contextually, this recommendation of awareness by Paul to Timothy is something Timothy would face. He was the one charged to preach the Word at all times, convenient or not (cf. 2Tim 4.1-2). While the principle of this truth holds today, this was not a text given for some far-off eschatological end, but its proximity in the life and ministry of Paul’s disciple was the reason for the exhortation and encouragement.

[5] For an excellent resource on the indwelling nature of sin in the life of a believer, I would recommend the following work from antiquity: John Owen, The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believers. You can read it free here: https://archive.org/details/onnaturepowerde00owengoog. Or there are other places where you can find a free download for your e-reader at various other sites.

[6] “Spiritual things” is not a limitation between the natural and spiritual realms. All of reality is God’s reality; He created and superintends over it. Therefore, all of reality, if it is to be properly interpreted, needs to be looked at through a spiritual lens. Man is dichotomy; spirit and earthly.

[7] In case you missed this,allow me to point this out to the reader. This is the same Psalm that was quoted earlier, which is often used to justify the position that natural revelation is all that is necessary to convince someone of the truth. Normally by attaching these comments to Romans 1. However, the Psalmist is very clear,like the apostle Paul in Romans 1 if you read it contextually, that the fallen person—the fool, the one who denies God cf. Psa 14.1-3—CANNOT understand what they see in reality.

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