In reading G.K. Chesterton’s introduction to the book of Job1, I encountered this pearl of wisdom (one of many in his writings).
“The modern habit of saying “Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and its suits me”; the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.”
From “Introduction to THE BOOK OF JOB”, G.K. Chesterton
Perhaps I am over-simplifying the post-modern system (where truth is believed to be relative) or even the post-truth belief (where facts and evidence are willfully ignored). However, I think that Chesterton’s wisdom (above) is perhaps even more applicable today than it was when penned in the early 20th century. Like a deceptive scientist whose models are clearly refuted by tests and measurements, the person whose answers to the great questions in life are contradicted by reality is not a philosopher, but a liar (possibly even to himself or herself).
If a belief is not true, it is worse than merely an error or mistake. Like a disproved scientific principle, it has the power to render people useless (or worse), as their actions do not yield the expected results. If I believed that the steering wheel in my car actually worked in the opposite direction, and if I acted upon that belief, I would be a menace to others when I went out driving.
More than that, an incorrect worldview robs adherents of the wholeness of understanding how the world works. Of course, none of us can understand every detail, since the complexity of the universe exceeds our limited mental capacities, but the truth gives us enough information to understand even seemingly senseless acts in a larger context. When we can explain both the common and the uncommon, the typical and the miraculous, the right and the wrong, then we can better differentiate between them.
On the other hand, if our beliefs are accurate, yet they do not change our lives, we have wasted an opportunity. In fact, knowing the truth but not using it to guide our decisions is throwing away the only true opportunity that we have: the chance to spend our lives (the only lives we get) as a thinking, functioning, valuable contributor in the universal tapestry of time.
Having said all of this in the general sense, I believe that the person and teachings of Jesus Christ specifically fit these criteria of “cosmic correctness”. More than just a philosophy or religion, the truth that He brought to this earth corresponds to reality. His power confirms that His description (including the larger context of the Scriptures that He validated) of how the universe came to be is correct. His life, death, and resurrection teaches us even more than what we can observe and measure in the domain of repeatable science. In fact, Jesus showed us the nature of a transcendent God, who is both the all-powerful creator, and a loving person who reaches out to human beings to offer a relationship with Himself.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
John 8:12 NASB
See also John 14:6, Matthew 19:26 / Mark 10:27, Luke 7:50, Luke 10:21, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Luke 13:18.
Through Jesus Christ, we can explain the tangible, the spiritual, and even the conflicts that take place in our own hearts and minds. Through Him, we can discover our purpose: not constructing something of our own making, from our imagination, but finding what was true all along. We discover this not from our own ingenuity or skill, but rather from God reaching out to tell it to us.
Like Simon Peter in John 21:7, may we find the truth, and act upon it. We cannot change the truth, but the truth can change us.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- Regular readers of this site may recognize this as the same document that inspired Sunday’s post. ↩
4 thoughts on “Personalized Religion”
Your last sentence is very powerful. I am reminded that the truth sets me free. The first change truth makes is a change of viewing my heart properly. It was a heart enslaved, not free. That wasn’t what my childhood religion taught me. It taught me that I was “a good boy.” Even I knew that was nonsense but I wasn’t certain why until I heard the truth from the scriptures. I need to be set free and that was a work done by my Savior, not by me.
“As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:30-36 (ESV)
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That’s an important reminder. If we could just explain to the world the freedom that Jesus brings, I think that those both close to and far away from God could find more joy in Him.
” if our beliefs are accurate, yet they do not change our lives,” — then what is the difference from the person who does not believe them to be true — nothing.
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Indeed! Perhaps that’s what James was alluding to when he referred to a dead faith?