One of the physicists who developed the atomic bomb, Leo Szilard, once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary. “I don’t intend to publish it,” he said. “I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.”
“Don’t you think God already knows the facts?” Bethe asked.
“Yes,” replied Szilard. “He knows THE facts. But He does not know MY version of the facts.”
How many versions of the facts ARE there? Two motorists are involved in a minor fender-bender, witnessed by no one else. They call a policeman to adjudicate. In such a situation, probably there are three versions of the “facts”. Each motorist has seen it all through his eyes, colored by his perception of the other driver. And the poor officer needs to balance two biased, self-interested accounts with his own objective investigation of the evidence — skid marks, exact positions of the vehicles, damage to each vehicle, positions of each vehicle relative to stop signs or traffic lights or lane markers, and so forth.
Let us say three bystanders are nearby, and they all witness the same crash. Each one is standing in a different place; each one was looking at something different just before the crash; and each one has focused most on some particular feature of the incident.
Now there are almost certainly six different versions of the “facts”.
Are the “facts” further affected by the types of cars each motorist is driving? By the race, or gender, or appearance, or socioeconomic class of the motorists — or of the bystanders?
Yes, of course they are!
In some fundamental way, then, it may be said that every single person who has ever lived has lived in his or her own “world”. No one else has had exactly the same experiences. And even if two people were to have exactly the same experiences, then the subjective biases, dispositions, or underlying philosophies of each person would certainly be very different. So each would have his or her own version of the “facts”.
Is there a TRUE version of the facts? Of course there is. It is God’s! How much time and energy and effort do we all expend, in the unexpressed (but nevertheless very real) “fool’s errand”, of trying to get God to see the “facts” from our viewpoint?
The irrepressible Snoopy (from the Peanuts comic strip) sat on the roof of his doghouse, tapping away on his little typewriter. (How he typed, since he had paws but no fingers, I’ve never been able to work out.)
“I see you are still working on your book of theology,” Charlie Brown said. “Do you have a title yet?”
“Yes, indeed,” thought Snoopy — a gleam in his eye. A closer look at the page in the machine informs us of Snoopy’s book title. The ultimate title for a book on theology? “Has It Ever Occurred to You that You Might Be Wrong?”
Abraham Lincoln often asked a question of visitors to the Oval Office. Pointing to a dog nearby, he would ask, “How many legs does that dog have?” “Four, of course,” would be the answer. “Now,” Abe would say, “let’s call his tail a leg. Now, how many legs does he have?” “Five.” “No,” replied Abe, “Still four! Because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one!”
Your facts. My facts. God’s facts. Let’s resolve, from this time forward, to try to see things from God’s point of view. That, and that alone, is the way of understanding.
How do we do that? Read the Bible. Pray about it, and read it again. See what it has to say about real-life situations. Put its teachings into practice, as best you can. Read the Bible some more. See what it has to say about the future. See what it has to say to YOU, personally. See what it promises to those who believe it. Pray again. Keep on reading.
Don’t ever let someone else tell you what the Bible says; check it out for yourself.
The Bible is the Word of God. In the things that really matter, there simply is no other version of the “facts”!
Everything we’ve said above applies, with equal force, to us as believers, in our relations with one another — as individuals with individuals, as ecclesias with ecclesias, as one group of believers with another group of believers.
Now, as believers, we are necessarily very committed to “the Truth” — that is, the system of beliefs (and code of conduct) that is outlined in our standard statement of faith. (We recognize that there is more than one statement of faith, and that some statements differ very slightly from others. For our purposes here and now, we will assume we are speaking to those who subscribe to identical statements of faith.)
Is it possible that, even within these rather restricted parameters, you and I — and the brother next door, and the sister down the road — may each have our own “version of the Truth”? Yes, of course it is. In fact, it’s almost a certainty.
Brother A may have grown up in a quite traditional Christadelphian ecclesia — where only certain hymns were sung, and where anything new and different was looked upon with a great deal of suspicion.
Sister B may have developed, at an early age, an aversion to the color red. Somehow, in her mind, she associates it with the woman dressed in “purple and scarlet” in Revelation 17:4.
Brother C may have been raised in an orthodox Jewish household, and he simply cannot shake the idea that certain meats, and certain combinations of foods, are simply not “kosher”.
Sister D may have grown up without a father, because of a terribly sad divorce. She simply cannot feel at ease with the concept of any divorce or any remarriage in the brotherhood, no matter the circumstances.
Brother and Sister E may have been great friends of brother F, feeling there was never a finer person than he. And they take it as a personal affront if anyone, anywhere, expresses an opinion contrary to a single one of Brother F’s extensive and widely-disseminated ideas.
And on and on we could go, multiplying the examples.
In effect, what we are saying is that each of these brothers and sisters has his or her own “version of the Truth”.
The above scenarios, or similar ones, will assuredly happen. It is practically unavoidable — especially if we all exercise our minds upon the Bible, and upon important moral and ethical questions. The only alternative to this state of affairs is if we are all held in bondage to a whole catalog of one brother’s views and ideas and opinions. That would surely not be a healthy state of affairs.
So let’s be honest: you, and I, and just about everyone else, has his or her own “version of the Truth”. We were born into different families; we heard and saw different things as we grew up. We were instructed by different teachers. In many cases, we read different expositions and writings on the Truth. We may have sung from different hymnbooks. We went through certain experiences that affected us deeply — experiences others did not share.
The real problem comes when, out of some combination of pride, and fear, and feelings of inferiority (or superiority), and hurt feelings, and bitter experiences, and sorrows, and class consciousness, and ethnicity, and unreasoning dislike of this or that individual… we come to think of our own unique “version of the Truth” as “THE Truth”. “THE Truth, the WHOLE Truth, and NOTHING BUT the Truth!”
It is then that we may be tempted, as was Leo Szilard, to share with God “our version of the Truth”, for His further enlightenment.
Maybe there is some aspect of a matter that the LORD God just hasn’t thought about enough, or in quite the right light! Surely if we explain it in the very best way, He’ll finally understand.
Maybe if He could really see how important such-and-such is to ME… then He would see it MY way!
Maybe if He ever thought about the danger latent in that other point of view, the subtle threat it poses to all the rest of us, He’d step in and take action to rule it out of bounds for everyone!
To put these ideas into words is to realize just how foolish is the reasoning behind them. We can almost hear the LORD Himself admonishing us: “You thought I was just a man, like yourself!” “You thought I didn’t KNOW?”
It is one thing to cherish one’s own special viewpoint, likes and dislikes, foibles, and peccadilloes. But it is quite another to expect everyone else — not least the Creator of the universe — to take them into account! Where were WE when He set the stars in their courses, and laid out the procession of the seasons?
Jesus called twelve very different men to follow him and become his first disciples. Among the apostles were scholars as well as uneducated working men; thoughtful, dreamy men as well as no-nonsense men of action; and — strangest of all — a well-paid hireling of the Romans alongside a fierce revolutionary, who was determined to rid Israel of all Romans! Jesus called them all, taught them fundamental principles, and then paired them up and sent them out to work together for the good of others.
As if that wasn’t enough, later on he called a murderer — who had plotted and carried out the executions of other Christians in the most cold-blooded way imaginable. He instructed him, redirected his life, and then pointed him in the direction of the other believers. Surely among these others were families (brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children) of those whom Saul of Tarsus had murdered. “Go,” said Jesus, “and labor alongside them to finish my work!”
Finally, as his church, or ecclesia, began to grow, the Lord Jesus Christ brought together conservative Jews and “libertine” Greeks, those who tithed mint and cummin along with those who ate idol-sacrifices, those who circumcised as well as those who did not. These were people who in the normal course of their lives would hardly ever speak to one another, and would never sit beside one another, or dip their bread in the same bowl of stew. Now they were commanded to meet together regularly, in one another’s houses, and share bread and wine from the same dishes and cups, in memory of their Lord.
Then, before the older generation could even get used to the new order of things, their “kosher” sons were eyeing the daughters of former idolaters… and sending out wedding invitations!
It was as though Heaven itself was sending one more message to Christ’s followers: ‘Nothing will ever be the same. Your old fears and prejudices and hatreds should be thrown out the window. Your old “security blankets” will be packed away. I am creating all things new. You can bring your personal quirks and your silly little idiosyncrasies along with you, if you please — I won’t wrest them away from you one by one. But don’t think you can foist them off on everyone else ever again.’
More than a hundred years ago Robert Roberts wrote: “It is possible to go too far in our demands on fellow-believers. How far we ought to go and where to stop, is at one time or other a perplexing problem to most earnest minds…” (“True Principles and Uncertain Details”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 92, No. 1097-Nov. 1955-p. 414).
For our own peace of mind, if for no other reason, we all ought to learn how to distinguish between first principles and non-essentials, between faith and prejudice, between the bedrock of the gospel and a multitude of “add-ons” — in short, between God’s Truth and “our version of the Truth”.
We owe it to our brethren, who share with us the same hope.
And we owe it to our Savior, who died for us all.
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord… You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:1-7,10,13-15).