Jesus finished teaching in the passage we call the “Sermon on the Mount” by telling a story of two houses.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall.”
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Now that is teaching with authority! —to say that if you act on His words you will withstand the storms of life’s adversity.
An obvious question for any belief system is how well does it correspond to reality. Does it really describe this world and who we are? Does it have answers that stand the strain of disaster?
Towards the end of Francis Schaeffer’s book The God Who Is There he writes that there are two realities none of us can escape: internal reality and external reality—who we are and what the world is.
…a man must live in reality, and reality consists of two parts: the external world and its form, and man’s ‘mannishness’, including his own ‘mannishness’. No matter what a man may believe, he cannot change the reality of what is.
By ‘mannishness’ Schaeffer is speaking of the fact that man is a “real, personal being.” He goes on to say:
Without indicating that his psychology or philosophy is correct, Carl Gustav Jung has correctly observed that two things cut across every man’s will–the external world with its structure, and those things which well up from inside himself.
Schaeffer explains we get caught in a tension between two things: the real world—external and internal—and the logical conclusion of our presuppositions—the belief system we have about life, truth, meaning, etc. We can make some presuppositions about life or self, only to find out that life or self will turn around and shoot those presuppositions full of holes.
Let me mention a few things we experience in undeniable reality that I believe point to the truth of Christianity: the desire and yearning for significance and justice and the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering.1
Take the desire and yearning for significance. We can see this in the behavior and words of others, and we each can testify to this yearning within ourselves. Who among us does not want to know that we matter to someone? That our lives have significance in some way? Who doesn’t yearn to love and be loved? Why do we think like that? Where do these feelings come from?
Even those whose belief system presupposes randomness and lack of meaning to existence and to the world will for the most part live their lives as if their lives have significance. Their system of belief may deny meaning, purpose or significance, but they won’t live like that. And to those who say one must make your own meaning, I would ask why? Why do you even want to have meaning?
Christianity teaches that we each have significance because we are each made in the image of God. Our yearning to love and be loved is a reflection of God who is love.
And take our desire for justice. Who among us, whatever our code of morality may be, has not at one time cried, “That’s not fair!” and yearned to see justice done. I think our desire for justice is a reflection of the holiness of God. Even those who may rail against a God they say exists only in the minds of men to give condemnation and guilt, have at some point in their life cried out to see wrongs made right, even if only within their own life.
Whatever the presuppositions of our belief system are, at some point we want significance and we want justice, whether or not that belief system states that significance and an absolute standard of justice exists.
The Bible states that creation around us is an indication of the reality of a good God who is a Creator of power and wonder. Paul writes in Romans 1:20:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Paul goes on to say that man failed to honor God as God or give thanks, indicating that creation itself teaches us that God is good and worthy of our gratitude as Creator.
Yet we see beauty so often flawed with suffering. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy uses the analogy of a shipwreck to describe our world. He begins the comparison in the chapter titled “The Ethics of Elfland” as he compares the good we see in the world to the items Robinson Crusoe salvages from his shipwreck. He continues it in the “The Flag of the World”:
And my haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe’s ship—even that had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.
The Bible teaches that this world is seriously skewed with wrong, evil, injustice and suffering as a result of the consequence of sin. We have each turned aside from God and gone and lived life in our own way. We have each, in minor and at times major ways, brought things crashing down around us in our lives or the lives of others because of our choices and actions. None of us have even been able to live up to our own standard of right and wrong, whatever that may be, much less the standard of right and wrong set by God.
Before I became a Christian I realized my presuppositions didn’t capture the whole picture of life. I came to the realization that Christianity did. I majored in math education and I loved geometry and abstract algebra. Geometric and algebraic proofs were a delight to me as I poked and prodded the postulates and theorems and found the process that worked because it was true. I will never, ever forget the wonderful, absolutely wonderful feeling when I realized that I could poke and prod Christianity all I wanted, and I would find I was on solid ground.
The question for each of us is: does the pull of reality within and without rip our presuppositions and beliefs to shreds or can they stand the strain? During my years as a Christian I’ve known great and intense personal loss, both in emotional and physical suffering. Reality has ripped and roared, but the solid ground of the Rock has held.
Waves crashing over The North Pier, Tynemouth: FreeFoto.com
Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There.
1If you’ve been reading my posts, you call tell I am indebted to Francis Schaeffer for much of my
thinking in the area of apologetics. If you have read some of his writings you will recognize
that my discussion of significance is drawn from and echoes his work. These ideas are themes
of his, and he writes of them in various places and in various ways.
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908, 1936, pp. 62, 80. I have many disagreements with Chesterton;
his understanding of the Christian faith is erroneous and his understanding of Reformed
doctrine is a caricature, but I love his imagery of a shipwreck to describe the juxtaposition of
the splendour we still see in God’s handiwork in Creation even as it is a fallen and corrupted
world (see Romans 8:18-22).