In the article “Called,
the third way” from 2007-12-03 I came to the conclusion that one
should “[v]iew your actions as essentially human activity in obedience
general will, except where God’s immediate instructions surprise you.”
And in the follow-up article “What
we term relationship to Jesus” I argued that “relationship”, when
applied to God, foremost means the opposite to distance, not contact.
Let us hope that this does not represent the whole truth for day-in
day-out life. As that would render us alone, effectively without God
while in this world.
To get hold to the rest of truth also, I’d propose a double
approach, dealing with the relationship to God both on the pragmatic
and epistemic level. It may be unusual to use this oder, but it’s
meaningful: dealing with epistemic problems is time-consuming, and you
need some pre-liminary, yet epistemically unjustified pragmatics to
live and believe in that time. And by the way, the pragmatic and
epistemic side is exactly the partition that make up my two big current
authoring tasks: “A
Seeker’s Guide to Life” deals with the pragmatic side and “Second
Acts” deals with the epistemic side.
Me thinks that such a partition is useful: epistemology is quite
complex and so will only answer the most basic and general questions
about being in contact with God. It may inform us that the concept of
“contact with God” is epistemically justifiable and may present the
spectrum of things that may happen within the contact with God. But in
no way it is possible to epistemically justify every decision in one’s
individual life. For example, it is even in theory impossible to
epistemically justify a prophecy before one obeyed it. To act
meaningfully in this area of limited and fuzzy epistemic knowledge one
needs pragmatism, here simply in the sense of “the art to act”. Let’s
now look at both approaches individually.
Pragmatic practice of the relationship to God
How do you live out a relationship to God if you don’t know (yet) what
you can expect from God’s side, if you don’t see clearly what he does
in your life and (perhaps) if you don’t even have a justified belief in
God at all? Pragmatic people can deal with all these unknowns. Here are
some examples of pragmatic behavior that’s about caring for and
expressing a relationship to God:
- Impression from brain or Spirit?
The border between psychologic functionality and the stirrings of the
Holy Spirit is often not obvious. If in doubt, pragmatic people obey to
the impression if the decision affects only themselves, and keep the
impression for themselves if it would risk the well-being of others. So
if something in your head tells you that right now you should go to a
tree before your house and preach, obey (you might save somebody from
stringing hisself up). But if something in your head tells you that God
calls your fellow brother into mission in, say, Wulumuqi,
and you’re not dead certain about it, keep your silence.
- Expecting God to be near.
Even if God was far, pragmatic people would assume him near until this
is falsified. Because those who assume God to be far cannot be
falsified any more: they won’t experience even a near God as they do
not search for experiencing this. They won’t pray concrete prayers or
listen to the Holy Spirit, as they assume it is impossible to
experience the supernatural. They become orthodox-only. Instead: if
Jesus is near, one will only experience this by dealing with him as if
he’d be near, by practicing one’s part of a near relationship.
- Relationship above experience.
The relationship between persons can change even though no experience
or contact is involved. For example, the character of a relationship is
changed if one party starts to entertain doubts. With respect to God,
pragmatic people would advise to take care of the relationship (ones
disposition towards God) even if supernatural experiences that affirm
God’s very existence are still lacking. Expectations are poison to all
relationships. A good relationship to God (and people) consists of some
basic, simple attitudes like love, obedience and forgiveness, and it
simply does not need God’s supernatural immediate interaction to bring
us back to these. On the other hand, when empasizing the experience of
signs and miracles (imaginary or real), while disobeying God and being
without love for people, composes a bad relationship, bare of genuine
contact to God.
- Ends above means. In the
realm of the unknown, it is not clear what practices and experiences
compose genuine contact with God. Pragmatic people can deal with that:
they don’t examine these “relationsip means” but accept all that lead
to acceptable ends. If the end is the fundamental change of people, it
becomes irrelevant if the means of divine or human or mixed origin
(miracles, the Holy Spirit, human memory and so on). The existence of
God and the promise of resurrection through the grace of Jesus must be
epistemically true, but for the way faith changes people a pragmatic
justification is enough. That is, the end justifies the means.
- Communication without a common
everyday life. Communicating is how we express relationship. For
many Christians, supplication for many day-to-day problems is their
major form of talking to God, with added thanksgiving for granted
requests. This might be not adequate because God’s immediate, concrete
intervention in our lives is probably much less frequent, in the sense
that day-to-da help is an effect of God’s mediate help through the
once-for-all revealed truth. The pragmatic dealing here would be to
stop talking to God as if he’d share all our days on our side, and
instead communicate by telling God regularly about ourself, our
situation, and by thanking him for everything he has granted, by his
mediate or immediate gifts.
All in all, pragmatism advises to deal with God not as the matter of
one’s investigations but as the partner in a personal relationship.
This is the precondition to experience God personally lateron. And that
experience will in turn show that there is indeed this believed
relationship to God.
Up to now, we’ve seen how to pragmatically express a relationship to
God. That’s the human side. Now we need to know how to pragmatically
experience a relationship to God. Pragmatism is necessary here because
these experiences are rarely obvious enough to compose well-founded,
proven, epistemic knowledge about the relationship to God. Well then,
here are biblical promises what you can expect from God’s side and some
hints how to deal with these experiences pragmatically:
- We can expect the help of God.
We may ask for God’s help if we are at wits end, and it is helpful to
do so. The Bible contains many stories and promises regarding answers
to prayer; man in his weakness is not all to himself. The pragmatic
aspect is as follows:
- Do not expect all requests to
be answered instantly. Instead, God’s answer might be short
term, long term, or absent if we don’t need any help.
- Do not expect all requests to
be answered plain enough to see. God might help concretely, or
by concretely reminding us of his general truths and gifts, or by the
general truths and gifts alone. (The latter case involves no action
from God’s side: where he knows that we’ll find the answer within the
general, once-for-all revealed
truth ourself, he can just let things move on.) In all three ways,
God’s answer might be impossible to distinguish from human action. For
example, if God reminds us concretely of what he taught us before, it
might look like it crosses our mind as a human thought or as a random
bible passage. Pragmatism accepts all these answers because they work
(they make up the requested help), with the hope or knowledge that
there are more obvious answers, too.
- We can throw our sorrows at God.
This works, and pragmatism accepts it because it works. At the
pragmatic level, there is no meaning in asking wheter this is due to
the soothig effects of prayer, beliefs as a psychlogical momentum or
due to having learned that God helps indeed. At the epistemic level,
this really makes a difference, but as long as the epistemic answer is
lacking, one can be content with the pragmatic one.
- We can expect to receive wisdom from
God. James tells us [James
1:5 ESV]. This works, and pragmatism accepts it because it works.
Again, as with throwing our sorrows, without further investigation. The
epistemic answer is needed in addition, but might come in later, and
will only answer if it happens at all that wisdom comes from God.
Within personal life, we might still be in doubt in some situations,
and need the pragmatic answer to deal with that: accepting wisdom as
God’s gift because this is epistemically justified even though there is
the possibility that this wisdom is a human psychological product in
- We can expect the Holy Spirit to be
active. The Spirit is said to interact concretely with our lives
by educating us, admonishing us, reminding us, encouraging us. This
might be below our threshold of perception, but pragmatism advises to
ascribe the results to the Spirit in a preliminary way. The Spirit is
the reason why there is no need to build up our faith ourselves or to
stick to faith outselves.
- We can expect God to motivate us for
change. The motivation to become a different person is no result
of faith, as not all believers share this motivation. Therefore,
pragmatism advises to preliminarily ascribe this effect to God.
Epistemic knowledge about the relationship to God
Let’s now move on to the epistemic level. If we’d remain on the
pragmatic level only, we could just as well be Mormons, Buddhists or
something else that “works” to some degree and would therefore be
acceptable to pragmatism. So it’s necessary to have the epistemic level
to support and justify our pragmatic faith, at least in the long run.
Else, our faith would be no more than one of several equally valid
interpretations of life, and might even be rendered an uneconomic /
less valid interpretation by Occam’s Razor.
Our own life might include some few supernatural experiences that
are obvious enough to reach this epistemic level, indicating that some
aspect of God is just as we believe and that our relationship to God is
not just imagination. These experiences might include prophetic dreams
and visions, healing, supernatural answers to prayers etc..
But it might also be that the visible part of God’s reality is below
the threshold of perception in one’s own life. This is “by chance” and
does neither prove deism nor indicate a personal distance from God –
11:32-38 ESV]. But it would make us despaired when trying to
justify our faith epistemically from our own
lifes, i.e. our prayer experiences etc.. Therefore, a central idea for
epistemic justification is to not search it in one’s own individual
life but in the life of all, contemporary and historical people.
Epistemology does not need personal experience to perceive truth, and
one must not be so egocentric to expect it.
To conclude: a Christian’s personal life includes a permanent, 24/7
relationship to God, but not 24/7 experiences with God. The personal
experiences might be so rare and vague that they don’t justify the
belief that there is a relationship. Wherefore justification must come
from another source: the epistemic, hyper-individual level. With this
justification, one can interpret life as a relationship to God even
without personal affirmative experiences.
Start date: 2008-01-01
Post date: 2008-01-21
Version date: 2008-01-21 (for last meaningful change)