Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Eliminating Bias

"I don't believe that", said Alison, "I'd like to see your evidence."

Chris was taken aback. He had not faced someone so skeptical before. In the discussion so far, Alison had seemed polite enough but she was also becoming increasingly closed-minded. At first Chris wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't prepared for this response at all.

Before we continue, let's meet Chris...

Chris had always attended Sunday School right through until his early twenties. Sometimes when he was younger he didn't want to go, but his parents made him go. Now that he was older he was thankful for it, because those early lessons helped to shape his view of the world. He could see God's hand in everything, from the creation of trees and mountains to the complexity of animals and humans. Throughout his childhood he had learned to connect everything around him with God, and that gave his life a sense of meaning. He was a part of God's plan.

The Sunday meetings were a highlight for Chris, who loved singing the hymns and listening to God's word as it was read aloud and expounded upon. It was also a great opportunity to share life's ups and downs with fellow believers. He believed that the friendships he formed there would last for eternity. It was reassuring to be surrounded by so many people who understood God's word and could validate his own experience of feeling God's presence in his life. Occasionally there were visitors from other countries, and this too was evidence of God's hand in bringing more people into the flock all around the world.

Occasionally Chris met people from other religions and in their discussions he had always felt that those people had been misled. He could see the flaws in their beliefs, but they would not listen to him. He felt sad that so many people had been deceived and had turned away from God's clear message. If only they would search out the Truth contained in God's word, as he had done (with the help of his parents and teachers). Still, he felt compelled to continue on with his mission of spreading the word. If people rejected God's offer, that was their choice.

When major events happened in his life, Chris looked for God's invisible hand behind them. Through the eye of faith he could see how God was influencing events in his life and helping him to become a better man, more fit for God's eternal purpose with him. Sometimes good things happened, and Chris thanked God for them, remembering that he was a sinner and deserved no such favours. It was a sign of God's unlimited mercy and generosity that he would shower Chris with blessings even when they weren't deserved. God's grace was surely boundless.

Sometimes bad things happened. Chris reasoned that God may have been punishing him for sins he had committed, or otherwise God may have been moulding his character to better cope with things in the future. Chris took comfort in reading the book of Job, and wondered if God sometimes tested him to see if he was really serving God with a pure heart, not looking for personal gain. God knew best, he thought. It is not for the clay to question the potter. God's thoughts and ways were so much higher, and therefore Chris learned not to question, pleading for God's mercy and strength instead. When he allowed himself to let go through prayer and put everything in God's hands, Chris felt the weight lift off his shoulders. It was a great feeling of relief, and this provided immense comfort and confirmation that God was with him and had forgiven him of his sins. This in turn often prompted more praise to God, for Chris knew that he was a sinner and was not worthy of such forgiveness.

Several years ago, when his mother had been diagnosed with cancer, Chris was shocked. She had always been a devout follower of the Lord. She had raised a godly family, worked so hard to help out the poorer members in his community, and had spoken often of her love for God. Chris had prayed to God for his mother to be healed, and for understanding and strength. He knew that even though it didn't make sense at the time, God must have had a higher purpose. Months later when his mother passed away, Chris remembered the confusion and the pain he had felt. Why would God allow this to happen to someone who loved Him so much?

Eventually Chris managed to find peace and accept God's answers to his prayers. Sometimes things seemed harsh and confusing, but Chris learned to trust in God and never question God's wisdom. Only God knew why his mother had died so relatively young, but Chris felt that God was still there comforting the family. In fact, Chris could see that many people in his meeting had been so emotionally touched by the tragedy that it had brought them all together. There had also been several baptisms in the months that followed. Perhaps the events, while terribly sad, had prompted people to think more seriously about their lives, and seek God more earnestly. Chris found comfort in thinking that God had worked through his mother's temporary pain and suffering to bring more people to salvation. She would have accepted that. He longed to see her again, and this helped to strengthen his faith as he looked forward to the resurrection. He knew that he needed to remain firm in his devotion to what he had been taught since his childhood, and never sway to the right or to the left.

Throughout his whole life he had felt like God was never far away. He saw God's hand in world events, and even in the little details in his own life. He had seen prayers answered, and had felt the power of singing praises to God with his entire meeting. He had friends who had been extremely sick and had made a full recovery, even when the doctors said it was unlikely. He had witnessed the power of God in converting strangers to accept his religion. Above all, God had helped him to cope with the loss of his mother and had comforted him every day since.

And so it was quite confronting to be standing here facing someone who questioned the very foundations on which his whole life was based. Of course his beliefs were true! Just look at the evidence surrounding his entire life! Chris wanted to point to the millions of examples of God's hand directly working in his life. Or the times when he could feel God's love pulsing through his veins. He wanted to list off the number of prayers that had been answered. The work done in his community. The great prophecies that had been fulfilled, especially in the last 200 years!

With so much evidence supporting his beliefs, Chris found it difficult to even accept the question. Where would he start in describing it all?

What should Chris say to Alison? What would you have said?

Before you give your answer, there's something else I didn't mention.

Chris is a Mormon. Alison is a Christadelphian.