Monday, 5 November 2007

The New Mind is a Challenge

I have been thinking recently about the idea that the earth might be flat. I mean it isn’t that long ago that it was a commonly believed that if you sailed far enough you would fall off the edge. “Thank goodness,” think the people who propagate this fiction, “that we have come so far since those dark days of religious superstition and ignorance.” Of course, this is all nonsense.

There was a time when people believed the earth was flat but, given the dearth of information in earliest times, that might be forgiven. However, by around 600BC, Pythagoras had come up with the idea of a spherical shape for the earth. By 240 BC Eratosthenes had measured the earth’s circumference. By the time of Jesus it was a commonly accepted view of the world. Soon Ptolemy was to work out the system of longitude and latitude. Knowledge continues to grow and inform as we now see pictures of the earth from space and we continue to learn.

Despite this we regularly hear people trot out the argument that, just the day before last week, people thought the world was flat. It is a useful, if lazy, way to dismiss anything religious as simply a vestige of those dark days when the world was flat, the sun orbited the earth - and God was in his heaven. It is an excuse for dismissing the challenge of faith and caricaturing ‘believers’ of every stamp, but especially Christians, as superstitious throwbacks.

The Bible begs to differ:

"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, you must live no longer as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance..."(Ephesians 4:17-18)

In God’s scheme of things futile thinking is out, understanding and enlightenment is a much-sought-after commodity, and ignorance robs us of life. Christians are not to give in to corrupt thinking and deceitful desires.

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;"(Eph. 4:22-23)

It is the mind that is renewed, as Paul pointed out to believers in Rome:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind"(Romans 12:2)

In this process we become more like our creator as we, put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24 c.f. Col 3:10).

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body"(4:25)

The problem I see is that some Christians can give the impression that becoming a Christian means never having to think again. Like the popular flat earth fable propagated by sinners trying to avoid God, we can come up with our own myths, legends and misrepresentations of simple facts as well as profound truths. Some I have heard over the years include:

Being told on many occasions by Mormons that the Church of England started because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. This is a gross misrepresentation of complex and profound historical/political facts.

Hearing that Galileo was “thrown into a prison” by the Pope of the day for daring to suggest that the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe and man at the pinnacle of creation. Some people need to research their history.

The suggestion, still popular in some circles, that Jesus was not even an historical figure, let alone the Son of God. Such claims are more to do with wishful thinking than historical data.

You can prove anything from the Bible! Come on give me a break!

As Christians, with new minds, we dare not show ignorance before a world that watches us for excuses to reject God on the basis that Christianity is irrational and unreasonable. Some would have us believe otherwise but Paul wrote about renewed minds, putting off ignorance, enlightened thinking and speaking truth. This makes us like the God who made us and surely this is our hope and desire, that we should be like him. May we be found to be like him today, and grow more to be like him as we review and renew our understanding and knowledge of him and the world he made and died to save.

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