Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Obedience as a path to truth

A.J. Jacobs is a agnostic, secular Jew and the author of The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I have not read the book. He gave a talk in 2007 on how the experience of trying to follow every law in the Bible changed him. It is a mildly amusing talk. Though he makes several errors in his conclusions it seems as if he made some positive progress. Of his insights I think this is one of the more profound, and I am not certain most Christians grasp the significance of this.
I couldn't believe how much my behaviour changed my thoughts. This was one of the huge lessons of the year is that I almost pretended to be a better person and I became a little bit of a better person. So it's that I had always thought you change your mind and you change your behaviour but its often the other way around, you change your behaviour and you change your mind. [6:20]
Rosaria Butterfield noted something similar during her conversion
But God's promises rolled in like sets of waves into my world. One Lord's Day, Ken preached on John 7:17: "If anyone wills to do [God's] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine" (NKJV). This verse exposed the quicksand in which my feet were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read books and write about them. I expected that in all areas of life, understanding came before obedience. And I wanted God to show me, on my terms, why homosexuality was a sin. I wanted to be the judge, not one being judged.

But the verse promised understanding after obedience. I wrestled with the question: Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God's point of view, or did I just want to argue with him? I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to obey before I understood. 
Elizabeth Goudge writes in her excellent (albeit slow) novel The Bird in the Tree,
Creative love meant building up by quantities of small actions a habit of service that might become at last a habit of mind and feeling as well as of body.  I tried, and I found it did work out like that. Feeling can be compelled by action not quite as easily as action by feeling, but far more lastingly.
While we need to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), obedience (when the pathway is clear) in the face of uncertain feelings eventually convinces us of the truth we have accented to.

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