PREFACE: for the meaning and aim of this series, see Hello, Out There #1: on Truth.
Those arrogant Bible-thumpers. I grew up not only not Christian, but enthusiastically not Christian. During my "BC" days, my buddies and I liked to go on and on about how arrogant Christians were. All these Bible-thumping Jesus freaks, claiming to know absolute truth, telling everyone else how to think and how to live, telling them they were wrong and going to Hell. Made us sick.
For our part, we were certain that you really couldn't be certain. And besides, if anybody could be, it wouldn't be these knotheads, most of whom were intellectually pretty dim bulbs.
(That was thirty-plus years ago. Funny how not much has changed, isn't it? Except back then mostly it was non-Christians making this criticism of the claim to know truth; now a lot of the critics profess to be Christian. But I digress.)
So what of it? Is it arrogant to say you know the truth? Are Christians arrogant?
The answer: well, yes.... Of course, some Christians are arrogant, and repulsively so. But I don't think we'll get very far in evaluating any world-view by some of its advocates, will we? I mean, if some people who think that murder is bad are jerks in other ways, while some murderers are nice to old ladies and puppies, does that say anything about murder? Don't we have to decide some other way than "who has the nicest salesmen?" If the product is bad, isn't it bad no matter how friendly the peddler is?
So let's ask whether the Biblical position is necessarily and inherently arrogant.
Definition. First we'd better define that position. I think we'd agree that, if the Christian position says, "We are right about Truth because we are smarter than everyone else and we did our homework better and reasoned better, so you'd better believe us" — that's pretty arrogant.
Or if the Christian position is, "We know Truth because we looked for it harder and better and more sincerely than the others. If they'd been as smart and diligent as we, they'd have found it too. But they weren't, so they didn't, and we did!" — that's arrogant. Stinkily arrogant.
But is that the Biblical, which is to say the Christian position? Hardly. In fact, that is the polar opposite of the Christian position.
God's design. For instance, hear Paul: "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth" (1 Corinthians 1:26). Some? Yes; but not many! So far from boasting that Christians were the smartest on the block, Paul seems to take positive glory in the fact that they were not what the world would judge to be the sharpest scalpels on the tray.
Why? Paul explains:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:27-31)If I can break that down a bit, Paul is saying that in many cases God expressly chose people who would poll poorly, people who were not "Honor Student at ___," who were not on the Who's Who of his day. There may have been some bright lights here and there, but they were the exception and not the rule.
God's express design in this (Paul says) is precisely so that no one could look at them and suspect that they'd figured this out by themselves. ("Them? Surely not!") God chose a bunch of dim-witted, non-entity losers, drew them to Himself, and brought them into a relationship with Himself — so that the net effect is that He and He alone gets the credit for there even being a relationship in the first place.
So, you see, the Biblically faithful Christian position is violently anti-arrogance. Anyone who has a relationship with God either must confess that he never made the first move, that nothing good in him attracted God's attention, that God gets all the credit... or else he doesn't have a relationship with the God that the Bible talks about.
Put another way. The Bible teaches that none of us really wants to know the real God (Romans 3:11). Now, understand: we all want some belief-system that makes us feel better, and we'll call it "God" if that helps — but that isn't what the Bible means. It uses the word "God" very specifically, meaning a particular God in exclusion to any other. And that God, nobody naturally wants to know.
In fact, we're all naturally bent contrary to Him (Romans 3:10-18). So we're not going to find Him by ourselves, ever. Even the way we think is inclined to put things together wrong, so that we will never admit that we see God, even when His works are staring us straight in the face (Romans 1:18-32).
So according to the Bible, not only has no man ever figured his way to God, but no man ever can do it — and no man ever would do it!
So the whole superstructure necessary for arrogance is a non-starter, on the Biblical view.
So then, nobody knows God? But the same Bible that says that men don't want to know God, and that they won't admit to what they do know of God, says that there are some who do know Him.
How did that happen?
Three steps, to put it briefly:
- Creation. God's works show that He exists, and that He is mighty (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20). Even big, bad atheists know deep down inside that things didn't make themselves. It's just that admitting what they know would ruin their party, so they don't. But though creation reveals important truths about God, it doesn't say anything clear about His character or nature or will; not clear enough that we can know Him. That requires...
- Words and deeds. The Bible says straight-up that God took the initiative, and opened up to us. When Adam sinned and hid, God talked to him (Genesis 3). He's been talking from the very first, and He has said a final word which is still speaking to us today. Listen:
- Changed hearts. Once again, God makes the first move. As Paul said before, "because of him you are in Christ Jesus." That means it is a work of God. God takes our stubborn, hard, God-hating minds and changes them. He puts a new heart in us. Where it was absolutely natural for the first heart to run from God, it is absolutely supernaturally-natural for the new heart to run to God. And so, all the credit for this relationship, every bit of it, has to go to God.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:1-3)So God took the initiative and spoke in various ways from the very start; and now He speaks to us in Jesus Christ. In that, He has taken the initiative. He has put it all out there for anyone to see and to believe.
But we don't, because of the problem I talked about before: we don't want to. It bugs us. It threatens us, irritates us, insults us, makes us mad. We can't handle the truth.
So why can some people handle it? We already know it isn't because they're smart or good. We already know that it has to be in spite of the fact that they are bad and stupid and contrary. So how does it happen?
The only way it can happen.
But here's the thing: this whole Biblical package is the only worldview that one perfect person did believe in. Of course, I'm talking about Jesus.
Stepping back one more time. So we've seen that the position is not inherently arrogant. On the contrary, the Biblical position is the antidote to arrogance.
In fact, the truth of the matter is that all other positions are necessarily and inherently arrogant. All other positions necessarily exalt some non-God — self, experience (which is self), journey (which is self), rationalism (which is self), decision (which is self), choice (which is self) — over against God's self-revelation. All other positions say that the infinite-personal God is wrong, and they are right.
Now, that's arrogance.
Religious or irreligious, it is those "who wander from [His] commandments" (Psalm 119:21) who are arrogant.
In sum: the Christian position is not, "I am right, and everybody else is wrong." The Christian position affirms with Jesus that God has made His truth known.
The Christian position is "God is right, and all who disagree with Him are wrong."
Any contrary position is the heart and soul of arrogance.
PS — one glaring omission in this little (?!) essay is the whole issue of premise. A great deal of criticism of Christianity is based on an unspoken premise. What is said is, "You Christians are arrogant." What is unsaid is, "[Because Jesus is a liar,] you Christians are arrogant." The reverse also applies: when Christians say, "This is the truth," what we mean-but-too-often-don't-say is, "[Because Jesus is true,] this is the truth." This, in itself, probably warrants a whole post.