Things That Cannot Be Shaken
- Tuesday, June 10, 2008
We discussed the two primary sources of authority and truth that are often put forth: the senses (empiricism) and the mind (rationalism). These are not sources that have been chosen by God as messengers of his special revelation. But we, like this group of Hebrews, have mistaken these good and necessary instruments for ultimate sources or grounds of truth.
The question of authority is one that, perhaps now more than in times past, occupies center stage in much of contemporary discussion. Whatever postmodernism's identity, one of its abiding tenets was first set forth by Jean-François Lyotard and is contained in his (in)famous phrase that the postmodern condition is marked by an "incredulity toward metanarratives." This phrase is not as opaque as it may at first seem. Lyotard's point was simply that there should be no overarching and overriding principle or system (a metanarrative) that would determine the shape and direction of what we claim to know and believe. To put it another way, we are to reject such universal principles or systems. This has the effect of destroying any principle or system that would unify otherwise disparate beliefs or "truths." It also has the effect of assuring that there is no universal authoritative principle or system that applies to our own set of beliefs and practices.
Under the influence of this tenet, the question of truth and authority becomes paramount. I may decide that truth for me is whatever I can practice without causing personal harmful consequences. If I can sit at my computer and access illegal material without harming anyone, then it must be that such material is "true" for me; it is a legitimate understanding of "reality" for me. There can be no constraints against my actions; no authority that can hinder them. If I can engage in relationships that are personally satisfying to all involved, then such relationships must be "true" for us all. To paraphrase one postmodern, "Truth is whatever I can get away with." It is simply a matter of personal taste based on personal preference and practice.
Whatever it was that plagued these Hebrews, the author wants to make sure that his readers get the truth and authority matter settled before anything else can be addressed (and there is much more, as we will see, that needs to be addressed). The same is true for us (and for this book). Unless we settle the matter of authority first, we will be forever confused and confounded with the issues that press in on us every day. We may be able to live with the decisions we make on a daily basis; we may even be able to find others who are living with the same confusion. But "living with" such decisions and beliefs is only a way of avoiding what we know to be true. It is only a thin shield, able to mask and cover the reality that is deep within us.
What is it, then, that we need to know about God's authority and truth? What is itthat will solidify us, that will plant us firmly, so that we will not be confused and tossed about by every new idea that comes to us? It is the same thing that these Hebrews needed to know. It is that, though God chose various means of revealing himself to his people throughout history, all of those means were simply channels, rivers, and tributaries of God's revelation, flowing toward and leading inexorably to that great ocean of final revelation that God has given to us in his Son.
This is the first point to understand. God has spoken in Christ. Or, as the author of Hebrews puts it more pointedly, God has spoken (literally) "in a Son." The reason that the author writes this way ("in a Son" rather than "in the Son") is not to highlight that Christ is a Son among many sons. Given everything else that the author says about Christ in these few verses, the point he is making is a categorical one. In past times, God did speak through appointed means—"by prophets." But now, God has revealed himself by means of a completely different category of revelation; now he is revealed "by Son."
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