What we believe to be true is an abbreviation of reality and should never get confused with the real thing. The boiling down and passing on of truth is prone to flaws(we’re sinners), and the most lethal mistake is to assume you ‘have’ the real thing and stop suspecting what you believe. Especially because what we believe drives everything we do.

I hope you will join me in thinking through this interesting topic.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
— Solomon

Truth Infinity

Truth Infinity

So here we are, in a world bigger than us, enriched with more detail than we could ever absorb. Millions of plankton swim in the sea and are scooped up by whales as we speak. There are stars larger than our solar system hiding beyond the vision of James Webb’s golden plates. And there is a nest somewhere in the sprawling woods of Russia constructed with a knowable amount of twigs, if anyone was ever interested in counting them. Infinite resolution to a practically infinite creation, all being cast into the stone-hard concrete of the past and firmly rooted in the foundations of reality.

It is.

It exists.

And we're in it—canoes in the Atlantic of realness. In a sea that doesn’t change according to what we believe it is. The rocks are real, so are the sharks, and the low food supply, and the possibility of getting lost. Realness. A world outside of us that works a certain way and doesn’t budge. Newton’s laws keep working. The locked door stays locked. And all the wishing and dreaming doesn’t make you wake up somewhere else. We’re here, in something far bigger and realer and older than us, dwarfed by the vastness and variety and detail.

It's at this point that we hit the problem. Raw truth is separate from us, but it also has enough scale and detail to blow our brains. It only takes a cheap microscope and a look at the heavens to figure that out. There’s no way we can just ‘have it'. Just ‘know’ everything. We can’t just absorb truth, it’s too big. A type of compression has to happen, so that it fits in the grey stuff.

So, you're sitting on your porch, overlooking the neighborhood as you lean back into a creaky chair. The autumn wind is blowing in the treetops. You can confirm later that you saw it. But can you confirm that the tree had 567, 231leaves? Or that there were 17 knots in the gnarly wood so uncomfortably applying itself to your bottom and shoulder blades? The resolution of reality was there (you could actually go and count the foliage or the chair’s knots),but you didn’t need to. You controlled the amount of information you kept and rejected the unnecessary stuff. In the infinite detail of grass blades, treetops, and dust, we are cartographers drawing maps of mountains and rivers. And so our truth is a deviant of the real thing. A sketch of reality. A ZIP file. A symbol. And most importantly, a copy. We must never mistake our own truth for the real one because in the copying we make mistakes and come to the wrong conclusions. We remember the wrong details, tweak them to make ourselves feel better, and copy other people’s inaccurate or incomplete maps of truth. And our personal map of truth far too easily lands up looking like earlier maps of the world.

An old map of Europe and the Middle east with many feature's distorted.
I love how you can hardly recognise Italy and how the gulf of Aden continues seemingly to China. This was an incredible map for it's time, though. Notice also that North was at the bottom.

The Problem With Warped Maps

The danger to having our belief inaccurately plotted is more dangerous than we think.

‘Right-ho!’ we say. ‘Unfurl the sails. Ready the compass. Align the map. South, we go!’ Only there are islands where there aren’t supposed to be. And sharp rocks. And endless sea. And we look behind us to realise we’ve influenced a fleet of other ships who trusted us and our map more than their own. When the hulls brake and the masts go down and the banners drown, what will we have wished? For better equipment? Faster ships?

We would have wished we knew better.

Because what we believe about our world drives our decisions. Like our map, what we believe to be true will have guided us, driven our decisions in a certain direction, and warped our idea of where we are and where we are going. We believe our actions have some sort of saving power in themselves and so we work slavishly without grace. We believe our looks or intelligence or immunity from influence are somehow our doing and so we nurture pride. We are the most important thing in the universe, so we despise our neighbours. There it is. Behind all our stupid decisions and wasteful time stands that one culprit: our believed un-truths. Peninsulas where peninsulas shouldn’t be. They drive us ever wrongly, decision by decision, onto the rocks, or out to sea, or away from home. I don’t mean what we think we believe. That hardly counts. I mean what we really believe. That lens, undetectable because it is so close, and we look through it at everything. That cold monster invisible but for the decisions and actions that flow from it.

How easily we ignore the believed lies, the ignored truths, evident by our actions. They do more harm than we think. In the cold moments of decision when all we have to go by is a compass and our version of our world, how much can we really trust it? How accurate is it? How much have we worked to make it a true representation of reality?

Never enough.

But let us start now. Let us check what we believe and be humble enough to refine it. Let us remind and challenge each other. And let us pray and read the scriptures, always seeking, always listening, and always being suspicious of thinking we know the whole truth.

We must take the pursuit of truth seriously, as if our lives depend on it. Because they do. And those of others as well.

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