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"Pilate said to Him: What is truth?"

John 18:38

"But the secular minded person can't accept the gifts of the Spirit.. it's all foolishness to him, he can't understand, because it requires a spiritual understanding"

1Cor 2:14

"At mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing.."

Acts 17:32

Following Jesus

So if we follow Jesus, do we become like unthinking sheep, following along with whatever we're told?  Is there a point at which we Christians abandon reason?  Are the promises of Jesus just 'wishful thinking'?

As the quotes to the side here show, these aren't new questions.  But I've found it an increasingly common criticism put to Christians, that we don't think for ourselves.  That faith is more 'personal' than rational, and that if we Christians do think at all, then we're simply out of touch.

The truth of course, is that Christians come from a cross-section of society.  As with any such cross-section, the amount people think differs.  There will be those who take their faith seriously, and those who don't.  But taking Christians as a whole, we not only do think, but there's a transcendent perspective and motivation in our thinking.  This provides challenges and benefits that secular thinkers often overlook.

Transcendent thinking

You can see the difference it makes in the lives of those who take Christian living more seriously.  For example, would Mother Teresa have chosen her spartan life with the sick and dying in Calcutta were she a secular thinker?  Would secular thought have sustained her for all those years?  That kind of thing takes more than just ideals.  A personal knowledge of the love of God, and an active prayer life can step in, when ideals wear out.

"OK", I hear you say, "that shows endurance and goodness, but Mother Teresa was hardly an intellectual".  I'd have to disagree slightly, for to my mind she had true wisdom, but I think I know what you mean, that she wasn't a 'scientific' thinker.  So let me tell you about a priest I was lucky to know in my younger days..

One of the driving forces in his life, was the pursuit of demonstrable truth.  Oh sure, we all like to have proof for things.  But how many of us actually pursue it?  One particular issue for him was how his Church taught that having sex before marriage was always the wrong thing to do.  He wasn't altogether convinced about this.

Having studied medicine and taking an interest in aspects of psychology, it seemed to him that for most people, having sex when you were mature was important.  And his sense of integrity prevented him giving bad advice to young people on this.

At the same time his faith led him to expect that the Church was right, that sexual activity was reserved for marriage.  But that meant the principle should be demonstrable.  This led him on 10 long years of specific research in the field of psychology, until he found what for him was enough evidence outside the Church, to back his trust in the Church.  Now if I tell you what that evidence was, we'll digress.  I might mention it one day on another page here.  But for now, whether you agree with his conclusion or not isn't the point.  We're talking about whether sheep think and if so how...

So how many sheep do you know that pursue truth so doggedly?  10 years of research!  Many young people consider themselves intelligent, but they just walk away when the Church proposes a lifestyle that seems to require them to miss out on some of life's pleasures.  Without instant evidence for giving up those options, they simply choose to walk another path.  A path with consequences and costs.

Shallow thinking

To be fair, I realise that it often seems to people that the Church is simply outdated here.  'Change over time' is usually assumed by those who follow along with those changes, to be 'progress'.  And progress is typically associated with improvement.  So from such a perspective, turning away from the Church can seem right, and on that basis can even be motivated by an inner integrity.  Naturally a person who turns away with integrity may look on others who follow the Church, as following 'like sheep'.  How else can they reconcile their choices with the path that believers follow?

'..If I am right to ignore the Church, then others who do pay it more attention are simply wrong'

'..Or perhaps they are somehow different to me, so my choice is right for me, and their's is right for them?'

Yet now we come to the crux of the issue.  If you are going to make a choice which arguably has serious consequences both for you and your future married and family life, you ought to be realistically sure it's right.  The priest I mentioned demanded that young people assess the facts rigorously..

Isn't it interesting how now it's the sheep who are applying the rigorous intellectual standard?

Still, looking at the world around us today, we have to realise that if we specialise in some subject, then even a lifetime of rigorous application, can only make us expert in one or two subjects.  A single lifetime just isn't long enough to research every last principle, to be sure about right and wrong.

Christian thinking

for screen readers

So if truth is so hard to find for sure, let's try another approach.  Assume for a moment that you could be guided by the light of truth that comes from God, from the One who designed your very being and purpose in life; One who wants you to succeed.  Who laid the path for you to follow, requiring only trust on your part.

If you follow that light - in faith, so the argument goes, then you can pick up pointers along the way.  That way you don't have to go down lots of blind alleys in your search.  And a lifetime can be long enough, not just to find the truth, but to live it well.

This is the Christian way.  Except it's not based on a theory, but on God's own revelation of Himself.  Like the priest above, in my own personal experience I'm convinced, that our belief really works in the harsh light of day.  That it all makes rational sense.

I don't mean that everything in faith can be explained with science.  There are limits to what we humans have been able to discover with our own powers of observation and scientific method.  Ask any scientist, and they'll tell you just how much remains to be discovered.  So it follows, that the truth of our very existence must transcend the current limits of scientific knowledge.  Science can't explain God, but God can give a context for the science.

In this Christian way of seeing things, God gives us the pointers and helps us along the way.  I and countless others have found that everything gradually falls into place when we follow Jesus and His Church.

This is not blind faith but honest trust.  In that trust, we may follow like sheep, but we're not 'unthinking' if we understand why it makes sense to trust God.  Even if personally, we don't understand every last detail of His teaching, we Christians have made an informed choice, over Who it is that we put our trust in.  God may be a materially-transcendent mystery, but He's never a stranger to a committed Christian.

If you're a believer, does trusting God make sense to you?  Can you explain that sense to others if they ask?  For my part, finding that His ways work out for the best, causes me to give thanks to God.  His ways are not just difficult instructions.  If you're going to walk the 'rocky path', along the challenging 'mountain-tops of life', then you need to know the path from the precipice.  That's what God's commandments are about.  His ways are the sure ways, and following them leads to a full life.  Thank God that He cares for us enough to show us the way to live well!  And how does He show us?  Well let's go back to the ancient writings.

In the Bible-based liturgy, Jesus is frequently referred to as the 'Lamb of God'.  Have a look where the prophet Isiah says how things were to work out with Jesus:

Isiah 53:7 He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.

So God our shepherd, who treats us as sheep become a sheep Himself.  And for what?  To be slaughtered!  Not just the master, but now also the silent victim.

picture of Lamb of God detail in wrought-brass gate

If we are to become 'like sheep', then God only suggests we do a specific thing that Jesus did first.  I'm thinking of the way that Jesus kept to the will of His Father in heaven.  He did this not only because He knew that what His Father wanted for us was perfectly good, but He trusted enough to follow the Father's direction rather than His own.  For Jesus, trust and love are all rolled into one.

That's how we have to be too: loving and trusting of God.  Jesus' action was exemplary, being obedient to the point of death.  But we're all unique, and the paths our lives take, the happy things and sacrifices we experience, will all be different.

Tragically, in a number of countries round the world, Christians are still being killed for their faith - please God, the days of martyrdom could be over!  But for most of us, sacrifice entails something more personal, maybe just the day to day difficulties and annoyances of everyday life, some small, some major.  Yet by trusting and loving God, we can all gain the means to love others, with a love that outlast hard times.  A love even for enemies - if it comes to that.  In this way we can all follow the same characteristics of the path which God in His goodness demonstrated personally.  Jesus is no teacher of theory.

But Jesus is realistic about our limitations.  If we are open to His loving goodness, then God communicates the healing truth of His presence into our lives.  Perhaps no more than we need, and never so much as to impede our freedom, but always enough for us to succeed in our journey of faith.  Being modern rational people, we needn't fear the loss of our critical faculties.  With Jesus in the lead, we'd be called to account if we wasted them.  But let's learn a lesson from the model in the Bible.  If God is like a Good Shepherd, then we have to allow ourselves to be like the sheep He cares for.  Together we will be in His flock.  Safe and satisfied.

Psalm 23

So going with the sheep-analogy, it might be worth taking a moment to consider what makes sheep thrive.  Have a look at Psalm 23:

1. the LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

With God in the lead, all your needs will be provided for.  Just stay close to Him.  Of course your talents and abilities are already provided, so God won't let you off the hook for doing your part.  But nothing He asks of you or allows to come your way will be beyond you.

2. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters.

I'm told by those who know, that sheep need to be led to where they should graze, or they over-graze in one spot.  They are also quite easily scared and don't like to get into water, so a fast flowing river is not to their liking at all.  The Lord gives His flock what they need to thrive.

3. He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.

Whenever we do well, it is to God's glory, so He has no interest in our doing badly – that means He really is on our side!  And more than that, He is ready to help us face up to the challenges that lie ahead.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Sometimes sheep have to be moved to other pastures, that can be risky when you're out in the wild.  Sheep are easily scared, but the shepherd keeps them together and on the right track.  The staff is used to direct and the rod to bring strays back into line.  The good shepherd knows that the sheep need to stay close to him.  Together as a flock, and with the Shepherd's protection, the sheep stay calm in the face of adversity!

5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

Again the shepherd protects and feeds the sheep.  The oil was used to fight off pests.  The flock thrives with a good shepherd, who actually works the pasture to ensure nourishing feed for the flock.  Of course we know that sheep that do well, might go to market, they don't have a real table laid out for them.  But we, if we succeed in faith, we go on to eternal fellowship with God.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

We are not lambs or sheep, but people after the model of Adam: By faith and baptism we can become adopted children of God.  In prayer we can be with Him now!  Staying close to the good Lord ensures we can be happy with Him forever.  Staying close not by blind faith, but by the trust that comes from love of goodness itself.

As I said above, I and countless others have found that God is good and his ways are true.  It all makes rational sense to me when I follow Jesus and His Church.  I have no reason to expect that the same wouldn't be true for you too, providing you go about it whole-heartedly.

Normally we're told not to put God to the test.  But there's one test that the psalmist invites us to put God to:

sunset with rays between delicate clouds

Ps 34:8 O taste and see that the Lord is good..

Happy sheep indeed!

 

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