4-3-2 Spiritual Paradigm Shifts
I find the idea of paradigms helpful in appreciating our blindness (1)
. A paradigm is best explained by an example. There was once a paradigm that the earth was flat. Evidence for this seemed to be all around; as you looked out to sea, it seemed more or less flat. No-one among the average population seriously considered the possibility that the earth wasn't flat. There was no need to. Presumably, people thought, if you keep sailing on the sea, you will come to the edge and fall off. The Catholic church pushed the idea that at the end of the sea there was a big waterfall which went gushing down to a terrible abyss. But then there was a paradigm revolution. Some scientists figured that this really couldn't be the case. Everyone thought they were crazy. After all, all around us, it seemed, there was evidence that they were wrong. Columbus then set sail across the Atlantic, with his family and Catholic priests weeping at the dock as he left, pleading with him, mocking him. They sailed and sailed, until they sighted land. And then there was a crisis. The sailors wanted to turn back. They were sure that they were heading to certain and terrible death. They decided that probably they would get caught up in a strong current which would carry them over the edge, just as the Catholic priests had taught them. But, as Columbus pointed out, the land ahead didn't seem to be the gateway to a place of torture. And finally his reasoning prevailed. They sailed on, and landed- to be greeted by naked women and gifts of gold and silver. They found what to those sailors must have been a paradise: a society where gold was like stone, and where they were welcomed with open arms by friendly, exotic natives. They returned to Europe with their story. And very soon, a paradigm shift occurred. Everyone realized that of course
the world was round, it had to be; after all, all around us (!) is the evidence. Now it's unthinkable that the earth is flat; just as it was unthinkable that the earth was round before the flat earth paradigm was toppled.
This idea of paradigm shifts is helpful with respect to the theory of evolution. It is presented as the obviously correct theory, most young people assume that the evidence for it is all around them. But it may well be toppled, even before the Lord's return, by the creationist paradigm; the evidence for which is also all around us, if we have eyes to see it. The thing about paradigms is that by their very nature, they seem to be so obviously and evidently correct. Understanding the idea of paradigms helps us to see that all human knowledge is largely a matter of perception. The only ultimately true knowledge is the knowledge we acquire from God's word.
In our preaching of the Gospel, we are in the business of paradigm shifting. It's a hard, hard job, because of the blindness, the stubbornness, the utter stupidity, the pathetic, small minded conservatism of human beings. The Lord pointed this out to His budding preachers in Lk. 5:37-39; he warned that men preferred the old wine rather than the new wine of His doctrine, because human beings prefer to stay with the old. Again, you will find this fact recognized and lamented by those truly at the frontiers of research. The famous Belarussian historian and scientist Immanuel Velikovsky came to the conclusion that major events have occurred in the history of Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, which have not been chronicled in orthodox history. He likewise presents evidence that the standard dating and chronology of much ancient history is hopelessly inaccurate; he demonstrates how there are whole centuries which have been wilfully forgotten by historians. Whether or not he is correct, he presents evidence which demands some kind of verdict which orthodox history can't supply. Some of his reasoning confirms the truth of the Biblical record in places where orthodox history contradicts it (2). Yet Velikovsky's ideas have not been accepted- yet. They require too big a paradigm shift, a rejection of too much and of too many respected historians. It was an agony of his soul that human beings prefer to live in a kind of wilful amnesia, forgetting the evidence for whole centuries of human experience, because they are unwilling to make the necessary paradigm shift. Velikovsky sums up his struggles in a posthumously published book, Mankind In Amnesia (3). There are many others like Velikovsky (especially in Communist Eastern Europe), who broke into new paradigms, but were unable to express their discoveries because it would have meant toppling too much else. And for us too, the possession of the ultimate Truth of the basic Gospel means a lonely, sometimes despairing road when it comes to getting others to understand the matchless pearl which we have.
Drivers can see an accident coming, but not swerve; there is a lack of cognition somewhere in the human psyche. Pilots take off at times knowing that their wings are frozen, and crash. Amasa saw the sword and must have seen the possibility of death, but didn’t take cognisance of it (2 Sam. 20:10). Samson must have known, on one level, what Delilah would do. It should have been obvious to the British and French that Germany would start a war in 1938. The smoker knows the habit is destructive. But mankind is in amnesia, somewhere, somehow, we fail to recognize the obvious. Likewise with the nearness of the Lord’s return, with the urgency of our task in witness, with the evident need to follow God’s word- this lack of cognisance so often comes into play. We really ought to pray, earnestly, for open hearts and eyes and obedient lives before our daily reading.
As I said, we're up against the same problem in the preaching of the Gospel. Take a Polish Catholic. To him, it's obvious that if you want to love God, you must go into the church on Sundays. You must respect the priest. If you're good, your soul will go to Heaven. He sees evidence for this all around him. Or take an atheist. Where is God? Why should he believe in such a being? There's no Euclidean proof He exists, those who do believe in God have to admit that ultimately it's all a matter of faith, they can't prove God's existence in any scientific way. The preaching of the true Gospel to the Catholic or the atheist is rather like Columbus reasoning with his sailors. There are many ex-Catholics, ex-atheists, ex-trinitarians etc. who will read these words and know exactly what I mean. Now you see all around you, both in the world and in the Bible, evidence that your old paradigm was so obviously wrong. I'm not suggesting that our beliefs are just another paradigm we're passing through. God's word is the Truth; there is a stability about the true Gospel which is unknown to those in the world. It is the Truth, and we know it's the Truth. If we carefully build on the rock of God's word, we are building on a rock and nothing, nothing whatever, will ever shake us. To me, this is just fantastic beyond words. Our conversion was not just another paradigm shift. Proof of this, to me at least, is found in the fact that those who leave the Faith normally go to the world, to the petty pleasures of the flesh, rather than to some new doctrinal understanding. The basic doctrines we have believed really are " the Truth" , we won't wake up one morning to find that we were totally mistaken about them.
At baptism, we passed from darkness to light; our blindness was taken away (Is. 42:7; Jn. 12:46; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Pet. 2:9). Paul's conversion was a pattern of ours (1 Tim. 1:16); and it involved blindness being lifted at baptism. The seven miracles (Gk. semeion, signs) recorded in John's Gospel are each intended to be read on a symbolic level. The " man born blind" in John 9 was an eloquent type of the believers: the unclean one had the spittle (word / spirit) of the Lord Jesus mixed with dust (flesh) and placed on his eyes. Then he had to go and baptize himself at Siloam, and then his blindness was lifted. It is stressed, really stressed (12 times in 32 verses) that the man was " blind" ; as if to emphasize how totally blind we are before our " washing" , and how blind the unsaved world is. The result was that the man was “put out of the synagogue” (Jn. 9:22)- and the very same phrase is used about all the other first century Jewish believers (Jn. 16:2). They were to go through exactly what he did. The Lord Jesus was well known for His many miracles of curing blind people (Lk. 7:21,22; Jn. 10:21; 11:37); it was as if he healed this affliction especially. All these miracles were surely acted parables of His work in saving men from the spiritual blindness of their earlier life. The figure of blindness being lifted is truly a powerful picture of what happened at our conversion. From then on, we began to see (i.e. understand) for the first time. We began to understand something properly for the first time. We were blind beforehand. Previously, all our 'knowledge' was just perception, passing through paradigms. But our conversion wasn't just passing from one paradigm to another, just another intellectual adventure along a road to nowhere(4). Significantly, the honest atheist or agnostic has to acknowledge that without the idea of conversion to that which is ultimately true, all our changes in life are meaningless. We personally are going nowhere, and therefore all the stages along the road are ultimately inconsequential. Again, Christians in higher education should be on the lookout for this kind of admission in the material they study (5).
(1) This is not my idea. The idea of paradigm shifts and revolutions was popularized by T.S. Kuhn, The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
(2) Immanuel Velikovsky, Ages In Chaos and Worlds In Collision (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1957 & 1959).
(3) Immanuel Velikovsky, Mankind In Amnesia (London: Gollancz, 1982).
(4) This, I suggest, is all that the 'conversion experiences' of some people amount to.
(5) George Orwell, The Road To Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978 ed.) is an example of this.