Capturing Contrasts, Similarities & Truth

November 23, 2013 — 1 Comment

Today, I took a picture looking from the south part of a river across towards the north.

At first I had accidentally inverted the image and then in an almost automatic way corrected it; thinking more about the achievement of capturing the contrast between the dark green foreground, and the light green trees on the other side of the riverbank. I made the correction and continued on.

I was drawn back to the details of the inverted image. I was captivated by the similarities and slight differences that exist between it and the upright image. Differences that are evident and yet not so evident. Such as: what looks like the watery reflection of  trees in the inverted  image (A) is in fact sky. Upside down it looks like a painting. The small green palm tree which looks as though it is hanging down from a tree branch is actually the ground. This picture upside down is, for lack of a better word, stunning.

(A): Inverted version

IMG_20131123_095210

In its inverted position, this mistake makes a simple statement. I like how the light bouncing of the water resembles the colour of the sky, and if the bluish-tint at the bottom was not there, this picture might convince anyone looking at it that it is a representation of what I saw. That conclusion would be true, but it would not be completely accurate.

These pictures tell us that there are trees, water, sky, branches, dirt, grass and a person who, at that particular point in time, was available to capture the image with a camera. There really is little difference between perspectives A and B. The significance is that B happens to be focused; it is clearer because it is right-side up. Although the inverted image (A) can be considered inaccurate scientifically, it still holistically represents the details captured in (B), and is therefore as true as perspective (B).

(B): Upright version

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The principles on display here apply to our understanding and receptivity of the Biblical texts. The authors of the Bible had no video precision. There were no photo finishes and they used the means that were available to record events. These include the strict traditions of oratory narrative, scribes and the observance of feasts to mark significant events.

Truth is not accuracy, although it is synonymous with it. The word true is defined as, ‘in accordance with fact, genuine and not false, exact, in good tune, balanced, accurately placed, loyal and faithful’ (Oxford). Accurate is defined as being ‘free from error, conforming exactly to a standard of truth, careful, exact and showing precision’ (Oxford).

This is all to say that:

The Bible does not have to be accurate in every detail to be true. God’s word is in a sense infallible; it is a TRUE saga. There are three popular rubrics of information that present evidence of infallibility in Western society. These are firstly, approximation, secondly, journalism and thirdly, metaphor. Although journalism has taken a hit in recent years, Western society affirms all three rubrics as proficient in providing accurate information regarding empirically verifiable data – even if complete accuracy is presumed; based on trust and contextual. As historian and theologian John Dickson said recently, we “lean on authority in every aspect of our lives. Whether that be the newsreader, the speed zones, ingredients, diet, et.al” (paraphrased).

Even though accuracy can corroborate what is true; accuracy is limited in being able to completely define truth. Accuracy is perceived through empirical investigation and the results are often based on estimates of probability.Evidence of this is clearly seen in Western society’s dependence on, and belief in, the accuracy of statistics. Even though statistics are numerical estimates, these ‘facts and figures’ are believed to be a reliable reflection of truth[1].  Statistics are a ‘vital source of evidence’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010) because approximation is considered to be the results of a ‘scientific approach’ (ABS, 2010).

Similarly, the use of metaphor efficiently delineates experience, inviting participation through allegory and anecdotes. Metaphor
helps ‘dramatise a psychological experience so as to make it more vivid and more comprehensible’ (Sayers 2004:205). This is evident in phrases such as,‘time is money’ and ‘you disagree? Okay, shoot’ (Knowles & Moon 2006:31
& 35,).

Employing the distinctions are important. An example of this is the terminology used to describe sunsets and sunrise:

(An un-empirically accurate statement) ‘I am looking at the sea and I saw the sunrise’.

(An empirically accurate statement)  ‘I optically observed the large, natural voluminous liquid of sodium-chloride-filled hydrogen-oxide, commonly known as the Pacific Ocean. Optically observing the vacillation of the earth’s axis past the sun’

Not everyone talks like the character Sheldon Cooper on TV’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’, even those who befriend him tend to find his obsessive quest for a totalistic empirical accuracy in every interpersonal communication unhealthy, rude and annoying.

These points of view show that viewing the bible as infallible as opposed to inerrant, is a reasonble approach. First, it retains a healthy scientific respect for the biblical texts and its genres. Second, it calls for a ‘focus on what the Bible is rather than on what it is not’ (Nicole, 1980: 54). Donald Bloesch writes that:

we must never say that the Bible teaches theological or historical error, but we need to recognise that not everything reported in the bible maybe in exact correspondence with the historical and scientific fact as we know it today…’ (1994:37 & 197).

Despite the ‘alleged errors’ (Jensen 2000:200) the Biblical narrative demonstrates that ‘its writers were not concerned with the modern pre-occupation with precision of detail[2]’ (Grenz 1994:401). The authors ‘were recording the facts‘(Yancey 1995:212) as they[3] saw them.

Jonathon Alter[4], a writer for Newsweek, stated in 2003 that

the only thing worse than believing everything we read in the news, is people believing in none of it’ (‘An erosion of trust’, Newsweek, May 26)

This ”could” loosely be said of the Biblical narratives. Still, God chooses to reveal himself to His people through story, and ultimately reveals himself in Jesus the Christ. Thankfully through the activity of the Spirit, Biblical content continues to penetrate truth, both empirical and un-empirical, into the daily aspects of modern life. Challenging us to move towards a fuller humanity, under a commanding, gracious and loving God.

Sources:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010, The Guide for using statistics for evidence based policy, ABS Canberra, retrieved October 24th 2010
Author Unknown, cites John Merill and Jonathon Alter, IowaUniversity, Truth and the Journalist, retrieved 19th October 2010 from http://www.uiowa.edu/~c019168/168s6online9.html
Bloesch, Donald. G, 1994, Holy Scripture: revelation, inspiration and interpretation, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois
Grenz, Stanley. J, 1994, Theology and the community of God, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000 edition, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cambridge U.K
Knowles. M & Moon. R, 2006, Introducing Metaphor retrieved 24th October 2010
Sayers, Dorothy, 2004, Letters to a Diminished Church, W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Yancey, Phillip, 1995, The Jesus I never knew, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan

____________________________________________

[1] A census is taken seriously and accepted as a true reflection that provides ‘accurate and meaningful information’ (2010, ABS.gov.au).
[2] Higher criticism (historical criticism) should be directed against modern art, literature, science and film as aggressively as it is towards the Bible.
[3]  Although, Jensen aptly states that, ‘the biblical writers were not modern scientists, and God did not provide them with the language or insight of science as we understand it’ (198, The Revelation of God).
[4] http://www.jonathanalter.com/

RL2013

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