Tag Archives: Warranted Belief

Digging for Answers

I mentioned last week that I am one of those engineers that is always going back to the commentaries in the backs of most of our engineering design standards, seeking answers to why things are the way they are. It’s not just idle curiosity; learning that background has often been helpful later.  But even I was a bit taken aback when the brand-new copies of ASCE 7-16, the “Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings & Other Structures” arrived in the mail from the publisher. I thought I’d accidentally ordered us twice as many copies as we needed in our office! Then I realized that the commentary had grown so much over the last couple of updates, that ASCE had split the commentary out into its own book, almost exactly equal in size to the actual provisions themselves (400 pages each). Maybe they had overly-curious nerds like me in mind this time around….

The fact of the matter is, though, that a lot of good background information is presented in the commentaries. It’s not really necessary to apply the code provisions, but it is extremely helpful in knowing why you’re required to do something, or prohibited from something else. It’s not just in engineering where it’s helpful to know the background, or context, of particular provisions. In the Christian journey, we have a “design standard” for our lives – the Bible – that tells us how to fulfill our purpose in life [1], as well as telling us the background story of why things are the way they are. As Blaise Pascal observed, the Bible explains the greatness, and wretchedness, of humanity like nothing else can. The Bible is the lid of the puzzle box that makes sense of all the jumbled-up puzzle pieces.

Of course, the Bible has obvious provisions like not stealing and murdering, but it also explains the foundation for those provisions in loving our Creator (our vertical relationship, Mk12:30, Deut 6:5) and our fellow humans (our horizontal relationship, Mk12:31, Lev 19:18). But then this love for others is grounded in our love for God because each of us is made in the image of God [Gen 1:27, 9:6]. And so, respecting and loving God means (among other things) loving what He created. Being image-bearers of God results in an intrinsic value to every human, regardless of social status, nationality, physical differences between us, or any other distinctions we make. Does the Bible come out and list the consequences of the “imago Dei” – the image of God –  in a nice tidy outline you can find skimming over the text? No, bu it also doesn’t mention the word “Trinity” either, yet these are both concepts readily assembled from a familiarity with the whole of Scripture. That’s why King David could talk about meditating on God’s law day and night and it being his delight [Ps 1:2, 63:6, 119:23-24]. You have to dig for some answers, but it’s the most exhilarating digging you’ll ever do.

But suppose you’ve read the Bible and were still confused. What then? If you’re reading this internet blog, then you likely have a world of information at your fingertips just like me. A lot of very wise people, far more spiritually mature than I, have written insightful Bible commentaries and systematic theology books, and preached amazing sermons over the centuries, a whole lot of these resources are available for free over the internet or from libraries. For most of us, there really is no excuse for not digging into the rich ore of God’s Word, and studying the works of those Scripture miners that have gone before us and already unearthed nuggets of golden truth. [2]

To the Christian, I would end by pleading: don’t be content with a shallow knowledge of God. You certainly don’t need a theology degree to be saved, but God is also clear in His Word that we should be growing and maturing in our faith [Heb 6:1-3, 1Pet 2:2-3, 2Pet 1:5-8, 1Tim 4:15-16]. That requires knowledge about what you actually believe, and whether your belief actually lines up with what God says is true. As a point of practical application, if someone challenged you to defend your beliefs, could you? Do you know what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the world? Is your belief just one of casual comfort, or is it grounded in the truth? We should always be prepared, “in season and out” to speak the truth to a desperate and dying world [2Tim 4:2]. But even if you never need to “provide an answer for the hope that you have” to others [1Pet 3:15], do you understand the incredible gift you have – “Christ in you, the hope of glory”? Do you value it above all else? If so, it’s hard to not want to dig deep and share what you learn.

To the skeptic, I would ask: is your skepticism truly based on an intellectual rejection of Christianity (despite some of the greatest scientists and philosophers of history being Christians), or is it more a willful rejection of God? Are you as skeptical of your own views as you are of Christianity, or are you really applying a double standard? Have you simply dismissed out of hand parts of the Bible that you didn’t like or that didn’t make sense to you? Or have you actually dug into the mountain of explanatory material that has been generated down through the centuries? As an engineer, when I run into code provisions that aren’t at all clear to me, they are often cleared up quite well after doing some research. Some cases require a lot more research, and hand-calcs, and talking though the issue with colleagues, before I’m convinced; but I can’t say I’m serious about pursuing truth in my engineering practice if I’m not willing to pursue it relentlessly. Likewise, you shouldn’t dismiss God lightly, for your eternal fate is a far more critical issue than anything I might ever design. So get digging, my friend! And if you have questions, contact me. I’ll do my best to answer them or point you to someone who can.

[1] Wondering what your purpose in life is? It’s no secret: “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” http://shortercatechism.com/resources/wsc/wsc_001.html
[2] To get you started with some of those insightful Scripture miners,  might I suggest Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, & Ravi Zacharias?

Making It Personal

engineering-plansThere was an interesting article in the May 2015 issue of Civil Engineering magazine that got me thinking. Their ethics column dealt with the question of misuse of a professional engineer’s seal and made the following statement:

“Inherent in the message carried by a P.E. seal is the element of personal knowledge. With so much trust placed in an engineer’s assessment of professional documents, it is essential to know that the engineer is certifying the documents not on the basis of blind trust or an unsubstantiated belief in another’s work but because he or she has had sufficient personal involvement with the documents to know whether or not they meet the standards of the profession. Accordingly, the requirement of personal involvement looms large both in state licensing laws governing the use of an engineer’s seal and in the codes of conduct….”

Looking at this aspect of my life as a professional engineer and as a professing Christian, I see some parallels between the two.

  1. Personal knowledge is required in both cases. I shouldn’t stamp engineered designs that I didn’t personally design or thoroughly review. Likewise, I shouldn’t hold my Christian beliefs (or any, for that matter) just because they were my parents’ beliefs, or because they are generally socially acceptable where I live. I have to own them; I have to make them mine. But I don’t do that simply by accepting someone else’s beliefs unquestioned. They may be right, or they may be wrong; and ideas have consequences – some more serious than others. If I mistakenly trust a friend’s incorrect directions and take a wrong turn, the effects may be pretty minimal. But if the stakes are higher, like a life-or-death decision, it’s critical that I take full responsibility for that decision and choose wisely. If my eternal future is at stake, that’s not a decision I should (or even can) delegate to someone else. That’s on me, and “not to decide” is to decide.
  2. Blind trust or unsubstantiated belief may be accidentally correct, but that’s simply not sufficient for important decisions. A bad engineering design passed through supervisors and peer reviewers without adequate scrutiny can endanger thousands of people. A false belief, accepted blindly, can condemn countless people to an eternity apart from God. So it’s critical for each of us to examine ourselves, to understand both what we believe and why, and to verify that our beliefs are well-grounded, justified, coherent, and truthful. Our beliefs need to be warranted.
  3. Personal involvement – i.e. action – is required. If I’m stamping calculations or drawings done by someone else, it’s incumbent on me to personally act in a couple of ways. First, I need to take whatever action necessary to verify what I’ve received is correct before I stamp it. However, I also can’t fall victim to “paralysis by analysis”. I can either accept them as justified or reject them as insufficient, but I need to decide one way or the other. In examining my own beliefs, or prospective beliefs, I have to recognize that short of being omniscient, I won’t have every possible question answered to the nth degree when it comes to making a decision, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a reasonable, well-informed decision based on the evidence I do have. The absence of exhaustive data doesn’t mean I don’t have sufficient informative data to take action.

I want to avoid so-called “blind faith” in both my engineering and my Christian life. I want to “know whom I have believed” as the apostle Paul wrote[1]. In the words of Elton Trueblood, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” Rather than being blind, only Christian faith is sufficiently well-founded to allow trust without reservations to be warranted. God doesn’t ask us to put our trust in just anything. In fact, He doesn’t want us trusting our eternal life to anyone other than Him. This is why the apostle John tells his readers to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”[2] This is why Jesus pointed people to evidence of His authenticity, attested to by the miracles He’d done in the sight of those questioning Him.[3] This is why God always reminded the Israelites that He was the God who had led them out of Egypt, who had miraculously fed them in the wilderness, who had driven their enemies before them when they were ridiculously outnumbered by vastly superior forces.  These reminders were a constant call to put their trust in His proven power and love and faithfulness, in His repeated demonstrations that He is the only one worthy to be worshiped and obeyed. It’s a call He still issues to us today, to “taste and see that the Lord is good”[4], to “come and see”[5] for ourselves that He is our only hope, and to make Him our personal Savior.

[1] 2 Timothy 1:12, NASB.
[2] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[3] John 10:22-39, Luke 7:18-23, NASB.
[4] Psalm 34:8, NASB.
[5] John 1:46, NASB.