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Logical Assumptions and Axioms

Assumptions and Axioms

Thinking about Thinking...

In the New Testament, the Greek word metanoia (and its related verb, metanao) is the most commonly used word to express the idea of "repentance." The compound word is formed from 'μετα' (after, with) and 'νοεω' (to think) and generally means "changing your mind" (in the noun form) or "thinking differently" (in the verb form). Since it can represent an "afterthought" expressed emotionally as sorrow or regret, metanoia is similar to the idea of nacham (נָחַם) in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Greek word strepho (στρφω), like the Hebrew word shuv (שׁוּב), means to "return" to God in a more practical sense, that is, by performing acts of contrition. In either case, however, a change of direction is implied, and that change ultimately begins with how we think and what we regard as truth.

Yeshua's earthly ministry began with the message, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent (μετανοεῖτε) and believe (πιστεύετε) in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). These two verbs (repent, believe) are in the imperative mood.  We are commanded to repent, to "change our thinking" and to believe the message of the gospel. As I've said before, trusting in Yeshua is the most important mitzvah of the Scriptures.  This implies, among other things, that there is an "ethic of belief," or a moral imperative to accept the truth and reject error in the realm of the spiritual.  God holds us responsible for what we think and believe (Acts 17:30-31).

If God holds us responsible to repent and believe the truth of the gospel, He must have made it possible for us to do so ("ought" implies "can").  And indeed, God has created us in His image and likeness so that we are able to discern spiritual truth. He created us with a logical sense (rationality) as well as a moral sense (conscience) so that we can apprehend order and find meaning in the universe He created. All our knowledge presupposes this. Whenever we experience anything through our senses, for example, we use logic to categorize and generalize from the particular to the general, and whenever we make deductions in our thinking (comparing terms, making inferences, and so on), we likewise rely on logic. We have an innate intellectual and moral "compass" that points us to God.

Since we all necessarily must think in order to live, we should value clear thinking. This should be obvious enough, though people often make various errors and misjudgments because they devalue the effort required to carefully think through a question.  As William James once said, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." When it comes to questions about the gospel, however, God regards such carelessness to be blameworthy. Again, the LORD holds us accountable for what we think and believe, especially when it comes to the reality and mission of His Son.

The truth about God is always available to human beings, if they are willing to look for it. The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation  - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). The heavens are constantly attesting to the reality of God's handiwork (Psalm 19:1). All of creation "shouts out" that there is a God. Even small children understand this.

The witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well. If you regress far enough in a chain of reasoning, you will always encounter first principles, intuitions, axioms, and "apprehensions" of the laws of thought. This is how language works, or rather, how our mind necessarily discovers truth about reality. For example, the law of contradiction (or identity) is not discovered in experience, but is brought to experience by the operation of the mind.  All reasoning is ultimately grounded on foundational first principles that are regarded as self-evident and that are known through the light of the mind itself. Even the pagan Greeks understood this. For instance, Aristotle said that both deduction and induction ultimately were based on the "intuitive grasp" of first principles of thinking itself:

 

It's important to realize that no one "invented" the rules of logic (such as the law of identity, the law of contradiction, valid rules of inference, etc.); no, these axioms are presupposed in all forms of intelligible thinking about anything at all. In other words, God created the mind so that true thinking is possible. If you are reading these words, you are presently using logic. You are identifying and combining letters, interpreting their meaning, making connections and comparisons, and therefore making inferences. There is no way to argue that logic is "artificial" or culturally relative. No one can consistently use logic to argue against its universal validity. The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to correspond to reality. Reason discovers order in the universe but does not create it ex nihilo. If you deny this, you have opted out of the realm of thought altogether and entered the realm of the absurd.

 

Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships), and so on. Even scientific truth is based on principles that transcend the discipline of science itself (for example, the assumption that knowledge is "good" and should be obtained is not an empirical statement). The human mind naturally uses these sorts of categories in its thinking all the time, but each of these are ultimately derived from the rational mind of God Himself.

So God made us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the ground of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be knowable according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the word/logic (ὁ λόγος), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God" (John 1:1). God created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are likewise intended to exhibit order and beauty. "For the fruit of light (καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματος) is found in all that is good and right and true" (Eph. 5:9). Therefore "whatever is true... think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).

The Source of all truth is God.  He is the Master of the Universe, the Lord of all possible outcomes and worlds. The heavens declare His glory (outer world) and human beings are made b'tzelem Elohim - in His image (inner world). We are all accountable to Him for our lives, and the irresistible testimony of logic reveals His design and order of reality...


 

The immanence of the divine Light helps us make sense of Yeshua, who is the "Light of the world" that "enlightens every man who comes into the world" (John 1:9; 8:12). Yeshua said, "the Spirit of Truth ... will bear witness about me" (John 15:26). And again, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-- to bear witness to the truth (ἀλήθεια). Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). Heaven and earth shall "pass away," but the words of Yeshua will never pass away (Matt. 24:35). The life of Yeshua embodies the truth of God (John 14:6).


The Duty to Think Clearly

Again, we are "epistemologically" responsible to walk in the Spirit of truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). God Himself helps us to do this: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (παράκλητος, someone "called to one's side"), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת), whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:16-17). God gives us the Spirit of Truth so that we can know the truth about His salvation and to "discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Rom. 12:2). Truth is connected to memory - both in our personal histories as well as the history of God's redemptive actions performed on our behalf. Hence we are constantly commanded to remember what God has done for us. Similarly, the Spirit of Truth brings to remembrance the words of Yeshua to our hearts (John 14:26).

Followers of Yeshua are commanded to love the truth and to think clearly about their faith. The ministry of reconciliation itself is defined as "the word of truth, by the power of God, through weapons of righteousness" (2 Cor. 6:7). Indeed, the word of truth (τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας) is a synonym for the "gospel of salvation" itself (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; James 1:18). We are saved by Yeshua, who is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). God commands all people to believe this truth (Acts 17:30-31; 1 Tim. 2:4). People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore we see that the issue of truth is central to salvation itself....

Soldiers are often told chazak v'amatz ("be strong and courageous") before they encounter the dangers of the battlefield, but it's vital to remember that each of us is engaged in a spiritual war every day of our lives. This war is essentially a battle for truth. If we accept false ideas about the nature of reality, we will live in a state of weakness and fear, even if our reasoning otherwise seems sound.

In the Torah we learn that both the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע) were present in the original paradise (Gen. 2:9). When Eve listened to the lies of the nachash (serpent) and regarded the forbidden tree as "desirable to make one wise," she immediately began her descent into exile.  At the very dawn of human history, then, we see that "truth" (אֱמֶת) apart from God (א) leads to death (מֵת). Adam and Eve's disobedience led to God's gracious promise regarding the coming "Seed" who would restore all things by being victorious in the war for truth (Gen. 3:15). Of course, this promised Seed was Yeshua, our Suffering Servant and "Second Adam," who, through His sacrifice upon the cross, "reversed the curse" and reconciled humanity with God. Note, however, that this "proto-gospel" message also implied perpetual warfare between the heirs of the Messiah (called the "children of light") and the heirs of Satan (called the "children of darkness"). The ongoing enmity between these "two seeds," then, was foretold to be the "tale of two kingdoms," the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים) and the kingdom of the devil (John 8:34-6). The Apostles likewise spoke of "children of darkness" and "children of light" (Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13, 1 Thess. 5:5, etc.). The children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21).

Because false teachers abound in the world, each of us is obligated to test (δοκιμάζω, lit. "determine if a metal is pure") the thinking of others to see if they are truly children of God (1 John 4:1). We must test truth claims. When confronted by false teaching, we are called to "earnestly contend for" (ἐπαγωνίζομαι, lit. "wrestle over") the truth of the faith (Jude 1:3). That's the response to untruth. On the other hand, we are commanded to "always be ready" to provide a reason (λόγος) for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:5). That's the call to be a witness to the truth...

The traditional definition of philosophy is the "love of wisdom" (φίλος + σοφία), and therefore the followers of the Messiah should be philosophers. After all, Yeshua is called the "Wisdom of God" in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 1:24), and we are told that in Him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). Moreover, we are explicitly commanded to ask God for heavenly wisdom (James 1:5), though this is "not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away" (see 1 Cor. 2:6-7). Indeed, the gospel message itself is called the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21-24). Disciples of Yeshua are to have the "mind of the Messiah" (1 Cor. 2:16)

Genuine repentance implies that we will change our thinking in order to be transformed by God's truth. The follower of Messiah "cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Cor. 13:8). During this season of teshuvah, may God help us all to think clearly and to turn our thoughts to Him. May He protect us from the vanity of a darkened mind and from all distractions that attempt to seduce us away from Him. May the LORD give us the purity of heart to do His will in the truth. Amen.


The Snare of Double-Mindedness


 

"How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). These words of Eliyahu ha-navi (Elijah the prophet) are meant for us to hear today, at the beginning of this Season of Teshuvah. We are being called to make up our minds (metanoia) and turn (shuv) to the LORD.  After all, what is more important to you than your relationship with the LORD God of Israel? Is there anything more important than this?

The Scriptures state that "you must be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) (Deut. 18:13). In the Sefer Torah (i.e., Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("wholehearted") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize the importance of the word.  Notice also the little word "with" (עִם) that follows in this verse. This hearkens to Micah 6:8: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice (mishpat), and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly (hatznea lechet) with your God?" Having a humble heart walks with the LORD. Humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this fundamental truth.

The word tamim (תָּמִים) means "finished," "complete," or "thoroughly made." For example, tamim is used to describe completed years (Gen. 47:18); healthy animal sacrifices (Lev. 22:21-22); nourishing vines (Ezek. 15:5); truthful speech (Amos 5:10); finished building projects (1 Kings 6:22); and so on.  In our relationship with God, tamim means being "blameless" in the sense of being wholehearted, resolute, and entirely committed to walking "with" Him in this world.  Psalm 119 begins, "Happy are those whose way is blameless (tamim), who walk in the instruction of the Lord."

The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), a word formed from δίς, "twice" and ψυχή, "soul." The word describes the spiritual condition of having "two souls" that both want different things at once. It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts.  "How long will you go limping between two opinions?" Notice that the word translated "limping" is posechim (פּסְחִים), from the same root as Passover (i.e., pasach: פָּסַח): How long will you pass from one thing to another? How long will you play "hot potato" with your commitments?

Having a double-mind makes us "unstable in all our ways." Such a cross-eyed approach leads to disorientation and confusion. The Greek word used to describe being "unstable" (ἀκατάστατος) is the same word used to translate being "storm-tossed and not comforted" in last week's Haftarah portion (LXX: Isa. 54:11). The image of a ship being tossed in the sea pictures a state of distress and peril.  Interestingly, the description of being "not comforted" is lo nuchamah (לא נֻחָמָה), which comes from the very word translated as "repent" or "regret" (nacham). When we are double-minded, we are "storm tossed" and unable to experience the comfort that comes from genuine repentance. We are like "a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6).


 

On the other hand, singleness of vision concentrates the will and produces wholeheartedness, conviction, stability, inner peace (shalom) and genuine character. As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8).

Someone might ask, how do we stop being "double-minded"? This is the essence of the problem, isn't it? How do we stop being of "two minds," experiencing that ambivalence of both wanting and not wanting something?  In other words, how do we repent - both in the sense of "changing our minds" (metanoia) and in the sense of practically turning to God (teshuvah)?  How do we find that purity of heart that wills one thing?

The antidote for having a "double-mind" is explicitly given in the Scriptures: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐγγιεῖ ὑμῖν), cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Note that the verb used in this verse ("draw near!") means to come close enough to touch someone or something. Understood in this light, we are encouraged to come so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and to be touched by Him as well. Drawing near to God is God's way of drawing near to you... In other words, as you draw near to God, He will draw near and touch you.

In practical terms, here are some specific things we can do to "draw near to God so that He will draw near to you."  First we can simply pray and earnestly cry out to God for help. The LORD is not indifferent to our suffering and has promised to give us the Holy Spirit to help us.  But genuine prayer requires honesty and confession (ὁμολογία), which means agreeing with the truth about your condition. This means, among other things, identifying the ways you have withdrawn from your relationship with God. Indeed, the word homologeo (ὁμολογέω) literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). There's little use trying to pretend before God or to rationalize your own double-mindedness before Him.  God knows the number of hairs on your head; He surely knows the condition of your heart!

Second, we must vigorously challenge ideas that attempt to seduce us away from the truth and thereby divide our affections. We must learn to take "every thought captive" to Messiah and be on guard for subtle appeals to compromise (2 Cor. 10:5). If we find ourselves in a state of recurring temptation, we must examine the underlying assumptions that are at work in our thinking. If we dig deeper, we are likely to discover that we doubt that God cares for us, or we are fearful that God will not meet our needs. We must therefore counter such assumptions with God's revealed truth, and that means regularly studying the Scriptures to remind ourselves about what is real rather than what is illusory. We then can learn to look at life as it really is - a spiritual world, a "valley of decision," a corridor that irresistibly leads to the world to come. Each soul is on a journey to meet with God for judgment... God does not leave us comfortless. He has promised to never leave nor forsake those who trust in Him.  We can set the LORD "always before us" (Psalm 16:8) and walk with Him during our sojourn here in this temporal world.

Third, we can practice our faith by keeping up with Torah study, observing Shabbat (and the other appointed times), enjoying fellowship with other believers, singing to worship music, giving tzedakah, ministering to others in need, etc. These are the mitzvot of our lives, the "works of love" (John 15:12). Our faith is not meant to be a "head trip" or an intellectual exercise: we are meant to live it out in the world. And as we live it, our faith itself becomes strengthened and authenticated. Just as loving others increases - not decreases - the love we ourselves have, so with the practice of faith. The more we believe, the more we receive.  The practice of our faith is upbuilding and encourages the inner resolve to be single-minded... "Upon three things the world does stand: upon the Torah and upon worship and upon acts of lovingkindness."

Finally, on a spiritual level what ultimately changes the heart is God's salvation, of course. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail" (John 6:63). This salvation is not simply freedom from the penalty of sin but freedom from its power. Often, however, we are slow to realize this, and God allows us to revisit the various "waste places" of our own lusts until we have become sick of ourselves -- "to the bones."  We have to be willing "to give up our sickness." Usually that means that we must experience repeated failures until we have "learned from the heart" that the LORD - and the LORD alone - is our Healer and Deliverer. Heartache and despair can lead to "godly grief (λύπη) that leads to genuine repentance in our lives (2 Cor. 7:10).

Ultimately "Salvation is from the Lord," and brokenness of our spirit is God's gift to us... "Blessed are the poor (πτωχός) in spirit." This word pictures someone crouching as a helpless beggar, totally dependent on God for help.  If you are struggling, ask God to help you surrender your "heart sickness" to Him.... It's HIS work, not your own, that saves... God alone truly changes the heart.  Repentance is a miracle from heaven given to you, personally...

A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field" (Isa. 40:6). "All flesh is grass" (כָּל־הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר) - we are here today but gone tomorrow. We have only so many chances to turn to the LORD and make up our minds that we will serve Him.  Our Torah portion this week intimates, "man is a tree of the field," i.e., הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19). The righteous man is described as a "tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth fruit in his season" (Psalm 1:3). If you stand in front of a tree to watch it grow, however, you will see nothing. But if you care for the tree, nurture it over time, and provide for its needs, eventually you will see its fruit appear. God gives us each a season to repent, but if that proves fruitless in our spiritual lives, eventually we will be "cut down" (Luke 13:6-9):

    "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it but found none. So he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, but I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' But the vinedresser answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
     

As Yeshua also admonished: "Remember (zachar) how you have fallen; repent (metanao) and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place unless you repent" (Rev. 2:5). If you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - Yeshua will "spit you out of His mouth" (Rev 3:16). These are sober words that remind us that time is short for us all. Our lives are not our own; we were redeemed at a great cost to God Himself (1 Cor. 6:19-20).


 

We must decide whether we will serve the LORD or Baal. We must quit "limping between two different opinions." You cannot serve two masters. God wants us to make up our minds. He wants us to declare our loyalty in response to His love. Now is the time. Today is the day. We don't have all the time in the world... May the LORD help us all to wholeheartedly draw near to Him now... Amen.

Why include all this in a discussion about "clear thinking"? Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, God must be the first principle of our thinking or else we will become deceived, regardless of the formal validity of our reasoning. There is a difference between soundness and validity, and if we do not begin with truth, our thinking will be impaired, even if we accidentally make inferences that turn out to be empirically true.  


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