Cliff-Hanging and Earthquakes

This is shocking, and in our postmodern world I shouldn’t admit it, but I like to think. I know, I know -- if I were truly cool and trendy I’d acknowledge, in grand existentialist style, that everything is just matter, therefore nothing matters, so I should just emote away about whatever matter is currently in vogue. But I can’t.

I am human and I was made in God’s image and God thinks, therefore I think.

Q. Why isn’t thought more popular, then? (I can hear you thinking.)

A. We’ve been taught to start in the wrong place, so we get lost and give up.

Q. Where is the wrong place?

A. Read on…..

Picture two cliffs separated by a great chasm. The cliffs are made of sedimentary rock, layer upon layer, each a slightly different shade. On one side the stone deposits have built up on bedrock, solid and immovable – absolute truth. On the opposite bank the levels are less regular and horizontal. The foundation on which they rest their considerable weight is cracked and volcanic, full of air bubbles, nearly weightless – relative truth.

If you stand with me on the solid side, you’ll understand what I’m about to say; if not, hang on tight because somewhere deep inside you’re about to feel wobbly.

Let’s look at the bedrock. It consists of God -- the God who existed before He spoke time and space into existence, before Earth, before before. This is Jehovah -- “I am that I am,” (Exodus 3:14). Where God is there is absolute existence, and therefore absolute truth.

What about the opposing pumice foundation, the one that says nothing is absolutely true?

Well, we all intuitively know that one of the most important rules of logic says that no true statement can be self-refuting. “I am not me,” makes no sense. “My Dachshund is not a dog,” fairs no better. How does “There is no absolute truth” strike you?  Yes, I know, It has an absolutist ring to it, but most of today’s intellectuals will swear by that assertion, even while their base crumbles beneath them. In this scenario God becomes nothing more than a human construct embedded in the string of time we call history; godness is whatever we want it to be. We aren’t made in God’s image, but he/she/they in ours.

If, though, we start with the stability of side one, we can figure out that the God of Truth would want us, His creatures, to know truth -- and sure enough, there’s the Word of God; we can barely imagine a being so true to Himself that His Word and His existence are one and the same -- “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God,” (John 1:1). Not only did He reveal Himself in His Word, but also in His creation; what we know that modern science began as a search for more information about God.

The opposite side of the chasm boasts purely human wisdom and postmodern science, which schlepps about in its own quagmire of Darwinian assumptions, assumptions that are being rapidly demolished by real science, which is more interested in truth than in invention. Follow me -- if there is no absolute truth and God is just another fabrication, then science alone can explain our existence -- though, if nothing is true, I can’t imagine why we would bother.

Under it all we want to know who we are, why we are, so we keep looking. “What is the nature of Man? “ my favorite teacher always used to ask. If we take God’s Word as absolute truth, then the “nature of man” is not a rosy picture, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). If, on the other side of the chasm, we’re just making things up as we go (which is reasonable if nothing is rock bottom -- pardon the pun -- true). It feels just fine to state, with absolute surety, that man is basically good.

Add a little evolutionary twist to that and we learn that man is getting even better, the barbarism of the last century (to say nothing of the current ISIS mess) notwithstanding.

This attitude puts the relativist in a pickle though. How is he going to explain evil if man is basically good? The scapegoats (sorry about using a biblical term) obediently line up -- society, chemistry, family, corporations, poverty, bullying -- and all get the cart before the horse. How can the crookedness of a building be the reason why the bricks it’s built of are warped? The relativist spends a lot of energy trying to restructure society, the economy, the drug laws, etc. all in an effort to rescue perfect man from his evil oppressors. Somehow the fact that the oppressors are also people eludes him.

The relativist has another option, though, if the transference thing gets shaky: he can change what “sin” means. If we’re doomed to do evil, and nothing is carved in stone, then let’s just change the meaning of evil. Easy. Pedophilia is really just fine because kids really want it. I had a class of honors students tell me right after 9/11 that it wasn’t wrong that the hijackers flew those planes into the Twin Towers. They were doing what they thought was right.

Evil, on the other cliff, is a very clear and solid idea. Anything non-God, anti-God is evil -- a once-perfect angel, a “well-meaning” politician, a self-centered parent. God is absolute perfection (and I am not talking about Allah), so anything short of that perfection... Yikes. I’m very glad God has a solution for this, because I don’t. “For God so loved the world that. He gave is only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16).

Our national dialogue is getting nastier and nastier because, at the very bottom of the cliffs we stand on, our assumptions are diametrically opposed. On one side morality is clear, immutable, and imposed by God -- on the other it’s improvisational, constantly changing, and driven by whatever the latest catch phrase is -- tolerance, diversity, equality -- the ends always justifying the means. Nothing is evil, just sick or browbeaten.

The solid cliff recognizes free will and our own responsibility; it acknowledges that only the grace of God can fix anything because we humans are too screwed up. The relativist side assumes that we are all victims, doomed to be poor, or addicted, or gay, or whatever, and that stopping our pain will involve transferring that pain to someone else. “Tax the rich” folks shout, believing that impoverishing someone else can enrich them.

We can’t straighten out this tangle of ideologies without acknowledging our basic differences.  Let’s choose our cliffs with our eyes wide open and let’s be ready to defend our positions from our foundations without feeling the need to malign or threaten, bully or demean. It is true, however, that standing on a shaky foundation is enough to make any of us desperate enough to start name-calling. If you can’t logically, factually win an argument then you are doomed to committing that faux pas.

So where do you come from? On what do you stand? Which cliff do you claim? And should you be feeling equivocal, there are only two, and the gulf between them is widening. We can all feel the ground shaking.

Deana Chadwell blogs at She is also an adjunct professor at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. She teaches writing and public speaking.