Opinions and Credentials

Tell people something they don’t want to hear on social media and get ready for the disrespect. Yesterday I posted a comment from one of my cousins, which I believe is pertinent to the discussion about suicide. Here it is: “Suicide is the ultimate selfish act.” It is. It really, truly is. I wrote an article about this yesterday, so I won’t repeat.

If you are reading this, then you are likely the kind of person who will, at least, hear an argument out before you simply react with a 144 character excoriation of the statement or an terse anathema of the person making it. So, here are my credentials for sharing with you, and some thoughts on human opinion.

First, who am I to make assessments and offer my opinions. Anybody can give an opinion, but not all opinions are equally informed. You do realize the truth of that, correct? I do not have a degree in psychology. Although, I do have as many undergraduate hours in psych as I have in my major, which is religion/theology. I’m not a practicing psychologist, then. However, I am a pastor, and before that a youth pastor. I have been listening to people and talking to people and praying with people about their problems for thirty years. You decide if I have anything to offer on the basis of experience.

Second, I have a post-graduate degree in theology and Bible. I continue to study that ancient, inspired, holy Book daily. I believe that the Bible has the answers we most need. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus affirmed, “but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33). Ignore God’s Word at your eternal peril. In the end, you and I are not going to be judged in the court of popular opinion, or in any human law court: we will be judged by God, and we will be judged by Jesus Christ, according to the truth revealed in the Bible (2 Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27).

Still with me? Third, and people don’t know this about me: over the last decade and a half, I have struggled with depression and have had to battle suicidal thoughts. Maybe that’s alarming to you. Maybe you think someone in ministry, a pastor, should be above this. I’ve got news for you, none of us are perfect, and most of us have to slap a smile on our problems in order to keep everyone attending. That’s the real travesty of church ministry. I’ll leave that for another essay. The reason I reveal my personal struggle is so that the reader will recognize I’m not making theoretical statements. I’m not apathetic or above it all. I feel this and fight this personally.

So, be careful with your 144 character snap judgments of statements you read in passing. Try digesting, praying about, and possibly discovering the wisdom of what you read.

Still reading? Why am I sharing my qualifications? So that you will take seriously what I write. I’ve been in ministry a long time and I still get disrespected by people I’ve known, people who don’t know me, and by people who weren’t even born when I started. This is symptomatic of our zeitgeist. Everyone has been taught that their opinions are inviolable. Many times your opinion is nothing more than a gut reaction to some statement, rather than a reasoned evaluation.

We’ve even taught this in church when leading people to share their faith. “No one can disagree with your personal testimony,” we say. Trouble is, you and I have likely not allowed our personal experience to see the light of healthy criticism. We live in a feeling oriented culture. Most of us don’t think critically or deeply. Ironically, many of our feelings are not deep either. They are feelings based on simple, animal reactions to our environment.

All opinions are not created equal. You have a right to your opinion, but that doesn’t mean it is right. Start there and you may learn and grow. I am happy to be proven wrong, if it is proven by evidence and reason. People may be deceived. Entire populations of people and their cultures can be wrong. Nazi Germany. Imperial Japan. Jihadist Islam. Hollywood. Wall Street. You get the idea.

Anthony Flew was a renowned philosopher and atheist. He offered what I still consider to be the best argument against the existence of God, at least, against the way many believers talk about God. His argument was about falsification. In brief, if you cannot ever admit a set of circumstances under which God would be proven not to exist, then you cannot make the case that he does exist. Flew says that all he has done his entire life is “follow the evidence.” For the majority of his brilliant philosophical career he did not see the evidence leading toward the existence of God. That all changed when scientists discovered the profound amount of information contained in our DNA, as science uncovered the profound complexity of the cell. Design evinces a designer. Flew has written a book renouncing his atheism: it is called, There Is a God, How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. He followed the evidence and admitted he had been wrong. Flew is in his eighties. Our opinions can be wrong. They need to be subject to evidence, reason and logic.

I have feelings and am tempted to react emotionally. I have done so. To a degree, this entire article is an expression of my frustration and anger over being disrespected yesterday. However, this is a reasonable, rather than an emotional, response. I am willing to subject myself to criticism, until it becomes apparent that the critic is bent on proving themselves right rather than proving their point with evidence. I am willing to be corrected. I can be wrong. However, if I’m speaking the truth from the God’s Word, you’d best prove I’m wrong from the same Authority. In other words, I’ll follow the evidence as Anthony Flew did.

So, did you make it to the end? Do you need to give me some criticism? Say on, but speak with respect. I’ll give it to you, and I expect to receive it from you. This is what is missing in our Twitter Fight, Reality TV, perpetually outraged culture: respect. It is the cornerstone of civilized society. This is why I like Facebook. If you’re disrespectful, you can be removed from the list of people who may read what I have to say. I’ll tolerate a modicum of disrespect, but if someone persists, I’ll remove them. So, think with me. Let’s listen to one another. More importantly, let’s seek to hear and understand God and His Word and be corrected by Him.