Inner Formation of the Heart
Part 9: Principle #4--Role of Reality Encounters
Noted above was the disciples’ lack of response to the women’s report that Jesus was raised from the dead. How was it that the disciples eventually were convinced that Jesus was alive? They began the day in disbelief, but by the end of the day they were ready to persuade Thomas that Jesus was alive. The disciples were confronted with the truth they could not easily explain away. Consider the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection they had prior to seeing Jesus for themselves: the women’s report in the morning, Peter and John’s visit to the empty tomb, and the report of the two on the Emmaus road who had walked and talked with Jesus. Finally that evening Jesus himself appeared. Jesus took a further step and ate some food to prove he was not some spirit but Jesus whom they knew (Lk 24:42-43). Since our central beliefs are fairly settled and stable, they do not change very easily, especially those more central to our worldview. To clarify, some central beliefs may be more readily changeable to the degree an empirical experience can affect them. More theoretical central beliefs—more removed from experience—are less easily modified. As was noted, this is not solely a cognitive process, yet one key component is being persuaded of the evidence from reality within our inner life, which requires some processing—it is not instantaneous.
At times learning the truth may be troubling since we have to admit we were wrong. In addition, our arrogance may urge us to resist the truth and delay or even forestall the learning process. Hindrances to learning truth could be sources from any of these broad categories: a) the individual, b) our community, c) our culture, and d) the devil, an agent of evil working within the first three categories.
For example, to return to the matter of Jesus’ resurrection, close companions with whom Thomas lived and had ministered together over a period of three years with Jesus could not persuade him of the truth. Imagine Thomas’ embarrassment when Jesus invited him to do what Thomas had demanded a week earlier, to touch Jesus’ hands and side (Jn 20:27). Usually learning the truth involves great joy, occasionally it can be very humbling too.
Truth encounters can occur in a variety of ways. As we study and meditate on Scripture we can grow into a more accurate view of reality as no other source of knowledge can offer (Ps 1:1-6). As we experience the trials of life, we are given opportunities to face reality—about ourselves, about others, about the givens of our circumstances, about God—to surface false central beliefs. Other ways include reading books, hearing sermons and teaching, receiving personal feedback from friends and trusted others (e.g., when Jesus rebuked Peter for not having God’s perspective, Matt 16:23), observing the actions of role models and others, watching a documentary or good movie, and when in cross-cultural contexts. God can use a variety of means to jolt us so we have the opportunity to hear truth at deep levels, if we are ready to listen.