4-3-2 Spiritual Paradigm Shifts
I find the idea of paradigms helpful in appreciating our blindness (1).
A paradigm is best explained by an example. There was once a paradigm
that the earth was flat. Evidence for this seemed to be all around;
as you looked out to sea, it seemed more or less flat. No-one among
the average population seriously considered the possibility that
the earth wasn't flat. There was no need to. Presumably, people
thought, if you keep sailing on the sea, you will come to the edge
and fall off. The Catholic church pushed the idea that at the end
of the sea there was a big waterfall which went gushing down to
a terrible abyss. But then there was a paradigm revolution. Some
scientists figured that this really couldn't be the case. Everyone
thought they were crazy. After all, all around us, it seemed, there
was evidence that they were wrong. Columbus then set sail across
the Atlantic, with his family and Catholic priests weeping at the
dock as he left, pleading with him, mocking him. They sailed and
sailed, until they sighted land. And then there was a crisis. The
sailors wanted to turn back. They were sure that they were heading
to certain and terrible death. They decided that probably they would
get caught up in a strong current which would carry them over the
edge, just as the Catholic priests had taught them. But, as Columbus
pointed out, the land ahead didn't seem to be the gateway to a place
of torture. And finally his reasoning prevailed. They sailed on,
and landed- to be greeted by naked women and gifts of gold and silver.
They found what to those sailors must have been a paradise: a society
where gold was like stone, and where they were welcomed with open
arms by friendly, exotic natives. They returned to Europe with their
story. And very soon, a paradigm shift occurred. Everyone realized
that of course the world was round, it had to be; after
all, all around us (!) is the evidence. Now it's unthinkable that
the earth is flat; just as it was unthinkable that the earth was
round before the flat earth paradigm was toppled.
This idea of paradigm shifts is helpful with respect to the theory of
evolution. It is presented as the obviously correct theory, most young
people assume that the evidence for it is all around them. But it may
well be toppled, even before the Lord's return, by the creationist paradigm;
the evidence for which is also all around us, if we have eyes to see it.
The thing about paradigms is that by their very nature, they seem to be
so obviously and evidently correct. Understanding the idea of paradigms
helps us to see that all human knowledge is largely a matter of perception.
The only ultimately true knowledge is the knowledge we acquire from God's
In our preaching of the Gospel, we are in the business of paradigm
shifting. It's a hard, hard job, because of the blindness, the stubbornness,
the utter stupidity, the pathetic, small minded conservatism of
human beings. The Lord pointed this out to His budding preachers
in Lk. 5:37-39; he warned that men preferred the old wine rather
than the new wine of His doctrine, because human beings prefer to
stay with the old. Again, you will find this fact recognized and
lamented by those truly at the frontiers of research. The famous
Belarussian historian and scientist Immanuel Velikovsky came to
the conclusion that major events have occurred in the history of
Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, which have not been
chronicled in orthodox history. He likewise presents evidence that
the standard dating and chronology of much ancient history is hopelessly
inaccurate; he demonstrates how there are whole centuries which
have been wilfully forgotten by historians. Whether or not he is
correct, he presents evidence which demands some kind of verdict
which orthodox history can't supply. Some of his reasoning confirms
the truth of the Biblical record in places where orthodox history
contradicts it (2). Yet Velikovsky's
ideas have not been accepted- yet. They require too big a paradigm
shift, a rejection of too much and of too many respected historians.
It was an agony of his soul that human beings prefer to live in
a kind of wilful amnesia, forgetting the evidence for whole centuries
of human experience, because they are unwilling to make the necessary
paradigm shift. Velikovsky sums up his struggles in a posthumously
published book, Mankind In Amnesia (3).
There are many others like Velikovsky (especially in Communist Eastern
Europe), who broke into new paradigms, but were unable to express
their discoveries because it would have meant toppling too much
else. And for us too, the possession of the ultimate Truth of the
basic Gospel means a lonely, sometimes despairing road when it comes
to getting others to understand the matchless pearl which we have.
Drivers can see an accident coming, but not swerve; there is a lack of
cognition somewhere in the human psyche. Pilots take off at times knowing
that their wings are frozen, and crash. Amasa saw the sword and must have
seen the possibility of death, but didn’t take cognisance of it (2 Sam.
20:10). Samson must have known, on one level, what Delilah would do. It
should have been obvious to the British and French that Germany would
start a war in 1938. The smoker knows the habit is destructive. But mankind
is in amnesia, somewhere, somehow, we fail to recognize the obvious. Likewise
with the nearness of the Lord’s return, with the urgency of our task in
witness, with the evident need to follow God’s word- this lack of cognisance
so often comes into play. We really ought to pray, earnestly, for open
hearts and eyes and obedient lives before our daily reading.
As I said, we're up against the same problem in the preaching of the
Gospel. Take a Polish Catholic. To him, it's obvious that if you want
to love God, you must go into the church on Sundays. You must respect
the priest. If you're good, your soul will go to Heaven. He sees evidence
for this all around him. Or take an atheist. Where is God? Why should
he believe in such a being? There's no Euclidean proof He exists, those
who do believe in God have to admit that ultimately it's all a matter
of faith, they can't prove God's existence in any scientific way.
The preaching of the true Gospel to the Catholic or the atheist is rather
like Columbus reasoning with his sailors. There are many ex-Catholics,
ex-atheists, ex-trinitarians etc. who will read these words and know exactly
what I mean. Now you see all around you, both in the world and in
the Bible, evidence that your old paradigm was so obviously wrong. I'm
not suggesting that our beliefs are just another paradigm we're passing
through. God's word is the Truth; there is a stability about
the true Gospel which is unknown to those in the world. It is the Truth,
and we know it's the Truth. If we carefully build on the rock of God's
word, we are building on a rock and nothing, nothing whatever, will ever
shake us. To me, this is just fantastic beyond words. Our conversion was
not just another paradigm shift. Proof of this, to me at least, is found
in the fact that those who leave the Faith normally go to the world, to
the petty pleasures of the flesh, rather than to some new doctrinal understanding.
The basic doctrines we have believed really are " the Truth"
, we won't wake up one morning to find that we were totally mistaken about
At baptism, we passed from darkness to light; our blindness was
taken away (Is. 42:7; Jn. 12:46; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Pet.
2:9). Paul's conversion was a pattern of ours (1 Tim. 1:16); and
it involved blindness being lifted at baptism. The seven miracles
(Gk. semeion, signs) recorded in John's Gospel are each
intended to be read on a symbolic level. The " man born blind"
in John 9 was an eloquent type of the believers: the unclean one
had the spittle (word / spirit) of the Lord Jesus mixed with dust
(flesh) and placed on his eyes. Then he had to go and baptize himself
at Siloam, and then his blindness was lifted. It is stressed, really
stressed (12 times in 32 verses) that the man was " blind"
; as if to emphasize how totally blind we are before our "
washing" , and how blind the unsaved world is. The result was
that the man was “put out of the synagogue” (Jn. 9:22)- and the
very same phrase is used about all the other first century Jewish
believers (Jn. 16:2). They were to go through exactly what he did.
The Lord Jesus was well known for His many miracles of curing blind
people (Lk. 7:21,22; Jn. 10:21; 11:37); it was as if he healed this
affliction especially. All these miracles were surely acted parables
of His work in saving men from the spiritual blindness of their
earlier life. The figure of blindness being lifted is truly a powerful
picture of what happened at our conversion. From then on, we began
to see (i.e. understand) for the first time. We began to understand
something properly for the first time. We were blind beforehand.
Previously, all our 'knowledge' was just perception, passing through
paradigms. But our conversion wasn't just passing from one paradigm
to another, just another intellectual adventure along a road to
Significantly, the honest atheist or agnostic has to acknowledge
that without the idea of conversion to that which is ultimately
true, all our changes in life are meaningless. We personally are
going nowhere, and therefore all the stages along the road are ultimately
inconsequential. Again, Christians in higher education should be
on the lookout for this kind of admission in the material
they study (5).
(1) This is not my idea.
The idea of paradigm shifts and revolutions was popularized by T.S.
Kuhn, The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1970).
(2) Immanuel Velikovsky,
Ages In Chaos and Worlds In Collision (London:
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1957 & 1959).
(3) Immanuel Velikovsky,
Mankind In Amnesia (London: Gollancz, 1982).
(4) This, I suggest, is
all that the 'conversion experiences' of some people amount to.
(5) George Orwell, The
Road To Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978 ed.)
is an example of this.