Friday after Epiphany / 1 Jn 5:5-13 / Lk 5:12-16
If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely greater. [1 Jn 5:9a]
I work in a world full of liability issues and self-defensive documentation. This a world where it’s not at all unusual for me to take time to send an email or otherwise create some sort of tangible evidence that I’ve communicated something, or made an attempt to complete a task…knowing full well that whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish, isn’t going to come to pass. The reason I create that documentation is to show a “good faith attempt” to do what I’m supposed to do.
It’s also not unusual at all for me to need to produce such evidentiary documentation. Verbal testimony often isn’t enough, due to people’s tendency to hear what they want to hear versus what is actually being said. I’ve characterized benefits work as requiring the ability to say “no” gracefully and firmly. That’s because I encounter this particular human tendency on such a regular basis that I tend to expect it from people, even outside the job.
My world isn’t the only one where this happens. There are a lot of places in modern American society where the rule is, “if it didn’t happen in writing, it didn’t happen.”
I’ve often wondered if this isn’t part of the reason for the prevalence of the sola Scriptura doctrine among American Christians. Adherents exist in other countries, of course; but it seems to be particularly strong here. Nearly every non-Catholic Christian I’ve ever met here holds the doctrine on some level or another. I’ve even heard Catholics quote it from time to time, by way of a statement that “if it’s not in the Bible, it’s up for discussion and debate.”
The standard Catholic response to sola Scriptura is a reminder that the Bible itself came out of Sacred Tradition; it’s a part of it, not separate from it, and was not dictated word-for-word by God. In fact, we hold that translations are not inspired texts because all translations were created by men. Thus, unless you’ve read the original texts, you’ve never read the inspired Word. There’s a whole host of arguments that, at their bottom line, show that the Bible was never meant to hold the entirety of Christian doctrine (just as the Torah was never meant to hold the entirety of Jewish doctrine).
But that’s beside the point, I think.
The point is that God gave us, and continues to give us, multiple statements about his presence, intent and desires. We need not be fumbling in the dark, trying to figure out what he wants. We have resources that come directly from him. We just need to be willing to accept and assent to them, even when they’re saying things we don’t want to hear.
I made a Twitter post the other day that repeated my apparently-controversial opinion that it’s not possible to simultaneously be Christian and support Donald Trump’s person or policies. Many of the responders jumped all over me quoting “judge not, lest ye be judged” and asking why I thought I could decide who was Christian and who wasn’t.
The single time I engaged with one of them was a follow-up Tweet, referencing first Matthew 22:39 and then John 13:35. This, of course, touched off a round of proof-texting and I threw up my hands. Proof-texting never results in a consensus. That’s why we need an authoritative interpreter, which the Church has in the Magisterium. Yet, I can’t help but notice that I was the one who referenced Scripture first. That it devolved into an argument about “what’s written down” is hardly surprising.
And I’m not sure it conforms with today’s echo and even Catholic teaching. There is a clear teaching in our Catechism that people know, by the grace of God, what’s real and right (even when they’re not Catholic, or Christian; even when they’ve never even heard of Christianity). We might struggle against those impulses within ourselves; we might even successfully suppress them or convince ourselves they’re wrong. It doesn’t change what’s there, nor does it change where it came from: God himself.
If we carry his testimony in our hearts, then why do we demand additional evidence? Why not simply listen to what we already know? Written testimony is a human invention, meant for humans. God doesn’t need it.
I disengaged from the conversation on Twitter because, quite honestly, I have more important things to do in my life besides argue on the Internet. But, on reflection, it’s probably better I did. My opinion is valid and, I think, strongly supported. But I’m not sure that airing and defending it like that is really the best way to represent the faith.