Monday, January 9, 2017

Perceiving Through Paradigms

"Made in Japan" doesn't mean today what it once meant.
Some years ago, I viewed a powerful video by futurist Joel Arthur Barker, and later read his book, Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. There are many ways to define “paradigm,” but Barker explained we regularly use paradigms to form our unique, individualized ways of processing information and how we interpret it.

Case in point: the phrase, “made in Japan,” which has changed meanings over the years. In the 1950s, it typically referred to substandard quality material and workmanship. However, by the 1980s, aided by W. Edwards Deming and other manufacturing consultants, “made in Japan” came to mean superior quality, cutting edge, even “the best” we could buy. Suddenly automobiles and all things technological became highly prized if “made in Japan.”

How that changed isn’t the focus of this post, since what I know about manufacturing I could write on a single fingernail. What struck me is how, as with the example from Japan, paradigms shape our thinking and conclusions about virtually everything, ranging from people’s education and status to individuals of various ethnicities to brand-name products, and even to matters of faith.

What brought this to mind was a statement by C.S. Lewis I reread recently. The Oxford scholar and one-time atheist is best known as the author of Mere Christianity, a revered, well-reasoned exposition of the how’s and why’s of the Christian faith, and The Chronicles of Narnia collection of faith-based children’s stories. He also happened to die on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Lewis’s quotation didn’t use the term “paradigm,” but easily could have, since he was explaining how moving from disbelief to faith and commitment to Jesus Christ had shifted his perceptions of himself, the world around him, and even the universe. He wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

I’ve referred to this quote before, but cite it again because it concisely and accurately distills what saving faith in Jesus should mean for each of us who profess to follow Him. Being “born again” spiritually, as Jesus described in John 3:3, means becoming inhabited by the presence of Christ, and this new life provides a kind of filter – as Barker termed it, a paradigm – by which we “see everything else.”

If a person’s an agnostic or atheist, denying or rejecting the existence of God and a belief in a divine creation and order for “nature,” that individual’s paradigm must require some other explanation for the beginnings and continuance of a relatively orderly universe that supposedly commenced through chaos.

Followers of Jesus, however, can accept the opening premise from the Bible, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1), along with the biblical creation account, and the narratives and teachings that come after it. Do we fully understand everything we read in the Bible, including how God did certain things – and why? No. But that doesn’t delegitimize our beliefs. As the Scriptures point out, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). When the journey takes us where we can’t see, we proceed by using the eyes of faith.

As Lewis observed, faith in Jesus means that we seek to understand the truths of Christianity as they are presented, we experience many of them at work in our lives, and by them we come to see everything else. The Christian faith indeed is a paradigm of sorts. But then, so is belief in any form, so there’s no reason for apology.

When the trials and struggles of life occur, as they inevitably will, we can attempt to fix them on our own. When we can’t, we can descend into frustration, even despair. Or as Lewis said, we can see everything, good and bad, through faith in Christ and what God has revealed about Himself – and us – in the Scriptures.

We can trust in His promise, “‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). And we can embrace another promise the Lord offers just a few chapters later: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).

We may not always know or understand what God is doing, or why He’s doing it. But we can know Him, and that’s enough.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Bob, well articulated. Thanks, as always, for you clear words.