Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Jordan Peterson on Daring to "Believe in God"
Jordan Peterson has just uploaded a 53 minute conversation with Dennis Prager, in which he summarizes his comments in another video about his problem with someone saying that they believe in God. He thinks such a claim is so challenging to the human character that he finds it hard to imagine that anyone would "dare" make such a claim. For the religious person, who commonly thinks of "believing in God" as a first step to everything else in their religion, this has to be confusing.
It is a matter of definition. Peterson's comments about "believing in God" reveal that, to his mind, this believing necessarily includes an absolute and thoroughly consistent, morally good behaviour. He thinks that if someone really believes, then he would have to reflect that belief with what amounts to moral perfection.
At the same time, Peterson is so convinced - and so aware - of the "fallenness" of mankind, the thought that someone could claim a thoroughly upright lifestyle is beyond mere hubris. It is pretty much unthinkable.
Part of what makes such a claim unthinkable for Peterson is his understanding of the place of the human will, or perhaps I should say here, "will-power." He believes that we can achieve improvement of character through the responsible exercise of the power of our wills. But at the same time, the human will is not all-powerful, and it is damaged at its root. To have the will-power to achieve a thoroughly moral life-style, consistent with a true belief in a moral God, would be, practically, a super-human achievement.
In response, I think that - at heart - every Christian would sympathize with Peterson and admit that, yes, a solid belief in a moral God should be accompanied by solid, moral living. Even Jesus says to those who claim to be his disciples - believers in His Father in heaven - "be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." And the apostle John says something similar to Peterson's "how dare one say?" with his words in his first epistle: "1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." In other words, how dare a person say they believe in God and are morally perfect - without sin - when we know that that cannot be achieved in this life? They have to be lying.
Yet that is not all that Jesus says about belief. Nor is it all that John says about the problem of inconsistency in a believer's life. The concept is more complex than Peterson is allowing.
For brevity, let me simply refer us to the story of the father with the son who had a dumb spirit (Mark 5), famous for the prayer, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief (v. 25)." Jesus did not say, "You know your faith is not perfect! How dare you say you believe?" Again, when Jesus' disciples act inconsistently with their belief, he does not call them hypocrites. He says they have "little faith." Their faith is not what it should be, and their behaviour is not what it should be, but they do believe; they do have faith. And when they express their belief - "Thou art the Christ," e.g. - that belief is approved by Jesus. He doesn't say, "How dare you?!" The Lord accepts our faith on the basis of its quality, not its quantity.
The Christian faith is a faith of tension in time. The Christian knows that his belief ought to be perfect and his behaviour absolutely consistent with that belief. The quantity - manifest in behaviour - should match the quality. But he is also taught to understand that such perfection is not expected in this life. We are to aim for it (vis a vis, "as your Father in heaven is perfect") for if we do not aim for it, we do not make moral progress. Our belief does, after all, call us to such progress. But an absolutely consistent, one-to-one correspondence of belief and behaviour is a part of the joy of the life to come. God recognizes that the correspondence should be there, but he has planned to grant us this power at the Resurrection, after this "body of sin" (Romans 6 & 7) has met its end.
In the meantime, he deals with us as he has always dealt with all his saints. He hears our prayers for forgiveness and cleansing. I John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" - from all the inconsistencies that grieve us in this short life of ours in this age.
You may view the video here.