Columnists > Judgment Calls

We all have them

But not all opinions were created equal

Issue: "Something's rotten," Sept. 30, 2000

"Not always right but never in doubt," my brother used to quip in mock dismissiveness at no one in particular. And I laughed, but it isn't very funny, is it? Not funny when you think of how opinions are generally formed in this world, and positions solidified, and heels dug in on the swirl of issues that bombard us every day.

Stroll down the street and you will find some of your neighbors have cable and some don't, some have security systems and some don't, some have college degrees and some don't, but one thing they all have is opinions. Strong ones, by and large.

If you had been there in the moment when the opinion was hatched in secret places (but no one ever is), and, fully formed, sprang into existence with all the confidence of a June sun, I wonder what you would have seen. I have a theory (it hasn't yet the head of steam of Opinion) that opinions on everything from Elián Gonzalez to gun control to genetically modified food can be plotted on a graph-and what I imagine isn't pretty.

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First, I would hazard to guess that the information-gathering step in the process is typically truncated, followed fairly soon by the opinion or conclusion. From here on in the opinion is pretty much impervious to change. All subsequent data will be fitted, crammed, and otherwise absorbed without making much of a dent. "Don't confuse me with the facts, man!"

I'm still trying to work into my graph the Bible's teaching-that man is no tabula rasa but a worshipper-either of the living God or of some idol or other. That would go at the front end, I suppose, and bear on even the early fact-collecting phase we mentioned, wouldn't it?

Not that God worshippers are immune to faulty opinions, regrettably. I figure there are at least two things that can go wrong along the way to Opinion, and, elegantly, both are alluded to in a single verse, 2 Peter 3:16: (1) Many things are intrinsically difficult to understand; (2) there is vestigial ignorance and idolatry to contend with.

Which makes it frustrating when you hear people, especially believers, pretending that very complex issues are easy. How's your millennium theology these days? I don't know about you but the precise way that Revelation, Daniel, 2 Thessalonians 1, and Luke 21 fit together doesn't exactly jump right off the page for me. And here's a wild thought: Maybe God ordained it this way-complex rather than patent, symbol laden rather than straight journalistic narrative-to foster some humility in us, some interdependency of insight, or spiritual synergy.

Do we endorse relativism or anti-intellectualism here, or promote those who make a virtue of agnosticism, fence-sitting, and noncommittal "tolerance"? Au contraire. There is a right answer-and the Lord knows it. Moreover, we take positions, in the sight of God, acknowledging the possibility that they are not perfect to the last jot and tittle. What the Apostle Paul says of ethical stands could as well apply to intellectual ones: "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.... Wait till the Lord comes" (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).

Apart from that, whether it's the Elián Gonzalez case or the meaning of the "1,000 years," we hail back to the practical, sound Old Testament advice to "investigate it thoroughly" (Deuteronomy 13:14;17:4) before stepping up to the soap box and fulminating fervently or pontificating pompously. In some cases we even keep it to ourselves, that thing we believe between us and the Lord that may not be edifying to share (Romans 14:22). And we practice saying "I don't know" and "I was wrong" a lot, until it feels natural and nonthreatening.

What we don't do is pretend that all matters are equally easy and equally clear, that there is no mystery, that all knowledge begins and ends with us, that no generation understood till mine, and no denomination had it all nailed down till mine. There is a sign on the door of a professor at the seminary down the road, which reads, "For every difficult, intricate, complex, perplexing problem there is a simple, elegant, obvious, clear, direct, wrong answer." I don't know the man, but I think he must be very wise.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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