As a math teacher, I love logic and logical puzzles. There is one kind of logical puzzle that I've always found particularly fascinating: logical paradoxes. Consider a piece of paper on which is written the following statement:
This statement contains threee mistaks.
What are the mistakes? "Three" is spelled incorrectly, and so is "mistakes." That's two mistakes. Oh! So the third mistake is that there are actually only two mistakes. But wait! That means there really are three mistakes. So that means it's not a mistake to say there are three mistakes. Which means there are only two mistakes, which means...
Okay, so consider this one:
This statement is false.
Clearly the statement can't be false, because if it is, that makes it true. But if it's true, that makes it false. Which makes it true, which makes it false, which makes it...
Or how about this one:
Is the answer to this question "No"?
I'll let you work out for yourself why this is paradoxical. :)
Do you know what all of these statements have in common? They are self-referencing. They are statements/answers that try to define themselves. In order to guarantee that paradoxes are avoided, nothing should be allowed to define or reference itself. It's a form of circular reasoning and circular defining that we do not allow in mathematics.
The concept of self-referencing paradoxes places a strict limitation on what is knowable by the human race. Science is the creation trying to understand itself. Psychology and sociology are examples of humanity trying to understand and define itself. The truth is, we are ill-equipped to understand ourselves or define ourselves. I'm not saying that science is bad -- merely that it is limited, and it is important for us to understand this limitation.
For a true understanding of our own nature, we would be wise to get an outside perspective rather than a self-referencing perspective.
Jeremiah 17:9 says exactly this. The word of the Lord says that the human heart is deceitful, and who can understand it? Then comes the answer from God himself: "I the Lord search the heart and test the mind."
This is no self-referencing analysis of humanity; this is the Creator Himself spelling out His own analysis of the thing He has created.
I don't know about you, but I'd rather take His view over anyone else's!
Last week I did something I never do: I turned on my television in the middle of the day to see what was on. Now I remember why I never do that.
Although, as I was flipping through the channels I saw a face that was very familiar from my childhood: Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was one of those shows I watched faithfully when I was a little child, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's still being aired after all these years.
So I decided to sit down and watch it, and see how my perceptions of the show would change since my childhood days. Mister Rogers was talking about music that day, and he told his "neighbors" that he wanted to take us to meet a friend of his, who was a professional musician. Off we went, down the street, to his friend's house.
As we got to the friend's door, Mister Rogers said something that caught my attention. I think any one of us would have said: "I can't wait for you to meet my friend -- he's a wonderful musician." But instead of that, Mister Rogers said, "I can't wait for you to meet my friend -- he's a wonderful person."
Did you notice the difference? "A wonderful musician" vs. "a wonderful person."
Why did I find that so interesting? Because through the clue of that one little word, Mister Rogers has given us a window into his heart and told us what he values most about a person: character over talent. Most of us, on the other hand, are quick to value talent over character.
The lesson in this is two-fold.
First, Jesus told us throughout Matthew 23 that what is on the inside is far more important than what's on the outside. We can brag all day about the things we do, but in the long run, it's who we are that matters to God.
Second, Jesus told us in Matthew 15:18 that everything that proceeds out of our mouth comes from "inside." Just as Mister Rogers' words gave us a window into his heart, every time we speak we give everyone a glimpse of the kind of person we are.
A wise man will take this lesson to heart, and not simply guard his tongue, but also use the things he says as a way of understanding -- and changing -- the kind of person he is.
At Camp Fairhaven, there is a lake right in the middle of the camp. There are two sets of cabins and lodges on either side of the lake. One is the boys' side, the other is the girls' side. This year, things were different than they have been in the past; this year they couldn't get enough staff to run both sides of the camp, so they moved the boys to the girls' side, and left the boys' side deserted.
With one exception. Since they were using all the cabins on the girls' side, they put me, the Bible teacher, on the other side of the camp.
I felt like I was living in a ghost town!
But the camp was NOT deserted. It was overrun with squirrels. These squirrels were the boldest animals I've ever seen. They would scurry up the walls of my cabin, they would leap from branches to my roof while I was sitting right there on the porch watching them.
And when I dropped a carrot stick on the ground, they didn't grab it and run away with it. They grabbed it, dropped it at the foot of a little tree about five feet from where I was sitting, and then scurried up and down the tree glaring at me and scolding me -- as though daring me to take the carrot stick away from them.
I was surprised, at first, to see so many squirrels on the grounds. There weren't that many the previous year. But then I realized -- there probably were that many. They were just hiding in the woods, because there were so many campers around.
And this made me think: the campground will NEVER be deserted. It will always be filled. It may be filled with campers, or it may be filled with squirrels, but it will ALWAYS be filled!
You know, our hearts are like that. We need to make a conscious choice about what we fill our hearts with, because our hearts will never be empty. They may be filled with good things, or they may be filled with bad things, but they will ALWAYS be filled. That's why Philippians 4:8 is such an important verse:
What are you filling your heart and mind with? Are you filling them with the pure and the lovely? Because if you aren't, then temptations, bad attitudes, and evil desires are encroaching on your heart, and as surely as the squirrels became bolder and bolder as time went on, those temptations, attitudes and desires will fill you more and more.
It's your choice.
My parents have a very foolish dog. He's a boxer named Duke. They got him when he was more than a year old, which is unusual for them -- they like to train a dog from when he's just a puppy.
This dog has been a source of frustration for my parents. He's got a tongue about the size of the state of Rhode Island, and with one lick he can cover you with drool from your big toenail to your forehead.
He also enjoys chewing on things. Shoes. Jackets. Furniture. Electrical cords. Yeah, electrical cords.
He's even been known to chase after my father when he's trimming the lawn with a weedwacker. That's right, he chases the weedwacker. Remember how I said he has a tongue the size of Rhode Island? Now he has a tongue the size of Rhode Island with a notch in the side of it.
And still he chases the weedwacker. Not the brightest dog I've ever seen.
He does one thing which I find very interesting. When he's in trouble, he knows he's in trouble, because my mother puts on her "scolding voice" and says: "DUUUUKE!" It's a tone of voice that inspires consternation in the bravest of both dogs and boys.
But Duke has figured out an interesting way of dealing with this particular tone of voice -- the moment my mother starts to say "DUUUUKE!" before the word is even completely out of her mouth, Duke has turned his head to look the other way. He seems to think that if he's not looking at her, if he doesn't make eye contact with her, he can pretend he didn't hear her.
Of course, it doesn't fool anyone, particularly not my mother.
I remembered that in Psalms 95:7-8 we are told "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts."
And isn't that what we so often do to God? When we hear His voice, when we know what He expects of us, we act like Duke, pretending we don't hear. We harden our hearts toward God, and turn our faces away from Him.
But we don't fool Him, any more than Duke fools my mother. How much better to just simply listen, and not end up being the fool.