Infallible: The inability to be wrong, or the incapability for error.
The other day I was reading a blog post (I can't remember which one) and the author made a comment about how no one is infallible. This statement gave me pause. On the surface I nodded my head and acknowledged that of course I don't know everything, so I'm not infallible. But the author was actually making the point that none of us are 100% correct in what we believe to be true.
This particular author had been contrasting two differing preachers (to remain nameless) who were both educated, opinionated, and passionate about their beliefs. (No, I am not talking about either Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll - so don't jump to conclusions) His point was how people react to either liking or disliking an stance or argument from either person. What stuck out was that we often rise up and critique those we disagree with while at the same time often uncritically accept a view of someone we admire. I am as guilty of this as anyone, I'm sure.
When we start from the assumption that everything that I know is true do we not succumb to thinking our own thinking is infallible? Are we not capable of being wrong about what we think is right? A couple of years ago I had the realization on many theological topics that the question is not "Am I right about this?," but rather "Is it OK if I'm wrong about this?"
The point is not whether we can know something to be true or not, but rather must we think that we know everything we believe must be true. Its a matter of the heart, isn't it? If I act as if I know everything, this comes across as prideful or arrogant. We all know people who appear on TV or the Internet like this. Yet, we also can easily recognize those who are gracious or humble. Who know what they believe but include room for the possibility of being wrong or at least room for other opinions on the matter.
Such an attitude is seen in nearly any discipline, vocation, or ideology. I barely can stand to watch any political debate these days because the candidates bash each other and speak with such certainty, only to have the fact-checkers come out the next day with all the litany of mistakes spoken during the event. Is certainty necessary, or even plausible, for solving the problems of America (or any other nation)?
Yet I don't really want to highlight this point because of how others act. Rather, lets turn the magnifying glass on ourselves.
Do I act as though I am infallible in what I believe?
Do I approach others from a perspective that I am right and they are wrong?
Am I arrogant or prideful?
Or, am I humble, gentle, or gracious?
Can my beliefs handle the fact that I may be wrong about something?
Deep down, can I except doubt in my life, or must I drive it out and have certainty?
During my time at Fuller Theological Seminary, I learned that certainty is often a warning sign of someone who has not yet fully thought through an issue. How else do we learn what we believe, than to acknowledge that we need to learn?
Some people have told me they do not like to read because it "muddies the waters." The only waters that are being muddied, in my opinion, are those waters of the person making that statement. I wrestle with certain issues in my own head. I have gone back and forth on certain issues or topics over the years where I have held varying beliefs that at the time I thought were right, even if I was not thoroughly convinced.
Must I win an argument? Must I be right?
The lyrics to Mumford and Sons "I Gave You All" seem to me to hint at the plight we face in a world that must win. I do not want to be one who rips it all away from others, just to win.
Rather, I need to check myself and ensure I do not see myself as right in my own eyes. "Every man's way is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart." (Proverbs 21:2 NASB) The end of the book of Judges ends with every man doing what was right in their own eyes. This conclusion was a warning, not a commendation, from all that occurred in Judges.
Matthew's Gospel has an account of not looking at the sawdust/speck in another's eye while ignoring the plank in your own (Mt 7). Jesus instructs us to first take the plank out of our eye to better be able to see the plank in the others! I think that this means, not that we have to figure it all out first and be 100% certain on everything, but rather to acknowledge that we don't have it all figured out completely yet, which leaves us treating another person with more respect and grace as we work on getting the stuff out of our eyes! If I get a plank out of my eye, and I going to look condescendingly at a speck in another's? No way!
I have a plank in my eye, and just need to become aware of what it is. When I understand, truly understand, that I am not infallible, then I acknowledge that I am wrong about something I believe. And this is ok. We're all in the same boat here.
No one is infallible: not the talking heads on TV, not preachers, not deans of university, not me, and not you. (OK - to clarify, as a Christian I believe that Jesus was infallible, and Catholics believe the Pope is infallible such as when he speaks ex cathedra, and although I don't know, I would assume Mohammed was infallible in Islam)
We are all right about some things, and wrong about some things.
Can we allow ourselves to handle being wrong?
Can we be humble enough to recognize this common condition?
In the midst of doubts and being a fallible human being, what is left? It isn't being certain I'm right about everything I believe, but in having faith that in spite of what I believe there is hope. That God is a God who lovingly created and redeemed his creation for a purpose He intends. Its not perfect, just as we are not perfect. There is hope in the grace found in Jesus Christ. I can hold to this belief, because even with the possibility of being wrong, there remains hope. If I have to be certain about something, then I'm already lost.
I'd rather live in hope than despair or fear. I'd rather live with gracious and humble people who recognize the absence of any infallible people in this world, than screaming ideologues who claim certain infallibility in systems or identical belief. It's messy and gray, not clean or black and white. But is this not the life we all live?
Help me take the plank out my eye and I promise I'll gently return the favor and do the same for you.