Imagine a flock of blackbirds in flight. Several friends, upon spying the small cloud of birds, attempt to guess their number. One guesses twenty-five or so. Another guesses 20. A third insists there were at least thirty. But none of them, due to the brevity of their observation, is able to say with certainty the precise number of blackbirds they witnessed.
They discuss their experience for several minutes when one of them says, "How do we know we saw any blackbirds? None of us is in agreement. Maybe we didn't see any blackbirds at all." The others all agree that this fellow is a silly fool if he believes that kind of thinking.
And yet, the very same reasoning is used against the Church today, is it not? People have observed that the various denominations have differing ideas about Christian truth, about how to serve communion, about which Bible doctrines are most important. From here they sometimes draw a conclusion that Christianity and our ideas about God are whatever we want it to be. They conclude that truth is arbitrary and that we can choose to believe whatever we like, because one can never know for sure.
The reality, however, is wholly other. Moral truth is not arbitrary. We see its outlines in the cumulative understanding of all persons of conscience.
There was a definite number of blackbirds, even if we are not entirely in agreement as to what that number was. No logical person would conclude from our lack of agreement that there were no blackbirds at all. Or that there was an indefinite number of birds.
The quantity of birds was specific, even if we cannot say with certainty what that specific number was. So it is with God and truth. God is a being with very definite attributes.
Agnostics are fond of saying "We can't know whether there is a God." And many there are who say God is whatever you want him to be. But alas, that would be like saying there were as many blackbirds as we want there to be, instead of acknowledging that there was a specific number.
The Scriptures state clearly that if we seek Him we shall find Him. That is to say, we can know more and more what God is like. God has attributes and qualities that we can discover and know with greater clarity. And while we may only see through a glass darkly in this lifetime, there are many of us who have seen His hand at work, have heard His voice, even if only dimly, and know that one day we shall know Him, just as we could have counted -- if given the opportunity -- the precise number of those blackbirds.
July 11, 2002, Ed Newman