Problem with Testimonies
All I know, He touched me
From the dark, I am free
Blinded eyes now can see how to follow
All I know, He touched me
From the dark I am free
And now I know that He is all I know
-Dallas Holm, from Through the Flame
If you see a blind man, kick him. Why be kinder than God?
-Old Iranian proverb
For Christians, the ultimate defense of their faith is usually their
testimony. After all avenues of reason are exhausted (or more usually,
at an impasse), many a Christian can be heard proclaiming that, although
they cannot always explain their beliefs, they always know why they believebecause
of what happened to them. I remember how our pastor liked to emphasize
the importance of this. The Bible said that we should always be ready
to give an account of why we believed, and on many Sunday evening worship
services, we were asked to do just that. Our pastor would pick three or
four people to give their testimonies, and I remember trying to look as
inconspicuous as possible, hoping he wouldn't pick me. But sometimes he
would, and on more than one occasion, I can recall nervously approaching
the pulpit to share my story with the rest of the congregation, my butterflies
alleviated somewhat by the murmured "amens" and "praise the Lords" that
seemed to follow my every sentence. But there is a problem with testimonies:
yours is not the only one.
For every testimony about how God helped you kick a drug habit, there
is another for how He did not. So the question arises, whose testimony
are you going to believe? Testimonies are just that. People testifying
about their experiences. And no one can say whose are valid, and whose
are not. If you can disbelieve mine, I can also disbelieve yours. Conflicting
testimonies cancel eachother out, and we get nowhere. All a testimony
can do is say, "this worked for me." Yet Christians do not stop there.
Every time a sports hero gives a testimony about how empty his life was,
and how miserable he was being rich and famous (and addicted to drugs)
until he found Jesus, Christians tout this as "proof" that their beliefs
are correct, that there can be no true happiness without faith in Christ.
Never mind the other sports hero who is very happy (and drug-free) without Christianity, or another that shed his bad habits through
Dianetics or plain old self-determination..
The problem with using testimonies to validate beliefs is that it
puts you in an untenable position. In order for your testimony to have
any weight, it must be true not just for you, but for others as well.
Yet what do you do about competing testimonies? If you acknowledge them,
then for those people at least, your testimony holds no water. And this
is especially damaging to Christians, since testimonies are often used
to try to convince others that Christian ways are God's ways, and that
they really work. And disbelieving all competing testimonies doesn't help,
for then you cannot expect anyone to believe yours either. This, however,
is the position that Christians must take, for otherwise their testimonies
become meaningless. The only way they can believe that Jesus is the only
way to true happiness is to believe that all others are not.
So what does this have to do with God? Well, if God really endorses
Christian testimonies even though they don't apply to everyone, then He
is a rather disingenuous fellow, for He is encouraging his followers to
proclaim something to be true for all people, when it really isn't. It's
sort of like drug companies who sell medications.
They know that the pills don't work for everyone, so they include the
fine print stating risks and exclusions. Shouldn't Christians be as forthcoming?