Most people are raised with ideas that are collectively treated as true. These may include ideas like:
- Don’t go to bed angry
- Drink eight glasses of water a day
- You shouldn’t crack your knuckles
- You need eight hours of sleep a night
- Never swallow gum
- Don’t swim immediately after eating
For kids who grow up in a religious home, this is especially the case. They are raised with generations of beliefs and traditions handed down (and usually enforced) to them. For Christians, they could be strict adherence to the Ten Commandments, or a specific way of reading the Bible, or a grouping of theological doctrines to agree with (and the other doctrines to disagree with). Much of the time, being given these types of lessons is a blessing as it allows you to glean wisdom from those who have gone before you.
But at some point, the goal should be to develop so that you can better understandâ€”and perhaps even challengeâ€”what you’ve been told. The trick is to do so without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater (unless deamed necessary). At best, the wisdom we get from others can help shape us before we understand the full measure of its truth. At worst, we can end up shaping our lives by urban superstitions.
For example, you may be familiar with the idea that you are supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day. Recently a professor named I-Min Lee wondered where we got this idea from. What she found is fascinating.
â€œIn 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means â€˜the 10,000-step meterâ€™â€ (see: source). How did they arrive at this name? “Based on conversations sheâ€™s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for â€œ10,000â€ looks sort of like a man walking.”
So the number came from how the Japanese character for “10,000 step meter” somehow resembles a person? And here’s the best part: “As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research.”
Now, is it going to hurt you to walk 10,000 steps a day? Probably not. And it is likely a good goal to aim to achieve for most people. But it would be a bit silly to go to bed discouraged because you only hit 7900 steps in your day. Especially since much of Lee’s research found that health benefits often leveled out after walking 7500 steps a day.
Which makes me wonder, what other things do we accept as true which may have the same flimsy explanation? And in case you think you’ll just follow the crowd on this one to help you navigate it, remember that for most people the 10,000 step idea is a solid fact. As I wrote about previously, sometimes we can have a hard time accepting a truth if others don’t agree with us (see: My Favorite Interview Question).
This matters immensely when it comes to ideas we believe about God. After all, those are the ideas that shape what we do in our relationship with God and how we encourage others to do the same. While this loses me popularity in the majority crowd, I’ve personally realized that theologies like the Eternal Conscious Torment view of hell or the Penal Substitution theory of atonement don’t ultimately make much sense (or look much like Jesus). You may not be familiar with the names of either of those ideas, but if you’ve spent any time in Christian circles in America you’ve definitely heard them taught.
This is why we should be always growing, always listening, always learning, and always willing to take a step forward in a new direction, no matter how scary that may feel. As the Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). Apparently, they didn’t end up doing a good job testing all that was said. We read a negative comparison to them elsewhere in the book of Acts. “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paulâ€™s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11).
Which openness level defines the community of people you live among? Are you close-minded and threatened by ideas that are different than your own, especially ideas that go against what you were raised with? Is much of your time spent denouncing those ideas? Or are you open-minded and contemplating ideas that challenge you to rethink and go deeper than your previous understanding supports? Do you spend time exploring new ideas to better understand them?
We each choose to metaphorically live in either Thessalonica or Berea, but only one of the approaches empowers us to keep growing in the Truth. You could say they are about 10,000 steps apart.At best, the wisdom we get from others can help shape us before we understand the full measure of its truth. At worst, we can end up shaping our lives by urban superstitions. Click To Tweet