“We know exactly what you mean,” part 2

30 Jul

I was hoping to get a bit more feedback on my original post in this series; likely, I was too vague to make comment worthwhile.

I will thus be more direct. I am involved regularly in discussions about what is right and reverent in worship. I have participated in such discussions often enough to have learned several things. First, very rarely is either party intending to listen. Second, I believe that what a person finds plausible in such discussions in based almost entirely on his experiences. This is true especially when one person is attempting to point to distinctions that the other person cannot see.

A commenter on the first post understood this correctly. How would you explain “what it is like to see red” to someone who is colorblind? Or, to make things more challenging, how would you explain how “what it is like to see red” differs from “what it is like to see green”? I think it is possible that we could employ analogies that my be helpful; the reality is, however, that the person will not truly grasp the distinction between these “what it is likes” until he actually experiences the difference himself.

This means, of course, that if our colorblind friend is stubbornly incredulous about the very existence of color (and therefore of color distinctions), there is almost nothing that we can offer him that he would accept as evidence for that distinction.

I suggest, then, that often, those who refuse to understand a distinction between various types of loves, or between the affections and the passions, are not being stubborn when they deny the conservative position on these topics. Instead, they are accurately reporting their understanding: they don’t see the difference.

Can they be made to see the difference? We shall continue this discussion (or monologue).


Posted by on July 30, 2009 in Worship


9 responses to ““We know exactly what you mean,” part 2

  1. Don Johnson

    July 31, 2009 at 1:47 am


    We have a great guy in our church who is totally colour blind. He is a great blessing to us as we have seen him grow in the Lord. He is one of our deacons.

    He does have some idea of colour, not because he can see anything of it, he just says he sees shades of gray. (I ask him how he knows its gray, what if it’s shades of red, or green??) But he knows there is such a thing as colour because of the testimony of others who have attempted to explain it to him over the years. He failed colouring in kindergarten! His daughter, when he was little, couldn’t understand that he didn’t get ‘colours’, so she took it upon herself to try to teach him. So – while he doesn’t get colours, he gets that there are colours because there is overwhelming evidence from all those around him that it is so.

    I’m not sure what that does for your question, but perhaps there is something in there that might help.

    For my friend, I take great delight in knowing that the first thing he will see in colour is our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Don Johnson

    July 31, 2009 at 1:49 am

    Oops, that should read “his daughter, when she was little” duhh…

    I know there is such a thing as proper grammar, but…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Michael Riley

    July 31, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Some good thoughts here, Don. Let’s play with the metaphor further.

    When the colorblind are a tiny minority of the population, and everyone else is talking about color, the colorblind feel the weight of the consensus and acknowledge that color must exist, even if they do not perceive it.

    What if the situation were reversed? Suppose the vast majority of people are colorblind and only a few can perceive color? And the color-perceivers want to make people believe that that thing over there is red, and that *that* thing over *there* is green, even though to the vast majority of people, they look exactly the same?

    I think you’d find that most people in non-color-perceiving culture would laugh them to scorn.

  4. ilais

    July 31, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I think eventually the colorblind analogy falls short, so I beg your pardon for leaving it. Michael, you mentioned that what a person finds plausible is based mostly on their own experience, and I would argue that most of the time the way that we become aware that there is a difference is by experience.

    I teach a Bible study on Wednesday nights. When I became involved, our group used song books that I think would best be described as a collection of irreverent camp songs. When I was placed in charge of the group I switched our song books to the best alternative available to me, Great Hymns of the Faith. Some of the attendees found it a stark change but went along with it. Recently we had to change back to the camp books because of circumstances outside of my control.

    I was both surprised and pleased when someone came to me and said that they wanted to go back to using a hymnal because they had noticed how irreverent the camp songs were and they were bothered by this. This particular individual has not shifted 100% in his understanding of worship, but he has experienced a difference that he did not know was there. This is how these differences are made manifest, by experience.

    Occasionally I will explain the images a hymn may evoke, and then ask my group to read it as the piano plays. We have become too used to our processes of how worship is done that we no longer think about it. I’ve found this to be a useful tool in demonstrating the differences in music.

    It could be argued that now that we have switched back to the camp books someone may feel that they have been liberated from the oppressive seriousness of hymnody. Those people will eventually come to understand the difference, or they will leave my Bible study to seek fellowship with someone else that is more friendly towards irreverence.

    Thank you for the link, by the way.

  5. Michael Riley

    July 31, 2009 at 8:00 pm


    Your testimony here is exactly the point that I hoped to make with the colorblind analogy. You said, “most of the time the way that we become aware that there is a difference is by experience”; that was my point. If the people in your Bible study group hadn’t had exposure to reverent worship (even to a slight degree), you would find that trying to explain a difference between reverence and irreverence would be (truly) meaningless to them.

  6. Don Johnson

    July 31, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Michael

    I think the colour-blind analogy breaks down precisely because the situation is reversed!

    However, even experience may not be sufficient to dislodge willful rebellion on the part of some. I know of a situation similar to what ilias describes, where “chorus books” of the past have finally been replaced by a more serious book, but resistance and rebellion still remains. Perhaps time will tell, but I am not sure that even experience can change some of the minds involved.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Michael Riley

    July 31, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    I’m being unclear.

    My point in all of this is not that exposure to what is good will somehow magically convince the gainsayers. I am merely saying that we have whole bushels of people who have never experienced anything remotely like reverence (and I am speaking [perhaps particularly] of those who grew up in fundamental Baptist churches), and thus they have no comprehension of the distinction that we’re trying to make.

    All that I’m suggesting here is that many people, when they deny seeing any distinction between the significance of their worship and ours, are not being disingenuous or stubborn. Without having experienced reverence, they won’t see the difference.

  8. Scott Aniol

    August 1, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Great discussion! Thanks for setting it up, Mike.

    I’m right with Mike on this (surprise, surprise!). With issues of the affections, more if often caught that taught. Matters of the heart cannot really be put into words adequately, which is why experience is key.

    This is also why music is such a powerful tool. Music, as the language of the heart, can be used as a teaching tool to help people “experience” different kinds of affections.

    And this is also why those using such a tool must know what they are doing…

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