Recently I’ve received a few wrong numbers each looking for the same person. I’m reasonably sure that a couple of the calls are from the same person. He doesn’t seem to be convinced that Jaunito is not at this number. I’m not sure how to convince these folks that they have the wrong number. We’ve all done something like this—assumed that our premise was correct, that we’ve followed the correct procedure and so we’re stumped when it doesn’t work out as we expect. We’re so sure of our premises and process that we even question the results, as if the results aren’t real. Well, these callers did reach my phone and not Juanito’s. I’ve had this number for quite a few years so I’m reasonably sure that Juanito hasn’t had it during the same period—unless the phone company is renting the same phone number to multiple parties. That’s a possibility but it’s unlikely. Were they doing that, we might avoid some of these new area codes and had some really interesting phone conversations. You might not remember “party lines” but there was a time when multiple homes shared the same telephone line. An operator would send a different number of rings down the line to signal which phone to pick up. Of course, all the phones on the line rang and it was always a temptation to pick up and more than a few people did. Of course one was always circumspect about what was said on a party line under the assumption that someone, if only the operator, was listening. If everyone was on the line at the same time then I suppose that was the first chat room. I guess there’s nothing really new about “social media” after all? I digress.
Why is our ignorance so invincible? What do facts and reality have such a difficult time penetrating our heads? As a Christian who makes a Reformed confession, i.e., who adheres to the Reformed theology, piety, and practice my explanation of such denseness is sin. We live in a fallen world. We know what must be, even when it isn’t, because our hearts, our intellects, and our wills are corrupted by sin. The effect and affect of sin is profound. We do not think aright. We do not choose as we ought and we do not love well. All of our faculties are warped by sin. This is why our Lord says that, by nature, we love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
Even though corrupted by sin, in the providence of God our senses are generally accurate but we interpret sense experience with our intellect, our affections, and our will. So, when someone gives us a phone number there’s a possibility that they may get it wrong. There’s a possibility that we may hear it incorrectly. There’s a possibility that we may dial it incorrectly. If we’re given the wrong number and we dial it correctly we won’t get the result we expected, in this case Juanito. Now what? As a Reformed Christian I should probably expect to get things wrong more than I do. I shouldn’t be surprised that something breaks down in a broken world filled with broken people. It is a mercy that all the variables work together as often as they do—we haven’t even considered the possibility that the electronics between use may not work correctly—to produce the desired results.
So, if the world is so manifestly broken and if I am chief among the broken, why are we so surprised when things don’t work, when we do not work as we were meant to work? Sin. The effect of sin is so profound that we cannot even see it and ourselves as we ought. We are so deeply corrupted by the fall that we’re still surprised by the effects of the fall. We slip into thinking that we must be right, that of course we’re correct. The other fellow must be incorrect. I must have the right number and I must have dialed it correctly. There can’t be any typos in this text. My translation must be correct. That “must” is the definition of presumption.
As they used to say in math class: “check your work.” I tell my students: “question the premise.” The first premise is that I have the correct number. Perhaps not. The second premise is that I dialed it correctly. Perhaps not. Writers and copyeditors daily see and experience the effects of the fall. Judging by the state of copy editing in our newspapers, the world is getting worse, not better. Translators experience the effects of the fall. One goes through a passage working out a translation, assigning an English word for the original, accounting for the cases and the verb forms but it just does not work out. The English makes no sense—”But it must!” Ah, but it mustn’t. The translator is sometimes tempted to think that there’s something wrong (in the case) with the Latin, but there isn’t. It’s not the passage. It’s not the verbs, the nouns, the adjectives, or even the prepositions. It’s the translator. Only when he dies to himself and admits that he’s ignorant or that he started with a bad premise or used a bad method can he make progress toward getting it right.
Learning to the question the premise, learning to question ourselves, is part of maturity, it’s part of sanctification. It is part of coming to understand the depth of the effect and affect of sin. It is part of learning that our need for saving grace and Christ’s general restraining mercies is even greater than we knew.