Idea Sets

     Over the years I have thought about ideas as coming together in “sets.” I think the idea came from my junior high math teacher. Back then (way back then!) we were being introduced to what was called “new math.” The approach was so different that our teacher (who did a great job, I remember) was actively studying the material herself. I don’t know where mathematics instruction is these days and I am very glad I don’t have to know, but one of the things we were taught was to deal with numbers in “sets.” The numbers would be grouped according to a common characteristic or according to the function involved.

     We can think about ideas in the same way. Just as a number like nine can be understood as three times three or five plus four we can look at a big idea and break it down into component parts. For example there is the Biblical concept of God. The idea of God is a very big idea indeed. The idea set of God has component parts that add up to confirm the reality of His existence.

     One such part of that idea set is the fact that the physical universe is irrefutably here. Human beings are also here. When one begins to question where the world and all that is in it came from, the best answer is that it came from God.

     We know, of course, that many contend that somehow the world just happened to happen over billions of years. But an open, clear and unprejudiced examination of reality results in problems with that view that the commonly accepted view of origins cannot solve. How, for example, does something come from nothing? How then, do we account for sacrificial behavior on the part of one person for another? Clear thought results in the conclusion that the world and our existence in it cannot be accidental.

     The next component of this idea set of God is the Bible. We know that there are other books people consider holy, but the message of the text of the Bible is of a more elevated nature and character. It has an unequaled sense of spiritual refinement. Numerous examples are available, but the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 will do: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” The natural world is the first and general component of the idea set of God. The Bible, which provides the specifics about God, is the element of that set of ideas that creates faith in us (Romans 10:17). Just as four and five make add up to nine, the natural world and the Bible add up to the knowledge that God is (Hebrews 11:6).

     There are other idea sets in the spiritual world. There is the idea set of the Christian life. The Christian life, according to our analogy, would be a very big number. It can be broken down into component parts. A good passage to use to see this is Galatians 5:16-26. Paul said there, “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (verse 16). If we look at that as an idea set we see that it has a positive (walk in the spirit) and a negative (you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh) component. These two elements of the command are developed in the following verses, culminating in a reprise of the concept in verse 25: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

     We can see other helpful idea sets in the spiritual world that flow from the Biblical text. Think for example of the idea set of “morality.” If we break that set into component parts one of the first would concern the origin of the moral code under consideration. Is it internal or external? Do we guide ourselves or do we place ourselves under the guidance of another? And if the latter, do we follow another man or do we follow the guidance of God. The best and only choice is to follow God (Jeremiah 10:23).

Thus I suggest that a good way to think about the big questions of life is to break these questions into their component parts. If we do we will find God in the end.