When you get angry or annoyed at someone, do you ever ask yourself why that person bothers you? Granted, there are plenty of people in our lives that wear the tag annoying. But, have you asked yourself, “Why this person?” or “Why this person in this particular situation?” If you haven’t, start paying attention. The next time this occurs, I would encourage you to engage your soul in a little self-examination. There are usually logical reasons that explain why these people get under our skins. Notice, I said logical, I didn’t say correct. I mean logical in that your anger is a systematic outworking of your ethical system. Someone has transgressed your internal laws. We all have a system of ethics. But, those systems are not perfect. How then do we check the validity of these laws?
Learning What Presupposition Means
Before checking our internal laws, we need to know what a presupposition is. Presuppositions are nothing more than a preexisting set of internal laws. They are beliefs that we assume are right beforehand. Said another way, we go into situations (i.e. pre) with an idea of how things are supposed (i.e. supposition) to be. These presuppositions give us an interpretive framework to decipher situations and experiences. Often, we are not even aware of their existence. But, our presuppositions influence our reaction to all that is important to us. And the funny thing is, we all have them, whether we know it or not.
Becoming Aware of Your Presuppositions
How did we get these things called presuppositions? Well, they came to us through a variety of channels. Teachers, family members, coaches, and bosses drilled them into us. Experiences, both good and bad, taught them too. Besides these external sources, our presuppositions also come from within. Our own desires and cravings decided which presuppositions could help us get things. So, our presuppositions come from others and from ourselves.
Why do we have presuppositions? Because they help us navigate life. Often, our presuppositions protect us from psychological pain. For example, suppose your father belittled you as a child for being late to school. You learned the painful lesson that good people are always on time. Since you wanted to be a good person, you developed an attitude about tardiness. Without knowing it, you included this belief into your interpretive framework. Now, without even thinking about it, you still use it to maintain your goodness as an adult. For instance, you get annoyed when your wife or child is not ready to leave for church or school. You act aloof when a business acquaintance is late for lunch. And the whole time, you remain unaware of the origin of your annoyance.
The best way to discover our presuppositions is to examine strong emotional experiences. For example, the next time you feel angry, ask yourself questions like these, “Why am I so upset? What am I wanting and why am I wanting it so bad? What does this say about the things I think I deserve to have? Are those things that I desire good things and if so, says who?”
Checking Your Presuppositions for Accuracy
Once you know the content of a particular presupposition, you need to check it for its accuracy. Going back to our earlier example, society often rewards punctuality. But, punctuality cannot be the measure of a person’s worth. That is another problem with presuppositions. As I said before, they become canonized as little laws within our hearts. It is unfortunate that this canonization often occurs when we are still immature. And while they bring a sense of coherency to our lives, they are not always accurate.
Think about it this way. As a society, we don’t trust the adults we elect to Congress. We charge these individuals with developing laws that govern our country. But we don’t trust them. We often question their judgment. If that is so, how then can we trust our own pre-adolescent selves with the precious laws of our hearts? We passed these laws, or presuppositions, at a young age. They helped us then. They do not always help us now. We should be skeptical of their accuracy. So, since self-trust is lacking, we must verify our presuppositions. The best way to do this is compare them to some transcendent and external standard.
Choosing the Appropriate Ethical Standard for Comparison
As Christians, God reveals the ideal transcendent and external standard of Law. In the Bible, God tells us why we are here. He tells us what it means to be human. He tells us what is wrong with our humanity. He tells us how he fixes what is wrong. And, he tells us how he expects us to live. Comparing your internal laws, or presuppositions, with his divine law is eye opening. If you are like most, you will find areas of congruence. But, you will also find expanses of divergence. Some of your presuppositions will agree with Scripture, but many won’t.
Making the Appropriate Adjustments
If your presuppositions do not agree with God’s, someone needs to change. Since you are not God, it would be wise for you to be the one to adjust. You make this change by turning back to God and trusting in him. The Bible calls this activity repenting and believing. Another way of saying this might be living the gospel. There are three things that happen as we live the gospel. First, we draw closer to God as we immerse ourselves in his message to us. Second, we draw closer to ourselves because we know our souls in a more intimate way. Third, we draw closer to others. This is because our presuppositions will no longer drive them away.
The next time you experience an intense negative emotional reaction, investigate your presuppositions. For in them, you will find out much about your attitudes towards God, others, and yourself. Your presuppositions will introduce you to yourself. And, if you don’t like who you meet, ask God to help you return to living the gospel.
Joining the Conversation
What are some of your presuppositions? How do they influence your ideas and attitudes about God, others, and yourself? What adjustments do you need to make?