Eschatology, John the Baptist & Cognitive Dissonance

· fun

Cognitive Dissonance

“Cognitive dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one’s belief, the dissonance can result in misperception or rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others to restore consonance.” —Wikipedia

The Bible gives no indication that John the Baptist ever changed his theology concerning the coming Messianic Kingdom. Operating within the framework of the popular pre-Messianic rabbinical teaching, John sensed that his cousin, Jesus, was in fact the expected Messiah — even though he believed that the Messiah was *supposed* to come with hordes of angels, bringing judgment upon Israel in particular and the world in general.

Once thrown into prison, John only heard stories about his cousin, Jesus, going about the countryside, healing people, doing miracles and declaring that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived. This behavior stood in total contradiction to what John accepted as true. The events he expected (as foretold by the Prophets) were these: the Messiah comes, establishes His Throne in Jerusalem, brings Judgment and Wrath, cleanses the earth, and then, and only then, establishes the Kingdom of Heaven which would be manifested by Peace (lion lays down with the lamb), Healing (no illness), Deliverance (no Satan), etc.

There was a troubling dissonance between what John expected and what Jesus displayed. Primarily, Jesus didn’t come in Righteous Anger but Love, He didn’t bring Judgment, but mercy.

So John tried to reduce his inward sense of dissonance. His first ploy was to send some of his disciples to ask Jesus directly if He truly were the Messiah. Jesus’ response probably didn’t reduce John’s sense of dissonance! Jesus didn’t answer the question in a manner that could have satisfied John. He didn’t say “yes” or “no”, but “look at all these miracles I’m doing” which would only have intensified John’s sense of dissonance.

What did John do next? We don’t know, especially since shortly thereafter he lost his head. But in retrospect he could have chosen any of these alternatives: (1) He could have changed his belief; (2) the dissonance could have produced a misperception, rejection, or refutation of Jesus’ behavior; (3) he may have turned to others who shared his beliefs, seeking their support; or (4) he could have pressed into attempting to persuade others of the accuracy of his expectations in order to restore a sense of consonance in his own mind.

Actually, there’s another means John might have used to reduce this troubling, cognitive dissonance: he may have simply turned his attention away from that inward dissonance via his faith in God; he may have exercised his confidence in God by reminding himself that whatever may have ultimately explained the un-explainable behavior of his cousin, Jesus — God was still in charge of the world and would eventually work it out according to His will.

BTW — therein lies a place of Rest for ourselves as well…







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