knowledge: the blessing, and the curse

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.”

Proverbs 4

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1

Knowledge is the watchword nowadays. At our fingertips is the answer to nearly any question people might ask, often without much effort. That’s good in a lot of ways, and can save people some grief, if they use it wisely. On the other hand, by itself, it simply is a part of “life under the sun,” which the book of Ecclesiastes (see link above) is largely about. That book, when considering knowledge is looking at it as if that is all that exists. What is not factored in, at least not sufficiently in Ecclesiastes (and that book is hard to interpret, biblical scholars differing from one another), is the reality of God and that all of life under the sun does matter to God, made clear at the end of the book. One of my favorite biblical books, by the way, because it shows the emptiness of what people are often full of in this life.

Proverbs, in the tradition of the wisdom of Solomon, puts knowledge and wisdom, nearly synonymous in that book, at the forefront of what one should desire in life. And that knowledge has nothing directly to do with the plethora of the knowledge of “life under the sun,” in which people ordinarily live and breathe. Although of course, it’s meant to help us navigate such knowledge with the wisdom from God, to put a proper evaluation on itself, what is called discernment. And that combination certainly not only has value, but is actually crucial for us living in the world as people of faith.

A key, which is fulfilled in Jesus, who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians; Colossians) is that the knowledge we need begins, and in a sense actually ends with God. Apart from God in Christ, the knowledge we have is incomplete. In it, we find not only the meaning of life, but life itself, since Jesus himself is the Truth, bringing us into the reality of the life of the Triune God, the eternal life. That is why when we have something of a strong sense of that, other things not only pale in comparison, but are exposed. And yet we necessarily live in the seemingly mundane, endless routine of everyday life. And Psalm 131 is so important for us to not only remember, but take to heart. It is good to try to think God’s thoughts after him. But in so doing, we will quickly learn just how dependent we are on God and interdependent on each other.

We need to ever and always keep this foundational truth in mind:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1

And by God’s mercy and grace through Jesus, not live foolishly, but grow in wisdom in the knowledge of God, and learn to see everything more and more in that light. Through turning the pages of scripture, together as the church. And ultimately in the light of the revelation of God in Christ.

the church in a post-trust era

I think post-truth, or post-factual is not off the mark when it comes to our society nowadays, at least politically. But some say it’s more like post-trust that marks the United States as a nation. And sad to say pastors or clergeypeople and churches are not on the high end of institutions in which people trust.

I think the church, and all of us who are part of it would do well to repent of our presumption that we know what is best. There is a church somewhere named, “Jesus Knows Best Church,” and indeed Jesus does. But we don’t. Not to say we shouldn’t lend a discerning heart and mind to society, because indeed we should. And that may be especially critical right now. But we also need to make sure we’re above the fray of the normal partisan politics which mark the political landscape. For the ways we’ve been taken into the fray into whatever side that’s on, we need to repent of defending or promoting this or that American political scheme. It’s one thing to speak out on issues. It’s another to be known as a Democrat or Republican, when we ought to be known as followers of Jesus. In all of this, we should be marked with both humility and love.

Christian, including evangelical should never connote, much less denote any particular kind of politics of this world. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own political positions, of course we do. It means that we take pains to make it clear that we serve one King and kingdom, and are of one politic only: God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. That is the one Good News/Gospel we live and if need be die for. Not to diminish the service of Christians in the government of the nation, including the military.

I have American political leangings, but I believe they’re very issue driven, so that for me, it’s a case of considering separate issues, and making judgments from there. One might not agree with everything in the book (I don’t think I do), but Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz is an excellent example of trying to do this responsibily across basic issues, and in-depth. I am a registered Independent who might in the eyes of the world be considered a moderate leaning left (though I’m not sure about that, myself), yet I preferred one particular Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 election. I think we would do better not to be seen as either left, right, Democratic or Republican, or whatever else. A big reason being the sharp partisan divide in our nation. Perhaps it would be better for us to remain silent, and in some cases I think that should very much be so. How can we win people to Christ through the gospel if we’re so marked by the politics of this world, that we alienate many?

That said, we shouldn’t despair since after all the gospel is no less than the power of God for salvation to all who believe. It is quite alright to have our own positions, and maybe even argue for them some (like with reference to abortion, or human trafficking), and perhaps take some controverisal stands which might be seen as political partisanship, even if we don’t believe for a second that they are. But one thing is to mark us out for sure: Our allegiance to, and practice from the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Our witness of that.

This is actually a splendid opportunity for us to speak a word of truth concerning the Truth himself, Jesus, into a society increasingly skeptical of truth. And the faith that comes from that good news in Jesus, which addresses the deficit of trust. Something, and specifically Someone in whom people can completely commit themselves to, in faith. So as to learn to trust the one God who not only won’t let us down, but helps us live for something so much bigger not only than ourselves, but anything else in this world, including the provisional things such as government and politics, which indeed are important in their place. We need to be known as those who have one faith and loyalty through the gift of the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit. In the one who is full of grace and truth: Jesus himself.

signs and wonders (and even prophesying) not enough

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2

Paranormal activity is well documented, and the biblical narrative certainly takes it seriously. Of course there are God’s miracles, literally signs and wonders, which point to God himself, and God’s word, to the gospel. They are unusual in scripture, but found in pockets, it seems. And the church according to 1 Corinthians 12 can have that element within the body in the form of giftings from God on some of God’s people (perhaps individuals here and there) through which extraordinary things happen. Certainly miracles accompanied Jesus in his ministry, especially in the healings, and exorcism of demons.

The point of this post is simply to say that miracles in themselves prove nothing as to their source. We can define miracle, by the way, as that which is out of the ordinary, perhaps seemingly breaking the laws of nature, therefore called supernatural. According to scripture, God holds everything together, so that God can do what he pleases at any time with what exists. But there’s also an usurper, a pretender, who does have a measure of power, the angelic kind, though in this sense perverted, which can bring about miracles, as in the scripture above, “signs and wonders that serve the lie.”

And in Deuteronomy 13, there’s a warning not to be taken in by prophesyings and miracles which on the surface seem to be authentic, and perhaps in some ways are, but actually pull people away from God and the truth, and essentially substantiate and support what they want to hear.

There is the danger of attributing to Satan what is actually the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are told to test all things, including prophesyings, with the benchmark that we’re to hold on to what is good, but reject whatever is not (1 Thessalonians 5). We need a discernment coming from both the Spirit and the word. Deception can occur not only in the world, but in the church. The safety we have from that is found in the gospel: the power of God through the weakness of the cross, the wisdom of God through the foolishness of the message of a crucified Lord (1 Corinthians 1).

We need discernment, and all the more when people are vulnerable for understandable reasons to deception. We all need the bread of God’s word, and the living Bread who came down out of heaven, and now gives life to the world. Jesus is the one we turn to in the midst of our confusion and darkness. Even while along with the church we continue to turn the pages of scripture, and ask God for the discernment we need, in and through Jesus.

 

 

the basic importance of words

Does not the ear test words
    as the tongue tastes food?

Job 12:11

These words from Job himself, later echoed by Elihu, help underscore the importance of what we say, or more precisely the importance of words, and the signficance we give to them. We do weigh what is being said, or what we’re reading, whether we’re aware of that, or consciously trying to do so, or not.

Words are obviously important for us humans. They say that the most signficant factor for a child’s success in education is their ability to read. Words are crucial for us performing our work day after day. And important in helping us think through all kinds of matters.

Words are symbols corresponding to reality. They don’t determine reality, though they are important in helping us understand it. What is true and good, as well as real goes beyond words. And so words are pointers beyond themselves.

God gave us scripture as his word written, and meant to point us to his final Word, Jesus, who brings us into the life of the Trinity, and into the life of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And so we have verfication from God of the importance of words. Such is not only an accomodation to humans, but indeed something which corresponds to God himself. We read from scripture that God spoke the world into being, and that God’s word continues to speak into what he has created.

And so with that in mind, I want to be all the more in the word, in scripture. So that everything else I come across can be tested by that measure. Scripture is far from just a bunch of rules or even principles for life. It is all about life, and not only about it, but participating in it. In other words, scripture gets into the nitty gritty, down into the dirt in which we live, not to leave us there, but to lift us up by God’s grace into God’s good will in Jesus.

We can take heart. We in Jesus are part of the royal priesthood of believers, who each have responsibility to weigh everything according to God’s word of scrripture and God’s Word in Jesus. We do that individually, but never apart from the rest of Christ’s body, the church. We contribute to the whole, as we are helped by others, all from God, from the one Lord by the same Spirit.

Words are the starting point, but not the end all. God is revealed and we participate in God’s very life and will through both word and sacrament. Through the bread and the cup of Holy Communion. God’s word directing us to that reality. And helping us live and rest in the truth, not just to know, but actually to experience, to “taste” in and through Jesus.

 

wisdom and God’s will

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1

Yesterday at work we watched an interesting video from John Ortberg based on his book, All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?

What stood out to me was the insight that scripture doesn’t so much indicate that God has one particular plan that he shows us, or that God will simply tell us what to do along the way: who we’re to marry if we do marry, what job we’re to have, where we’re to live, etc. But God gives us wisdom so that we can discern what is good, and what is in harmony with his will for us in Jesus. And that the goal is not so much what we do, but who we’re becoming. Are we more and more like Jesus?

This seems so very much in line with scripture along with the best teaching I’ve received based on scripture. It’s not like God never makes something specific clear to us. The big question is just how God does that. Are we like zapped in a sense so that we just know just because God “told” us that we’re to do such and such instead of so and so? Or is it more like God leads us through helping us discern what is best, and what his will might be in the circumstances. I think clearly the latter. God might do something unusual along the way, but by and large we are left to discern what we should do according to what God has given us in his inscripturated word in line with the truth as it is in Jesus.

Of course we have to see all of scripture through the lens and fulfillment in Jesus, through the gospel. And we let God help us sift through it, pondering the truth that we find on every page. We pray and we consult others who are steeped in the truth of scripture and in how the Spirit has guided the church, sometimes in person, and oftentimes in books written, such as the one by Ortberg, linked above.

We want clear answers and essentially an easy life. God wants  us to work through the issues, to be fully involved in the process. Even though God’s work and wisdom and ways are quite beyond us, yet we are given something of God’s wisdom to enter into his work and understand his ways enough to proceed according to what is good in his will revealed to us in Jesus within scripture. We are helped both for the day to day and current decisions which need to be made, as well as for the long haul, during which we should grow in this discernment in and by this wisdom from God.

We are recipients of God’s gift to us in Jesus, and we are active in our faith in terms of how we live, and decisions which need to be made, big and little ones, day after day. As we seek to grow along with others more and more like Jesus.

 

when who judge others we condemn themselves

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.

 

listening well, speaking less

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1

If there’s one problem which I think affects us all, it’s the tendency for us to speak more and listen less, to speak without listening, and to go on and on. This seems endemic in our culture, and I think both conservatives and progressives share in the guilt.

A big part of listening is to simply listen well, which sometimes will require questions, and then after that, silence and time, so that we can process what has been said. At the same time this vital need to listen does not mean that there’s never a time to speak. We can’t be held hostage because we lack the certainty of God on a given subject. We have to make the best judgments we can, then proceed. But part of doing so is to learn to listen well.

Part of good listening in our culture is the gathering of information. Reading books can be especially good, but reading online might benefit us on a number of matters just as much. And while we’re doing so, we need to stay in scripture and keep reading and praying. And do so in fellowship with other believers. This can help us to hear better and discern what is best. We certainly need to be open to changing our views. Good listening involves gathering knowledge which may help us better put the pieces together in understanding life, and specifically certain matters in life.

While we’re to be slow to speak, that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak at all. And when we do speak, less is often more. If we always have a word to say on everything, chances are we’re not listening well, if at all. But a word from careful listening which is well thought out can be a help to us and to each other. Something we need much more of today.