Friday, January 13, 2012

Humility

Praying Statue by paynehollow
Praying Statue, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Someone recently said to me (and I have heard this sentiment many times before, even said it myself)...

the idea is to see cultural issues through the lens of Biblical Truth. We do not look at scripture through the lens of contemporary culture.

And I guess my response to that would be: we need to prayerfully, carefully, rationally strive to see God's Way through the lens of Jesus' teachings and a correct understanding of the Bible and rational consideration of circumstances, but the caution would be that we don't allow our interpretation of the Bible to conflate with God's Way.

It seems to me that when we say, "we need to see culture through the lens of Biblical truth," it is IMPLICIT that what we MEAN is, "...through the lens of Biblical truth AS I UNDERSTAND IT..." and paying attention to that is key to good, rational, humble Bible study.

IF "Biblical Truth" (AS WE UNDERSTAND IT) becomes, to us, simply "What God says...," then we run the risk of conflating OUR UNDERSTANDING of Biblical Truth (which, again, is what we are actually saying when we reference Biblical Truth) with God's Word. We wouldn't put it this way, but it makes us out to be a little god and places us in the wrong position - the position of speaking for God what WE BELIEVE, as if God were speaking it.

So, for me, I'm not trying to discern cultural issues through MY INTERPRETATION of the Bible, rather, I'm striving to discern cultural issues through God's Will, which is my goal. The Goal, then, is not "what the Bible says," but rather, "God's Will."


The Bible (which I have to reason my way through), my reason, real world evidence, God's Spirit, God's Word writ upon my heart... these ALL can contribute to my better understanding God's will, but they ALL depend on my own good reasoning, and that includes MY UNDERSTANDING of the Bible.

And this is a concern precisely because I am a flawed and imperfect human being. I am entirely capable of being mistaken and misunderstanding points. This is true when I'm having a face-to-face conversation with a normal person in my own language and in my own culture, how much MOREso would it have to be true of an infinite God, the Great Mystery, so perfect, so wonderful as to beyond my own understanding - a God who does NOT speak to me (or any of us) audibly and directly?

"Now, we see as through a glass, darkly," Paul tells us. And this is a hugely important point. It makes the difference, IT SEEMS TO ME, between being able to hold opinions with grace, good humor and good judgment and holding opinions with arrogance and poor judgment.

My concern is that people read a passage, find a verse they like and say, "The Bible says it and I believe it, that settles it..." without taking into consideration that it is THEIR UNDERSTANDING of the Bible that they are referencing, not "the Bible" magically telling them what to believe.

After all, I read Genesis 1 and can easily easily say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!" and mean it entirely. The Bible DOES contain a creation story and I DO believe God is the Creator, but that does not mean that I should take what appears to be written in clearly mythic language as a literal history, any more than I should take passages written in clearly poetic language as literal commands.

Now, having said all of that, I would add that I don't find the Bible, for the most part, to be that hard to understand. I think its teachings are generally consistent, reasonable, understandable and pretty danged obvious (if challenging and hard to live up to, short of God's grace). I don't find the Bible to be a puzzle in the least.

But here's the thing: This is true, probably, for most people who disagree with me, too.

I'm just suggesting that it would be a bit arrogant to say that I - and those who agree with me - are the Ones with the ONE TRUE understanding of God's Will.

This would seem to me to be a clear, rational, obvious Biblical (and logical) Truth.

You?

49 comments:

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote (and I believe him!): "When Christ calls a man, he bid him come and die." If that doesn't instill humility, nothing will.

And we can rush toward that death for all the wrong reasons! Because we keep hearing how it's a metaphorical death, a psychical death, yadda-yadda-blah-blah. Then we get there and we find out that Jesus has a massive sense of humor about all sorts of things, but about the death we owe him, not so much.

As I continue on this journey of figuring out what living a Christian life means, I have come to one conclusion I find consonant with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience: God loves me, but doesn't care about me all that much.

Once we get that straight, I think all of us in the churches that are the many parts of the Body of Christ will be far more effective in our teaching, our preaching, our prayer, and our service and ministry. God loves us. I do not believe, however, that God cares about us that much. God doesn't care about our health or our happiness or our success or our peace of mind. We aren't called to these things. We are called to die.

Alan said...

I'll just slip in for a moment and comment before your usual rampaging band of crazies starts yet another 300 comment circle-jerk about man-on-man sex...

Anyhow...

Anyone who claims that they do not see the Bible through the lens of their culture clearly does not understand their own fallacious claim, as it is completely impossible to do otherwise. You're reading it in friggin' English, for crying out loud! Language is only one, but one very important mark of a particular culture.

To someone who writes sometime as stupid as "We do not look at scripture through the lens of contemporary culture", your only response should be, "Yes, WE do."

Will that convince them? No of course not. But then, nothing you have ever written has ever convinced them of anything ever.

Someday you should stop playing the stupid games they get you to play and try to be a little more intellectually honest with them.

Enjoy the coming sh*t-storm that yet another one of your posts will no doubt create! :)

Marshall Art said...

Just took a rather cursory glance at this post and the comments already here, each of which could be considered far more intriguing for their incredible strangeness. For sure I'll be weighing in more heavily later. For now, I just had to say that if one is conscious of viewing Scripture through the lens of their culture, the question must be "Why?" It would be one thing to find that it were true, but to know it and continue so is ass-backwards from what we, as Christians, are supposed to do. It is truly being of the world rather than merely being in it, and that is counter to the teachings of Scripture.

If, on the other hand, the suggestion is that we are unable to do otherwise, I would then say, "speak for yourself". I do not hold with that in the least, and I don't believe that is universal amongst Christians.

Dan Trabue said...

Alan, I post my thoughts like this because I enjoy it, because it helps me think things though. If I engage in conversations with these other folk, I do so for the same reasons.

Marshall, I think Alan is making a quite reasonable, rational point: We are 21st century, English-speaking Americans from our specific cultures and sub-cultures. There is NO WAY we look at things through the lens of 1st century Israelis or Greco-Romans, and certainly not through the lens of Hebrews in prehistoric times.

It is an honest and obvious observation to make and point to understand when we approach reading any ancient text. Those who fail to do so are starting off with a handicap in their understanding of ancient texts.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Dan, since it is peripheral to the main point of this post, I would appreciate some clarification on this point.

Marshall Art said...

"There is NO WAY we look at things through the lens of 1st century Israelis or Greco-Romans, and certainly not through the lens of Hebrews in prehistoric times."

I don't claim to do that, either. I claim that I look at things from a Biblical perspective. The context of a particular passage might be related to something specific to the time in which it was written, such as taking virgin girls captured in battle for wives and how this NON-mandate was merely to mitigate what was already being done as opposed to instituting it or encouraging it, but there is really very little that isn't applicable equally to mankind in every generation from the earliest days of mankind to now.

Marshall Art said...

There is nothing whatsoever arrogant about stating with certainty those things that are not difficult to comprehend. I don't take that attitude with any aspect of Scripture that isn't clear cut and unequivocal. What you claim to believe I believe with even more certainty, that the Bible is no mystery book requiring scholars and doctors of theology for enlightenment. It wasn't written in that manner but only is made confusing by those not as willing "die" in the manner Scripture suggests as they think they are.

I have not, for example, gotten to a point where I can take sides on the subject of free will. But I don't need to. My position either way isn't something that would be a sinful act, so I'm not that concerned with it.

The easiest parts to understand are those involving how we're to relate to Him and each other. That's because He's made the effort to explain Himself enough where no mystery exists. Geoffrey goes with this simplistic "we're to die" without defining what that's supposed to mean. I can provide a definition because how we're to relate to Him and each other is what comprises that definition. Perhaps he has one at his blog. Otherwise, it reminds me of ER's simplistic "grace" argument that is comprised of only that word, as if the speaking of it is all the seeker needs to know.

Confidence in what God has revealed to us is not a matter of opinion if the words are plain to understand. They are. This confidence is not "speaking for God" as if He has said, "whatever you say to them is fine. I'll back you on it." Rather, it is knowing that words mean things and without proof that they mean something else by those with another explanation, saying "you're wrong and I'm right" is fact because it is so easily provable. From that point it is just a matter of the opponent's desire to know and accept the facts and truths. If they don't want to, they will deny the simplicity and state they've come to another conclusion whether they are able to defend it or not.

I understand that all this is what is going on. I don't care if I am derided for being aware of such realities and stating that they exist and are in play.

IF I say, it is as I understand it, is is that I understand it in that way because that's what the words I'm reading mean. It is not that there is any doubt and I'm making my best guess, because should that be the case, I am never afraid to state it in that manner.

If you, Dan, or anyone else is not convicted in their beliefs to stand behind them with confidence, the real arrogance is in assuming no one else be allowed be so convicted and willing to profess their beliefs with confidence.

And with that confidence in knowing what I know to be true, I can look at the world, and navigate it accordingly, striving to please God as best I can based on HIS terms as He has clearly revealed them in Scripture. All my reasonings, experiences, and traditions must square with Scripture, not Scripture with the other three. They only work as a group with that understanding because Scripture is the only constant among them.

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall, a few questions:

1. You agree, do you not, that you are entirely capable of being mistaken, right?

2. You agree that you are capable of misunderstanding the Almighty God's position on any point, yes or no?

3. I THINK your answer to #2 is "No." If so, how do you "know" that you are incapable of being mistaken on SOME points, at the same time realizing that generally you are capable of being mistaken?

4. Or, put another way, I believe YOU believe that on points A, B, C, D... (and I think you probably have a pretty long list), you - a fallible imperfect human being - are INCAPABLE of being mistaken in your opinion about what an Almighty God's position is. What is the difference between those "unmistakable" positions and your "mistakable" positions?

5. Is it not the case that, on the "unmistakable" ones, you THINK they are "unmistakable" based entirely on the fact that the passages in question SEEM OBVIOUS TO YOU?

6. In still other words, you have no rational objective argument to reliably prove you are right, it just SEEMS right TO YOU and so you think it is unmistakable, is that fair?

Marshall Art said...

Your questions are irrelevant. The real question regards what Scripture says about a given issue and if it is clear enough to be understood. Your questions give you all the room you need to take a position that doesn't fit Scripture, can't be supported by it, but let's you pretend it is as you prefer it to be.

To answer you in other words, I'll repeat what I've already said: of those things that I am certain, I am certain by virtue of the fact that Scripture is quite clear. I'll use my analogy again. If the sign says "STOP", anybody can pretend for any reason why it doesn't mean them when they don't want to stop. But the sign and its message is unmistakable to honest people.

I am among those who believe that Scripture isn't meant to confuse us or cause us to wonder about what God wants of us. I believe His intentions are quite clear on human behaviors. I believe the only confusion is amongst those who want to engage in behaviors that are prohibited, but need to justify their having engaged in a given behavior or their desire to continue engaging.

Am I capable of being wrong about something in Scripture? Of course. Am I regarding those issues of which I've expressed certainty? Only if you can prove so, because as I've said, of that which I am certain, I am certain because Scripture is quite clear.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I don't know if it will help in clarifying my reasons for holding the position I do regarding my understanding of Scripture, Dan, but I offer this by way of background.

Parklife said...

"But the sign and its message is unmistakable to honest people."

Another inappropriate comment... MA is really the arbitrator of whom is "honest"? I find that difficult to believe. Its unfortunate that this "honest" person cant field some questions.

Marshall Art said...

Is honesty also negotiable, Parklife? Is it also ambiguous to understand what an honest person is? Or do you have a different understanding of the meaning of stop signs?

Marshall Art said...

Geoffrey's ignoring me, but I'm still up for having questions answered. So, if Dan or anyone would like to interpret his overwrought commentaries, I'd very much appreciate it.

I don't know how anyone could rush toward "that death" for ANY wrong reason unless they haven't actually listened to Christ's teachings. It seems quite plain to me that Christ meant for us to put aside what we want and work on what HE wants as regards how we live our lives, including primarily, of course, accepting Him as Lord and Savior.

I don't seem to have to much trouble figuring out how to live a Christian life. It's really quite clear. My trouble is just doing it and I think it's pretty much the same for most people who don't enjoy doing things the hard way, pretending it must be a big mystery to unravel. It was never meant to be so.

I am especially interested in this:

"God loves me, but doesn't care about me all that much."

There must be some Scriptural backing for this contradiction, but I can't think of one. What I can think of is two verses for now:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

and

"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

"God doesn't care about our health or our happiness or our success or our peace of mind."

Yet He provided riches to several Biblical characters, gave good lives to the nations of Israel during times that they kept His decrees, and though He doesn't promise we'll all be rich and live long lives, it is fairly presumptuous to speak for Him as to just how He might show how much He cares for any individual. Although it could be true that He doesn't much care about Geoffrey.

Basically, few think we are "called" to have God care about our health and happiness. I'm not even sure how He'd put out such a call and how we'd recognize it without it spelled out that way in Scripture. "We aren't called to these things. We are called to die." I think Geoffrey just thinks that sounds deep.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Perhaps, Dan, perhaps this might help clarify the point.

The title, as I understand it, reflects the theme; our understanding, our faith, our subjection to the Will of God, being partial and tainted with sin, is for these very reasons never whole and complete. Each day I discover new things, new facts arise of which I wasn't aware, new perspectives are offered that all shine new light on the reality of God's grace manifest in Jesus Christ.

I would rather assume, as I say in the linked post, that I really don't know much of anything at all. Most of the time, encountering these new things, I am ashamed of my own ignorance and pride, my own all-too-comfortable presumption to be resting easy and safe in the arms of God, when in fact I have been guilty of idolatry, building an image and bowing before it, rather than worshiping the Living God.

That is what I mean. That is what I meant in my initial comment - the invitation to Discipleship is a constant badgering toward death. Real death. Dying. No more breathing, no more heart beating. Death. Which is why all of us resist it.

Marshall Art said...

Still goofy, Geoffrey, though you won't respond. Death brings us nothing but judgement. Death means it's too late. If you haven't gotten it by then...

You say, "Each day I discover new things, new facts arise of which I wasn't aware, new perspectives are offered that all shine new light on the reality of God's grace manifest in Jesus Christ."

So what did you learn yesterday? What did you learn the day before that? What new fact blew your mind yesterday?

You say a lot of things that suggest depth, but don't really say anything because they demand answers to questions like above. I think you're most likely quite satisfied that you have impressed with what you think demonstrates more thought, mysteries solved, enlightenment yet to be realized by the common man. Sheesh. What hooey!

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

It goes against my better judgment. . .

You demonstrate in this comment exactly why I don't engage you, Art.

So what did you learn yesterday? What did you learn the day before that? What new fact blew your mind yesterday?

You honestly consider those serious questions? As if I thought it mattered, I learned yesterday that there was this guy named William Stringfellow who wrote all sorts of theological things I find fascinating; I learned yesterday that the end of Season 7 of NCIS is far more curious than I would have imagined; I learned that my daughter has a boy who is interested in her; I learned that, even producing twice the amount of words than average writers, even pros, on a given day, makes me feel inadequate; I learned that I would prefer not to have to rake dog-hair out of the carpet with a brush.

What new fact blew my mind yesterday? That there was a yesterday, this awesome gift from God who continues to create this whole new thing we humans call "the future" that is open, offers us all sorts of unexpected things, and new chances to live and be what God creates us to be.

Breathing doesn't blow your mind, Art? The snow and cold of winter, and how normal it feels even as we hope for the warmth and light of spring, doesn't blow your mind?

Deep? Where, anywhere, in any of the things I have ever written, have I ever claimed to be "deep"? In all honesty, I don't even know what the word means. Considering my pretty-regular confession of my own ignorance, I gotta wonder where you get all that from.

So, there. I answered your stupid questions, even though I know it won't do any good.

Marshall Art said...

Those things you just learned? You were unaware of winters, breathing, yesterdays? I had expected that what you meant had to do with new facts about the faith. None of those constitute such. (I don't watch NCIS, so I can't vouch for that.)

And I'm well aware your statements were likely rhetorical, but they still lead to the same questions and thus the questions are legitimate and not the least bit ignorant or ridiculous. In other words, you were given, at the very least, to opine in more meaningless prose and the room to call it a response (though a more direct response was what I was after).

But be that way. It is obvious that sounding intellectual and deep is what you're really after; not being called to account for what you're passing off as such.

No wonder you are now deleting my comments. There's really nothing of substance behind your words.

Marshall Art said...

By the way, why did you link back to this comment thread rather than copying and pasting what your regard as the offending remark? It doesn't help.

Parklife said...

Art. I will do the research for you:

Humility (adjectival form: humble) is the quality of being modest and respectful.

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall, Geoffrey, keep the comments on topic, not ad homs.

Marshall, not allowed: "It is obvious that sounding intellectual and deep is what you're really after"

That is an ad hom guess on your part unsupported by anything but an assertion and it's not on the topic of this post, which is reading the Bible with humility (actually, that is rather sort of the opposite of humility, presuming to tell someone their motives.

ON topic or go away.

As to Geoffrey's marvelous answers, yes, some of us ARE just learning and re-learning the miraculous joy of a puff of breath showing up in the cool air. If you don't. Rejoice in the Lord, always, Marshall. IF anything is pure, lovely, just, true... think on THESE things, Marshall.

There is so much to discover and rediscover in this fantastic creation.

One of those things to learn and relearn is, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Learn and re-learn THAT truth, Marshall, then revisit here if you wish.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

This is exactly why I should not have even tried.

Rather than engage with what I was saying, you "guessed" at my intent, which was exactly the opposite of the one stated. Rhetorical? Awaking each day, my wife curled next to me, the day full of possibilities, both for good and ill - this is a new thing. There has never been and will never be again this day, this moment, to live, to experience what is coming.

Ours is a God of new things. The prophet Isaiah says it, God says so from the throne in the final scene in Revelation. In Jesus Christ we have the Unique and New in the flesh - God in this humble, broken, dead, risen Savior. Right here is why each day I am amazed at the smiles of my children, the new things I read and hear, the conversations I have with others. All of it, every single bit, impacts my faith, because I can not and will not separate my faith from the rest of my life.

I give thanks to God for each of it and all of it, and your obvious . . . contrariness? whatever it might be that manifests itself in a refusal to consider what I see, preferring your own (always wrong) guesses about my intent and state of mind.

I know none of what I just wrote will matter to you, because you seem to have me all figured out, whereas I am as much a mystery to myself today as I always have been.

Marshall Art said...

I'll reprint the statement once again:

"Each day I discover new things, new facts arise of which I wasn't aware, new perspectives are offered that all shine new light on the reality of God's grace manifest in Jesus Christ."

My questions are legitimate and natural based on the statement made. What did you learn today? What did you discover that shed new light on the reality of God's grace and how exactly did/does it do that?

"Awaking each day, my wife curled next to me, the day full of possibilities, both for good and ill - this is a new thing. There has never been and will never be again this day, this moment, to live, to experience what is coming."

How poetic. But that doesn't answer the question. An answer requires some connection to the question that informs and illuminates. You might as well have said, "There's a rake in my garage." for all the good the above did to answer the question.

This, in part anyway, explains why I said Geoffrey just likes to sound deep. His answer is akin to the expression, "if you can dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull". "Answers" like the waking with the wife stuff might be considered lovely set-ups to the answer, a prelude as it were, but it is not an answer in and of itself unless continued confusion is your purpose.

Or maybe Dan can explain it since he is so impressed by your "marvelous" answer.

One thing I have learned, learned it long ago, and am continually oppressed by its presence, is that disagreement with you guys itself is akin to a personal attack. Conclusions drawn from your own words are themselves sin. That one must accept whatever utterance flows from your mouths or fingertips must be embraced as proper, thoughtful, Spirit-inspired so that questions asked, objections raised, constitute the most mortal of infractions. This could all be proven a misconception by simply answering questions and objections without the victimhood and preaching. You certainly never get any of that crap from me.

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall:

ON TOPIC: Geoffrey commenting on how fresh insights can be found every day, because that would teach you to be humble in your approach to studying anything, including the Bible.

OFF TOPIC: Commenting and badgering Geoffrey because you don't see how he could actually learn something new every day. That adds nothing to the topic at hand, Marshall.

Comment on topic or move on.

And calling his comments "poetic" but missing the fresh new learning that comes with making a poetic comment, that's sort of pointing out the point and missing it at the same time.

On topic comments of your own, Marshall. Not ad homs and distractions about what other people have said.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Art, I didn't realize you'd asked a question. The issue is humility. My first comment related to that topic, and my own perspective on it. Is it the only possible perspective? Of course not. Does that make it wrong? Um, no.

My second comment, the one with which you seem to have so much trouble, was a recitation of the way each day brings with it new possibilities, new experiences, new insights, new thoughts - all of which, as I stated, related to my faith.

This thankfulness for the hope and possibility that comes from these new things God is doing, the way creation continues to unfold around us, offering us fresh ways of living and seeing and understanding - this is also a source of humility, as well as actual stuff that offers to me new ways of being a faithful Christian that had never existed before. Again, a direct response to the topic at hand.

Is it the one among other responses to the unfolding of time? I'd like to think so. Is it the only possible response? I would never suggest such a possibility.

There is no right answer here. This isn't a test. God isn't posing a puzzle or problem for us to figure out. I don't have the right answer, I only have mine, gleaned from experience, rooted in the Scriptures and traditions of the faith. That it makes a certain kind of sense to me, that I prayerfully acknowledge the gift of each new day, and the gifts each new day has for me has taught me . . . humility.

One would have thought this point obvious. I was not, and never have and never will, strive to be poetic. I was relating my experience and understanding the best way I know how. For some reason, you either won't or can't get it. Which is OK.

Rather than address me and my comments, I'd be curious to read your thoughts on humility, on what keeps you from thinking to much of yourself, your faith, etc. Mine are uninteresting to most everybody except me. I'm far more curious about yours.

Marshall Art said...

Dan,

"Commenting and badgering Geoffrey because you don't see how he could actually learn something new every day."

Maybe you should read my comments more carefully. I didn't say anything about not believing he could learn something new every day. I asked for examples of what he learned and how it shown new light on God's grace. What's your problem?

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall, ON topic. Your comments have the effect of sounding like you're badgering Geoffrey to explain his opinions rather than talking ON the topic yourself.

Stop.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Here's yet another example of, (a), the surprising things I learn each day; and (b) why Art's insistence that I somehow believe I am deep, poetic, or otherwise intelligent, knowledgeable about matters of the faith runs up against not only my frequent statements to the contrary, but the reality that a lack of understanding of a single word, of the tens of thousands in Scripture, opens up a chasm beneath any attempt at understanding.

So, the conversation - on topic - continues.

Marshall Art said...

Dan,

I can't help it if my imploring an answer to simple questions seems like "badgering" to you. Frankly, THAT seems like biased accusation to me. If someone like Alan, for example, asked the same question (never mind if he would or not), you would not regard it as badgering in the least.

Parklife said...

This must be the rampaging Alan was speaking of.

btw, Geoffrey, I appreciate your comments. Perhaps they seem "intellectual and deep" (is that even a bad thing?) to some, but I find your perspective refreshing. In my neighborhood it rained for the first time in 9 months today and it was comforting to have your comment to think about.

Dan Trabue said...

Your. Questions. Aren't. The. Point. Of. The. Post.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

There is nothing strange or even particularly surprising about any group taking its particular historical, contingent set of assumptions, and making them both universal and timeless. Human societies do that; it certainly helps make sense of the world if we assume that other folks think and act little differently than we.

The trick of moving back and forth across time and space and, therefore, a whole set of social, philosophical, religious, political, and cultural assumptions when reading something from a time and place not one's own, is to assume the lenses through which you are reading are your own. Own that, be happy with it. The interaction between the Biblical text and the reader, and how understanding is arrived at, is what hermeneutics is all about. Rooted in "Hermes", the Greek messenger God, the word is describes the way we and any particular text encounter one another, "read" one another, and how we come to understand the text as the text shapes and informs us.

Nothing fancy, "intellectual", or "deep" here. A description of the way all of us interact with the things we encounter in order to function. Whether it's reading assembly instructions for a toy, a novel, watching a movie, listening to a piece of music, or reading and praying over the Bible - the same general set of things is going on.

Which is all the more reason to be humble. All of us, whether we are new to the faith or just starting out, are just folks trying to make clear for ourselves what this whole thing is about.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

When we encounter the Bible, however, we should remember that it is not just we, as individuals, or even as local church communities, who do so, on our own. The Bible, as the title of a great little book on the history of the canon calls it, is the Church's book. The whole Church. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant in all those various formations. The Bible is the Church's book in time as well; as a New Testament scholar reminded us while we were in seminary, the history of interpretation is the burden and blessing we bear, as well.

Which is another source of humility, as well as part of the process that makes reading the Scriptures such a marvelous challenge. We aren't alone in this journey, there have been so many saints who have added thoughts as to what the Bible means.

I find it odd that Art would believe, despite my repeated claims to the contrary, that I find value in what he calls "deep" or "intellectual" thoughts. On the contrary, when I was in seminary, I was often chided because I kept insisting that all the things we were learning, the discussions and arguments we had, were things everyone in the churches should learn. Indeed, even the most detailed theological or textual analysis is merely a tool for greater understanding and deeper faith. We in the church have, for far too long, hidden the various lights of the studies of some under bushels, believing them to be ill-suited to the practice and vocations of ministry. I was, to be blunt, told that people weren't smart enough to "get it" while I kept saying the opposite. I still believe that, and my experience as a clergy spouse involved for nearly two decades in the lives of various churches has only deepened that belief and commitment.

Marshall Art said...

Dan,

Look at your last comment at my blog and tell me that it is on point.

Marshall Art said...

"I find it odd that Art would believe, despite my repeated claims to the contrary, that I find value in what he calls "deep" or "intellectual" thoughts."

No doubt. It might help, though, to consider that the point didn't have anything to do with whether or not you actually DO intend to sound deep for effect, but that what you DID say had no meaning that helps understand whatever point you're trying to make. What can anyone do with those answers? How can they be applied in any manner that reflects anything about humility or shines light on your faith? Try this:

I saw a chair today and realized how little I understand God.

How? How does seeing a chair...?

This is what I'm trying to get at. Your comments were no more enlightening than mine, no matter how they sound to Dan or Parklife or how they find comfort by them. (Frankly, had everything you said had my name in blue atop the comments, I doubt they'd be as moved)

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Fine, Art. I'll answer your question, and then you shall answer mine - What in your life keeps you humble? What enriches your faith?

Ahem. Seeing a chair, and realizing how little I understand God.

When I look at anything, including a chair, I never see it whole and complete. I only see it from a particular angle at a particular moment in time. Indeed, it is quite impossible to see the chair, whole and complete, in a single instant and perceptive event. I have to move, the chair itself perhaps has, also, to move. When I shift my position, I still do not see the chair whole and complete, but I see different parts of it - perhaps the back instead of the front - and consider how these different perceptions fit together to construct what I call this particular chair. Even adding together several instances of seeing this particular chair, it would be ridiculous to claim I have "seen" the "whole chair"; I may be confident I can describe its size and color, the texture of the upholstery, but just seeing the chair gives me no information on whether or not it is comfortable to sit in, is sturdy enough to hold me, or even fits with the rest of the furniture in the room. For the first two of those above, I need to sit in it, which gives me an entirely different understanding and perspective on what the chair is.

Do you see how even thinking about seeing a chair can lead us to understand how little we know about God, Art?

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall, ME telling you PLEASE STAY ON TOPIC is NOT the point of the post. It is, however, my effort to get you to stay on topic because I don't really want to hear your opinions of other people's opinions. It's not all about you, brother.

Geoffrey has given you an answer to your question. You don't have to agree with it. It doesn't have to make sense to you. It is his opinion for what it is worth.

You are welcome now to comment on topic or move on. Just let go of these endless ad hom distractions.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Dan, a moment if I may. I'm guessing, and it is only a guess, that Art's next comment will be something to the effect of "No one thinks that way, Geoffrey! That's goofy!" Which is, indeed, his opinion. It isn't an ad hominem attack. It's just his view.

Rather than "debate" the issue at hand, wouldn't it be nice if all sorts of folks just wandered in here and said, "You know, Dan, I like the topic. Here is what reminds me that humility is an important part of the Christian life."

Sigh.

Dan Trabue said...

Maybe not an ad hom, but it is an off topic distraction. The topic is NOT "What is X's feelings about Y's thoughts on the topic of humility," it is the topic of humility and study.

I would like for him to talk on the topic, not talk about you.

Marshall Art said...

I'm not talking about Geoffrey. I'm asking about Geoffrey's comments regarding the topic. They don't make sense. To insist that such inquiries are off topic is abject hypocrisy since that is what happens on damn near every blog post and the comments that follows. Note once again, Dan, how far astray your most recent comments are from the topic of my last post. I also have no doubt that had I first said to Geoffrey, "My, Geoffrey! What beautiful sentiments! Could you elaborate a bit more deeply on the point regarding how all things enlighten you on the faith?" you would have had no trouble with my questions. The same question in fact, but not any more honest, but only more sweet sounding and "gracious" to your totally biased mind. Yet either manner of asking requires the same answer to satisfy the inquiry, if there is an answer and not just nice sounding words from Geoffrey meant only to suggest he was a deep thinker.

You see, Dan (likely not), that when I put forth my honest opinion on a topic, you have on many an occasion asked something along the lines of, "don't you see how that would sound racist/bigoted/hateful/homophobic/irrational?". But now when I read something that appears far more style than substance, you demand I assume the best. Irony? Hypocrisy? How 'bout "ironic hypocrisy"?

Marshall Art said...

Geoffrey,

I haven't debated anything yet, except for Dan's accusations about my comments to you. The closest I've come is to wonder if you understand Bonhoeffer. I wonder because of how poorly you fare in understanding my humble commentaries. But note that I haven't spent any time on that "dying" thing.

What I've done is sought clarification and elaboration for what sounds like many words saying nothing in particular. Perhaps I'm not phrasing the question properly for you, for your take on my throw-away line about the chair seems to suggest you're, eh, missing the point.

First of all, one needn't turn the chair around to know it's a chair and what it's purpose is. But that really wasn't the point at all. It was said to be added to your own comments for all the enlightening it has toward showing examples of how "...new perspectives are offered that all shine new light on the reality of God's grace manifest in Jesus Christ." So, who cares about the chair. The question is, how does seeing the chair enlighten you about God? Did the chair remind you that you didn't know Him perfectly? Did you forget until seeing the chair that you didn't know Him perfectly? How is your inability to know God perfectly something so forgettable in the first place? Seems that would always be incredibly obvious.

Scripture tells us that God's ways are not our ways. It tells us that He cannot be totally understood. What more is needed for this to be driven home? A chair?

As to your question to me, I will only say here that humility, though not necessarily a strong suit of mine, is not a stranger to me. It, too, is taught by Scripture and how and when I display it is largely a situational matter. For more details, check out my post, which should be up soon.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

So, in essence, you are neither going to respond to my post my discussing the topic at hand, nor take the points I made seriously.

Ah, well. Quel surprise.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

The question is, how does seeing the chair enlighten you about God? Did the chair remind you that you didn't know Him perfectly? Did you forget until seeing the chair that you didn't know Him perfectly? How is your inability to know God perfectly something so forgettable in the first place? Seems that would always be incredibly obvious.

I don't care about the chair. You asked the question and I answered it. It was kind of stupid, I thought, but the point of the little exercise was to show that something as mundane and within the normal realm of experience is, in fact, something that we do not and cannot grasp in its totality through a single experience, or even a lifetime of experiencing multiple such objects we call chairs.

If that is the case, how can any of us ever claim to understand God, God's will, the Good News in its fullness, and on and on? As to the rest of your questions, the reason such claims are made can be answered in one word - sin. It is sin that tells us we understand even a single sentence of Scripture in its fullness; it is sin that tells us we have no need of the tools God has given us for further understanding; it is sin that whispers in our ear that clarity about these matters is ours.

One would have thought that, at least, would be clear enough. It is sin that gives us the complacent thoughts that we have grasped even part of the Scriptures in their fullness. It is sin that tells us we need look no further in our faith. It is sin that lets us rest comfortably in our present, closing our hearts and minds to the possibilities that the future - even as mundane a future as tomorrow - might hold for us.

Marshall Art said...

OK, Geoffrey. Thanks. In that case, you ARE wrong. Consider the average person and tell me that he can know to the extent you seem to believe is required. Tell me that he must. Tell me that what God has revealed needs some intensive scrutiny that denies the average person any hope of salvation.

This talk of "new things teaching you about God what you didn't know" is indeed the stuff of hubris. It is false humility of a kind Scripture speaks against. "OH how I know little and how I am learning so much!" It ain't about what we don't know. It's about what is clearly revealed. If you want to pretend there are deeper meanings that us common folk "don't get", as your learned scholars told you, have at it.

For us common folk, it is enough to know that a chair is something upon which we can sit. The details beyond that are unnecessary except to those who design or have a disordered obsession with all things chairs.

In a similar way, us common folk have all the revelation we need about God and His Will that is sufficiently functional or He would have provided more.

"It is sin that tells us we understand even a single sentence of Scripture in its fullness; it is sin that tells us we have no need of the tools God has given us for further understanding; it is sin that whispers in our ear that clarity about these matters is ours."

Nonsense. This is a cheap defense against being reminded what God's Will is on any given issue, the very thing Dan has been trying to run at my blog regarding "being mistaken". Are you, like Dan, confused about "Don't murder"? Are you lacking clarity on "Don't commit adultery?"

Closing minds? Not at all. Of the infinite possibilities the future might hold, you've closed your mind to the possibility that God's Will for us is no more than what the words on the page state, that your quest is another way of ignoring those words under the pretext of seeking deeper knowledge. "But what does it really mean??!!" You've closed your mind to the possibility, and a very distinct and likely possibility, that it simply means what it says.

"Humility" my ass.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

My first reaction was out of all proportion to the ridiculous statement.

In general, Art, the idea that one's profession of humility is in actual fact a form of boasting has some merit. Which is why it's always important to keep in mind that even one's most pious living, most fervent prayers, most heartfelt confession of sin is always tainted with sin. We cannot escape it. Which is why, when I describe my own thoughts regarding humility, it is always with the understanding that it is never, ever true humility. True humility needs no defense, no explanation, doesn't seek recognition, and disregards the offense it creates in others.

As to the rest of your statement, I'm not even sure what to make of it. Who are these "common folk" with whom you count yourself? I've rarely seen as insulting a term, let alone as ridiculous a set of assertions, as you claim in their name. You think I am "uncommon", or perhaps am speaking in a way that others don't or can't or won't understand? I can't even begin to understand that. Honestly. I'm just a guy, a pastor's spouse, trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian in this, the second decade of the 21st century. I am, as I always say, probably as wrong as I am right. I don't believe for one moment there is anything special about the things I read, write, think about, or discuss with others.

In eighteen years as a clergy spouse, active in the life of the churches my wife has served, I have yet to meet anyone who has not said or thought or expressed in some way or another things far more profound, far more moving, than anything I've ever read in a book of theology. I've heard prayers that would put St. John of the Cross to shame. I've heard interpretations of Scripture that cut to the heart of a passage in a way that also cut me to my heart.

I have never met "the common folk" you think you speak for, or from, some mass of people incapable of thinking through the implications of being a Christian, living in love toward the world. Cont'd . . .

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Which is why, in the end, your comment makes no sense. At first, sure, I was angry. Giving myself a few minutes to think through what you were saying, I realized that it is, quite literally, unintelligible.

You say that Scriptures are clear and easily understood. OK, that's your view. If that works for you, bless you. My adult life has been spent around hundreds of people who, even in to their 80's and 90's search the Scriptures for new meaning for their lives; who are surprised and excited when they hear things they hadn't heard before that bring all sorts of passages to light, enlivening their faith.

Like the centurion who came to Jesus asking him to heal his daughter, when praised by Jesus for his faith, these folks - and I - say to Jesus every day, "I believe. Would you help my unbelief?" The scholarly study of Scripture is a tool that acknowledges the limited understanding we can have of an ancient, dead language, the society in which it was spoken, the web of meanings words have that can never be fully untangled. You scorn that . . . why? In the name of "the common folk" who, as I say, I have never met. I have yet to hear anyone say to me, "You know what, Geoffrey, that makes unclear what has always been clear to me." On the contrary, it brings more clarity, opens doors to more understanding.

So, I have to wonder what, exactly, are the "clear understandings" of which you speak? That Jesus, the Son of God made fully human through the Holy Spirit, lived, died, and rose again so that we, who have been separated from God because of the sin, and therefore penalty for that sin, of Adam, may now be free from sin and its penalty? In what way, anywhere, ever, have I denied that this, the heart of the Biblical witness, is what I believe and out of which I live?

I maintain, as I always have and always will, this is simple enough a child can grasp it: Jesus loves me, this I know/For the Bible tells me so. That's the whole Gospel message, the entirety of the Bible, summed up in those two verses from a children's hymn. What this means, however, for us, each and every day - that is a lifetime's journey that includes prayer, and reading the Bible, and discovering how the saints gone by, that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, have come to understand it. All this, and so much more, because I believe, and I need help with my unbelief.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Finally, I know what you will claim as the clear teaching of Scriptures. That sex except between a married man and woman is wrong. That abortion is murder.

To these assertions, I can only say what I've always said. Absent saying the first word - Jesus is Lord - these teachings are both empty of meaning, and powerless of any authority. Without that first confession, which is the heart of the Biblical witness, what makes these teachings any different from similar injunctions from Islam, from Hinduism, or any other religious teaching? What makes the injunction against cursing one's fellow Christian little more than pious hypocrisy, unless first one makes clear that the heart of the message of the Bible isn't about sex, or right living, or not killing or stealing or coveting, but that God's infinite love and grace, manifest in the flesh on the cross and the empty tomb, has, in the words of Karl Barth, shown the world "the judge judged in our place"? Without acknowledging that, why should I care what the Bible has to say about anything? Why should anyone listen to anything the Church has to say unless we first say that God's love has been made flesh, God's Truth has become fully human?

Which is not to say that I agree or disagree with the assertion that Scriptural teachings on an abundance of matters, from the social treatment of the less fortunate and powerless to matters of individual piety do, indeed, seem clear, and even rational. Since the Reformation, and especially since the collapse of Christendom, which brought with it the realization among many that there are huge swaths of the world that have lived fully human, moral lives, without ever dreaming of such a thing as "Christianity" existed, this entire set of assumptions has collapsed. Which has returned the Church to the place in which it found itself, in a weird and wonderful way, in its first centuries: One among many religious traditions vying for people's thoughtful consideration. Rather than assume all this makes sense, it is far better to make clear that Christianity - like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, any number of religious faiths and traditions - has a unique integrity and way of being and expression in the world. Which is why we need to get clear first the clarity at the heart of the Gospel, then work our way out from there.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

As to the whole "Gee, you just think too much, the Bible is clear, you're making it harder than it has to be," I would offer this post entitled, "Why I'm Not Going To Heaven". I would invite folks to read the whole thing, and please pay particular attention to the following sentence, with italics added by me for emphasis: "However, a closer reading of the biblical narrative would suggest that such conceptions are significantly wide of the mark." Not just puzzling over particular passages, not just a literal, allegorical, or whatever reading of Genesis 1-2, Psalm 8, later chapters of Job, or other passages of the Bible give us an understanding of the Biblical concept of "heaven". As the very next sentence in this paragraph makes clear, what heaven is, and is not, comes only in and through a deeper reading of the narrative, rooted in the Gospel message of Christ: "The good news of Jesus certainly does hold out a stunning hope in the face of death and for a dying world. But it is not that we will go to heaven. It is that heaven will come to us."

Simple? Clear? Only if you start with the message of Divine reconciliation in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ do any of the things we think and believe become clear.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Something new!

From the article: "When the Kitum cave was first discovered the many marks, scratches and furrows along its walls were assumed to have been the work of picks wielded by ancient Egyptians searching for gold or diamonds. In fact, the excavated sections of the cave are the result of something altogether much stranger.

The Kitum cave is found on Mount Elgon, an extinct shield volcano and the cave itself developed as the result of cooling volcanic rock. The cave which extends some 600 feet into the mountain has walls covered in salt, and it is here that the mysterious cave diggers reveal themselves.

Each night for hundreds (possibly thousands) of years animals have traveled into the cave in the dead of night to use it as a giant salt lick. Buffaloes, antelope, leopards, hyenas, and most of all elephants bumble blindly through the cave (the elephants often bump their heads in the process) making their way to the salty walls of the cave. It is the elephants that have done the digging.

Using their massive tusks they scrape the the salt, the elephants pull off chunks of the walls to crush and lick up the salt. Over the centuries this has resulted in a noticeable increase in the size of the cave and walls covered in tusk marks."