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2010-10-12 15:45:00 GMT 2010-10-22 13:00:00 (GMT -05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada) Yes (click here to learn more about ) Closed 0 0 5 direct invitation(s) have been sent by the voice seeker resulting in 0 audition(s) and/or proposal(s) so far. Voice123 SmartCast is seeking 50 auditions and/or proposals for this project (approx.) Invitations sent by SmartCast have resulted in 0 audition(s) and/or proposal(s) so far.
the razor’s edge:
knowing and not knowing
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.… As high as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are beyond your ways, and my thoughts are beyond your thoughts.”
“You travel over sea and land to make a single convert, and once you have him, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.”
Wow! Why would Jesus talk as he does in that last quote? Isn’t he being a bit unfair and even unkind? In fact, he is saying this to quite “orthodox” believers, teachers and students of the law—people who “know.” To understand, we have to recognize how Jesus and the prophets saw themselves as radical reformers of religion, as well as how religion knows what it knows.
The Bible illustrates both healthy and unhealthy religion, right in
the text itself, and Jesus offers us a rather simple criterion by which to judge one from the other. It is not a head category at all, but a visual and practical one—“does it bear good fruit or bad fruit?” (Matthew 7:15–20; Luke 6:43–45). Jesus is almost embarrassingly practical. When religion is not doing its job well, almost every other aspect of society also will be sick. When your God image is true, your self-image also will be true. If your operative God image is toxic, you probably will be toxic too, and it is that toxicity that Jesus is warning about. Religion is the best thing in the world, but it can also be the worst thing. If your way of relating to God is a life-giving style of relationship (the relationships of the persons of the Trinity being the first and richest pattern!), almost everything else in a society, even the broken parts, are subject to renewal, healing and enlightenment.
That is why true orthodoxy (“right ideas”) is so very important. Yet we will see in the Bible that orthodoxy is never defined as something that happens only in the head. (In fact, the word is not even in the Bible!) The entire biblical text would emphasize “right relationship” much more than just intellectually being “right.” Some call it orthopraxy or “right practice.” Jesus consistently declares people to be saved or healed who are in right relationship with him, and he never grills them on their
belief or belonging systems. Jesus’ concern for orthopraxy is at the heart of Jesus’ hard saying at this chapter’s outset. He has been formed by that first quote from Isaiah, which teaches Jews humility before the mystery of God (see Ecclesiastes 3:11; Job 11:6; Psalm 139; Romans 11:33–35) instead of just trying to get
people to join our supposedly saved group, when we ourselves are still more fit for hell than heaven.
When we presume we know fully, we can all be very arrogant and
goal-oriented. When we know we don’t know fully, we are much more concerned about practical loving behavior. This has become obvious to me as I observe human nature. Those who know God are always humble; those who don’t are invariably quite sure of themselves.
So we are going to be walking a thin line here. We are saying that it is important to have correct, orthodox teaching about God, but don’t for a moment presume you know everything or even most things about God. On that razor’s edge we will find the balance that the Bible offers.
I’d like to start our examination of this theme with a quote from
the German Heinrich Zimmer (1890–1943), who, among other things, studied sacred images and their relationship to spirituality. He said that “the best things cannot be talked about,” and “the second-best things are almost always misunderstood.”1 So we spend our life talking about the “third-best things,” which, in our culture, I suppose, are things like sports and the weather and other safe topics. Religion is often tempted to do the same—just to have something clear and clean to talk about! One of the great difficulties of theology and spirituality is that its subject matter is precisely those “best things that cannot be talked about.” So if religion does not have humility about knowing, it ends up being quite smug, silly and superstitious. I think that is what Jesus is
criticizing so strongly in our quote at the beginning of this chapter.
When we speak of God and things transcendent, all we can do is
use metaphors and pointers. No language is adequate to describe the holy. Like a picture of Saint John of the Cross I once saw, we must place a hushing finger over our lips to remind ourselves that God is finally unspeakable and ineffable. Or like the Jews, we will even refuse to pronounce the name “Yahweh.”
Unlike the other sciences, theology cannot validate itself by external “proof,” even though we have tried. What Deuteronomy says about prophets certainly applies to all who speak of spiritual things: “But how are we to know that what a prophet says is true?” The only criterion that the Bible gives for a true prophet is this: “If she says it will happen, and it does not happen, then she is not a true prophet” (18:21–22). That does not help a lot, does it? At least not if you want validation or predictability before the fact.
When Dante wrote the three-part Divine Comedy, he wrote the
“Inferno” and the “Purgatorio” as a younger man, but he waited until the very end of his life to write the “Paradiso.” To this day it’s the least read of the three books, because it is so hard to talk about union, about God or about eternity with any clear credibility or any eyewitness accounts. It always feels like the author is grabbing for words, and the reader knows it is merely an approximation. It usually sounds like airy poetry.
The best that spiritual writers can do is somehow imitate the words of the seraphim to Isaiah: “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3), or perhaps today we would say, “Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!” The early church just babbled in tongues before such unspeakability (1 Corinthians 14), but that for some reason died out, or was stamped out, and had to be rediscovered from time to time, including in my own hometown of Topeka, Kansas, in the year 1900, at the founding of the modern Pentecostal movement.
That’s why preachers and teachers have such a hard time, and probably why we resort to our own “inferno language” of reward and punishment—dualistically clean language. It becomes a substitute and smokescreen for the real goal of religion, which is always divine union. Fire and brimstone, moralistic language, at least feels like something you can hold on to and positions everything in its appropriate place. It gives us a sense of clarity and certitude about who is who, who is where and why. We like that.
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