Monday, December 3, 2007

A Dilemma

The following is based on a few prerequisites:

Nobody has a complete handle on the Lord. His ways are higher than ours. Our perspective is developed inside the limited bubble of our existence on earth within these physical bodies, our tents, if you will; these bodies are corrupted flesh; and He is spirit and not of the earth.

The French have a proverb: “The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” It sounds prettier in the French, but you get the idea.

Jer 17:9
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

Mt 5:8
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

On to the post.

Along my journey I have learned many things. Much of this is useless, though it sticks in my brain. Did you know that among the improvements to the 1954 VW Beetle as compared to its predecessor, the crank turns to raise and lower the windows went from 10 ½ in ‘53 (and all previous models) to 3 ½ in the ‘54? It has never benefited me to know this!

I have also learned that humans are difficult to understand. If it were a simple, factual matter wherein we analyze from a purely objective, natural world perspective, it might prove a little easier. However, humans make errors in recall, application, and synthesis so objectivity is out, and humans as a studied object do not function logically. We are not computers, nor can we be reduced to a finite list of yes/no answers.

We have a heart. Psychiatric science would call it the “psyche”, poets like to mention the “soul”, and politicians fear it.

There is no escaping that humans have a piece of themselves which completely influences them, and this contrary part is separate from the intellect. We are not rational beings. We can determine to think rationally and be magnificently successful, but our irrational times are inexplicable and many. The French, in their inimitable way, have reduced this hard concept down to its essence. (See proverb above.) Are you trying to understand a woman, guys? Are you trying to understand a man, ladies? Every human has an emotional reason for why he or she is making the decision he or she is making which defies logic. ‘Nuf said.

The Scripture warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that this aspect of being within us, the heart, cannot be trusted. Evangelical Christianity has fully accepted this notion of never trusting the deceitful heart as the culture of rationalism in which Protestantism developed has progressed. This logical response is called systemic theology among other things. We attempt to rationally interpret scripture for a variety of reasons, but at least to protect ourselves from demagogues who would build a following on fear, and this post is not to suggest that working to correctly interpret scripture is wrong. Yet, those with intellectual strength and, er... pride maybe--there’s that heart issue again--excitedly engage in attempting to establish one intellectual system of interpretation over another. How successful has that proved to be in uniting Christians and supporting the everyday person?

Where does the common man find support for spiritual seeking and awareness of God the Father? On the one hand, those who rationalize Scripture warn him that the heart is deceitful, therefore he must move beyond the deceitful heart to live in an intellectual and systematic approach. The Scriptural proof of this is Jeremiah 17:9. However, as he reads the Word for himself, Jesus states he will see God, as a function of a pure heart.

Which brings us to a real world dilemma: Does Everyman trust in a trained, intellectual discourse on Scripture or is there a spiritual state he might achieve which does not rest on rationalism in which he may secure a satisfying and deceit-free spiritual awareness?

I know what I think. What do you think?


Craig V. said...

It seems to me that there's a lot of ambiguity in the phrase "trust in a trained, intellectual discourse on Scripture." This looks like (at least to me) the wrong choice in your dilemma, but where does it go wrong? We would probably agree that thinking on the Scriptures is a good thing and that listening to the thoughts of others on Scripture can bring spiritual growth. Where or how do these good activities become something more at home in academia than in life?

As you could probably guess, I believe that our culture is steeped too deeply in individualism. It shows in your dilemma. The whole world becomes me and my intellectual or spiritual state. I would say the goal isn't an intellectual or spiritual state but rather the love of God finding its goal in the love of His people.

ded said...

craig v., thanks for interacting. The conversation is the means by which Christ manifests between us.

"Where or how do these good activities become something more at home in academia than in life?" This is a concrete, accurate and fair question. I have answered it for myself. That the good activity of considering how to digest Scripture has moved to academia and out of the hands of the laymen is part of the problem.

The problem I am seeking to address is not that there are folks who have become trained in understanding Scripture, but that what these folks speak--and they are sometimes wrong--too strongly influences the common person. The common person then accepts the trained people as intermediaries in their walk with God. This leads to no growth instead of growth.

While it is completely fair to conclude from my post, that I am about to make a plea for everyone dividing Scripture for themselves and then to recognize independent study as the final authority, I am not.

Further, I am very excited that your final response to the post itself is, "...the goal isn't an intellectual or spiritual state but rather the love of God finding its goal in the love of His people." You are dead on.

Craig V. said...

Would it be correct to say, then, that the problem is not so much with the scholars but with us when we allow them to have too much influence? Put another way, the problem is that we let the scholars read our Bibles for us.

I think we agree that something goes radically wrong in this process. The tricky part for me is identifying the first false step.

Josiah said...

Recently I was in a coffee shop listening to a Martin Luther King speech with some friends when someone aggresively jumped into our conversation explaining that Martin Luther King's faith caused racism and that Jesus was a communist. In the midst of his attack I had a moment to let him know that despite his elaborate and complex thoughts his philosophy did not love him but Jesus did.
Could it be that our mind and thoughts are meant to be a part of love. Out minds whether complex or simple in understanding serve love or rationalize disobedience to God. This root is where the divergence between fruitful and vain discussion takes place. The scholarly place has more authority and thus is more susceptible to pride and folly. Let the common man beware of these follies in those they trust.

Craig V. said...

Well written, Josiah,

The false step is to rationalize disobedience rather than serve love.

The natural view of love is that it unites us to something or, better, someone. Under this view our goal would be to unite ourselves to God, to love God. Here, John says something pretty shocking. Love is not our love for God but His love for us. Love is not our uniting ourselves to someone greater but His giving His Son. That leads to our giving ourselves in love to one another.

So, if my rambling makes sense, we can add another either or. Is our goal to be united to something greater or to give ourselves to one another because He gave His Son to us? According to John, it's only in the latter that we can have unity with God.

postmodern redneck said...

I think Paul summed it up neatly in I Cor. 8:1: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." (NIV)

Another problem, which I suspect is one of the effects of the Fall: none of us is really as smart as we think we are. We have trouble keeping track of both the forest and the trees. A lot of the theological distinctives I have seen are the result of a Christian seeing a truth new to him in the Bible, and then obsessing on it to the exclusion of most other truths (including many more important issues). I used to call this "New Toy Syndrome." It can also be expressed in the saying, "If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, you'll tend to see all of your problems as nails."

And it isn't just Christians who do this. The world is full of people who are experts in a certain area who start spouting off in other subjects they know little about. The "absent-minded professor" is a stock character--but apparently Einstein could have served as the model, if it hadn't already existed (which it did).

Craig V. said...

postmodern redneck,

That is so true. This year I've been trying to read about the history of Christianity. I'm amazed at the number of times I've discovered that a controversy which is thought to be new and cutting edge is actually something the church has debated several times.

ded said...

Thank you, josiah, craig, and postmodern redneck for your great comments! I am very blessed to have your reading of this attempt at blogging.

Will do more of a detailed repsonse soon.

George said...

The question: "Does Everyman trust in a trained, intellectual discourse on Scripture or is there a spiritual state he might achieve which does not rest on rationalism in which he may secure a satisfying and deceit-free spiritual awareness?" is, I think, two questions.

Many American church-goers seem to trust the trained expert for religious instruction and readily accepts conventional interpretations of scripture.

Is there a spiritual state in which he could possess a deceit-free spiritual awareness? Only if God/Jesus/Spirit is alive and lives consciously within him, such that a relationship experienced in both felt and cognitive way is possible.

If that is possible -- and I think it's safe to say we both/all know it is -- then it would be impossible not to have at least some deceit-free spiritual awareness, wouldn't it?

Steve Sensenig said...

I find that the dilemma between "the deceitful heart" and "the pure heart" only seems to come from a particular way of approaching the biblical text.

Somehow, in our tradition, the idea that "all scripture is inspired...and is profitable...", along with teaching about inspiration and inerrancy, led us to a point where we think that we can just read a single verse and take it as truth without any greater context.

The problem with this, of course, is that there are verses (such as the two you presented, David) which end up being contradictory.

The whole of scripture taken together, however, lets us see that, apart from God, the heart is quite deceitful indeed. But in Christ, we are made a new creation and God gives us a new heart.

So, yes, I believe that there is "a spiritual state [we] might achieve which does not rest on rationalism in which [we] may secure a satisfying and deceit-free spiritual awareness." To believe otherwise would have to mean ignoring the revelation given to us through Jesus, which according to Hebrews is a far greater revelation than that given through the old covenant prophets such as Jeremiah.