Tag Archives: Wisdom

Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnowIn the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 4

Read Romans 1:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“HERE IS MY GREETING IN MY OWN HANDWRITING—PAUL.” (1 Corinthians 16:21 NLT)

PWPaulInPrisonIf you have ever gone through high school or college you will most definitely remember that there were strict rules and regulations set to avoid academic dishonesty. When it came to test taking you weren’t allowed to be sitting too closely to anyone else, there was no talking allowed, and if you even dared to look over at someone else’s desk,  your grade would be forfeit. When it came to writing research papers, those rules and regulations got even stricter. You had to work on your own, you had to cite every idea you paraphrased or quoted, and your work absolutely had to be your own. In other words, stealing the paper from the internet or someone else writing the paper for you in your name would be unacceptable.

While these standards hold true today, they are relatively new in the world of academia. It used to be common practice that students of great teachers would continue on the legacy of their teacher by writing new material in that teacher’s name. This was both a way to show honor toward one’s teacher; however, it was also a way of lending credibility and authority to one’s own teaching. One of the most famous examples of a student doing this is Plato, who wrote a series of “dialogues” wherein he wrote as the great philosopher. This was so common place and accepted that we even have a pithy statement that highlights the practice, “Mimicry is the best form of flattery.”

An even greater example of this being done is in the case of the Apostle Paul. Traditionally, Paul is credited with writing Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Some even credit him with writing Hebrews, but that contention is rejected by most theologians and scholars across the board. What’s more, Paul’s ministry is detailed in the book of Acts which was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Some of the details are consistent with Paul’s own account, others are not exactly the same. Even more than that, Paul’s authorship is in dispute over Colossians and 2 Thessalonians and most mainline theologians reject Pauline authorship in regard to Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. There are a number of reasons why these letters are disputed, including difference of style, structure and a lack of the central, theological components that were so vital to Paul.

What is likely is that someone who was either taught by Paul and/or who was from one of his communities wrote these letters, giving him credit for the authorship and lending authority to it as well. Whoever the people were that wrote these letters, they were writing from within the Pauline tradition, even if their views sometimes opposed that of Paul’s. What’s more, whether or not Paul wrote them does not take away from them being authoritative as the communities that they were written in and, eventually, the Christian church as a whole found divine authority within them.

It is impossible to have a full discussion on Pauline authorship in this limited space. There’s lots of scholarship on both sides of the authorship dispute. What I am hoping to impart here, is that there’s more to reading and interpreting the Bible than just simply reading it. It is absolutely important to our faith that we do read it as a part of our spiritual discipline; however, it is equally important to understand who’s writing, to whom they are writing, and the various contexts surrounding the writing. Once that understanding has been attained, it is then possible to apply the texts in ways that are both true to the intent of the author and transformative to us in our context. Next, to conclude this series, we will look at the authentic letters of Paul and gain an understanding of what he felt was vital to being Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.” (Philippians 1:21-22 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, as I discipline myself in reading the Scriptures, also give me wisdom and discernment so that I may understand and apply it. Amen.