24 Questions for Advent: Eight
Eyck, Jan van, 1390-1440. Madonna with St Dominic, St. George, and the church founder - detail of Bible and eyeglasses.
From the evidence – why was I given this day? – John O’Donohue
John's legacy directs our search for intimacy to crucial thresholds: tradition and modernity, past and future, life and death, the visible and the invisible world. At the heart of John's awakened beliefs was the premise that ancient wisdom could offer desperately needed nourishment for the spiritual hunger experienced in our modern world. (From https://www.johnodonohue.com/about)
I love history. Not so much the facts & dates, but the stories, testimonies, myths & legends. It is the fruit of those who walked before us that gives us crucial perspective on our learning, experiences and ourselves. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense). This is especially true when it comes to perhaps one of the most overlooked gifts of God: Wisdom.
Merriam-Webster defines the essential meaning of wisdom as knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life; the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand; knowledge of what is proper or reasonable; good sense or judgment. The Book of Proverbs spends much time on Wisdom, and even personifies her as a Woman:
If you don’t forsake Lady Wisdom, she will protect you. Love her, and she will faithfully take care of you. Gaining sound judgment is key, so first things first: go after Lady Wisdom! Now, whatever else you do, follow through to understanding. Cherish her, and she will help you rise above the confusion of life— your possibilities will open up before you— embrace her, and she will raise you to a place of honor in return. She will provide the finishing touch to your character—grace; she will give you an elegant confidence.
Proverbs 4:6-9, The Voice
Wisdom will help us “rise above the confusion of life” by helping us to see the big-picture, long-term perspective of things. This is not to minimize our present experience, but only to keep it in context. In a world currently addicted to sound-bites and quick solutions, Wisdom’s voice often gets lost in the din. Some of us therefore flock to those who bring ancient learning, such as John O’Donahue, to gain needed perspective on our daily lives.
The Bible is our greatest source of such wisdom & perspective, but we can easily misuse it. C.S. Lewis cautioned:
“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. We must not use the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia out of which texts can be taken for use as weapons.”
I remember in my younger days being taught that the Bible itself was the Word of God, to be used as a “manual” or “living word” that almost seemed to be made of magic. I would be encouraged to put my finger somewhere in the middle, and read a random passage, to find what God had to say to me that day. Or encouraged to pull numerous individual passages on a subject (usually out of context) to hear what God was saying. But the apostle John testifies to a different reality:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him,
and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:1-4, RSV
The Bible, is in fact and in name, a Testament to the Living Word of God. As such it has endless value to learning the story of God’s redemptive plan and how to discern His voice in our lives. It grounds us, unites us, and corrects us. It gives us the ancient perspective we need to have wisdom in our lives.
But, as Lewis warned, it can also be used as a weapon. We can pull texts out of it to try to justify particular doctrines and ideologies that we want God to bless. This has happened over many centuries. The Bible has been used to sanction injustice, inequality, cruelty and war. It also has been used to exclude people from fellowship, forgiveness and reconciliation. It has been used to divide, oppress, and build self-righteousness.
At times, when I have expressed such thoughts in church settings or online, I have been accused of being either overly liberal or mean-spirited. It may be true sometimes----I fall into self-righteousness myself---but then I think about how Jesus was perceived. Those that claimed that the Scriptures justified them found a harsh response from the Lord:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.”
So, from the evidence---what God has revealed throughout history, creation and what we observe around us---why was I given this day? To rant about the neglect of wisdom, the misuse of the Holy Scriptures, or to remember God’s anger toward the self-righteous? Perhaps not. This day, each day, is a gift to enjoy, to be thankful, to praise, and to honor.
It is also an opportunity to be authentic...and so there you have it.