Archive for September, 2013

Apparently, Solomon Never Heard of the Saftey Board

September 30, 2013

Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.  Whoever quarries stone may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.  If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.  If a snake bits before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.  Ecclesiastes 10:8-12.

 

If we know it can happen, does it mean it will?  If we know there is danger, is the effort and work worth it?  If the worst befalls us, was the attempt at success worth our time?

These questions naturally follow the straight from the hip observations on reality in our text above.  Solomon doesn’t mention fear in his declarations but I think he implies an underlying awareness that fear of action could stop forward movement just as much as no fear mentality produces erratic outcomes.  The lack of fear doesn’t indicate courage; experiencing fear doesn’t suggest a lack of it.  Fear can be a good sign of a healthy awareness that a risk exists not merely a sign of weakness.  Wise people heed their fears as warnings to be cautious rather than abstain.  Only a “sluggard” declines to work because  there’s a lion in the street!

On some level all of these type things could happen in a day.  I’ve had days on the job where even when I did my best to be cautious and careful I couldn’t stop hurting myself—for whatever reason.  But here’s the principle behind Solomon’s POV:  the dull ax still works though may be not as quickly as a sharp one.  The skill needed with a dull blade is a little higher than with a sharp one.  I know, I’ve chopped enough wood and small trees to recognize the difference.  Wisdom, however, teaches us that a wise person takes care of his/her tools so unless we lack a wet-stone, we should take care of the ax.

The other example is the snake charmer being bitten.  Notice the previous snake reference about a snake behind a wall was there unbeknownst to the man doing the demolition.  A person unprepared for a hidden snake can’t really be blamed for the crisis.  A snake charmer, however, is supposed to work the charm and prevent such an occurrence.  This suggests to me that wisdom can’t know everything nor can it be prepared in every situation.  The big difference then is what can and cannot be known.  At the same time when we know what to do but fail or refuse to do it we cannot blame the “snake” for its response in the consequences.

Solomon is building his case up for doing what we have in front of us begun earlier in the book.  No one is off the hook.  Those who refuse to take action when they should are called fools—meaning in this context silly and irresponsible.  Yet with this demand for action and proactive effort any guarantee of a great outcome or successful life is completely denied us.  The volatility of life receives homage as much as wisdom, action and God.  Life remains unpredictable, get used to it and get over it.  On the other hand, those who take action when they shouldn’t are also called fools.  A person who doesn’t think out the path he/she is on is not wise.  Wisdom takes time to plan, focus and consider; fools refuse to do the work it takes to be successful.

The big problem isn’t the pit, snake or quarried stone it’s the lack of wisdom applied to the job at hand.  An awareness that any of these disasters could happen could either freeze me up in paranoia or add caution to my efforts.  Care in not only how the finished product looks but for my body which performs the task seems to be path of wisdom to me.

Growing up in a church where knowledge was almost equal to God—or at the very least, God’s crowning requirement for getting close to Him—I feared making a mistake in my theology so much that it froze me in areas where I saw discrepancies and confused conclusions.  What I mean is there were several areas where the Bible wasn’t clear yet my church emphatically claimed an interpretation as fact and I didn’t know what to conclude.  I eventually realized theology as the study of God left many mysteries to be solved and most we never would be able to due to a lack of information.

Peter’s second book, for example, spoke of Paul’s deep understanding of the mysteries of God but also concluded these very things would be hard for us to grasp without a spiritual foundation.  The Spirit guides us into all truth; the Christian world bases its conclusion on what feels right.  The Christian church is divided into factions over seemingly important doctrinal differences which really have nothing to do with the character and work of Jesus.  I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of study and watching the nature of people in groups such as denominations:  We have to live and let live on certain aspects of belief.

Years ago as I read the book of 1 Corinthians specifically 15:29 where Paul argues for the resurrection by using a practice of being baptized for the dead as an act of futility if Christ hasn’t been raised.  At first I just passed over the verse as a confusing issue and something of an anomaly, then it hit me like thunder:  Paul wasn’t arguing for or against being baptized for the dead!

I chewed on this idea for some time—probably close to a year or more until I came to an answer that seems to work.  No where in Scripture commands us to be baptized for those who have died nor does it even say it’s possible to save someone who has already passed on.  Yet Paul doesn’t argue for or against it, so does that mean he supports it?

Not necessarily.  Elsewhere he attempts to tell a church that what we do in this life must be the rule by which we are judged at the Bema Seat.  We get one chance to find Christ then we face the judgment.  Also Hebrews 9:27 seems to say we don’t get another chance once we die—Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment—which has been used by evangelists to mean we get one chance at salvation and then no more.  However, if we take this passage and connect to the one 1 Corinthians 15:29, the picture changes.  In fact it might paint a very confused picture unless we follow the thought through.

Since I don’t understand either the judgment or salvation completely, having barely scratched the surface, I find certain conclusions to be ill advised and stemming from a desperate need to feel safe.  The Bible seems to say all those millions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus will be lost if we take just the Hebrews text as our guide; whereas Paul’s allusion to those who attempt through baptism by substitution is not an issue gives hope for the unsaved dead.

What to conclude?

Nothing.

Leave it alone and stop worrying about it for there is no way to conclude anything on such flimsy evidence.  What I have found, however, is that God is wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay more open to interpretation than I was taught to believe.  If Paul didn’t see fit in his argument for the resurrection to correct the believers at Corinth on this matter, then who am I to justify or argue against it?  It appears to me there were lots of practices in the early church the disciples didn’t fight and only a few they adamantly stood against.  I think liberality in matters of practice should be respected as long as the basic mores of our faith create the foundation.

So does the risk of falling into the pit we dig or the danger of being bitten by a snake or harmed by a stone we cut mean we shouldn’t do these things?  Not at all.  Solomon is just pointing out that every activity whether good or bad comes with a risk that’s all.  Assessing the risk and taking steps to ensure a healthy outcome grows out of wisdom.  For me this means theologically and spiritually—the two are not the same.

Theology is man’s attempt to understand God; spirituality is submitting to the connection whether we understand it or not.  When we quote the verse claiming God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways higher than our ways, do we really believe it?

I’ll tell you right up front I don’t get God very well.  I don’t know why all the evil on earth happens the way it does.  I don’t know why some guys get the girl and others don’t.  I don’t know why some girls win the pageant and others don’t.  Why does God allow suffering?  I don’t know for sure.  I have a working theory that seems to explain it but really I don’t know for certain if my conclusion is correct.  Why?  Because I see how my grasp of the world around me has changed through experiencing it.  Or, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 13  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

What I know now of the world and its workings is much different than what I knew even ten years ago.  What I grasp about myself is in constant flux because I’m growing to know and in that growth I’m attempting to understand.

I’ve broken through the walls inside myself only to find a snake waiting to bite me.  Fortunately, I know the healer who crushed the snake’s head with His heel.  I’ve dug pits intending them for good purposes only to fallen into them where I needed help to get out—in fact I’m in one right now.  Everything spiritually I can do to prepare myself seems to bear no fruit I can see at times and discouragement sets in; and I don’t see it until much later when I look back.  The point for me is:  I can’t see it all so I just keep moving forward in faith, for what else is there unless I give up and die?

My life is a testimony, if you could follow it, of a provisional merciful God.  So I will continue to demo the walls, cut the stones, charm the snakes, split the logs and dig the ditches without paranoia and letting fear counsel my knowledge so I practice wisdom.

Whew!  Do I have a long way to go!

Fools In High Positions? Nah, Never Happen…

September 16, 2013

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler.  Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones.  I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.  Ecclesiastes 10:5-7.

 

There’s a rule in business and politics:  Never be in debt to a fool.  A wise ruler who finds himself obligated to a foolish person will end up making bad decisions if the debt is not paid quickly.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable though, no matter what the political analysts say.  More often than not the situations and circumstances a king or ruler finds him- or her-self in grows out of the foolishness of others.

For instance, I’ve never read about or seen a war that wasn’t inspired by an avoidable confrontation brought on by a dispute over possessions or beliefs.  Ideology tends to make strong-minded people while at the same time weakening their ability to tolerate other viewpoints for some reason.  Being a Christ follower I’ve noticed that some of my compatriots tend to take the OT literally far too often and decide we should do God’s work for Him by eliminating evil the world over.  The bad taste of failure it leaves in our mouths sours the gospel for our children (who like as not do the fighting and dying) because they begin to believe Jesus somehow, somewhere commanded a holy war.  That is, they will think this unless they read the Bible for themselves, then they will reject our take on pretty much everything else (even if we are right on most of our views) because of the war-mongering attitude we bring to the table.

When I talk to an atheist or agnostic one of the first items of history they bring up is the “Holy Wars” or Crusades of the 14th and 15th century church.  The ugly aftermath of the era and sheer greed which ruled much of the motivation turns them off more than anything else.  The pope at the time might have been sincere in his efforts to “free” the Holy Land from “pagan” rule but his misguided attempts to do so opened up the war for abuses the Middle East still resents.  And they have a long memory, for some of their own disputes stem from insults or fights a thousand years old—or, more likely, even forgotten.

This is utter foolishness and worthless to the gospel of peace.

If fools just happen to assist a king to gain the crown or a president to be voted in, you can be sure they want compensation.  Unfortunately, repayment usually means positions neither they nor their supporters are qualified for or able to perform with any sense of justice and economy.  If the ruler is wise, he will promise a position but not specify so that the person in question can be put under supervision first.  Rewarding someone who helps us is not bad but giving them carte blanche over other people without first knowing their aptitude and attitude is dangerous.

The other problem Solomon tackles is the one where princes walk and slaves are on horseback.  For a long time (until this last reading) I read this statement as an argument from divine right of kings, or that Solomon simply played to social strata.  Then it struck me that the only people fit to rule a country were those with enough training and depth of insight into the workings of a multicultural nation to keep it balanced out.  In other words a ruler must not be someone who is ignorant of or prejudiced against other customs and practices because that usually leads to tyranny of the worst kind.  I can’t fault a person for having prejudices/preferences because we all have them, but to apply our personal ethic to those who think differently without careful consideration is wrong.

Let’s get back to Solomon’s main point:  The rich are wealthy for a reason; princes are educated to rule.  Slaves might perform great things in the course of their service and should be rewarded, but being given positions of authority for which they have no training is not beneficial to them or their constituents.  Fools should never be given authority over people or their wellbeing.  It’s far too dangerous to hand someone power who is frivolous, silly or self-absorbed, and I assume these are the types of people Solomon addresses.  Positions of authority should be handed to those who not only have the training but also the proven skills to govern justly.  A ruler who hands out rewards in the form of money or land is wiser than one who hands out government posts to those whose abilities have not been proven.

Most slaves would be satisfied with freedom and an apprenticeship in Solomon’s era, for slaves were property and to lose that distinction alters one’s prospects dramatically.  On the other hand if a slave is freed and joins the government in some low level serviceable capacity, demonstrating the aptitude and talent for ruling, then that person has earned a position by dent of their ability, which is proof enough.

So how do we apply this truth to our walk with Jesus?

We are slaves to sin until Jesus comes and sets us free.  The law of sin and death holds no power over us yet some—if not most—of us continue to live with a slave’s attitude.  Ahhh, it is so hard to reject this past for something unknown in the future.  Yet if we are to accept the promise of Christ as true, we must submit to the changed heart and mind so that we can truly live.  Unfortunately in the church people who were fools before they met Christ are far too often given positions of authority too soon.  People with little knowledge or grasp of the way of Jesus bring with them the past practices and opinions about how life works to the gospel before they’ve been reprogrammed.  The history of the Church is replete with stories of immature Christians or those who barely understand the gospel of peace at all taking a passage out of context and running with it—to the hurt of those who follow them.

The frivolous, silly or self-absorbed have no place in positions of authority in the body of Christ either.  Just because someone has an education doesn’t mean they have the wisdom or insight for the job of shepherding.  Our biggest mistake as believers (and humans) is the folly of valuing education over experience and wisdom.  Education can be invaluable but nothing replaces wisdom and experience.  Wisdom is even more important than experience because the latter can leave broken or scarred places in the soul and memories which leave one bitter, angry, resentful or just plain fixated on the wrong issue.

Yet, here’s another problem we will face:  Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 that while the Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom we who follow Christ seek neither.  Instead we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

This sets up the follower of Jesus for all kinds of problems, since we come from one or both of the camps above—Jewish miracle seekers or Grecian wisdom fanatics.  We bring with us into this new kind of wisdom/miracle based faith the broken relationship we had with God before we accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord.  We then, out of the experiences and understanding of life from our past, work to merge the two worlds into one.  The problem, of course, is that our grasp of true wisdom is tainted by the fallen version of it and whatever we thought of miracles before becomes the criterion by which we judge God’s supernatural work in our new life.  So, in this way, slaves (and all of us were slaves to sin) become princes or people in high positions dictating from our mixed bag of wisdom and forgetting what God declared important.

The American church is based partly on the constitution to be blunt rather than the other way around.  And as to the “John Wayne” mythical loner who stands against all odds, man was never meant to stand alone against all odds for God declared at the beginning that community was the way to go.  Yet the gospel according to our practice is quite definitely individualism attached to a loose community; or we see hard community with a suppression of individuality.  I hear so many talk about being accountable, which is just an adjusted form of legalism in many cases.  But without true friendship love, accountability devolves into performance, which by definition is hypocrisy.  Without true caring community there is no growth or change.  Without leaders who are mature in the faith we experience constant misguided attempts at surface holiness based on human regulations which do nothing to alter the state of the inner being.

Far too often in my experience the ones fit to rule and guide the church are sidelined for those who worry more about the business of it.  Frequently I see those who could guide the church with godliness and love marginalized because the Bean-Counters have far too much control.  This is a great evil and one of the reasons Christ’s name has a bad odor in the world.  Money is not the goal of the gospel, nor is power, prestige or popularity.  The gospel is “peace on earth, good will towards men.”  Peace between people and God’s good will demonstrated through Christ.  Anything else is an invention of the human imagination.