Friday, February 09, 2007

The Final Perfect Word

The best approach to scriptures generally is to read entire sections (books or 10 or so chapters) then think and pray on it - but sometimes I just flip to a spot or two and read.

This morning I did the flip thing and went to story after story of those who sought to trip Jesus up with the questions they asked. Although the people (and even his enemies) marveled at his perfect replies -- the buzzards kept going. Even the Perfect Word wasn't good enough for them.

Its a bit of a shock to realize that even Christ didn't get the satisfaction of permanently shutting up the flap traps very often while living as a mortal here on Earth. They were cursing & misrepresenting Christ's words right up to the Crucifixion - and beyond. It hasn't stopped even yet. The Earth abounds with goofs who want to tell everybody they've got a better gospel & take on what Christ really meant than what the gospels & church Fathers left to us. Not likely.

As a youngster I learned a bit about debate & public relations. For a long time, I was certain that if I just expressed the truth effectively and affectionately enough, fair-minded people would be bound to hear it, bound to acknowledge the points, at least, even if they never entirely agreed.

& I wasn't alone in that. You know, most of us still have this idea that if we have the perfect answer, the ultimate comeback, the best argument, it will stop the mouthings of our enemies and convert the undecided. We'll change the world if we just get our evangelical message just right. We may be aflame to convert the world away from gratuitous fossil fuel use, non-democratic forms of government, or whatever - but the heart of activism is a belief that most if not all of the people can be convinced to believe as you do. This has become an article of faith in our society. This is most clearly reflected in our evangelistic efforts and political process. Everyone, or at least a majority, must agree on at least some basic truths, yes?

We've also been sold the idea of continuous progress, told over and over that our political views and religious understandings are 'evolving' into something ever better - something that will allow humanity to continue to adapt to an ever changing universe. As a result many of us have gotten this impression that you may be able to encourage others 'update' their views to the latest & greatest versions available, even if it still a bit buggy. Those who refuse this trendy cosmic view are dismissed as 'obsolete' - until and unless they finally read some great books of history and philosophy and join the ever shrinking remnant of humanity who can recognize a freshly shrink-wrapped, shiny humbug.

I suspect that part of growing up in our country is the realization that your 'new, great ideas' have - in some form or other, been around a long time, that what has convinced you will not convert everyone else, and that most people's beliefs precede their rationalizations for those beliefs. [You are thinking about all the 'adults' you know who haven't grasped this, right? So am I. I have been told by many, many people how childish the West has become. I think this is part of why. Its hard to find your place with such a mercurial world-view.] Argument alone cannot do all that has been claimed for it.

But there has to be some value in the debates we humans so regularly engage in. Logic is a natural gift, and doesn't preclude affectionate application. Hopes springs eternal that we will finally convince those we care about to agree with us on the most important things.

We get encouraged when we 'win' a debate on obscure issues or political positions, but these are only likely when the point is not one which conflicts with a major ideological position held by the opposing side. In fact, you usually 'win' by successfully convincing the other person that you are both basically on the same wavelength, that your position and theirs have the same goals in mind, and that the conflict is just based on a misunderstanding.

In other words, we rarely convert people to our point of view who did not in large measure share it already.

Sometimes we do see a change of position following some major preaching or debating on our part, but the Bible warns that no one believes who is not called by God first. So even when there is a harvest, its because God was working with us, we are told. Somehow this truth took a long time to sink in on me.

Increasingly I have dealt with the sad reality of a world that largely thinks what it is told to think by its government institutions & corporately-controlled multimedia outlets. I don't even list peer pressure as a separate influence anymore. In most communities the little groups merely reflect the popular fashions & teachings from the aforesaid as reinforced by its leaders/authorities. The best manipulators I've met make good use of these macro-societal conditionings and the taught prejudices. Its difficult to open eyes with logical debate when justice and any belief in objective truth is out of fashion, right along with most of the other virtues.

Despite my occasional pessimism on the topic, this isn't a new problem. Christ has already faced this problem too, and had the answers ready for those with ears to hear. I am just seeing the hard-heartedness thing from a different angle.

I must have read about these 'entrapment' scenarios Christ faced hundreds of times, but today it came to me how deaf those who will not hear really are. No reply was good enough to get through to those with hardened hearts & brainwashed minds. I also realized I have actually spoken to people with this particular mentality in my own life. You just can't get through. These sorts aren't listening for truth - just for bits they can use against you with whomever. They will criticize the very word of God when it suits their purpose, but they usually won't put it that way [especially if they are using the Bride's garment as camouflage].

Sadly, not being perfect like Jesus, even his most sincere followers often fail to use optimal speech constructions and find themselves negatively portrayed by their enemies. Well, the servants of God are not going to fair better than our Master, but at least we can improve by studying Jesus' example.

So - what did Jesus do when these "scribes, pharisees, & hypocrites" came calling with their trick questions? He answered wisely. Sometimes he gave a teaching answer anyway, probably for the benefit of others he knew were listening. Sometimes he gave them riddles they could puzzle over for hours. It helps to be a genius, as well as the perfect son of God. ;-)

From that I gather I am to pray for discernment on what to say when - and don't worry if what the Holy Spirit gives you to say is obscure. There's a time and a season for non-answers.

but I don't expect any seed to flourish outside of the working & timing of God's larger plan. Remember that even perfect answers may only stump 'em for an hour or two, but sometimes we will get through. We think everything has to be 'proven' in our day, but Christ knows exactly what we were & are really like. God's word encourages us to pray for open ears and hearts. He knows their minds will catch up eventually once this happens. Things haven't changed as much as we sometimes think.

People often fail to realize that Jesus' words to the 'scribes, Pharisees, & hypocrites' are not only to those specific people in his own day, but also to their equivalent number in ours.

There are people now who believe, just as many Sadducee s did, that most if not all of the miracles of scripture must be bogus. They feel that the acknowledged scripture is still valuable, especially as a relic of history -despite likely inaccuracies and inculcated 'prejudices' of the time.

There were also the Pharisaical types who DID believe in the miracles of the old testament & the prophecies, but had developed such a strong church, well - synagogue, tradition about which verses were paramount & how the OT ought to be interpreted for today's Jew in a Roman world that they sometimes circumvented the plain meaning of many verses! They followed every little tradition for clean living before God but readily cut on their fellow Jews for any perceived failings to live according to their standards. (How dare they sing in Aramaic!?!) while ignoring all the verses about how God preferred mercy, humility, and hearts dedicated to him personally, rather than some community gestalt.

and neither group had cared about maintaining the outer court so that other peoples in the world would feel welcome worshiping God at the temple in Jerusalem. THAT was the area given over to moneychangers and sacrificial animal stalls. Now you know why Jesus was so angry.

Very few in either of these groups, or any of the other fashionable intellectual circles in the area (scribes!) seemed to realize that arguing doctrine with Jesus was hardly their most brilliant maneuver. They were so sure they had the winning ways with God they wouldn't hear anyone else. Since Jesus didn't seem to agree with their self-serving misinterpretations of scripture, they were sure Christ must be wrong about God, and so they set themselves at enmity to Jesus, remaining unmoved by Christ's miracles, untouched by Messiah's love for all those who would come to Him, and deaf to Jesus' perfect replies to their contentious conversations.

My mother points out that those who think that this path through life is clever fail to recognize its end. The scribes, Pharisees, & Sadducees had to face Christ again after death, and Christ's word on where they went was quite... final.

Keep praying for God to soften the hearts and open the ears of your unsaved loved ones.

God bless you.


The title of my blog is inspired by a song "The Final Word" by Michael Card from the Brother to Brother album with John Michael Talbot & Michael Card.

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father’s fondest thought took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living luminous Word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard
Took place in God the Father as He spoke that final Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Light became alive
And manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time
So we could understand.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What an excellent post, my friend! I see so much conviction and humility to serve Christ. You are right, often our best arguments will still leave disagreements, and it is impossible to argue one's way into truth: that is the Holy Spirit's job.

The one thing I feel compelled to warn against is applying an 'unsaved' filter to those who are actually brothers and sisters in Christ, and perhaps it is because I have seen this too much of late. "But *those* people are postmoderns!" Or Calvinists! Or Arminians! Or they believe such-and-such about an issue we care deeply about (but is not the cross of Christ) while we believe so-and-so. I really do wish sometimes I could see the church come together under Christ and not be sidetracked by the pettiest of doctrinal or practical issues. And we make such mountains out of molehills, and Christ is hidden beneath it all.

Not of course, that I'm saying you do this - I have witnessed nothing of the sort proceeding from your mouth. :)

Peace to you and y'all,