December 17, 2009

Do We Know What Jesus Knew?

The Internet Monk posted an interesting list of questions about Jesus' knowledge. And it's followed by about thirty pages of comments about what the answers mean to our understanding of the God/man incarnation.

Some of my favorites:
3. Did Jesus miss any questions on the test? Did he have to study?
4. Did Jesus use tools to measure in his carpentry work? Or did he just know what to do?
8. Were Jesus questions real questions? Or were they all rhetorical?
9. If Jesus did not have exhaustive divine knowledge as a human being, does this impact our view of him as God incarnate?
Or, in the words of Relient K's lovely Christmas tune, I Celebrate the Day:
And the first time that you opened your eyes
Did you realize that you would be my savior?
And the first breath that left your lips
Did you know that it would change this world forever
Yet another example where language, story, and theology collide, hinting that the certainty of our formulations might just be more easily said than realized. It is one thing to affirm, in the words of the Athanasian Creed, that Jesus was "fully God, fully man," but what does this mean, practically speaking? That he always won games of chance? That the other kids as he was growing up stopped including him in riddles and jokes because he already knew the punchlines? Or that there is something about the nature of Jesus' omniscience that we haven't fully comprehended?
The faith of the Christian rests on the clear statements of Scripture alone even when we are not able to rationalize them.
The "clear statements," as opposed to the not-so-clear statements that the Bible also contains. There are some things that we just don't know—even if we read the Bible. We can speculate, opine, and argue, but we really don't know, at least in a way that we can articulate with words. As A.W. Tozer said, "Truth lies deeper than the theological statement of it" (That Incredible Christian). And that's OK, for we are known, and loved. And I'll take that over my own knowing any day.

December 8, 2009

Explaining Our Differences

[Salvation #5]

Now, we could conclude from the church's differences on salvation that we really don't know what it is, or really don't get it, or really don't have it, even. And that, therefore, we really don't have any basis for communion, for community, or for witness. We could conclude that perhaps we really aren't Christ's body. Or that most of us aren't part of it, anyway. We could conclude that salvation is unknowable, or even fictional.

Another, less-troubling explanation for why we have different definitions of salvation is that we have allowed our focus to drift from knowing or experiencing salvation to defining salvation, to reducing something amazing and miraculous into words of a particular language. Perhaps we do understand what salvation is, but just have trouble explaining it—in words, at least. Which isn't the only way to explain something, to be fair. Some words have very broad definitions; other defy easy pigeonholing. We might have similar difficulties when defining other words, such as hero, art, America, or beauty. We might have similar difficulty explaining in words how much we love someone.

Language is a very tricky thing. Some languages are much better at expressing certain kinds of ideas. Some languages make certain tasks much harder to accomplish, like explaining whether an event is past, present, or future, for example. Some languages cause more airplane crashes. Different languages perhaps can even create different types of thought and can shape different views of reality. If God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts, can we really expect that each of our human languages fully expresses God's thoughts, or that our words can fully define the wonders of salvation?

God's gift to us was not a dictionary. Therefore, we've written most theological definitions by ourselves. And some of these come from attempts to harmonize numerous verses of Scripture, written by numerous authors, over the course of more than a millennium, in three languages, in various genres from poetry to history to apocalyptic literature, and often with cultural, historical, and literary context that has been lost to most of us over the last 3,000 years. Is it any wonder that we might inadvertently add at least a little of our own interpretation to the original meaning in the Bible when we construct our clever definitions, when we create what the Bible itself has failed to give us?

And interpretation is a problem.

Next stop: Why didn't God give us a dictionary?

December 4, 2009

Behold the Lamb of God

If you haven't heard Andrew Peterson and friends perform Behold the Lamb of God, then you're missing a Christmasy musical treat. Buy It Now! And join me in looking forward to one of their ensemble concerts if you ever get the chance.

Here is AP's telling of the tale of its writing. And here's my favorite part:
I was compelled to tell Jesus’ story with the gifts he gave me–the biggest of those not being my songwriting at all but the community of the Kingdom itself. And telling that story hundreds of times has changed me. I love the Gospel more for it. If you’ve been to one of these concerts you know I can hardly make it through a night without a lump forming in my throat (something that makes my voice go terribly flat). It usually happens when I look out in the audience and see someone with tears on their cheeks, and I realize that, by God, that dream I had ten years ago has come true: the story connects. The Spirit moves. The apostle says in John 20:31, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” However the songs were written, I remember well the reason for the writing, and that was so that men, women, and children would believe that the stories are true, and that by believing they would find life in Jesus’ name.

December 3, 2009

Harmonize Or Read Mystically?

David Opderbeck's comment about 3rd century Origen and how to read the apparent discrepancies in the gospels is well put:
We can see how great pre-modern Christian thinkers wrestled with concerns that continue to confront us in Biblical studies today, and we can see that what are sometimes criticized as post-modern approaches in fact are rooted deeply in the Tradition.
Check out the full quote by Origen, which includes the phrase, "anagogically, (by mystical interpretation)," at Euangelion. Tasty!