Our Journey to Awe and Wisdom
Based on Deut 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28, 1Cor 8:1-13
Information and knowledge can be acquired faster than ever nowadays. We are in the information age where the sheer amount of data, and the speed with which we can acquire them, is beyond comprehension. We are quickly losing our capacity to keep up. Case in point, the amount of information on the Internet is estimated to be 5 million terrabytes – and Google has indexed about 200 terrabytes or roughly 0.04%. If you are looking for a career with job security, seems like Google could use some help catching up. It is said that human knowledge is doubling every year and that the doubling time is only getting faster.
The Bible has much to say about human knowledge and human wisdom – and the relationship of one to the other. God wants us to have knowledge of God and what is expected of us. In order to obey Adonai, we have to have knowledge of the commandments. Equally important, however, as having knowledge is the acquisition of wisdom. Knowing facts about God and being able to quote scripture is not wisdom; wisdom is a gift from God. states, “…If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,…and it will be given to you….”
God blesses us with wisdom in order for us to glorify God and use that understanding on our journey toward becoming the image of God. Wisdom is the fitting application of knowledge. Knowledge identifies the quicksand; wisdom walks around it. Knowledge memorizes the Ten Commandments; wisdom obeys them. Knowledge learns of God; wisdom loves God. Yet, I found myself wondering this week, like T.S. Elliott, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? Time to recapture our awe and wisdom; time also to ask God in prayer for some insight…won’t you join me?
We find Moses once again trying to educate the Israelites about how it is they are to live together under one God. Because they were fearful of God’s direct speaking and teaching, the people wanted to know that once Moses died, that there would still be an intermediary between them and the All Holy. So God calms their fears and anxieties and tells them that another prophet from their ranks will indeed intervene on their behalf. All of this comes as part of the second great teachings of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. The people were beginning their journey toward God through knowledge acquisition…but paralyzing fear of God was keeping them from wisdom.
The Apostle Paul is poking holes in the hubris that often comes with human knowledge in his letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was an amalgam of rich and poor, of learned and unschooled, of free and slave. Those with more learning had been using that knowledge against those with less. They had been misleading in their use of meat given first to idols and then distributed through the markets. They had not been loving toward each other – looking to build each other up in the knowledge that no matter how much or how little formal education one has that all are known in the same way by God once they come to love God.
Jesus begins teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum – He teaches not as one reading the Torah by rote, but rather, “…as one having authority…” Interestingly, there is a man in the middle of the synagogue sitting just fine until Jesus starts speaking. The spirit speaks and is afraid of Jesus and what He might do. For the first time in Mark’s Gospel we find an unclean spirit who has immediate knowledge of who Jesus is, and fear of God who can make it leave the person it has been inhabiting…even in the middle of church. Unclean spirits are indeed wise to fear God/Jesus, because they know that now that God has come to earth, everything is going to change for them.
What are we to make of these seemingly disparate bits of scripture today? Infantile Hebrews being fearful of God’s direct voice, unclean spirits knowing and fearing God, humans using knowledge against each other, Jesus teaching with power and authority in the synagogue. It seems to me that these are markers on our journey with God from abject terror to mindlessly forgetting what God has tried to teach us. It is what Paul is trying to remind the Corinthian church about in his letter. It is undeniably true that we have much knowledge and information now versus then. It is also undeniably true that the access to that knowledge and information is not equitably distributed (similar to 1st century time). Some have divided the world into groups and speak of “first world problems” – in fact, there are even videos which, like Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, poke holes in our non-inclusive mindsets. It is this dualistic mindset “us versus them” which gets in our way to developing into disciples, and to asking God to develop our knowledge into wisdom so that we might ultimately know the salvation of having the heart and mind of Christ.
Developing the heart and mind of Christ means that we must use what we have been taught about Him in different ways than we have been. We are called to look on each other and build each other up. We do this not because of who we are, but because of the One that we follow. When we are truly seeing others like Jesus saw them, then as Paul says, there is no slave nor free, no male or female, no Jew or Greek. All become one in Christ who came to save all of us from the hell of living apart from a right relationship with God. Instead, we have developed, as Parker Palmer calls it, “empty self syndrome” (see “A Hidden Wholeness”). Palmer puts it this way, “…I have met too many people who suffer from an empty self. They have a bottomless pit where their identity should be – an inner void they try to fill with competitive success, consumerism, sexism, racism, or anything that might give them the illusion of being better than others. We embrace attitudes and practices such as these not because we regard ourselves as superior, but because we have no sense of self at all….” (pg 38) W
This is our journey as disciples of Christ to discover our sense of self as it relates to Jesus. It will mean letting go many of the things we “know” which divide us one from another and created from Creator. It will mean that we expend more time and effort in prayer, contemplation and discernment, that we might begin to be able to hear God through the cacophony of the world. Palmer, a Quaker, goes on in his book to develop the idea of a loving community. He says that our version of Christian community too often become platforms where, “…we preach and teach, assert and argue, claim and proclaim, admonish and advise, and generally…scare off all the soulful things, like respectful relationships, goodwill and hope…” (pg 59) A loving community on the other hand is intentional about why it exists, where it is going, and how its members must relate one to the other in order to reach its destination. Loving communities open themselves to the pains of the members and hold those pains loosely for the person until they feel ready to pick them up again. In this way, he asserts, we develop true nonviolence which is, “…a commitment to act in every situation in ways that honor the soul….” (pg 170)
Jesus always honored the soul of those He met. He was God, but He never used that to do harm or to make Himself something which elevated Him. Rather, His awe of God and His wisdom of how humans react and interact, lead Him to show us in a nonviolent manner how we can honor our souls and the souls around us. He showed us how to ultimately become undivided in our worldview by developing eyes that see everyone as equals if not more important than He was. He showed us what the writer of Proverbs meant when he wrote, “…the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom…” (9:10) Once we recover the awe of a God who loves us no matter how poorly we gain knowledge and put that knowledge to work in the world…once we recover the fear of the One God who spoke and created all things…once we empty ourselves of our self- importance, then will we begin to be wise. This is a journey of giving up and of making a commitment to act in every situation to honor every soul we meet. Time to prepare for our journey back to awe and wisdom. Thanks be to God who loves us too much to leave us where we are. Amen!