On Getting Lungs
Friday, February 4, 2011
To teach is to learn. I led a discussion on the Lord’s Prayer and the Proverbs last night, and gleaned many inspiring insights from the friends I was supposed to be teaching, but for me the most intriguing moment came when we discussed these two strange facts:
1. The Lord’s Prayer is meant to be prayed by a community of believers.
2. There is no such community mentioned in the Proverbs.
Point number one seems clear when we notice the plural pronouns Jesus used: “Our Father”, “give us this day our daily bread”, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. Surely the One who was the “craftsman at God’s side” during creation (Prov 8: 22-31) did not craft these phrases lightly. We are meant to speak this prayer together, as a body which is one as Christ and the Father are one (John 17:11 & 22). Why then don’t we see some hint of this communal aspect of belief in Proverbs? Solomon leads a people who are called to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Surely he well understood the role of community in a believer’s life. So why did Solomon use the words “our”, “us”, and “we” only in the context of a group of sinners who lie in wait to steal and murder, or an adulteress and adulterer together in their bed of sin? (See Prov 1:11-15, 7:18, & 24:12 the only three places in Proverbs where these plural pronouns appear in the Hebrew.)
The answer, as we discussed it, lies in the fact that every child is born completely self-aware. Total immersion in ourselves makes it impossible imagine life in true community. So the Lord must meet us in that solitary place, and He does.
No one enters the city of God (or the people of Israel) among a crowd. The gate is narrow, not only because it is difficult, but also because we must pass through one by one. Solomon, in all his wisdom, can only point the way. He does this not with constant references to heaven (there is just the one, mentioned above) nor with prophecies of messianic kingdoms (that will come five centuries later, with Daniel) but by showing one young man what life can be when lived as God intended all along. In so doing, Solomon helps that solitary young man understand he cannot measure up to such a life alone. No one can.
Throughout the Proverbs Solomon says his words lead to life, but who can live the life of wisdom he describes? “The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom,” says Solomon. It is as if he had said to a fish out of water, “Get lungs.”
In the Gospels Jesus says “the Spirit gives life,” and “my words are Spirit.” (John 6:63) Solomon’s words point to life; Jesus’ words are life. Wisdom is something one must try to get. Life is something given.
So Solomon’s son strives for wisdom, rejecting the false community of unbelievers, but he remains alone. Only in Christ can we experience true communal life, true connection with our fellow human beings. All people outside Christ are spiritually dead, and nothing is more solitary than death. But inspired by Solomon’s glorious vision of how true life could be, those who enter one by one through that narrow gate—those who come alive—are joined in a single living Body, somehow “one” with millions and millions of other individuals across the globe and centuries, just as Jesus and the Spirit and the Father are One everywhere for all time.
Through our collective Christian veins flows the blood of the one true life, Christ’s. This is not a matter of being in community one day, if all goes well. It is an accomplished fact. “It is finished,” because Christ has done it. We are one vine, one body, one church. This is true even when we forget, even when we pretend otherwise, because even then we are alive in Christ, we all have lungs at last, and all of us together inhale one Spirit, counselor and protector. But we do forget, and therein lies a challenge we have faced for centuries.
To an early church mired in doctrinal disputes, the church father Tertullian once said the devil has tried to destroy the truth in many ways, often by defending it.
Even last night we forgot it. As we read Peter Kreeft on this subject, it was difficult to think of Peter as us, and to think of us as Peter, because we are Protestants and Peter is a Catholic. Our brother writes of the “mystical” and of “purgatory” and we look for distance from him, as if such a thing were possible, as if our brother were himself the embodiment of doctrine we deem false, as if the eye could say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” or to the feet, “I don’t need you!” simply because the eye sees something disagreeable about the hands and feet. (1 Cor 12:14-21)
We are people of the Book. We spend countless hours reading, talking and thinking about God’s Word, which is good because that is why the Book was given, but sometimes in the midst of it we would do well to pause and reflect on the poem of The Blind Men and the Elephant. Sometimes in the midst of it we would do well to remember that the very first doctrine we all learned--the Gospel itself--is at once the simplest and most wonderful, and it alone was all that mattered when we entered through that narrow gate. When doctrinal disputes arise in this community of ours, if in true humility we will follow every question to the Source, there we’ll find “nothing except Jesus, and him crucified.” Our faith does “not rest on the wisdom of men [not even Solomon’s!], but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:1-5) Anything which contradicts that power is outside of us, but anything which does not contradict it should be embraced, if not with intellectual assent, then with loving forbearance.
After all, it is truly finished. We are one vine, one body, one church. No lesser doctrine than the Gospel could unite us, and no lesser doctrine can divide us if only together we will pray, “Our Father...give us...lead us...deliver us.”
Posted byAthol Dickson at 9:50 AM
Labels: The Jesus Way