Clarity; Crystal Clear Clarity

Russell Minick personal 2 Comments

One of the phrases that at one time invigorated, later came to concern me: “As the Bible clearly says…”.

I guess I noticed too many times that it was followed with something that was only clear if not burdened by an awareness of other texts and the range of meanings.

I listened to a talk by Dallas Willard at Stanford recently. He raised the question of knowledge. Willard said something to the effect, after having argued persuasively that Jesus was intelligent, that you might wonder why he didn’t just tell James and Peter the relativity equations. The audience laughed with surprise, but Willard was half serious. IF the purpose of scripture is to clearly say this or that, why isn’t more precision to be found and on more subjects? His answer to his own question was that the disciples wouldn’t have known what to do with relativity equations and that it misses the point of revelation in scripture.

Of course the wearisome response from many is a long lecture on how they have reconciled every enigma through their diligent study of some great teacher’s explanation of scripture. Problem is, of course, the various aggressive students seeking to reassure me that everything IS clear are not clear with each other. Though I used to take a Tae Kwan Do approach (direct attack) I now favor Aikido style (let them buckle under the awkwardness of their lunging). I don’t need to argue with anyone about it, I am quite sure there are troubling riddles that may not be answered in any commentary.

So, what to do with enigmas, puzzles, riddles and such. They may not all be designed to be solved like cryptograms. Rather, maybe they are more like parenting techniques.

Dad: You two better stop that.
those two: or what???
Dad: trust me, you don’t want to find out, now do you?
those two: no sir

My friend Stephen mentions something like that in his comment in the entry below “…motivation often uses quite striking hyperbole”. The use of hyberbole in the place of being cryptic being another form.

Dad: You two better stop that.

those two: or what???

Dad: I’ll ____ (fill in the blank with an appropriately innappropriate Texas style threat with references to strange wild animals and very scary arrangements). You don’t wanna force me to do that, now, do ya?

those two: no sir.

Does the use of hyberbole communicate truth? I would say yes. The dad who goes on about skinnin’ you like a couple of squirrels or some more creative such thing really means business. There will be ‘heck’ to pay! It is real (metaphorically), and it is not just being cute. We should listen, and we should be afraid, but not insanely; rather, wisely.

God speaks to us in ways that I have come to admit are not as clear as I would like. But you know what happens as soon as I say that? I also have to admit that God is a lot MORE clear than I actually would like. I am not a particularly clever writer (maybe some day), but I do believe that what I am saying is true. The need to acknowledge the weightiness of moral exhortations in scripture is more often than not painfully clear. What I would rather do is argue the cosmological, ontological, hermeneutical, something-or-other-ical, aspects. By defending the semantic aspects I have had a sense of faithfulness. The only concern is that my faithfulness is like the Levitically clean priest on a certain road whose opportunity to hear the clear meaning of Levitcus was left to the Samaritan coming down the path behind me.

Leviticus 19:18
… but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
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Comments 2

  1. I’m thinking a lot in this general direction myself these days. The logical positivists have had a devastating effect on the popular imagination–Christian and otherwise. We don’t process truth by sweeping language into tidy propositions any more than the brain performs calculus when throwing a baseball from left field to home.On the contrary, by the way, you /are/ a clever writer. 😉

  2. And oh yeah: by the way, I’ve thought a lot about that analogy [Father: “stop or it’s going to be bad.” Child: “how bad?”] since you introduced it to me in a roadside Thai restaurant across from the CM train station back in 2000. A piercing, immediate, hilarious insight. Thanks for fleshing it out more here.

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