I’ve been studying for my final exam in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class this weekend. One of the topics that I have been reviewing in preparation for the exam is the category of wisdom literature found in the Bible.
All wisdom literature is made up of human reflections on the meaning of life and how it works, but we find two kinds of wisdom literature in the Bible. One is proverbial wisdom, which comprises collections of short, pithy statements (and sometimes short stories) that is general good advice about how to live well. These proverbs often take a concrete example and generalize it to all of life. The problem is that life is rarely that simple, and there are many exceptions to these “rules” for living.
The second kind of wisdom literature is known as philosophical wisdom, and we find this type of wisdom literature in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Both of these books are asking and exploring a question about life. Ecclesiastes is asking about profit we get from life. What is the point of life beyond working to get our basic needs met? Job is asking whether there is ever such a thing as disinterested righteousness. Do we ever do good when there is no reward (or no perceived reward) for doing so?
“In this parable we are reminded that a religious approach to the text is not one in which we attempt to find out its definitive meaning, but rather where we wrestle with it and are transformed by it.” ~Peter Rollins in The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
I have just finished reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief by Peter Rollins. It’s one of those books that is so good and so mind-stretching that I need to read it again before I’ll be ready to write about the book as a whole. I can say for now, though, that it’s absolutely fantastic and well worth the read. Its message is also subversive enough that it’s going to take me a little more time to fully process it.
In this post, I just want to look at the one idea quoted above that really jumped out at me as I read tonight. While I have heard about the importance of wrestling with the text before, I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of this as I come to the end of this semester of studying the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~C.S. Lewis
Yesterday was the start of the Advent season, a season of expectant waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ into the world. It is a time of waiting and of hope.
And yet, I am finding myself surrounded by people who are waiting in grief.
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith in the context of questions lately.
In the class that I am taking on the Hebrew Bible, we have reached the Prophets and the time of the end of the Davidic kingdom and the Babylonian exile for Judah. On Friday, we took a look at how these events caused shifts in the way that the Israelites thought of God and of their relationship to God. How do they worship God when they are no longer in the Promised Land? When there is no longer a temple? What does it mean to be the people of God when in exile?
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ― Brennan Manning (in Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging)
I wrote last week about the idea of being loved by God as our primary purpose. That has been a big enough shift for me to contemplate in and of itself, but accepting this kind of radical definition of my purpose and being changes everything else, too.
“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.'”
~C.S. Lewis (in The Problem of Pain)
I encountered this quote on Facebook this morning, and it’s been on my mind all day. I’ve often heard it said that God loves us, but the emphasis has always been on the expectations that fact places on me for how I should respond. This turns the focus completely around.
And that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?
“There is a divine restlessness in the human heart. Though our bodies maintain an outer stability and consistency, the heart is an eternal nomad. No circle of belonging can ever contain all the longings of the human heart.” ~John O’Donohue
I know this longing and this restlessness well. I have often described myself as a seeker because it seems like I have never found any religion, philosophy, or worldview that has been able to address this longing of my heart in a way that makes sense. I am always looking further to find answers.
My mother tells the story of the time when I came to her as a small child with an important question: “Mommy, why does God bother us all the time?”
As you can imagine, this question puzzled her, so she asked me where I’d gotten the idea that God bothers us. It turns out that we had sung the hymn “Never Alone” the previous week in church. The chorus of this song includes the words, “No, never alone! No, never alone! He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” And I knew from experience that when my little brother never left me alone, that meant that he was bothering me!
I have a close relative who had a relatively brief out-of-body experience as a child when she died and was resuscitated. She generally prefers not to talk about this experience and would rather people not know of it, but she did tell me the story once. I’ve never forgotten it, but it only served to whet my curiosity to know more. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the reports of people’s experiences like this.
There was a recent one published in Newsweek by a neurosurgeon who had always been skeptical of the reality of life-after-death experiences. In enjoyed reading his account with his neurological understanding of what was happening to him woven into the story, but there was one particular part of the story that particularly caught my attention.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)
The word faith tends to be used in a number of different ways as is evident from the number of definitions for this word that appear in the dictionary. I tend to think of it in religious terms because that is most often where I hear it used, but it’s more than just religious belief. Even the verse quoted above does not limit faith to only religious topics.