Sunday, January 3, 2010

Becky Scott, The American Revolution and The Renewing of Our Minds

In the last blog, I tried to interest you in Plato. If I succeeded, I will be nominated teacher of the year. Or, we could give that award to Becky Scott, since today is her birthday.

I could also talk about how that near this date in 1784, the American Revolution officially ended and the founding fathers signed the treaty of Paris. (In happened on January 14th, to be exact.)

Perhaps we should forget about Plato and all the rest of this stuff and just return to our Bible readings!

However, reading the first stories of the Old and New Testaments requires us to stop and think. Sometimes as much as talking about Plato.

(Understanding what was gained by the American Revolution also requires a thoughtful reading of -- and reflecting on -- the nation’s founding documents. We used to do that in an ancient course called “civics,” which taught us how to be citizens. So, healthy citizenship and Christian discipleship each require mature and thoughtful engagement with a text. Who would have thought?)

Anyway, why were the Bible stories written in a way that although entertaining at surface levels, requires such intense thought to get the main points?

Why do the characters in the Bible stories say what they say?

Why are things mentioned in those stories that seemingly lack any connection to the plot?

You can be sure that there are no “throw away” passages or meaningless insertion into the stories. Every word counts; every symbol speaks; every reference to another part of scripture is there for a purpose. So what’s the deal with the complicated structures of the Bible?

Well, reading God’s word is a form of meditation. Prayerful reading focuses our thoughts and emotions and leads us into what we might call “spiritual” consciousness. That’s when we begin to see the connections and begin to submit our intellect to the molding influence of the Holy Spirit.

Many influential Christian thinkers have taught that we learn to stretch toward God by contemplating what lies behind and beyond the things God has made and the things He has said. To use Plato’s language, we learn to look through the substance of a thing in order to perceive that which makes the thing what it is – its form.

(If you didn’t get that, go back and read the last blog on Plato and Jell-O.)

To make this simple: we should practice looking at and through the world, the Bible, and our experiences. We should continually meditate about what these things mean. Our everyday lives, the life of our society, and in the life of the world to come depend upon eternal truth, goodness and beauty that shines through the World in unexpected places.

Many great men and women of God have claimed to have been transformed by their contemplation of God’s Word.

One of my favorite people in history is a medieval monk named Thomas Aquinas. While not all Christians agree with his theology, he is an example of how human intellect humbles itself before the majesty of God. He did this without sacrificing his intellectual integrity. Aquinas believed that once we give our allegiance to the Word of God, we can apply our intellect and emotions in the life-long work of filling our being with the presence of God. We can learn to see all of life, not just the “religious” part of life, through God-touched eyes.

Aquinas especially wanted to understand and explain the old Greek philosophers (Aristotle and Plato) in the light of Holy Scripture. As he did this, he came up with some pretty amazing thoughts about how contemplating God can transform the human heart.

Most of us are not as smart as Thomas Aquinas or Plato, of course. But we don’t have to be. The simplest believer opens himself to the wisdom of God every time he reads the words of scriptures.

Plato said that there is a form behind and beyond “things.” The form is eternal. It exists in another time and another place. A thing’s substance looks as it does and acts as it does because of the form that gives it shape and definition.

The Bible is a concrete, material thing: a book. However, this book expresses God’s eternal nature. If we read it with a worshipful heart and a fully engaged intellect, the Bible will pull us into God. This can only occur if we read with reverence, focused attention and remain intellectually engaged. Our reading has to become a form of prayer – conversation with God.

If we do these things, the Word will penetrate our intelligence, disciple our minds, and stretch our capacity to think.

The Bible claims that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

The renewal of our minds is made possible by the entrance of the Word into our minds.

Our human substance becomes deeply affected by the way we take into ourselves the Form that is above all human form, when we, as the New Testament puts it:

Let this mind be in us that was also in Christ Jesus. The American founding fathers were scholars who were well acquainted with everything I have said here. They envisioned a citizenry that would master the great ideas that formed our republic, come to solid opinions about how to apply these ideas to the nation’s on-going political life, and thus become capable of governing themselves: the first such nation in history.

They didn’t envisioned that we would not take the time to read the founding documents, be unconcerned with what those documents say and would prefer politicians who speak in sound bites, wear nice haircuts and who never challenge us to think. Perhaps they would not have fought a revolution had they realized that we would hate civics so much.

The writers of the Bible also believed that we would want to meditate upon the Word that God had inspired them to write. They believed that we would read until we learned how to live, how to think, and how to find God. They thought that forming a God-consciousness that transforms one’s life would be worth the effort of reading, meditating, praying and acting out the Word of God.

No comments: