Friday, December 16, 2005

Play Acting

The comics section is the one part of the newspaper I read on a daily basis; everything else is just bonus material. Yesterday's One Big Happy made me chuckle, and got me thinking too. (I'd link to the strip, but A) it's not available online yet, and B) it would get relegated to a subscription-only archive after a couple of weeks anyway.)

To summarize, the kids are playing "courtroom." Ruthie and her brother, playing the judge and prosecutor, are speaking (or at least pretending to speak) in legalese ("I up-check, yonner!" "Up-checktion over-rude!" "May I reproach the bench, yonner?" "Up-stained! I will make an ocean to search and seashore your whatever."). Finally their cousin (who's playing the defendant) admits, "I ain't gettin' none of this." To which he's told, "You just don't understand court talk, James."

What struck me about this is how a group of six-year-olds attempting to reenact a legal proceeding is quite a bit like our efforts to describe and understand God. We've gleaned a certain rudimentary understanding of who God is by studying the Bible, observing the universe and comparing notes over the course of millennia, but for all of that we still only barely know what we're talking about.

God, being far, far larger than anything we could ever begin to imagine, has to speak to us in much the same way that an adult would speak to a small child. The child simply doesn't have the knowledge or points of reference to fully understand the nuances of adult conversation. This is acknowledged at least to some extent by most Christians, who recognize that a being capable of speaking the entire universe into being is necessarily larger than we are.

So why, then, do we become so arrogant about what we do know? From the few things God has told us, we presume that we can know His will for everyone and understand all of His plans and intentions. In this we are just like the kindergartner who decides he should be boss of the playground because he's smarter than the rest of his classmates (he was the first to learn his ABC's, don't you know).

And no, I'm not advocating that all paths to God are equally valid; that seems as presumptuous as claiming that we couldn't be wrong about anything important. And I'm not suggesting that truth is completely unknowable - just that it's more than a short list of simplistic yes-or-no propositions. No matter how right we think we are, the best way to approach any disagreement is with an attitude of humility, acknowledging that the other person, whether or not they're ultimately right, may know something that we don't.

There is so much to be learned from those who disagree with us, yet so many times we as Christians proceed with the assumption that all non-Christians are wrong about everything and that anything we disagree with must be stamped out and eradicated from the face of the earth (by force, if necessary). Some Christians even hold this attitude toward members of other denominations that they only disagree with over minor points of doctrine.

And yet the same Bible that we use to pummel our opponents tells us just how limited our knowledge is. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (I Cor. 13:12)

Just as a parent tells a small child what she needs to know to learn and grow, so God shows us what we need to know, through the Bible, through the people around us, and through those moments when he speaks directly to us. What he doesn't tell us is how to run everyone else's lives; we may be able to speak into their lives at particular points in time, but ultimately we can never know them intimately enough to understand God's will for their lives.

And how do we speak into another person's life? In a variety of ways, but rarely if ever through ultimatums and one-size-fits-all ten-step solutions. And seldom when we expect.

In the end, actions speak far louder and more authoritatively than words ever could. It's time to drop the superiority complex and prove that we've got something special. Do you really care about the gay couple you're "speaking the truth in love" to? Then put a lid on the rhetoric and show them your love. Whatever God may want to do in their lives, it's a lot less likely to happen if you're standing in His place and dictating to them what you think He wants.

1 comment:

Peterson Toscano said...

Hi eugene, excellent post. Over on my blog a interesting and at times insightful discussion is going on. I quoted you and put a link to your site since you can add so much to what is being said (and not said).

You can read the comments here

Looking forward to hanging out.