Friday, May 29, 2015

Judaism and the Mystical Christ, Ch. 2: The Bible and Communication Theory

Note: This is part of an ongoing series entitled "Judaism and the Mystical Christ".  I have created a blog entry containing the table of contents linking to each article which may be accessed here:

Table of Contents


The Bible and Communication Theory
In my last post, I explored the topic of what is called a paradigm shift, and mentioned that I had experienced a few of these myself.  The overarching theme of this series has to do with how gaining a perspective on Judaism reshapes the way we perceive the meaning of the Bible, Jesus, and faith itself, and leads us towards what I will call "Mystical Christ".

But before I begin to explore these ideas I would like to address the elephant in the room - namely, the way that we read the Bible.  It has become a very popular notion within Western Christianity that the Bible functions in a way that is very similar to a gavel - one slams down a Bible verse taken out of context and then triumphantly shouts "the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!"  Case closed.  The one who struck the gavel now expects their "opponent" to walk away in shame while they may now hold their head high.

This attitude and behavior is usually the result of being steeped within a culture that teaches that the Bible is "inerrant".  But there are a few problems with this starting point - the first of which, I'd like to point out, does not require that we reject the term "inerrant" when describing the Bible.  It has to do with a theory for how communication works.

J.L. Austin was a British philosopher of language who lived in the mid 1900's, and whom developed a theory of speech acts.  The theory states that when a "speech act" occurs, there are multiple things happening simultaneously.  The first part of a "speech act" is referred to as a locution, and this is the "material" of the act.  It could be a physical and audible utterance of words, a writing of some sort, or some form of art (such as a painting or play).

But for this locution to be a speech act, it requires a bit more.  First of all, it cannot be a speech act if there is no audience.  But secondly, there must be some meaning which the locutor intended to convey to his or her audience.  This intended meaning is the second part of the speech act, and is referred to as the interlocution.  But interlocution is a bit more than the intended meaning - because in order for a speech act to be considered successful, we must endeavor to ascertain whether the meaning intended by the locutor is the same meaning that was perceived by the audience - so the interlocution is not only the intended meaning but it is also the perceived meaning, and these may not always match up.

The final part of a speech act is called the perlocution.  The perlocution is also broken up into two parts, as in the case of the interlocution - it is both the desired effect or result of the speech act, and the actual effect or result of the speech act.  So for us to deem a speech act to be successful, we ought to try to match up the locutor's desired effect with the actual effect it had on the audience.

One of the common fault lines where a speech act breaks down and fails to be successful is when it is "taken out of context".  Let me give you an example: let's say that I dramatically blurt out with a tone of despair "where has all the salt gone?  Is there any salt left in this world?"  The locution is not merely the collection of words, but it is also the mannerism in which I said these things - my dramatic tone of despair.  Without this context, one might miss the point and incorrectly perceive the interlocution, as well as failing to perform the correct perlocution.  But the problem of correctly perceiving interlocution and applying perlocution does not end there - we should also ask where and when I made this speech.  

Let me give you a few examples where the context completely changes both the interlocution and the perlocution of the statement I mentioned.

In the first example, I'd like you to imagine that I have been having dinner with my wife and some good friends at my house, and we have been having a very enjoyable time.  At some point during the evening, I ask for the salt to be passed to me.  When it arrives, I turn the salt shaker over only to discover that no salt comes out.  This is the lead up to my dramatic exclamation of despair: "where has all the salt gone?  Is there any salt left in this world?"

With this setup, one might guess that my tone of dramatic despair is hyperbolic and meant to be humorous. Thus, my interlocution - or intended meaning - could be a joke, meant to result in a multifaceted perlocution.  If the result of my utterance is for everyone at the table to laugh, and for my wife to refill the salt shaker, this actual result is very likely a good match for my desired result.

Now, before I move on to my second example, I'd like my readers to imagine that one of the people at the table decided to quote my exact words on Twitter or Facebook without any of the setup.  How likely do you think it would be that the online audience would perceive the correct interlocution and perlocution?

In my second example, let's say that we place my words in a completely different context: I have been participating in a Bible study group that has just been studying and discussing Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount", and after discussing Matthew 5:13 where Jesus says that his disciples are "the salt of the earth" for a bit, we begin to discuss how so many people who claim to be Christians do not resemble the things Jesus mentions in the rest of his sermon.  It is within this context that I then dramatically blurted out "where has all the salt gone?  Is there any salt left in this world?"  Within this new context, do you think that I am hoping that everyone in the room will laugh, and then someone will run home to grab a salt shaker and bring it back to me?

In addition to the context in which the locution occurs, we might also want to pay attention to the context of the locutor - the character we are able to know about the person who spoke.  In the example I gave of the dinner party where I dramatically and despairingly uttered "where has all the salt gone?  Is there any salt left in this world?", those who know me (perhaps even just from one dinner) might have perceived that I have a certain sense of humor, and this context might have given them more of a foundation on which to build the assumption that I was being hyperbolic in an attempt to cause laughter.

Another example of how context changes meaning -
I'd like you to consider the following conversation:
Jane: Would you like some coffee?
John: That would keep me awake.
Do we know at this point whether John wants coffee?  The answer is that we don't, because this conversation is too ambiguous.  Even if we had access to John's tone of voice and facial expressions when he answered, it would still be very difficult.  However, if we knew whether this conversation occurred in the morning or in the evening, this context would give us a fairly accurate idea of whether John actually wanted coffee or not (keep in mind there could be other factors, i.e.: is this in the evening, and John and Jane are on a road trip and need to stay awake?).

In the case of the Bible - if we wish to ascertain the interlocution and perceive the desired perlocution of a writer such as Paul, we might want to pay careful attention to his other writings so that we do not make a judgment call on one statement that contradicts a large portion of his other writings - to do this would be to completely ignore the context of his character.  But we also need to know as much as we can about Paul's Jewishness, as well as the history of the time period he lived in, and the common traits of the environments of the various places his audiences resided in.  Because without this context, we may have completely missed the desired interlocution and perlocution and substituted our own.

One final and very simple illustration might help drive the point about the importance of context home.  In the parable of "The Good Samaritan", Jesus says that "a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho" (Lk. 10:30).  With our modern context and the access we have to maps with north being located "up" and south being "down", we might assume that Jericho was located to the south of Jerusalem.  But one look at a map challenges this:

Now what do we do with this challenge to our assumptions?  One option might be to declare the mapmaker a heretic who has challenged the integrity of God's Word and is denying the authority of the scriptures (hey, the Church did this to Galileo and Copernicus).  We might demand that people ignore such maps and draw maps placing Jericho to the south of Jerusalem.  Another option would be to say that Jesus was ignorant, and thus was wrong.  Another might be to say that Jesus never said this, but rather it was Luke who was ignorant and wrong.  And yet another option might be to say that either Jesus or Luke were trying to deceive us.  Or, we could attempt to place ourselves within the historical context and realize that because they did not have the access to maps in this period that we do, and because Jerusalem was at a higher elevation than Jericho and thus the experience of walking from Jerusalem to Jericho was a journey down a very long hill, the assumed meaning of down in that culture had more to do with elevation than with geography.

It is for this reason that I will be attempting to enlist the help of Jewish thought throughout this series - because I believe that without understanding Jewish thought, we cannot help but misunderstand the Bible.  Westerners - thinking through a very Western lens - cannot possibly understand the very Jewish and Eastern Jesus if we do not attempt to immerse ourselves within their thinking.  The modern Western versions of Christianity have all too often suffered from the arrogance of thinking that they hold a monopoly on truth and do not have to listen to any outsiders.  And when we do this, we forget how our traditions have grown out of much older traditions.  As the English writer Aldous Huxley once put it:
Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born - the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people’s experience, the victim insofar as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness.

The Finger is not the Moon
I have written before on why I reject the idea of "inerrancy" (see here, here, and here), so I am not going to rehash this debate again here.  But I would like to try once again to offer an alternative vision for the purpose of the Bible. 

I believe that we are meant to see an overarching story within the Bible - an ongoing narrative the leads up to the person of Jesus.  But it doesn't even stop there!  I believe it continues on in the narrative of the "body of Christ" - the church!  We are meant to carry on the story! 

So for me, I believe that if we take any section of the Bible and treat it like a "stopping point", we have made an idol out of that scripture.  Consider the Bible as if it were a telescope - the point is not the telescope itself, but what it enables us to see!  If we revere the telescope too much, we will completely miss the point!  I believe that "Sola Scriptura inerrancy" is essentially holding a telescope up to our eye while covering the end with our hand - at that point, you're really just making up fantasies about the heavens in your own head.

This idea is very similar to something the Buddha said: 

[M]y teaching is a method to experience reality, and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. An intelligent person makes use of the finger to see the moon. A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon. My teaching is a means of practice, not something to hold onto or worship. Only a fool would continue to carry his raft around after he had already used it to reach the other shore, the shore of liberation.
If we do not open ourselves up to the various possibilities of what the symbolic language of the Bible is pointing to, it is like worshiping the finger that is pointing to the moon.

I think it helps to understand that all our words are symbols.  Louis Chauvet describes the meaning of symbol in "Symbol and Sacrament" as follows:

If one construed it transitively, one would translate it, according to the context, as "gather together", "hold in common", or "exchange". The substantive symbole designates the joint at the elbow or knee and, more generally, the whole idea of conjunction, reunion, contract, or pact. The ancient symbolon is precisely an object cut in two, one part of which is retained by each partner in a contract. Each half evidently has no value in itself and thus could imaginatively signify anything; its symbolic power is due only to its connection with the other half. It (can thus be described) as an agreement between the two partners which establishes the symbol; it is the expression of a social pact based on mutual recognition and, hence, is a mediator of identity.
The idea that the words we use are always inadequate for describing the reality they symbolize is even a concept many scientists have grasped - as is illustrated by the following quote by Sir James Hopwood Jeans (known for the Rayleigh-Jeans Law):
The essential fact is simply that all the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures. Most scientists would agree that they are nothing more than pictures - fictions, if you like, if by fiction you mean that science is not yet in contact with ultimate reality. Many would hold that, from the broad philosophical standpoint, the outstanding achievement of twentieth-century physics is not the theory of relativity with its welding together of space and time, or the theory of quanta with its present apparent negation of the laws of causation, or the dissection of the atom with the resultant discovery that things are not what they seem; it is the general recognition that we are not yet in contact with ultimate reality.
To apply this to the Bible, I would like my audience to consider that the Bible may function as a scatter plot pointing off into infinity.  A scatter plot is a tool that enables us to see how many samples of data over time show a trend that is occurring:

To use another, similar analogy, if you have seen the movie "Gravity", there is a scene where Sandra Bullock's character is trying to reach a space station.  Before firing thrusters, she lines up her cross-hairs with the tiny speck that she sees of the space station in the distance.  She does this very carefully - making sure to get the sights lined up perfectly before firing her thrusters.  And yet, when she is close to the space station, she ends up having to jump out of the ship's side door and do some tricky maneuvers in order to get to the station because her course was not perfect.  I believe that what many people do with the Bible is like sailing right on past the space station while insisting that your course was perfect and therefore while it may look like the space-station is over there, that's just Satan lying to us!  This displays a remarkable arrogance!

As I spoke of in the last section, I believe that God may be described best in various terms of infinity.  And thus, logically we may conclude that any single description which tries to solidify the infinite concepts of God into a solid form will ultimately fail.  This is why I believe that over the course of the narrative of the Bible, we will see a trend developing that points off into infinity, much like a scatter plot.  But if we take one of those points of data and solidify it into a definitive concept, we couldn't possibly understand the path of the trend.  Or, if we point the line of the scatter plot trend in the wrong direction (as in, we take "the wrathful God of the Old Testament" as our defining image rather than the God Jesus shows us who loves enemies perfectly), we have also missed the trend of the scatter plot.

To say this is not to say that the Old Testament passages have no value or do not help us to see God!  Rather, we must understand that God is present within the Old Testament, but as God is infinite, these old understandings had to be transcended - and we see these understandings continually being transcended, just as we are called today to transcend old, limiting understandings of the infinite.  I believe this attitude of recognizing the finitude of our current understanding in order to transcend it is what Paul was speaking of in I Corinthians 3:18:
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.
Paul recognized that "for now we see in a mirror dimly" (I Cor. 13:12), and that God - being infinite - was fully outside any man's ability to grasp truth.  And so in order to continually grow closer one must become "foolish" in the eyes of the world, in order to, paradoxically, become wise.

This attitude of continually transcending our limited understanding transforms the language of the Bible from a dead, rigid form of stone into living, breathing truth.  And for those who have been trained their whole life to be dogmatic, while treating the Bible in this way may be difficult, I would like to remind you that Abraham negotiated with God (Gen. 18:23-33), Jacob wrestled with God before he was blessed by Him (Gen. 32:22-31), Moses negotiated with God more than once (see Ex. 3:12-16 and Num. 11 for two examples), the Psalms and Lamentations are full of pleading and even accusation against God (shocking!), and even Jesus is said to have plead with God to change the course he was on.  

I think that the Jewish attitude towards the Bible is much healthier than "Sola Scriptura inerrancy" - recognizing how various figures in the Bible negotiated with God as I've just mentioned, they seemed to understand that the Bible is up for interpretation and that newer understandings may trump older ones.  We'll get into that a bit more as this series progresses, but for now I'd like to share a story from the Talmud.  The Talmud is a very interesting collection of commentaries on the Torah, and is revered by modern Jews as being a work every Jew should study.  And what's interesting about it is that the Talmud doesn't hide disagreement, but preserves it - often polar opposite views of a passage or idea are kept side by side.  And there is one beautiful story that demonstrates perfectly how the Jewish view of the Bible flies in the face of "Sola Scriptura inerrancy" - the story of Rabbi Eliezer and the oven, which I will retell in my own way.  

The story goes that Rabbi Eliezer had a disagreement with a group of other scholars over whether an oven was pure or impure.  Rabbi Eliezer brought the other scholars all sorts of proofs to his point of view, but they still disagreed.  At one point during the disagreement, Eliezer said "if the law is as I say, let the river prove me right!"  Instantly, the river reversed its course.

But one of the other scholars said "one cannot prove a matter of Torah by the flow of water!"

So Eliezer said "if the law is as I say, may the walls of the study hall prove me right!"  Instantly, the walls of the study hall began to cave in, but one of the other rabbis, Rabbi Joshua, stood up and rebuked them: "if Torah scholars are debating a point of Jewish law, what are your qualifications to intervene?"  The story goes that the walls, in respect to Rabbi Joshua, did not cave in, but in respect towards Rabbi Eliezer they remained at a permanent slant afterwards.

So Rabbi Eliezer tried once more: "if the law is as I say, may Heaven prove me right!"  A booming voice filled the room and reverberated around them all: "why do you argue with Rabbi Eliezer?  Don't you know he's always right?"  But once again, Rabbi Joshua stood up and intervened, saying "the Torah is not in Heaven!"

We might fail to follow the logic here, given the Christian over-reverence of the Bible that turns it into an idol.  But Jews interpret Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to mean that Torah was given to us so that we could interpret it.  In other words, the popular understanding of this tale from the Talmud is that Rabbi Joshua was rebuking God for not allowing them to do the job He'd given them to do!  Note how Jesus actually supports this idea when he tells his disciples in Matthew 18:18 that "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" - in Jewish terminology, when a Rabbi "binds" something, he is declaring it forbidden by his interpretation of the law, and when he "looses" something he is declaring it allowed.  So here, Jesus is giving us permission to interpret!

The story of Rabbi Eliezer and the oven goes on from there to arrive at a conclusion many "Sola Scriptura inerrantists" might find shocking - Rabbi Nathan is said to have experienced a vision wherein he meets the prophet Elijah, and at one point Nathan asks how God reacted at the moment that Rabbi Joshua rebuked Heaven.  Elijah responds: "God laughed and said 'my children have bested me!  Haha, my children have bested me!'"  

This picture of a God delighted with His children for exercising their wits and even disagreeing with their Heavenly Father is altogether foreign from many forms of Christianity, sadly.  We cower in fear underneath a tyrannical Molech that we've slapped Christian branding over.  But the God of Judaism wants us to negotiate with Him.  This God wants us to think for ourselves!  This God wants us to cry out for justice - because it is at this moment that He can invite us to join him in the cause!

Dr. Ismar Schorsch, the sixth chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, put it this way:

[I]n Judaism precisely because the Torah is revered as divine, it becomes susceptible to unending interpretation. It would be a denigration of God's word to saddle it with just a single meaning. In contrast to human speech, which carries a finite range of meanings, the language of God was deemed to be endowed with an infinity of meanings. This theology freed the Rabbis to do midrash, creating the anomaly of a canon without closure. The vessels kept changing their contents. New challenges elicited new insights into a text inviolable only on the surface.
If we can just remember that the words we use for Theology are not what they represent, but are symbols for what we are speaking of - like a finger pointing to the moon - we can ease so much tension.  And then we may not feel the need to demonize those who use different words.  If we could just remember that the point is not the words themselves, but the way of life that these words are supposed to lead to - maybe we'd stop judging people by what words they use but put emphasis on conduct instead.  Because the point is not words or "beliefs" - as James 1:27 points out:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
And later on in James 3:13, the author writes:
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
George MacDonald - a member of the Inklings whom C.S. Lewis called his "master" - picked up on this principle and wrote in one of his "Unspoken Sermons" titled "The Truth in Jesus":
Yes; for to hold a thing with the intellect, is not to believe it. A man’s real belief is that which he lives by; and that which the man I mean lives by, is the love of God, and obedience to his law, so far as he has recognized it. [...] What a man believes, is the thing he does.
In "Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian", Dr. Paul Knitter writes about this attitude of allowing words to be symbols that point to a way of life:
[I]f a new interpretation of – that is, new words for – a traditional Christian belief enables people to live their lives according to the spirit of the Gospel, it’s probably a faithful “reinterpretation” or a valid new understanding of that belief, no matter how different the words may be. In theological jargon, right acting (called “orthopraxis”) is more important than, though it is dependent on, right believing (“ orthodoxy”). Or in contemporary jargon, walking the talk is more important than talking the talk. So, if the new “talk” enables us to keep walking, it’s probably okay. It’s probably “orthodox.”
To illustrate even further how the Bible is not "The Truth" but functions as a finger pointing to the moon, I'd like to consider the words of Jesus in John 5:39:
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.
We see here that Jesus himself challenged an idolatrous relationship with the Bible, but tells us that the Bible functions as a finger pointing to the moon.  As George MacDonald - who is credited with the conversion of C.S. Lewis - puts it:
Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever-unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," not the Bible, save as leading to Him.
This idea is further reiterated by authors John Kronen and Eric Reitan in "God's Final Victory":
[W]e think that the way in which Scripture contributes to the formation of doctrine is far more complex than the 'plain sense' view would have us believe.  The whole text must be read in light of what is central, namely Christ, and in light of the theological tradition that has struggled, and continues to struggle, to integrate the experience of the Christian community and its members as they have endeavoured to live out their understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ.  Reading the text in the light of these things requires a practice of receiving inherited theological conclusions with respect and honour; but it also requires critical engagement with that inheritance.
Even Augustine saw that we must identify the guiding principles of Scripture which take precedence over the peripherals:
But any who understand a passage in the scriptures to mean something which the writer did not mean are mistaken . . . but all the same . . . if they are mistaken in a judgment which is intended to build up love . . . they are mistaken in the same sort of way as people who go astray off the road, but still proceed by rough paths to the same place as the road was taking them. God spoke the true word, in spite of the reader’s error.
Here we see that Augustine paid careful attention to the priority of love - as both Jesus and Paul said that the principles of Scripture are summed up in love (see Mt. 22:36-40 and Gal. 5:14).  If the thought of prioritizing principles in the Scriptures that take precedence over peripherals makes you uncomfortable, I'd like you to understand that you do this as well even if you're unconscious of this.  It's highly likely that if you're reading this post in 2015, you prioritize monogamy over the passages within Scripture that seem to support polygamy, you don't support slavery (even though Scripture seems to be ok with it), and if a male joins your church you probably don't take him into a back room and have him pull his pants down so that you can make sure he's circumcised before allowing him to join.

If you're still not sold on this attitude towards the Bible, I'd like to come at this from one more angle before we break.

One of the ways that the Bible - and not just the Bible, but all Eastern religions - hints at a "truth beyond words" is through the use of paradox.  To illustrate how a paradox works, I'd like you to examine a famous illustration called "My Wife and My Mother-in-law":

You've probably seen this before, and the question that is asked is: do you see the back of a beautiful young woman's head or the side of an old woman's face?  And the answer is: it depends on how you're looking!  It's actually both.  Now we could say "well, it's supposed to be one or the other" and then explain how one view must be the correct one - but that wouldn't do the illustration justice!  Because the illustration is meant to illustrate a profound truth - that the mother-in-law has characteristics very much like the daughter, and the daughter has characteristics very much like the mother-in-law!  Or to put it another way - one can see the daughter in the mother-in-law and the mother-in-law in the daughter!

Now what many theologians all too often do is very much like insisting that the illustration above must be either the daughter or the mother-in law.  And so they'll often try to pretend that Biblical evidence doesn't exist - much like if we were to erase a few lines from the drawing above (maybe the red part) and then insist that it is only the daughter.  But what if the only way to communicate the profound mysteries of spiritual truth were to use two seemingly opposing ideas (a paradox)?

There are many paradoxes within the Bible, but I am going to focus on one very important one - a paradox that is foundational for "Mystical Christianity".  It is the paradox of kenosis and God's sovereignty.  

I argued in the first "chess move" of my series on Hell that verses like Job 42:2, Psalm 135:6, Isaiah 14:24-27, Daniel 4:35, Matthew 19:26, Romans 11:36, and Ephesians 1:11 imply that in the end, God gets everything God wants - or in other words, God is sovereign.  Another way of saying this is that God is omnipotent - this is a popular way of putting it in theological terms.

But an interesting paradox presents itself when you consider that Jesus is, as Colossians 1:15 puts it: "the image of the invisible God."  Because we know that Jesus emptied himself, as Philippians 2:7 puts it.  The Greek word used in this verse is kenosis, and it implies a self-emptying.  The passage in Philippians goes on to explain that because Jesus humbled himself, he was exalted - which matches quite well with Jesus' saying that "whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (Mt. 23:12 and Lk. 14:11).

If Jesus is indeed "the image of the invisible God", then would this imply that God's nature is a self-emptying one as well?  Many theologians have concluded that the answer to this is: yes!  And this presents us with a profound mystery - because in God we see power in a way of being that looks to us like weakness!

If this sounds like nonsense, then I suggest you re-examine Paul's words in 2 Cor. 12:10 - he implies that Christians are to emulate this strength through weakness!

Let's come at this from another angle - I John 4:8 and 16 tell us that God is love.  If you have a hard time with this idea, I'd ask you to read another post I wrote titled: "Yes, God Really IS Love!"  But if this is true, then I believe that, logically, when we read Paul's wonderful poetry on the nature of love in I Corinthians 13, we can take this as a description of God's character - in other words, wherever it says "love", we can substitute the word "God".  And if we do this, we find a profound paradox - because God does not demand His own way (verse 5 in NLT, or as the NASB puts it: "love does not seek its own"), and yet God never fails! (I Cor. 13:8)

Somehow - though it may make no sense to human logic - though God does not force His way into being or coerce others to do His will, God still gets everything God wants in the end!  And as Christians who are to be followers of Jesus, I believe that if we align ourselves with this way of being - by taking on the nature of a servant and gaining through losing (Phil. 3:7-8) - we will have aligned ourselves with the will of God and will receive the inheritance of the kingdom of God (Col. 3:23-24) - which is the realm in which, as the Lord's Prayer puts it (Mt. 6:10), God's will is done.  Through kenosis - the self-emptying nature of love - we may become conquerors (Rom. 8:37) - just as Jesus conquered through emptying himself even to the point of death!

To see the truth in the Bible, we cannot deny one side of the many paradoxes it contains - but rather we must see the "radical middle" - the truth that is communicated in between the two seemingly opposing ideas.

There is another Buddhist story that illustrates what I've been trying to get at.  The story goes that a young, single father had a son whom he loved more than anything else in the world.  One day, while he was away, some plunderers came to the father's village and burnt most of it down - including the father's house.  When the father returned, he could not find his son, and mistook one of the burnt corpses for his son's body.  He was completely devastated, and during his mourning he had the body cremated and the ashes put into a silk bag that he kept with himself at all times.  But what he didn't know was that his son was alive - he had been kidnapped by the plunderers!  

Later on, the boy managed to escape and returned home to his father.  But the door of the house was locked, and so the boy knocked.  "Who is it?" the father asked.  "It's me, your son!"  The father had been sitting in the room weeping while holding the bag of ashes, and he said "you wicked boy!  How could you play such a horrible trick on a heartbroken father - go away!"  The boy continued to knock and cry and plead to be let in, but the father continued to rebuke him until finally the son left and never returned.

In "No Death, No Fear", Thich Nhat Hanh tells this story and concludes with this thought:
The Buddha said that if you get caught in one idea and consider it to be “the truth,” then you miss the chance to know the truth. Even if the truth comes in person and knocks at your door, you will refuse to open your mind. So if you are committed to an idea about truth or to an idea about the conditions necessary for your happiness, be careful. 
Likewise, the medieval German mystic Meister Ekhart once said:
If you want to get at the kernel of something, you must first break the shell. Only then can you enjoy its true benefits. Symbols of reality are not the same as reality itself, so they must be destroyed. Then you will come closer and closer to what truly is. When you finally reach the One, there your soul must remain.

Next Chapter: What is Christian Mysticism?

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