Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Taking Flight 

A coward will remain, Sir,
Until the fight is done;
But an immortal hero
Will take his hat, and run!

—Emily Dickinson

Some years ago I spent part of a Christmas vacation with our son Josh, who was then a commercial crab fisherman, living in a one–room log cabin in Girdwood, Alaska. 

One very cold morning I was getting dressed, standing as close to the wood-burning stove as possible, while Josh went outside to shovel snow off his driveway. His dog followed him. 

A few moments later I heard Josh shout at the dog and I looked out of the front door to see both of them sprinting for the cabin, hotly pursued by an outraged cow moose whose calf the dog had been pestering. Josh and the dog tumbled through the door and into the cabin in a wild flurry of ice and snow with the aggrieved mother hot on their heels! Fortunately, she skidded to a halt just outside the cabin door. 

In certain situations, it's best to take one's hat and run.

Apropos of which Paul writes: "Flee youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife" (2Timothy 2:22,23).

Verse twenty-two is often quoted vis-a-vis sexual temptation, but the passion of which Paul writes has nothing to do with sex. In context, the text refers to flight from what Paul calls, "quarreling over words (14), "irreverent babble" (vs. 16), and foolish, ignorant controversies" (vs. 23), which things, he warns, "do no good, but only ruin the hearers" (vs. 14). 

Paul is saying something quite striking: We can teach the Bible in such a way that it produces ruin. 

The "youthful passions" to which Paul refers and from which we must flee are the inclinations of youthful (immature) teachers to dissect and debate the intricacies of a biblical text, and go no further. It is teaching that "circles 'round the head," but never pierces the heart. Not only does no good; it does great harm, producing a crop of quarrelsome, restive, contentious and competitive parishioners—devoid of love. [It's worth noting that Milton found the Devils in hell eternally out of sorts with one another, arguing about, "Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate—Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, and found no end, in wandering mazes lost."  "Vain wisdom all," he contended (Milton, Paradise Lost: 2.ii.558-190)].

To quote Augustine, “A man who knows that he owns a tree and thanks You for the use he has of it, even though he does not know its exact height or the width of its spread, is better than another who measures it and counts all its branches, but neither knows nor loves its Creator.” Truth, when acquired, should lead us to love God and seek God-likeness. Put another way, the goal of our teaching is not knowledge, per se—that’s gnosticism—but "righteousness, faith, love, and peace" (vs. 22). 

Our hearers may go away understanding the grammar, syntax, historical-cultural background and theology of a biblical text, but if their hearts are untouched by love we have contributed to their ruin. 

From such we must "take our hat and run."

David Roper


Brian K said...

Knowledge puffeth up but Love edifideth!
I think it was Billy Graham who said that the opposite of Love isn't hate, but selfishness. And boy does our country have a problem with this.

Dieter Schlaepfer said...

I noticed that the "youthful passions" that Paul advises Timothy to flee from is plural, and it made me think about what other things Paul had in mind, and why he wasn't specific.

It's also interesting to note the parallel structure of Paul's advice, which reminds me of similar parallels in other parts of the Bible:

Flee X but pursue Y
Refuse X but be Y and do Z

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