So many voices. So many platforms to proliferate opinion. I remember too well my own posture of rightness. I was insecure, confused, believing I was the sum of my beliefs. If your ideas confronted the security of my convictions, I would consider this a threat and usually turn on the offensive. Genuine communication, dialogue, and learning ceases when we become defensive. Dialogue turns into theater, each taking their turn to outwit or undermine the other’s idea. Winning a debate becomes the goal of the certain. Like a professional boxer, each argument becomes a bout that either improves or diminishes the value of the soul with misplaced securities.
We are not the sum of our beliefs. We simply are.
Friere speaks of the dangers of those who “suffer from an absence of doubt” (Vella 2008). Those who possess unquestioned certainty oppress and attempt to dominate others. For much of my faith journey, I was on a quest to subdue the doubt within. Like a jenga piece that is holding up the entire structure, those that touched my doubts were met with hostile reaction. Of course I would smile and make a few jokes along the way, but inside my ideological world was at war, and I had to win to maintain my projected value. Doubt, uncertainty, questions, were viewed as weakness. Over time, I’ve begun to embrace these virtues as essential to continued growth in healthy relatedness to others.
There’s something more beautiful than being right. It’s found in being.
The difficulty with finding our identity in our ‘being’, instead of in our beliefs, is that when we look into the mirror, I mean when we truly look honestly into the depths of our humanity, what we find is not pretty. We are a self-seeking, fearful, broken people – all of us, hiding behind what Benner refers to as fig leaves of concealment. It’s much easier to hide behind clever argument, projecting that person of certainty. The problem is however although we may be right, unless we know ourselves, we can also be completely deceived.
Novem te, novem me.. became a prayer of Augustine, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself, that I may know thee.” As Kempis suggests, “A humble self-knoweledge is a surer way to God than a search for deep learning.” This is a pursuit of knowledge that humbles the heart, and lovingly wreaks havoc on our false certainties.
Socrates taught his students to master facts, topics, within the context of logical dialogue. The end result was not certainty, but learning itself. It’s interesting to read even Plato emphasized perplexity as the end result of meaningful dialogue. If the philosophers were alive today, I think they’d be amazed at our certainty.
The posture of critique also tempts us toward the academic fallacy of believing that once we have analyzed something, we have understood it.Andy Crouch
400 years after Socrates, a humble carpenter turned the world upside down with a revolutionary idea; master mercy, not knowledge.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was hanging out with societies outcasts, the despised. He was dining with tax-gatherers and prostitutes. Jesus overheard the religious leaders condemnation, and says something I think that still speaks to us today.
“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go an learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice; for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:12-13
At first glance, Jesus instruction to ‘go and learn what this means’ seems odd. We understand that the sinners around Jesus table are the sick, and the so-called healthy are the religious Pharisees. Why does Jesus tell them to go ponder the idea that God desires compassion, or mercy, over sacrifice? The Pharisees obviously didn’t understand this, or Jesus wouldn’t have rebuked them so publicly.
Jesus is referencing old testament scriptures:
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.Hosea 6:6
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.1 Sam 15:22
I think the safest place to begin meaningful dialogue is from an ontological (nature of being) perspective. That is, what makes us all equal in our being? Jesus says the world (we) is sick, under the disease of sin. Things are not as they should be, but God has come in Christ to provide remedy.
We have been invited through God’s mercy in Jesus to sit, and gather around the Great Physicians table. We don’t have to clean up first, get some fancy clothes or memorize facts. There are no hoops to jump through to earn our place at the table of communion. Somewhere along the line, particularly in religious circles, we forget the nature of our being – and like the Pharisees, we climb back into the flimsy deceptive places of self-righteousness, we convince ourselves of health, we’re good, we’re right, and you are wrong.
When we look intently, bravely, into our soul and allow the Spirit to shine in holy brilliance, we embrace the truth of our deep brokenness. This produces a humility that grids our entire being, puts into perspective whatever debate set before us, and opens our eyes to the fellow needy sinner before us. Without going to this place of painful recognition, we will never know the beauty of healing.
The world needs a people certain of the mercy of Jesus. We cannot give others what we are not receiving.
We are deeply broken, but deeply loved. When we forget or fail to hold both truths, we enter our world (home, work, social media etc.) from a place of deceit, not truth. In our pursuit of ‘truth’ we’ve stumbled out of the gate to find it.
I think Jesus was essentially saying to the Pharisees, “There is mercy being poured out right now around this table, but you would rather focus on another mercy, a lesser mercy, a mercy through religious duty that makes you feel better, right, and superior.”
The sacrificial system was in place for those who failed to embrace the loving mercy of God in the first place. For the religious, these ‘acts of service’ define them, they can’t conceive of a value outside of merit. All sacrifice was pointing to the perfect sacrifice once for all in the Person of Jesus, there He was, in living color and yet religion would rather argue.
Religious observances, reading your bible, praying, going to church, taking communion, singing worship songs with others on a certain day, these are not bad things, but they do not merit the mercy or healing power of Jesus over your broken soul. When you treat your actions as meritorious to securing God’s love over your life, you’ve missed the first mercy, you’re offering up a sacrifice in place of Christ. These helpful things can turn on anyone who trusts in them. Before you know it, you are criticizing those who’ve found freedom and mercy at the table of Jesus. If they had known their deep need for a Savior, they would be gathered around the table with their fellow humanity, not arguing against Christ and His followers. They were in a false place of being.
Jesus sends the certain away to ponder mercy. He rejects the proud, because nobody truly deserves to be around this table. The only thing to boast in, is the beauty of knowing Creator’s love! Pass the bread, so good to be here with you!
Certainty is the culprit. The spiritual person knows uncertainty—a state of mind unknown to the religious fanatic.Richard Rohr
I read recently, “pray for doubt.” I like this idea. It seems contradictory, but it’s what religious zeal needs. Our world needs Christ, not religion. Anytime we focus on being right, we fail to see the person in front of us and recognize our own plight – we don’t need to be right anymore, because we are loved in the Father. Let’s share the delights of being accepted in Christ, inviting others to gather around the table of mercy. This is the Gospel, the news the world might actually find good.
It’s been a journey of self discovery to realize I was motivated to argue and debate out of fear. Fear that someone might actually see me for who I really was. All the while, Jesus invitation was there. He let me strive, study, earn, and debate for years. Thank you Jesus for the place of rest, abiding, a new posture as a life long learner. I don’t have to be right, because I am… loved.
Do you know this love? Abundance of food at the table of sinners!
“It is a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”1 Timothy 1: 15