I’m thankful to Pastor Samuel Cole and Pastor Dena Cole for bringing this wisdom to the front of my mind, where it belongs. Before anything else, I want to pay tribute to my dear friend. Pastor Sam, we haven’t seen each other for some time now, but you remain close to my heart and regularly in my prayers. When I was starting on my journey of faith, you gave me the most powerful encouragement, and you showed me what it means to be salt and light in a world so bereft of both. You have continued to inspire me through the years. I don’t think there’s another human being who has done more to strengthen my confidence in the goodness of God in all circumstances. I’ve learned so much from you, and I love you. Thank you, my brother.
Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. (Psalm 86:11)
Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalm 143:10)
Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. (Psalm 27:11)
Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. (Psalm 119:33)
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. (Psalm 32:8)
Too many people speak and act as if they know it all. It’s a common human failing but it bothers me more when I see it in Christians. And I see plenty of it, sometimes in person, and very often online.
Why does it bother me more? Because we of all people, who recognise the almighty power and knowledge of our Creator, should also recognise how small we are in comparison, how blinkered in our vision, how narrow in our knowledge.
And yet, when we should be demonstrating humility, instead we display hubris.
There was not one perfect man or woman until the birth of Christ, and there has been none since. If we really knew the whole truth we would be unable to sin – the knowledge of the consequences would make it impossible.
In fact, even as we recite “lean not on your own understanding” we are busy constructing our own personal moralities, interpreting scripture in our own image, and condemning others who do the same.
How many times has the church, the body of Christ, fractured into new sects and denominations? Occasionally this might be due to a difference of style, but more often it is about substance, about doctrine. When the splits number in the thousands, and still brothers and sisters sitting side by side in services can’t agree on one hundred per cent of Biblical interpretation, how can any one of us honestly believe they are the one who has finally understood God’s message clearly. Even Paul acknowledged the limits of our mortal understanding:
For now we see only a 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. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
There is a beautiful phrase, apparently not coined by St Augustine, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” If only we could all live by it, and in particular by the third clause, because in truth we can find it hard even to agree on what is essential. Our social, cultural and political biases will determine what matters most to us, and hence we define our essentials, and then comes judgement towards those whose definitions vary.
We need to return to the psalms. We need to ask our Lord to teach us His ways and His will. And we need to keep asking, always ready to repent when we learn that our previous understanding was incomplete or just plain wrong.
And we need to be charitable towards those with whom we disagree. Be respectful and kind. There’s no place for arrogance or presumption in the family of God. We are all still learning.