Sunday, November 30, 2008

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (3a) Bible citations

Here is a selection of Bible passages regarding the gift of the Holy Spirit "Knowledge." The first citation does not mention knowledge, but lists some of the formats of spiritual knowledge, such as law, decree and precepts. Notice the mention of "Fear of the Lord." This demonstrates once again the constancy of the need for that gift to be the basis of all of the other gifts.

Psalms 19:8-12
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The statues of the Lord are true, all of them just;
More desirable than gold, than a hoard of purest gold,
Sweeter also than honey or drippings from the comb.
By them your servant is instructed; obeying them brings much reward.

Proverbs 8:10
Receive my instruction in preference to silver,
And knowledge rather than choice gold.

Proverbs 9:10
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord,
And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

[This proverb is structured so that the reader understands that "Wisdom" is the highest gift, the culmination of the "intellectual gifts" followed by "Understanding" and "Knowledge." One has to first start with "Knowledge" about God, which leads to "Understanding," which then leads to "Wisdom."]

Proverbs 12:1
He who loves correction loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 19:2
Without knowledge even zeal is not good; and he who acts hastily, blunders.

[This proverb is an essential reminder that it is worse to be a zealot for God and go charging off in arrogance in his name without having any of the true "Knowledge" given by the Holy Spirit than it is to have the true "Knowledge" and appear to the zealot to be "lukewarm" in your faith. The zealot blunders and does much damage based on lack of the gift of "Knowledge," that authentically only comes from the Holy Spirit.]

Proverbs 21:11
When the arrogant man is punished, the simple are wiser;
When the wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.

[Many of the proverbs are phrased in thought stimulating ways. This one is saying that simple people who lack an education or much understanding understand role models, including negative ones, very clearly. So when simple people see an arrogant man punished for his arrogance, they have an infusion of "Wisdom" because they immediately comprehend the overall pattern and spiritual lesson. The next line is not a contrast to the first, but another perspective of how knowledge is gained. Here the holy author is observing that a man who already has "Wisdom" can still gain "Knowledge" by instruction, having no need for the role modeling since he already has "Wisdom." There is a lot in the Bible that is instructive in observing and comprehending everyday human nature in addition to the spiritual].

Ecclesiastes 1: 12-18
I, Qoheleth, was king over Israel in Jerusalem, and I applied my mind to search and investigate in wisdom all things that are done under the sun.
A thankless task God has appointed for men to be busied about.
I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after the wind.
What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is missing cannot be supplied.
Though I said to myself, “Behold, I have become great and stored up wisdom beyond all who were before me in Jerusalem, and my mind has broad experience of wisdom and knowledge”; yet when I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly, I learned that this also is a chase after wind.
For in much wisdom there is much sorrow, and he who stores up knowledge stores up grief.

[Despite his self identification, we do not know who is the author of this book of wisdom because Qoheleth is a pen name, a literary name, meaning “one who convokes an assembly.” However this is a valuable citation on the subject of knowledge because this divinely inspired learned man warns that the search for secular knowledge (“under the sun” means earthly human knowledge in comparison to heavenly or Holy Spirit provided knowledge) sometimes brings a lot of unhappiness. This is as I discussed with St. Paul’s observations in the previous posting that true knowledge is spiritual, while much of secular human knowledge leads to temptation and the seamy sides of life. This is what this author is describing that he experienced when he made it his calling to seek out human based “wisdom” and “knowledge” and ended up storing a lot of grief. When one goes looking just for human based knowledge, one sees a lot of human behavior that they wish they had not seen, and also, as we see today in modern times, there are slippery ethics slopes, seeking knowledge that is based in technology and power over life and death that gradually becomes a grief filled burden rather than a blessing.]

Wisdom 1:16, 2:13
It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it, because they deserve to be in its possession… [who]… professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord.

[In a long list of the attributes of the wicked, the learned sage who is the unknown author of this book mentions that one of the things that the wicked claim is that they have “knowledge of God.” This is yet another warning to discern between true “Knowledge” that is the gift of the Holy Spirit and the many false prophets and secularists who claim to have “knowledge of God” through wicked or occult means].

Wisdom 7:17
[God’s true wisdom] For he gave me sound knowledge of existing things, that I might know the organization of the universe and the force of its elements.

Sirach 3:24
Where the pupil of the eye is missing, there is no light, and where there is no knowledge there is no wisdom.

[The author, Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach, a sage who lived in Jerusalem, is explaining here that one must be humble to achieve wisdom and enlightenment because one must start with gaining true knowledge before one can be wise. Knowledge is like the pupil of the eye that gathers together the law and the facts in order to shed light on a matter, and thus be part of gained wisdom. This is yet another Biblical reference that shows knowledge to be the lowest and essential foundation of what will later be wisdom and understanding.]

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (3) Knowledge

Working our way up the list of gifts of the Holy Spirit, the next one to cultivate in the natural order of things and in consistency with the Holy Scripture is “Knowledge.” If one has cultivated one’s receptivity to the first gift, “Fear of the Lord,” and then the second gift, “Piety,” one must now obtain the specific knowledge that serving God requires. Thus “Knowledge” refers to the facts and “know how” of both life itself and faith. In the previous commentary in this series I noted that one can have a great deal of Piety without actually knowing how to serve God. For example, there have been in history many people devoted to God, who had the gifts of both “Fear of the Lord” and “Piety,” but never learned their Catechism or possess any particular knowledge of the teachings of God. This is not recommended, of course, but throughout human history, especially in spiritually impoverished places, that was and is a fact of life for many people. In fact, that is the road that most who live in for example an atheist country eventually feel the stirrings of a calling to God, even if there is no Bible or Qur’an, or spiritual resources to be found. The foundation of all faith, and the desire for faith, is the “Fear of the Lord” and “Piety.” From that point on the person naturally seeks the next gift, “Knowledge.”

You can witness this sequence when you read the part of Exodus that describes the Israelites’ arrival at Sinai, the Great Theophany (appearance of God) and the giving of the Ten Commandments. The Israelites obviously already had “Fear of the Lord” and “Piety,” or they would never have followed Moses. But now they were about to receive “Knowledge,” which is The Law. The people feared God, knew God (as they saw him work miracles through Moses to get them to this point in their Exodus) and they had piety in the form of desiring to worship and serve God. Thus they now receive “the facts” from God, which is how to worship him, how to serve and obey him, and also how to live properly and how to treat each other. The gift of “Knowledge” is thus shown to be knowledge of the facts of both life and faith.

I want to point out an example of how each gift is not a one-time thing, and indeed, instead is constantly revisited and reinforced. One starts out with a certain level of “Fear of the Lord,” but if one works at cultivating one’s faith, one finds that one receives more and more of this gift, in more mature and comprehending, faith affirming forms, often throughout one’s life. Here is an obvious example. As I pointed out the Israelites obviously had “Fear of the Lord” and “Piety” when they first believed and followed Moses, or else they would not have followed him. After they left Egypt they witnessed miracles (parting of the Red Sea, the manna falling from heaven to be eaten, quail arriving when they hungered for meat, the water from the rock) they expressed their piety by consecrating their first born, and they fought and won their first battle with God’s help through Moses and Joshua. So they had a certain level of “Fear of the Lord,” but to be honest, they really saw the kind of open ended nurturing side of his power and majesty. People were quick to complain, as they did to Moses, when they didn’t like the food, for example. So you could say that this was “entry level” “Fear of the Lord.” And that is fine, because that is like being a child, who first learns about God’s love. But there comes a point where one must understand the extent of God’s all knowing and his might. This occurred during the Great Theophany.

Exodus 19:9
The Lord also told him, “I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you also.”

[God understands, of course, that humans need to see in order to believe, so by planning the Great Theophany God knew that people would never forget the might of God who stands behind Moses.]

The Lord goes on to tell Moses to instruct the people how to prepare themselves to meet him, including telling them to wash their garments, sanctify themselves, not have intercourse, and to not go up the mountain or even touch its base, less they be put to death. The people are thus gaining Knowledge of how to comport themselves when God appears (and thus later in his places of worship) and at the same time, becoming more mature in their understanding of the gift of “Fear of the Lord.”

Exodus 19:16
On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the Lord came down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him with thunder.

There is an interesting subtlety that amplifies not only the relationship between Moses and God (the likes of which was never seen again, nor will it be) but also how the people learned to respect God in a way they had not previously done so. God summons Moses to the top of the mountain and then tells Moses to repeat to the people that they should not “break through toward the Lord in order to see him; otherwise may of them will be struck down. The priests too must sanctify themselves” and Moses basically replies that God already told him that! But Moses goes back down and reiterates, coming back, as God instructed, with Aaron. It is OK to see a little humor when you read this, because reading between the lines you can tell that Moses is saying something like “Um, don’t worry, they got that message.” And sure enough we read Exodus 20:18-21.

When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blast and the mountain smoking, they all feared and trembled. So they took up a position much farther away and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we shall die.” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid, for God has come to you only to test ou and put his fear upon you, lest you sin.” Still the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the cloud where God was.

While God was in that form, where people saw his power and feared to even approach as close as they were originally allowed to, it is then that God told Moses to tell the people “You have seen for yourselves that I have spoke to you from heaven. Do not make anything to rank with me; neither gods of silver nor gods of gold shall you make for yourselves.” God who is all knowing obviously knows all there is to know about human nature. He forbad the making and worship of idols while the Great Theophany was still in plain sight of the Israelites. The point of having “Fear of the Lord” before receiving “Knowledge” is not to make the person frightened of being harmed. The point is that humans should be under no delusion about God’s might and all knowing. When humans do not comprehend and respectfully fear God’s might, they are easily prone to sin because they think that both God and the impact of their sin is weak. Humans make idols, for example, because they forget or they truly do not understand how powerful and in control God is, not in the sense of punishing them directly for an act of idolatry (“smiting”) but because they think that the supernatural power can be so trifled with that it can be put into an object. This is one of the main reasons that humans must have “Fear of the Lord,” because otherwise they do not comprehend the reality of his might and the impact of their sin upon the collective lot of humankind in the long run.

A child’s development in his or her faith likewise follows the same path as does, less obviously, a convert’s development. Both first learn to believe there is a God, and to fear God, in the sense I have previously explained which is that they do not want to be estranged from him just as they would fear a parent not being there for them. So a child first hears about the all knowing and all powerful God from his or her parents or religious instructors. This is then followed by a desire to be “grown up” and to make God happy, if one is a child. The first step then is the gaining of “Knowledge” in the form of folding one’s hands to pray, learning what a prayer is and how to say one and if they are Catholic, for example, making the sign of the Cross. The convert likewise moves quickly from “Piety,” the desire to worship and serve, to observing and then participating in Church ritual, Bible study and other endeavors that adds to one’s knowledge about God and how to worship and serve God. One cannot distinguish between the gaining of faith knowledge and the gaining of life knowledge since much of learning how to live joyous, gratifying and decent lives is from following the rules that God has given, and following the examples of the prophets and other holy people, including lay people. This is all part of the Holy Spirit’s gift of “Knowledge.”

Just as in the Old Testament we can see that the giving of the Law by God to Moses and the Israelites was the bestowing of “Knowledge,” the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus in the New Testament is another example. During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught them the Beatitudes, how to glorify God the Father through their own good deeds, that Jesus is fulfilling the Law, not abolishing it, how important it is to control one’s anger, how to be faithful in marriage, avoid divorce and the seriousness of oaths, how to replace righteous retaliation when one is wronged with “turning the other cheek,” how to love one’s enemies, the importance of almsgiving and prayer, the saying of “The Lord’s Prayer,” how to fast, the difference between earthly and heavenly treasure, how to depend on God and how to ask him for good things in prayer, to not be a hypocrite in judging, to not cast what is holy to the profane, to “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets,” how easy it is to do bad and risk losing heaven, how to beware of false prophets, how to be a true disciple to him, and an analogy how those who hear him and obey will be like houses with firm foundations.

Matthew 7:28-29
When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

The thousands who listened to Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount therefore recognized that he spoke “with authority.” This is what the scripture means when it says that “Knowledge” is a gift from God. Just as no human, no matter how intelligent or “visionary” could have created the Law (to say nothing of delivering it during the Great Theophany), no human who did not have authority from God could have taught what Jesus taught. It is easy to try to diminish what Jesus said from a world weary and cynical perspective of this century, but you must understand that the people who were there did an instant comparison of Jesus to the wisest of their scribes and were “astonished.” True “Knowledge” comes from God, including both the secular and the spiritual.

St. Paul wrote in Romans 7:14 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin” and in 7:25 “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.” This is another way of understanding that true “Knowledge” is a gift of God through the Holy Spirit. St. Paul understood that true “Knowledge,” as in the law, is spiritual and that due to the bondage of the body, humans follow a “law” of sin. Temptation prevents human beings from developing true “Knowledge” if they try to do it without the foundation of the Law and the Knowledge that God has provided. When moderns, especially atheists, speculate that they can develop codes and laws based on “Knowledge” but not God, they are dead wrong. First of all, temptation will always skew one’s perception of what is truly good and healthy for humans (we will discuss the gift of “Wisdom” as the seventh gift). No matter how noble one thinks that one is, one is always creating knowledge and law that is self serving at some level, either consciously or unconsciously. The second reason this is wrong is because obviously God has already placed the groundwork of human ethics through his Law and his revelations to the authentic prophets; whether an atheist admits it or not he or she would already be “plagiarizing” what God has already provided to humans. Genuine knowledge, and one of its manifestations, law is, as St. Paul points out “spiritual.”

Addressing the "Why does God allow" question

I am writing this with particular attention and concern for parents and other loved ones who have lost someone, particularly a teenager, to an impaired driving, speeding, or youthful inexperience automobile accident. I know that this is a wound that is very difficult to heal, if it ever does completely. I also know that some people have their faith affirmed, while others have theirs deeply shaken. I know it is not helped when those wishing to comfort you may say that it is God’s will, and so, while I’ve addressed this before, I want to try to ease your sorrow by directly addressing situations of teenage drivers and their passengers who through impairment, speeding or youthful inexperience lose their lives in an automobile accident.

First, to answer the question directly, “Why does God allow this to happen?” Here is what would have to happen if God were to stop these accidents, which he could. Every time that a teenager drinks, speeds or lacks automotive experience and gets in danger, God would have to intervene with a miracle. If they crashed their cars, God would have to “rewind time” just for them, and either raise them from the dead or intervene at every moment that is the “point of no return,” such as forcing the speedometer down so the car cannot go any faster, or having an angel steer the wheel of the car of an inexperienced driver. It would obviously be unmistakable that God is intervening in thousands of lives on a daily basis.

In no time at all teenagers would stop wearing their seat belts, try to put “the pedal to the medal” as hard as they can in order to test how far they can speed, take drugs (to see if God only “fixes it” when they are drinking or if he will “fix” “too much” drug use too). Perhaps an extreme sport would develop where teens would race their cars to see who could get farther before God intervenes and stops the race, or they would even smash into buildings with their cars, to see if God will stop them this time, or raise them from the dead.

You know I’m not exaggerating, even though that may be your first impulse of response. If God were to answer your pleas, literally, to not allow these things to happen to teenagers, he’d have to directly intervene thousands of times a day on a miraculous basis in a way that could not be mistaken and would obviously become widely known, anticipated, and even demanded. Soon those who die in war would wonder why they are not preserved, when they are serving their country, yet teenagers who drink and drive are saved. Then the cancer and heart patients would wonder why God does not fix them, especially if they lived worthy lives and worked for many years, while God is miraculously saving those who drink and drive and now also those who fight in war. People would stop trying to be safe. It is as simple as that. People would stop trying to do better, to be safer, and to be more caring of each other, to be more childlike as children and more mature as young adults. People would soon think that staying alive no matter what one does (and how one hurts others, such as the passengers in a drunk driver auto) is all that matters, and who cares about leading a good life in order to prepare for the eternal afterlife. That is human nature. Look at people who will do anything for a high, inhaling things that outright kill them. Humans have an adrenaline addiction and an immaturity that providing miraculous cures and preventions for each instance would only encourage, not discourage, that behavior. God, in their minds, would not be “Robo-cop” but “Robo-cure,” where youngsters and eventually everyone thinks they can do whatever they want, and then the button gets pressed and God performs a miracle to cure them.

So when people say that it is God’s will that someone dies in such an automobile accident, they mean that it is God’s will that humans have alcohol, roads, cars, children and physical laws that govern mass and energy during impact. It also means that God has foreseen this event, since God is all knowing, and that he is not going to intervene, for precisely the reasons that I described above. Therefore by not intervening with a miracle it is God’s will. But it is not God’s will that a young person drink, drives and dies. How do we know that? The Bible forbids intoxication. It’s as simple as that. If God ever approved of intoxication it would be in the Bible. So when a youngster drinks, drives and causes an accident, he or she is not performing God’s will. It is God’s will that natural law continues to consistently apply when human behavior dictates.

Having said that, I would understand if at that point you think that God must be a pretty chilly character and does not understand your pain. You’d be wrong. God is all knowing and here is what that means in this context. God not only knows your pain, the pain of your loss, but he knows every iota of it now and at every moment in the future, before you even experience it. So God, obviously, being the all-knowing, knows every bit of pain and the effect it has on you from start to finish, “all at once,” as he knows every iota of the future. For example, God knows every tear you shed and will shed, every stress hormone that you emit, every pang of memory that you have, and every change in your health and behavior that you experience, all in advance, until the day that you pass on. This of course is true of everyone, all of the survivors, all of those who mourn, and the impact even on strangers and the community of each passing.

Further, while you can only imagine, and I know this is painful, all that your loved one would have experienced if he or she lived, God actually knows what would have happened in your loved one’s life. God has “the facts” and knows whether they would have graduated, gone to work, gone to college, served in the armed forces, bummed around Europe as a tourist, fixed cars, married, had children, been a grandparent, retired, and so on. So far from being a chilly character, God knows precisely the full cost and lost potential of every single person and knows the grief of that curtailed life.

God himself does not grieve because God encompasses everything, including the eternal that is outside of the boundaries of life, so God, for lack of a better expression, always puts even the saddest loss of life within the overwhelming context of eternity. But God knows humans better than they know themselves, so God indeed knows the grief of a loss to the fullest measure, more than even the parent can comprehend, since God has “all the facts” including the details of “what would have been.” No one, either God or the angels, is “happy” when someone suffers or dies tragically, but remember they are on the other side of the door seeing that person’s immortal soul. It is hard to grieve the loss of a person when that person is there with you. Thus God and the angels feel particular pity and comforting love for those who on earth, alive, suffer the loss of their loved one, and who must still go on. It is then that if one believes, and continues to believe, one can turn to God and know that as Jesus Christ taught, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

I hope that you find this helpful. Truly everyone knows that the only help for a terrible loss is the gradual effect of time. I think, though, that talking through the difficulties of God actually intervening in every case such as this is helpful, as I know that people in their pain do not think it through when they wish that God could have saved their loved one. God could do so, but that is precisely the point where humans say to God, “Well, we can’t manage our own business and live without being micromanaged, so make us robots and life will just become one big game of ‘let’s see when God will save us next.’” Remember too that it is not as if God is silent. The Holy Spirit and the guardian angels are constantly encouraging good and safe, life affirming behavior. As I’ve written previously, if one were to conduct an experiment and the Holy Spirit and the guardian angels were removed of their silent influence, life would suddenly be so dark and unbearable that humans would not even be able to stand up. The guiding encouragement of the Holy Spirit and the guardian angels is like oxygen, it is so natural and taken for granted that one would only notice it if it were totally removed, God forbid. All I can say is that parents and loved ones need to band together to reduce the immaturity and bad influences of society on the young, especially in high risk behavior, which they are all so prone to, as many humans are by nature.

Jehovah's Witness oldest Holocaust survivor

Read this article about this remarkable, moral man, which will have to do until the English language version of his biography comes out. Here is a snip of the book review.

Leopold Engleitner’s blue eyes still burn bright. Last month, the 103-year-old traveled to Frankfurt, from his home in Austria to tell his story at the world’s largest publishing event. Mr. Engleitner, a former farmer from the Salzburg region, is a Jehovah’s Witness.

And he is the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust.

At first no one seemed interested in the facts of his life, which included an unwavering faith and enduring internments in the Buchenwald, Wewelsburg, and Ravensbrueck camps run by German Nazis. Then a young Austrian filmmaker met Engleitner by chance and ended up listening to his stories for hours on end.

The filmmaker, Berhnard Rammerstorfer, was captivated by what he heard and eventually dropped everything he was doing to write Engleitner’s biography.

“What impressed me was that a simple farmer had the courage to withstand Hitler, to refuse to go to war although millions of people did go to war, that he had the strength to adhere to his own conscience,” says Mr. Rammerstorfer.

He first published “Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man,” in German in 1999. It was republished this year, and an English edition is scheduled to be released in 2009.

Walter Manoschek, a political scientist at the University of Vienna who has worked on a project sponsored by the Austrian government to rehabilitate Austrian victims of the Nazi regime, says that Engleitner’s story brings to life one of the least-known groups of Nazi victims that also included Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, and the mentally and physically disabled.

A ‘systematic resistance’Nazis targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses mainly because as religious conscientious objectors they eschew swearing an oath to any earthly authority and refused to serve in the German Army. Refusal to serve under Hitler was regarded as treason, punishable by death. Among the 3,200 Witnesses interned in concentration camps, thousands were killed, according to historians.

Unlike other groups – most notably, of course, millions of Jews – they could have walked out free had they agreed to renounce their faith.

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (2a) Bible citations

A selection of citations regarding the gift of the Holy Spirit “Piety.”

Proverbs 2: 8
[God is] guarding the paths of justice, protecting the way of his pious ones.

Proverbs 11:9
With his mouth the impious man would ruin his neighbor,
But through their knowledge the just make their escape.

Proverbs 16:6
By kindness and piety guilt is expiated,
And by the fear of the Lord man avoids evil.

Proverbs 20: 28
Kindness and piety safeguard the king,
And he upholds his throne by justice.

[Notice the narrower focus of the benefits of Piety. Notice also that it is mentioned hand in hand with justice. Piety enables humans to exercise certain qualities, notably justice. Lack of Piety is the source of specific human flaws and misdeeds.]

[Proverbs 11:9 is very interesting as it provides a quite specific scenario. A person who lacks Piety views his own neighbor as someone to ruin for whatever reasons he or she has. However, a person who has Piety understands that his or her neighbor has knowledge (another of the gifts of the Holy Spirit) that could save him or her. That is the meaning of "the just make their escape." A person with Piety who instead of destroying his neighbor as the impious egoist will want to do, instead allies with the neighbor, when there is time of trouble they will make their escape through the knowledge of the neighbor.]

[In Proverb 16:6 notice that if one has both kindness and Piety, their sins will be forgiven. The first gift we discussed, "Fear of the Lord" is the way to avoid evil and sin in the first place. If one is both kind and has Piety, God will forgive them of their sins, sins they did not avoid because they had not cultivated sufficient "Fear of the Lord" in the first place.]

[Notice that in Proverb 20:28 it is repeated that both kindness and Piety are needed, and in this case the King is used as the example. Remember in Biblical times when they say "King" they mean both the secular and faith leader consecrated King. Reinforcing the link between Piety and access to justice, this proverb explains that the kind King with Piety is able to dispense perfect justice and hence maintains his moral authority ("upholds his throne.")]

Understanding the Bible + Bible scholarship

One of my great frustrations in reading most modern Biblical scholarship is that a fundamental error in logic has crept into the modern mind, rendering most of their results fallacious. The problem has resulted from the blurring of two separate lines of study. The first legitimate line of study is called “textual criticism,” which is the responsibility to make sure that the text that is handed down is the most accurate, and that it is well understood where errors in copying or translation may have taken place. This is an extremely valid challenge, one that the ancients themselves had to deal with. Remember that the few copies of Biblical text that existed were laboriously hand copied and distributed over large areas, and thus many versions with many errors were in circulation over the centuries. For example read this quote from Boadt’s “Reading the Old Testament:”

There were quite a variety of copies of the Hebrew Old Testament available by the time of Jesus. Since copying had gone on for a long time already, many different editions circulated, some longer with sections added in, some shorter with sections omitted. All had some change or error in them. Since a scribe in one area often copied from a local text, the same error or change often appeared regularly in one place, say, Babylon, but not in texts copied in Egypt. Thus, at the time of Christ, three major “families” or groupings of text types could be found: the Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Egyptian. The Babylonian Jews, for example, treasured their texts which had a very short, tightly-knit edition of the Pentateuch, while Egyptian Jews used a ricer and more expanded text. Only at the end of the first century A.D. did the rabbis decide to end the confusion and select one text, the best they could find, for each part of the Bible. In the Pentateuch they chose the Babylonian tradition, but in other books, such as the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, they followed the Palestinian-type text.

Let this very well written paragraph (from a larger and very well written chapter on this topic) sink in for a moment. At the time of Jesus Christ himself there were many different editions of the Old Testament in circulation. People relied on their local copies, which have been copied and recopied over and over, creating what you can almost think of as dialects. Everyone was still speaking the same “language,” since the facts of the Bible were not in dispute, but sections were dropped, pieces repeated or mistranslated, annotations in the margins by scholars were erroneously thought to be part of the text by the next generation of hand copiers, and so forth. The effect as like the same language developed with regional dialects. One could still rely on the “word of God” accuracy of the Old Testament, but human hands and the frailty of the technology allowed the development of these differing editions, which you can think of as “dialects.”

I’m reminded of when I was touring the Tower of London about twenty years ago and I overheard an American tourist tell her fellow companion, in an obvious thick American southern drawl, “I can’t understand a word he is saying” about their English Beefeater guide. They both speak English, and if they were talking face to face they’d have little trouble understanding each other, but the guide’s voice transmitted over distance and with difficulty hearing made comprehending their shared language a difficult chore. The Old Testament in the time of Jesus was easy to share and understand if people had two editions side by side in front of them, so it is not as though accuracy of the word of God was ever risked or in question. Rather, the “one local copy” was passed down with a type of dialect flavor in each region, and those differences had to be reconciled, focusing on determining, if one could, where an error, mistranslation or deliberate editing occurred.

As an aside, this is one reason why genuine Biblical scholars need to be skeptical whenever a new discovery of ancient Biblical text is found. This modern generation thinks that every archaeological dig reveals the “truth” or the “oldest and thus purest” form of something, including Biblical text. However, remember that one might be excavating just a very old copy of one of the “dialects” that had evolved in a region. Orthodox Jewish Biblical scholars, in my opinion, have the greatest integrity in this regard since they have preserved continuity of the faith and cultural context against which they can determine the origin and the context of any newly excavated text.

So to summarize, the first of the two valid focuses of Biblical research and study is the determination of the accuracy of both the text and the translations that have occurred. Boadt quotes Pope Pius XII in his encyclical letter “Divino afflante spiritu” (1943) who quotes St. Augustine (354-430) that the main responsibility of biblical scholars is to produce a corrected text. So the Catholic Church is “on the record” as stating with consistency over a period of more than fifteen hundred years that an accurate Biblical text is the highest priority of Biblical scholarship. Boadt quotes Pope Pius XII as stating that the “text be restored as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions.” I focus on this continuity of thought in the Catholic Church because I resent the implication by some modern non-Catholic children of the Reformation that the Catholics are anything but the guardians of the accuracy of the complete Biblical text. The Bible that the children of the Reformation use is the result of such Catholic Church guardianship.

The second valid area of Biblical scholarship is called exegesis, which is the study of the content of the Bible within its cultural and historical context. This is obviously necessary because one cannot understand the faith message within the Bible if one does not understand the cultural context. Regular readers of mine know that I often have to explain a cultural analogy or parable so that modern readers understand the gist of what the Biblical passage is stating. For example, this generation that knows little of agriculture has difficulty grasping some of the agricultural references in their deepest meaning. I recently wrote to explain the custom and the religious requirement for farmers to leave some harvest in the field so that the poor and the traveler can obtain food for free. This is an important cultural context to have when understanding the Jews who criticized Jesus and the disciples for availing themselves of that food on the Sabbath. Reading that passage as many moderns do without that context drops much of the importance and nuance of the conflict in faith between Jews and Jesus, focusing on the forbidding of work on the Sabbath without understanding that they were also criticizing all of the poor who actually “performed work” to feed themselves and their families on the Sabbath. Yes, the Jews were arguing that the poor should go hungry all day on the Sabbath if they did not plan ahead to store up food that they could just eat without effort. Without understanding cultural and historical context one misses much of the faith information that is being conveyed in the Bible. Here are two paragraphs from Boadt:

The Bible is much more than a “text” to be restored to its original beauty; it is the literature of a living people. And because authors in every age and every culture express themselves differently, modern literary-theory must offer us ways of understanding ancient writers. There is, for example, the basic distinction between prose and poetry. Some thoughts are best expressed by poetry: love songs, hymns, intense pain of sorrow and loss. Others are better expressed in prose: biographies, historical records, and lists. Some human expression can take either form: describing the beauty of nature, heroic sagas of famous people or prophetic warnings of doom. What type an author selects is determined by how he feels that he can best communicate what he wants to say (p. 75).

The problem of introducing totally new information was even more acute in the ancient world when culture was much more traditional than now. People depended much less on looking up information for themselves in books than in listening to and mastering the passed-down wisdom of the ancestors. Communication in the ancient world was mostly oral, and societies that rely on oral tradition took at knowledge and history far differently than do peoples accustomed to reading.

First of all, their memories were generally much better than ours. We are lazy about memorizing things because we can look them up. Nevertheless, even they did not in our sense “memorize” every word… Rather, the ancient people often heard stories and events told in a communal setting, either on special feast days when religious leaders would recite the ancient traditions, or in schools where masters gave and interpreted the laws with vivid examples, or in gatherings for entertainment. Very rarely were any of these simply recited by rote memory…In the Old Testament we shall run into quite a number of “wonders” and strange tales…In these we expect to find some “mythic” elements, because through them the story-teller preserved the real meaning: that God gave these men supernatural help. Moreover, human memory does not recall exact details for long-perhaps a generation or two… Source criticism studies the specific problem of whether there are written documents behind our present text…The use of two distinct names for God in Genesis led eighteenth century researchers such as Jean Astruc (1753) to conclude that Moses must have used two or more different written sources when he composed the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers…Other differences were soon noted. Source critics showed the contradictory styles of writing that appeared side by side in a single book, for example, calling the covenant mountain Sinai in one line and Horeb in the next (p 77-81).

Here is where we have a legitimate field of study that very quickly gets into trouble. The first problem arises when scholars depart from holding the Bible in the unique position that it exists, and start through the use of “literary tools” comparing it to other literature and oral stories, such as mythologies. It is one thing, for example, to observe and study the use of poetry in the Bible. It is quite another thing to therefore deduce insight into the “accuracy” of the Bible by comparing it to the motivations and cultural context of other poets “in other cultures” through the ages. Likewise the use of a shared cultural myth about a wondrous event must not obscure the fact that the Bible is documenting an actual instance of God providing supernatural help, even if the details “match” a story told in another culture’s mythology. So we have a problem when scholars use secular “reasoning” tools, such as literary devices, to the point where they forget that in the Bible the purpose is to use the literary device to nonetheless preserve God’s word and thus the truth within a framework that, thanks to the faithful priests throughout the difficult time of the Israelites, guarded the integrity and continuity of the message of God. This is why all “literary devices” throughout the Bible are punctuated with factual lists of the people who lived and who witnessed to these events. Poetry and myths in other cultures do not do that.

A second problem is too rapidly drawing conclusions about the ability and most importantly the motivation of the Israelites to memorize. Boadt is an example of a scholar who compares what the Israelites must have been like to studies of non-religious other culture oral historians and story tellers, and thus surmises some conclusions. However, one need only look at the first Muslims for the counterexample. From the very beginning in the 7th century the entire contents of the Qur’an were memorized, word for word. The first generation of companions of the Prophet (PBUH) worked to ensure that different written editions of the Qur’an were quickly reconciled, kept to the common standard and memorized. To this day there is a vibrant worship tradition that consists of memorizing the entire Qur’an. So there is a problem when scholars deduce possible or worse conclude “probable” customs about the Israelites by comparing them to, let’s say gypsy story tellers, rather than comparing them to those who had similar motivations, the preservation of Divine revelation, the Muslims. The way that the Muslims handled their sacred literature is much more likely to be consistent with the ancient Israelites than to compare them to mythical story telling traditions and, worse, contemporary observations about “human nature.” Everything is different when it is sacred generational literature that is being preserved, and one must always maintain “apples to apples” comparisons.

The third problem is the mental slippery slope that many modern Biblical scholars find themselves on, usually unaware, where they now equate “source” to “who put pen to paper,” or in this case, pen to scroll. For example many, as I cited above one example, just assume that Moses copied what he wrote from older written sources. That is an egregious error in logic. Moses did not copy from older written works, dummies. Moses spent years in the company of God in person, not only on the mountain but in the meeting tent. What do you think they “talked about?” Moses received all of his information about what had transpired before his time not from written scraps from that time but from God himself. I mean, duh. They weren’t talking about the weather and they weren’t discussing how someday “football” would mean different sports to Americans and the British.

When it became the hot scholarly rage to analyze and identify different written sources in the Bible, back in the 1970’s, I thought that was great. One learns a great deal about the cultural context (and has more information to preserve accuracy in translation, etc) if one identifies the differences between those who are putting pen to scroll. But whoa, wait a minute, I just about fell out of my chair when decades later I noticed that people are now assuming that who holds the pen is the determining factor in “the sources.” What? How dumb is that? I pointed out the first problem with that above, where it’s not an endless chain of physical writers going back in time, each being “the source” to the next. Moses is the beginning, where he received the oral history from God of humans’ faith history. It’s not like Abraham left some ragged old scrolls of family scrapbook lying around. Everything was oral previous to Moses receiving oral history from God and then having that put to scroll. I mean, gosh, it is what it is. Many Biblical scholars yak and yak about the oral tradition of the ancients, but then when it comes time to research, they assume that it’s all a paper trail. With that assumption they then totally misunderstand what the Bible is actually sitting there and recording for them in explanation of what happened. God told Moses all there is to be shared about human creation and faith history (remembering that God was not going to dictate the first physics text book) and Moses had that transcribed.

So this is the fourth problem, which is to misunderstand the whole role of scribes even though you can hardly turn a page in the Bible without finding mention of a scribe! This is becoming a generational problem with moderns today, and by no coincidence this misunderstanding arose right around the time that managers and other professionals stopped having secretaries who took dictation. The last secretary I had who could take dictation was in the 1980’s and even then she hardly ever did it. Thus it is no wonder that modern Biblical scholars totally do not understand that holy people had secretaries, I mean, duh. They were called scribes. They took dictation, when the holy person could not or would not write down their own words themselves.

The most obvious example is when modern Biblical scholars question and criticize the high literary skill of the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles by the Disciples of Christ. Do I have to hear one more time, “How can poor dumb fishermen write such sophisticated works?” First of all, people were not so dumb and uneducated when it came to the matter of scripture and faith in those times as you all have come to assume. But, duh, once again, people did not run around performing miracles, avoiding or meeting scourging, persecution and martyrdom, and evangelize over hundreds of miles, and then sit down and put pen to scroll in their spare time. They used scribes, fellow disciples, dummies. So when you are studying a given section of the Bible by a particular “unknown” author, you are studying an amalgamation of the oral dictation to the writing scribe. I mean, why is that so difficult to understand? The poor and the illiterate went to professional scribes when they had to draw up a document, and that continued into medieval times. Obviously among the many Israelites of the Old Testament times and the early Christians of the time of Jesus Christ were many scribes! You can hardly get through a chapter of the Bible without tripping over description or mention of scribes. Do you think maybe that is a clue?

Thus, one of the worse abuses and now unconscious habit of many Biblical scholars is to equate analysis of the writing style and technique of the thread of a particular author as being enlightening regarding the “validity” or “source” of the God inspired information contained within. Like I said, I just about fell out of my chair when I noticed that what had been sound and interesting analysis of the pen work of various Bible inscribers and their insight into therefore the culture and linguistics of the time turned into an assumption that the scribe is the source. This generation forgets the old saying, when someone is asked to do a job that is “beneath them,” “I don’t take dictation.” Too many modern scholars assume that every holy person actually sat down and put pen to scroll them selves. Many did (St. Paul when he had lots of time on his hands and access to materials while in prison, for example). But you can be assured that many did not.

How can anyone ignore the example of the Book of Proverbs? The Book of Proverbs is an anthology of sayings and teachings in order to provide Wisdom, and so it draws upon many sources, including King Solomon. How difficult is it to understand that King Solomon would have said many wise things, which other people would remember, and then later write down? Some of the sayings of King Solomon would have been unique to him, in expression of his God inspired wisdom, but he would have quoted older sayings of wisdom too. Later the scribe of the Book of Proverbs would pull together these many sources of Wisdom and create this God inspired book. No one makes the mistake of studying the words and writing style of the author of the Book of Proverbs and thus deduces they are studying the actual “source” of the proverbs themselves, especially because the author cites the sources of entire sections of Proverbs. But for some reason many modern scholars disregard the entire history of scribes and assume that studying the writing style of an author “reveals” the “true or implied source” of the content of the text. Worse, they assume that changes in “style” (such as in the works of the Apostle St. John) “reveals” that they are “different authors.”

Here’s a simple example of how limiting in intellect are those assumptions. When I was a student in university in the early 1970’s we all used typewriters. Making a typo was a real pain, and I would make one particular typo over and over, which is to transpose two letters in the word “student.” That typo plagued me throughout college, but later it gave me no problem. Today, thirty years later, my most frequent typo is to transpose two letters in “the.” Now, suppose some genius scholar of the distant future had a copy of one of my typed works, with lots of white out of “student,” and a copy of one of my text processing works thirty years later. They would see that I made lots of errors about “student” in the early document, but none at all in the later document. Could they conclude I am a different person? No, of course not, since even if I made the same “student” typo today as I did then, I have a word processor that fixes it before printing. Likewise it is not illogical that the same Apostle could have written by his own hand one document, and given dictation to a scribe another document thirty years later. St. John the Apostle is such an obvious case that I am astonished at how willfully ignorant or conspiracy oriented some modern “Biblical scholars” seem to be. Would you write with the same tone and mannerisms as you did decades before, if you were of extreme old age and had just been taken to heaven to witness the Apocalypse? I mean, not to repeat myself, but duh. But this is the type of sloppy intellectual “scholarship” that plagues much modern Biblical scholarship or exegesis.

Pope Benedict XVI discusses much of the problems with modern exegesis in his introduction to “Jesus of Nazareth” and I will quote him here.

As historical-critical scholarship advanced, it led to finer and finer distinctions between layers of tradition in the Gospels, beneath which the real object of faith-the figure [Gestalt] of Jesus-became increasingly obscured and blurred. At the same time, though, the reconstructions of this Jesus (who could only be discovered by going behind the traditions and sources used by the Evangelists) became more and more incompatible with one another: at one end of the spectrum Jesus was the anti-Roman revolutionary working-though finally failing-to overthrow the ruling powers; at the other end, he was the meek moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief. If you read a number of these reconstructions one after the other, you see at once that far from uncovering an icon that has become obscured over time, they are much more like photographs of their authors [my note: by this the Pope means the Biblical scholars] and the ideals they hold. Since then there has been growing skepticism about these portrayals of Jesus, but the figure of Jesus himself has for that very reason receded even further into the distance (p. xii).

This is such a powerful observation by Pope Benedict and one that is unsparingly correct in its imagery. Indeed, when I read much of modern Biblical scholarship, rather than seeing a picture of the prophet or Jesus or other Biblical figure emerge (to say nothing of further understanding of God), I see a photograph of the Biblical scholar him or herself, and he or she imposes their own bias and often anti-faith very secular world view on the very Biblical material they purport to study. The Pope continues:

All these attempts have produced a common result: the impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus and that only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we have of him. This impression has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people at large. This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air (p. xii).

“Without anchoring in God, the person of Jesus remains shadowy, unreal, and unexplainable” (p.322). [Pope Benedict is quoting from another book.] This is also the point around which I will construct my own book. It sees Jesus in light of his communion with the Father, which is the true center of his personality; without it, we cannot understand him at all, and it is from this center that he makes himself present to us still today (p. xiv).

I would like to sketch at least the broad outlines of the methodology, drawn from these documents, that has guided me in writing this book. The first point is that the historical-critical method-specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith-is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place on this earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, bu the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnates est-when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real world history (p. xv).

So the Pope is saying, yes, of course one must study the Bible to analyze and match the historical component to as much of recorded secular human history as possible, since they are both reports of the same history. I personally very much enjoy reading about Biblical archaeology, for example, but I have developed great disdain for the rancorous quarrels and insults that competing archaeologist and scholars hurled at each other over various personal ego based clashes, and so I stopped reading magazines and so forth on those topics.

If we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. So if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method-indeed, faith itself demands this (p. xv)… The historical-critical method-let me repeat-is an indispensable tool, given the structure of Christian faith. But we need to add two points. This method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God. We will have to return to this point at greater length in a moment. For the time being, it is important-and this is a second point-to recognize the limits of the historical-critical method itself… The historical method not only has to investigate the biblical word as a thing of the past, but also has to remain in the past. It can glimpse points of contact with the present and it can try to apply the biblical word to the present; the one thing it cannot do is make it into something present today-that would be overstepping its bounds. Its very precision in interpreting the reality of the past is both its strength and its limit. This is connected with a further point. Because it is a historical method, it presupposes the uniformity of the context within which the events of history unfold. It must therefore treat the biblical words it investigates as human words. On painstaking reflection, it can intuit something of the “deeper value” the word contains. It can in some sense catch the sounds of a higher dimension through the human word, and so open up the method to self-transcendence. But its specific object is the human word as human (p. xvii).

In these words from the past, we can discern the question concerning their meaning for today; a voice greater than man’s echoes in Scripture’s human words; the individual writings [Schrifte] of the Bible point somehow to the living process that shapes the one Scripture [Schrift]. Indeed, the realization of this last point some thirty years ago led American scholars to develop the project of “canonical exegesis.” The aim of this exegesis is to read individual texts within the totality of the one Scripture, which then sheds new light on all the individual texts. Paragraph 12 of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation had already clearly underscored this as a fundamental principle of theological exegesis: If you want to understand the Scripture in the spirit in which it is written, you have to attend to the content and to the unity of Scripture as a while. The Council goes on to stress the need for taking account of the living tradition of the whole Church and of the analogy of faith (the intrinsic correspondences within the faith). Let us dwell for the time being on the unity of Scripture. It is a theological datum. But it is not simply imposed from the outside on what is in itself a heterogeneous ensemble of writings… This is a process in which the word gradually unfolds its inner potentialities, already somehow present like seeds, but needing the challenge of new situations, new experiences and new sufferings, in order to open up (p. xix).

The Pope is explaining that there is a great difference between reading the Bible and seeking to use a historical-critical context that is somewhat biased and tainted by current agendas and mindsets, versus turning to the Bible for enlightenment that can be stimulated by current situations and mindsets. Pope Benedict uses the wonderful imagery to describe how the Bible, even though it is of separate writings, has the Divine unity and must be considered as a whole, has within it seeds, seeds which open up understanding of God and the situation of humankind. I think this analogy is enormously helpful in those who through excessive focus on the secular and historical facets of human hands writing human words have lost comprehension of how the diverse books of the Bible form the unified inspired word and will of God. The image of the seeds that are throughout the Bible, unnoticed and unseen until one turns to those pages in light of a current situation and reading is marvelous and I would say remarkably accurate.

“Canonical exegesis”-reading the individual texts of the Bible in the context of the whole-is an essential dimension of exegesis. It does not contradict historical-critical interpretation, but carries it forward in an organic way toward becoming theology in the proper sense. There are two further aspects of theological exegesis that I would like to underscore. Historical-critical interpretation of a text seeks to discover the precise sense the words were intended to convey at their time and place of origin. That is good and important. But-aside from the fact that such reconstructions can claim only a relative certainty-it is necessary to keep in mind that any human utterance of a certain weight contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time. When a word transcends the moment in which it is spoken, it carries within itself a “deeper value.” This “deeper value” pertains most of all to words that have matured in the course of faith-history. For in this case the author is not simply speaking for himself on his own authority. He is speaking from the perspective of a common history that sustains him and that already implicitly contains the possibilities of its future, of the further stages of its journey. The process of continually rereading and drawing out new meanings from words would not have been possible unless the words themselves were already open to it from within (p. xx).

You see, this is what I mean when I explain that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, cannot be compared to either historical documents, although it contains them, or mythological or symbolic stories, though it sometimes alludes to them. Scholarship methods that rely on critiquing the Bible in comparison to either historical documents or mythological/story telling endeavors totally fail because they do not understand that the Israelites and the Gospel authors were writing, as the Pope explains, “from the perspective of a common history that sustains him and that already implicitly [the seeds] contains the possibilities of its future.”

At this point we get a glimmer, even on the historical level, of what inspiration means: The author does not speak as a private, self-contained subject. He speaks in a living community, that is to say, in a living historical movement not created by him, nor even by the collective, but which is led forward by a greater power that is at work. These are dimensions of the world that the old doctrine of the fourfold sense of Scripture pinpointed with remarkable accuracy. The four senses of Scripture are not individual meanings arrayed side by side, but dimensions of the one word that reaches beyond the moment. This already suggests the second aspect I wanted to speak about. Neither the individual books of Holy Scripture nor the Scripture as a whole are simply a piece of literature. The Scripture emerged from within the heart of a living subject-the pilgrim People of God-and lives within this same subject. One could say that the books of Scripture involve three interacting subjects. First of all, there is the individual author or group of authors to whom we owe a particular scriptural text. But these authors are not autonomous writers in the modern sense; they form part of a collective subject, the “People of God,” from within whose heart and to whom they speak. Hence, this subject is actually the deeper “author” of the Scriptures. And yet likewise, this people does not exist alone; rather, it knows that it is led, and spoke to, by God himself, who-through men and their humanity-is at the deepest level the one speaking (p. xxi).

I hope that you have found this helpful. Modern humans, even when supported by good intentions, and not just egoist personal agendas, are notorious for counting trees and missing seeing the forest. It is, in fact, one of the reasons for the crisis in faith of these times, which has alarmed me so very much as I see more than anyone the profound damage that it has done. This is why I wanted to take the time out today to help those of you who are reading and who are willing to reorient yourself with the most correct and spiritually fulfilling view of reading and understanding the Bible, and yes, even studying it. I started this post with specific examples so that you find it easier to break away from the hypnotic lure of modern thinking that there is only one way to view and analyze what has gone before. I then relied on the explanation of Pope Benedict XVI, whose presentation of the problem and the correct view I could not do better than myself, and can only endorse wholeheartedly.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (1a) Bible citations

Here is the Biblical basis for the Catholic teaching that “Fear of the Lord” is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Job 28:28
And to man he said: Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom.

Psalms 111:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who live by it.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Sirach 1:16
Wisdom’s garland is fear of the Lord, with blossoms of peace and perfect health.

[A garland is a necklace made out of real flowers and their stems, where the stems are winded together to make the necklace. Thus Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach, who wrote the Book of Sirach, is comparing “Fear of the Lord” to the stems that make the necklace of the garland, and the resulting flowers that spring up are peace and perfect health.]

[Notice that the passages from Psalms and Proverbs both state that “Fear of the Lord” is the beginning, which means the place from which to start all else, which is what I explained in my posting on that subject.]

By the way, let me explain why I am color coding each mention of a gift of the Holy Spirit in purple. This is a visual device so that the eye is happy whenever it sees one of the gifts in purple, such as "Fear of the Lord" and "Piety," so remind you that these are gifts from the Holy Spirit, and not something that humans can invent or seize for themselves. You must be aware of them, cultivate them, reinforce them, and be grateful for them, but they are still gifts, not the results of humans using their great powers of determination to "make it happen." Every human has been given the chance for these gifts, just as in our analogy, schools and teachers exist everywhere, whether a child walks through the classroom door or not. But the child did not invent the school or invent the teacher, he or she avails themselves of those gifts. It is likewise with the gifts from God through the Holy Spirit. I hope this helps.

Friday, November 28, 2008

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (2) Piety

When you have "Fear of the Lord," it is therefore natural that next develop the gift of "Piety." Piety is simply the desire to worship and serve God.

Again, as in the previous analogies, one does not need to know "all about" God to be rich in "Piety." Piety in its earliest stages in the young, or early in an adult's spiritual renewal or conversion, is the strong desire to serve God and to pray, praise and worship him, yet one may not really feel they "know" God at all. This is why the gift of "Fear of the Lord" is such a great gift indeed, for it opens the door, like the door to school, and takes you "as you are," and allows your relationship with God to start, with the simple steps of Piety.

At first Piety feels like duty, or a little bit of a chore. Piety is often a young child's very first "chore," especially if God is introduced to the young child in the form of saying one's prayer before night time's going to bed. Often children first learn Piety by imitating their parents at prayer, for example in the daily call to prayers in the Islamic faith, or in the prayers during the day in the Orthodox Jewish faith. Christian children usually learn to fold their hands and pray from the parent who tucks them into bed at night. This is why it is such a dismal failure when parents who think they are liberal and allowing children to "decide to choose on their own when they are older" do not have a shared before bed prayer with their children. They are not laying the foundation of Piety and to be honest, a child who does not learn Piety as the form of their first "grown up chore" or "duty" often cannot find Piety at all when they are older. Even if they have a conversion experience, they are often confused by Piety and what it really means. This is where, for example, an adult who has a conversion experience decides that having fun in praise and worship of God in a kind of entertainment style is the same as having Piety. It is not.

Learning genuine Piety at a young age during good faith formation helps to ensure that as an adult, you don't find yourself "coincidentally" just happening to choose only the fun things that you enjoy doing to "offer up" to God in worship and service. If one has the gift of Piety, one is more likely to give to God the forms of worship and service that God desires from you, and not the ones that you find the most personally pleasurable. Piety is not only going to the "fun" church services, or doing service in countries that you wanted to visit anyway. Piety means that you discern what your duty to God and neighbor actually is, not what seems the most glorious or the most fun, or what you "feel like doing."

Thinking back to the example of the child who goes to school for the first time, Piety is like realizing that you have to keep going to school, on the fun days or not, when you have to memorize the addition and multiplication tables, or do something more interesting, and whether you feel good or not. Piety is not going to school only on the days you feel like it, only studying the lessons that you enjoy. Piety is being continually sensitive to the desire to worship and serve God the way God wants to be worshipped and served. Piety and Fear of the Lord together form the foundation of humility, which is essential to truly knowing God. Remember, Fear of the Lord does not require actually knowing anything about God (just like the baby does not know facts yet about his or her parents) and realize that Piety also does not require actual knowledge of God. Piety is the desire to worship and serve God the way God wants to be worshipped and served, and it is not motivated by "why" or "what I like to do" reasons of intellect or feelings.

Does that mean that Piety is not enjoyable? Not at all, but it is something that develops in enjoyment as the person matures. For example, we all know teenagers who are terrible about doing chores around the house, but when they have their own first home, they suddenly become interested in decorating, home improvement and home maintenance. What was a "chore" when one wants to only have fun, say as a teenager, suddenly does become fun when one "comes into one's own" in life. It is similar with genuine Piety. Piety becomes pleasurable when one begins to feel the love and satisfaction that comes from worshipping and serving God the way he wishes to be worshipped and served. Piety does not come from the mind; Piety comes from the heart. Piety does not come from the ego; Piety comes from the joy of modesty and genuine humility in the sight of the Lord God. Piety does not come from "depriving" one's self; Piety comes from the desire to "give" to God.

Much of the Bible describes the joy of genuine Piety that is based on a mature desire to please God, and not to please one's self as the highest priority and call that pleasing God. The classic example is the parable told by Jesus of the Pharisee and the Publican and his other teachings about worship.

Matthew 6:5-6

"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Luke 18:9-14

But he spoke this parable also to some who trusted in themselves as being just and despised others. "Two men went up to the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and began to pray thus within himself: 'O God, I thank thee that I am not like the rest of men, robbers, dishonest, adulterers, or even like this publican. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I possess.' But the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his breast saying, 'O God, be merciful to me the sinner!'

"I tell you, this man went back to his home justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

You can see, therefore, that Piety is both internal and external, since Piety includes not only the prayers, rituals and services that you perform to worship and serve God, but also your mindset and attitude toward the external. Your internal Piety is how you actually feel about God and, by extension, your neighbor, your fellow believer. Your external Piety are the actions that you take when you worship or serve God.

This is why Jesus is very harsh about the hypocrites who pray loudly in the synagogue and on the street corner. Jesus is not condemning their external Piety, their form of visible prayer in public, not at all. Jesus is correctly identifying that their internal Piety is not directed toward God, but of showing off and looking superior to the others. Contrast this with in modern times, you see Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall who are visibly and loudly praying and that is pure and commendable prayer, since it is an outward manifestation of their internal Piety being directly solely toward God. When they pray at the Wall they are not doing so to look more holy than those around them; in fact, most would not even notice who else is there, as they are in fully within their internal moment of Piety in front of the symbol of their Lord. I mention this so that you do not misunderstand the scriptures to think that these two passages by Jesus are in any way saying not to be public or even fervent in one’s prayer. Rather, it is a way to measure the sincerity of one’s Piety if one would, in total secret and in private, with no “audience,” pray and worship the same with the same fervor. That is the point that Jesus is making with the first passage cited.

In the second passage Jesus is showing a second example of a problem with one’s internal Piety. Here the Pharisee is genuinely praying to God and not toward an audience (since he is praying silently, although probably making a bit of a pose out of his standing in prayer, knowing that at least one other person, the publican, is there). But the Pharisee is praying, basically, in a most impious internal stance, where he’s thanking God, yes he is, but thanking God for making him better than everyone else, including the poor guy praying next to him! So in the first example Jesus “outs the hypocrite” by demonstrating that God will make note of the dutifully person who prays, but does so with great showmanship and hypocrisy, but will amply reward the humble person who prays in totally pure internal Piety in privacy. In the second example Jesus demonstrates to the disciples that the Pharisee is not justified, despite his dutiful worship and his acts of charity, because he is doing so as a basis of thinking that makes him more justified and better than all others. The Pharisee is even insulting in his thoughts to God the poor man who is praying right next to him! This was one of the most powerful parables by Jesus and should resonate even more strongly in this “works” and “media mad” modern times of today.

To use a modern example, think of how one does exercise in order to stay fit. Every sit up that one does, for example, one is obviously doing for one’s self. In other words, your sit up doesn’t make someone else more fit. Further, you might not exercise in order to be healthy, but are exercising for the shallow but common reason to look more attractive to others. That is fine, and is very human. But what would it tell you of the character of the person exercising if with every sit up he or she thinks “Ha, this sit up is dedicated to making me look better than the slob over on the treadmill.” I would worry about the mental health of someone who exercised and with every single sit up was thinking how they are better looking or more fit than the person working out next to them, and that thus this made them a better and more successful human being. This is what Jesus demonstrates of how good deeds and good prayer, just like good exercise, can turn into something that is not praiseworthy and worse will risk being rejected by God because the internal Piety is self directed, and not directed toward God himself.

Children who are properly formed in their faith learn to pray because it is the right and good thing to do, not because “everyone else is doing it and they have to do it ‘better.’” Thus parents and religious instructors teach children through example that internal Piety comes first, that being the individual desire to worship and serve God. As the child becomes older he or she joins together with their family’s faith community in order to have public community worship, prayer, and to perform service to the Lord, often through charity toward neighbor. However, there is great danger in teaching only the external forms of Piety with the mentality that these are check-off lists of actions that earn future reward from God. Yes, Jesus states that even the hypocrite and the boastful Pharisee will have reward for their dutiful external Piety, but Jesus warns they are on a slippery slope because God is concerned more about internal Piety than the external. After all, the whole point of Piety is to please God and to have your first “baby steps” (no matter what your age) of relationship with him. If you are praying to God but thinking cruel thoughts of others, what Piety is that? What honor are you giving God if you are using his name and his ritual on the one hand, while thinking bad thoughts about others, others who God equally loves in ways that you can’t understand?

The final point is that as I’ve said, like “Fear of the Lord,” “Piety” requires no factual understanding of the Lord, as it is like that analogy of entering the school and showing up to learn, but not being expected to know any of the subjects before they have even been taught. Jesus demonstrates that in the parable by explaining that all the man in the first parable had to do to please God was to pray in the privacy of his room (in other words, no need to perform public ritual that requires knowledge) and even more to the point, the publican in the second parable needed only to repeatedly pray for God to have mercy on him. Jesus commends the publican in the parable not only as he serves as humble contrast to the Pharisee in his internal and external Piety, but also because he did not need to know facts about God, and to be fancy in his prayers. The Pharisee cites his knowledge of God in his prayer, checking off each requirement of the Law with satisfaction. But in the parable we have no way of knowing anything about the publican, if he follows the Law faithfully or not, if he is a sinner or not, or even if he is well versed. All that we know about him is his genuine Piety, expressed over and over as he asks God for mercy. Jesus underscores all that he is teaching in these parables when he shows people how to pray to God with the “Our Father,” also known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Piety does not require understanding God, having knowledge of God and his laws, or even a structured prayer life. That is why genuine, true, pure Piety is a gift from the Holy Spirit, one that, like “Fear of the Lord” is foundational to all else, and one that must be cultivated in gratitude by everyone who seeks to know God.

I hope that you have found this helpful!

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (1) Fear of the Lord

Yesterday I listed the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in their traditional order: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and the Fear of the Lord.

While all grace that comes from God, including through the Holy Spirit, is due solely to God and his love and mercy, these gifts of the Holy Spirit can only be successfully received and grown if a person works in partnership with God to cultivate his or her receptivity to the gift.

This post suggests the most fruitful approach to doing exactly that.

If you look at the list, rather than being in sorted in an order of greatest to lowest importance, or of greatest to lowest difficulty, it helps to view the list as a bottom to top building structure. I recommend that you view each gift as depending on the previous gift for support, starting with the first item at the bottom of the list, "Fear of the Lord."

Now, I am not saying that one can receive the gifts only one at a time, with a bottom up precedence of order. Instead, to use an analogy, think of it as learning seven subjects in school at once, but advancing in all seven of those subjects from year to year as you ascend your school's levels. However, looking at the subject of reading, for example, one cannot write, a second subject, unless one can first read and recite the letters of one's alphabet. And you cannot learn anything at all if you do not have the desire to learn, either willingly or because your parents make you go to school, because it is their will and it is also the law.

"Fear of the Lord," therefore, must be the first gift from the Holy Spirit that you understand, welcome and cultivate, in order for you to genuinely acquire the other gifts. "Fear of the Lord" is like, to use our analogy, being required to go to school in the first place. Many of us remember our first day at school. Some children could not wait to go to school, eager to get an education, and also to be with their friends. Other children were not so eager, but they may have been motivated by the realization that going to school is part of being "all grown up," because many children are eager to become a "big boy" or a "big girl," and no longer be a baby. Still other children, though very few, really don't want to go to school, perhaps they are shy and fearful, but fortunately, if they have to go, with time they soon find that school is not as bad as they expected.

Many people, particularly in modern times where people have such high opinions of themselves, misunderstand and even resent what they think is implied by the concept of "Fear of the Lord." When humans are instructed to have "Fear of the Lord," they are not being told to focus on being in a state of fear, or of being in terror of the Lord, anymore than one is expected to be in fear or terror of one's loving parents. (As usual, in my analogies, we are speaking of normal people and not an abusive parent, for example). The number one fear that a baby and then an infant has is being separated from their loving parents, until they grow up a little and want to explore life, but knowing that mother or father is safely nearby. This is the essence of the meaning of "Fear of the Lord."

When one has the gift of "Fear of the Lord," one dreads and fears even the thought of ever being separated from God. You do not yet need to know anything about God in order to fear ever losing him. For example, as a baby, you know nothing about your parents, except that you need them, love them, and feel safe in their protection. As a baby you do not even know your parents' names, or their ages, or anything about them (or yourself for that matter). Yet you would fear, if you were ever put in that position, losing one or both of your parents, without knowing any of their qualities, or any facts about them as yet. That is like having to go to school in order to learn. You are not expected to already know the alphabet or counting, because that is what you are being sent to school in order to learn. This is why "Fear of the Lord" is really the first and foundational gift from the Holy Spirit, upon which all the other gifts rest on and depend on.

Now, as you mature, over the years you start to realize that you not only fear ever losing your relationship with God, but you realize that there are consequences of ever losing God. Again, to use the example of the baby, you fear losing your father because you love him and need his protection. But as a baby you don't know all the consequences if your father was lost to you, since you do not yet understand that he earns money that allows you to have shelter, food and clothes. All you know as a baby would be a terrible emotional loss if you lost your father, but only as you become an older child would you start to learn how life works, and what the list of consequences of loss of your father might be.

This is why children are taught about God in pretty much this order: that God exists, that you should love and rely on God, that you should respect God, and that you should not want to lose God just as you would not want to lose your parents. As children age they start to learn how to please God and have a relationship with him, and what actions, such as sin, jeopardize their relationship with God. Still later they understand the "why's" of sin, and even later do they start to learn about the grave consequences of continual and unrepentant sin. So proper teaching of God naturally starts with the same model of love and respect for God that the child has for his or her parents. By no means are children forced to "fear God because of hell or of being punished with bad things in life" if they are raised in a proper household.

So "Fear of the Lord" can be well understood as being at its early and most fundamental level, recognition that there is no life without God, and that one's most fervent wish is to always have a relationship with God. One fears losing the love and protection of God, just as a baby one would fear ever losing your parent. If you do not have that reality based understanding of every human's relationship to God, then all else that you learn in life, including the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, is skewed. If you do not grow up with proper "Fear of the Lord," it is like if no one forced you to go to school, and neither did they home school you, but you were put out as a street urchin every day, but still expected to learn the alphabet and how to count, and eventually receive your diploma. How can you receive a diploma if you do not go to school, say nothing of learning what you need to learn? Likewise, if you do not have "Fear of the Lord," you cannot learn about God or about the reality of secular life, and eventually you come to realize that your very diploma of life is at risk, putting your eternal life and salvation at risk.

I hope that you have found this helpful.