Thursday, September 24, 2009

Like a drunk uses a lampost

I finished reading a great book this week by the Jewish writer David Wolpe, entitled Why Faith Matters. If you’ve read any of the popular atheists’ criticisms of faith and are looking for a thoughtful response here’s one to pick up and read. It’s well written and will certainly promote critical thinking about the issues. Towards the end of the book, Wolpe is commenting on the proper way to read the Scriptures. He paraphrases the Scottish poet Andrew Lang, writing, “Facts, some people use them as a drunk uses a lamppost, more for support than for illumination.”

To be honest, it took me a second to catch the full implications of the statement (It’s been a long week!). But the more I’ve thought about that quip, the more I like it. We live in a world that seems to be increasingly combative. Now, let me be clear, I have no problem with arguments in themselves, if those arguments include people who are attempting to discover truth, not simply beat each other to a pulp. Discussion may be a better word, but argument is fine. For even heated discussions can be good if they come from a combination of both passion and humility and move the participants towards wisdom.

But our culture, with its sound bites and Facebook statuses, has given up on discussion and embraced shouting matches as the main form of intellectual discourse. Which means there’s not too much intellect involved. People use “facts” not to enlighten their own understanding but as a way to support their own preconceived notions about the way the world is. Christians are certainly not the only practitioners of this information manipulation, but they at least should know better.

The Scriptures invite us to turn our ear towards wisdom and to apply our hearts to understanding (Proverbs 2:2). They warn us not to think that we are wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:7) for wisdom often comes from unexpected sources. Seeking not shouting becomes the main metaphor for the acquiring of wisdom. The challenge, of course, is that in order to humbly turn our ears towards wisdom we must shut our own mouths to make room for another voice. The apostle James, who also challenges us to seek wisdom, put it this way, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (2:19).

This posture of humble listener isn’t popular. And it isn’t an easy one to achieve. But the Bible teaches us it is the way towards wisdom. So, let’s start today. Seek out someone who holds a different point of view from you concerning some current topic. Ask them their opinion and then listen to their response. Resist the urge to argue. Ask good questions. Seek to understand. Who knows what you might learn?

Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin - Proverbs 10:14

1 comment:

Mark Osler said...

We have many examples in the Bible of the humble listener, but few positive examples of Angry Screaming Guy. I'm not sure how the latter became so much of our public persona.