Every so often my Christian life is interrupted by a short time of unspecified bewilderment. Instead of reading my Bible, I glower at its cover, as if by so doing I could render it more self-explanatory. I open it up without knowing whether I’m going to try Matthew or Ecclesiastes. I recall hearing talks about Knowing the Love that Surpasses Knowledge, but still I ‘just want to understand…’ things in general, or x, y or z in particular.
Unfortunately, as I have recently realised, my method of dealing with such situations is comically inadequate. Here are the thirteen steps, from my experience, of a Greek seeking wisdom.
Step 1. I want to understand the Bible better, so I borrow a Study Bible and read the notes. These either (a) tell me what is already obvious from the passage or (b) explain why the passage doesn’t mean what you thought it might mean but rather something else that’s much more evangelical. The weirder passages are mostly ignored.
Step 2. I attend a Bible study session at church. We examine coloured maps of the Middle East at the time of Christ. I fail to remember the respective positions of Jerusalem, Capernaum and the Decapolis, because social paranoia is taking up all my attention.
Step 3. I attend another Bible study session. We nearly get the questions right, but are thwarted by inability to read the mind of the Bible Study Group Leader.
Step 4. Another Bible study session is spent just praying for people, which feels like a good use of time.
Step 5. I’m still puzzled by the Bible though, so I get a fat book out of the library called something like The Living World of the Old Testament. By the time I’ve finished it, I’ve forgotten what happened at the beginning, and it has been requested by some other library user.
Step 6. Pondering a turn of phrase somewhere in the New Testament, I summon a friend to tell me how it looks in the original Greek. The conversation is enjoyable but drifts away onto other topics.
Step 7. I try daily Bible reading notes. Most of them recapitulate the passage in a more long-winded way.
Step 8. I experiment with Commentaries On or Introductions To various bits of the Bible. They are all written by conservative scholars who weigh up conservative and liberal views on questions of date and authorship and invariably decide that on balance the conservative view is probably correct.
Step 9. I give up on the whole attempt. This works for a while. Then one morning I discover that I don’t understand something/anything. It is quite early in the morning, however, and a cup of tea will surely fix the problem.
Step 10. The problem persists. Another cup of tea will surely fix it.
Step 11. It’s time to go to work. I sing some worship songs on the way and forget whatever the problem was.
Step 12. The problem resurfaces! Cheek!
Step 13. Well, the obvious thing to do is to write a blog post about it…
And round and round it goes. But at every stage I cheer myself with the thought that, while I may well be a Greek seeking wisdom in the 1 Corinthians sense, there must be some types of wisdom-hunt that are Scripturally justifiable, or we wouldn’t have Proverbs, and wisdom wouldn’t be listed as a gift of the Spirit.
The challenge, I suppose, is figuring out how to seek—and here I note a felicity in the ordering of these encouragements:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
If we don’t know how to seek understanding, we can ask to be shown how; and if we ask it will be given; and then we can seek the door to understanding and will find it; and then we can knock… but you get the idea.