I have seen posters several times with these words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel wherever you go, and when necessary, use words.” I can see why people find the words attractive. They think that Christians talk too much and that they should focus on meeting people’s physical and material needs. The love of God in our lives is to overflow so that we feed the poor, rescue the lost, befriend the lonely and meet the practical material needs of our “neighbor”. But if one means that meeting material needs is essential, while meeting needs for knowledge and wisdom is optional and of less importance, I energetically disagree! I just startled Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog, who was lying on his bed that he had dragged into my office. I stamped my weight-bearing foot and pounded my fist or Stamped My foot, Scared Jack Lewis (SMFSJL). I have been taught in college about Abraham Maslow’s (1908-1970) “Hierarchy of Needs”, that people cannot attend to “higher” needs until their material needs are met. Nonetheless, I’m still stamping my foot and pounding my fist and the Bible Study Dog (BSD) is slipping out of the room.
If one believes that God exists and people will live forever, then the knowledge and wisdom, communicated through words, that we have, is shaping who we will be for eternity. We are even now moving step by step closer to Hell, a miserable life without God, or toward Heaven, a life of overwhelming joy in God’s Presence where we are one with beauty, truth and goodness. Eternal happiness is at stake, not just the happiness of 75 or so years. It would not be loving to meet people’s physical needs and then leave them without crucial bits of knowledge that might be important for the humans who will live forever. If what I believe is true, then the latter is more important than the former and to leave people without something that I have learned, perhaps with great difficulty, that they need, is not loving but hateful! I recognize that my experience does not equip me to communicate knowledge to every person equally well, but surely all Christians have been made to refract some different truths because of our different experiences, temperaments, abilities and the wisdom and knowledge that we have acquired.
However, even in our journey through this life on earth, knowledge and wisdom have a lot to do with how well we will live. Jesus met the devil’s temptation (when Jesus was very hungry, having fasted for forty days) to turn stones into bread with this quote from Deuteronomy: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4b, NRSV) Deuteronomy in turn was the record of what Israel had learned wandering in the wilderness over forty years. In other words, we need words, God’s words, every one of the them, the knowledge of God, wisdom about living in trust (think of the water from a rock, the manna and the quails) at least as much as we need food. As for Jesus, “The Hierarchy of Needs” wasn’t working very well that day.
God intends for us to have knowledge, not just opinions or faith. After all God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:6a, ESV) not “My people are destroyed for lack of faith“. Lack of knowledge can lead to severe results in our embodied existence. Just ask Isaiah. God through Isaiah spoke of Israel going into captivity: “Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst.” (Isaiah 5:13, ESV)
I sometimes view knowledge as a mental map of the world. The map tells us what kind of beings exist, how the world usually works and the relationships of things to one another. If the map is inaccurate, the consequences might be painful. For instance, Terry, my wife, might move the furniture around, so that coming home in the dark with an inaccurate mental map, I might go flying over a couch to a painful landing. If you believe that God and other supernatural beings affect the world, you will tend to live in a certain way. If you believe that humans are basically good, and only need a tad of instruction, you will be in for a shock. On the other hand you may hold beliefs that cannot account for the dignity and value of each human being. Whether you believe that the humans that you love or don’t, live forever, will affect how you treat them. You also might want to have accurate knowledge of other creatures nearby; where I grew up these included mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, owls, deer, gophers, bats, lizards, rattle snakes and bears.
Now Jack tends to focus on his material and culinary interests. The lower levels of needs are obviously very important to him. But even Jack Lewis finds that certain informational cues are worth interrupting his typical focus for. For example when the BSD is attempting to play with a guest (say untying shoelaces just like the next bloke) I can merely wiggle my fingers over his kennel and he will willingly go in, knowing that there is a sense of relief from being released from temptation. Or I can say this magic sentence, “Jack, remember we are the non-whining pack”, and he will immediately cease to whine. If I saw a sign that said “Bridge Out Ahead” or “One Way Street” that’s important information for me.
In Orlando, FL., near Lake Hart, my mother has a small body of water named after her. It’s called Lake Vonette and is surrounded by manicured lawns and flowers that slope gently down to the water. There is a prayer garden there and a raised platform or gazebo. But here is why all of this is of interest to us. At the edge of the water, near the prayer garden and gazebo, are little signs, black on white, that say: “WATCH FOR ALLIGATORS” or something like that. Now if you were praying there, wouldn’t that be important information to have? I might pray with at least one eye open!
These reflections have led Jack, the Bible Study Dog, and me to reflect on different kinds of signs or ‘signage’ (see the post “Chance of Awesome Today: Extreme”). For instance, there is the sign with a flattering message. If you agree with it, you feel superior. For Jack an analog would be, “Food, Your Reward For A Sensitive Nose”.
There are surprising signs, like the one that I have called Bono On America. And speaking of Bono, here is a surprisingly straightforward and orthodox take on Jesus Christ, miracles, the Resurrection and more on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-OR5Ors23M
Or then there are self-referential signs which create the danger of which they warn. For Jack this includes any sign that gets in the way of his lightening fast locomotion.
This one is an example of everything it opposes. It is deceptively simple; “Kids, don’t try this at home.”
There are signs, like this one, that are not always true. I mean there are books that lie aren’t there? And yet amazingly, true so often! For Jack Lewis, this is like the signs that say “High Protein Canine Food On Sale Here”.
There are signs that suggest engaging in hitherto avoided attitudes. The BSD doesn’t need a sign for this; he is the sign! I have written about how when Jack suspects something ominous is outside or just wants to have a little fun with us, he lets out huge, bass, deafening barks until he is completely satisfied that he has seen signs of panic from everyone in the house.
This one is frank about the source of the (admittedly exotic) danger, if a tad non-specific about the actual danger. It also has the advantage of being in a picture with my son, Chris, and a friend, calling attention to the sign; signs of the sign, so to speak. Let’s also give this one an honorary mention in the nepotism category.
Clear goals, and perhaps some tragic experience, lie behind this one.
This one warns that politics is not everything, or as Andrew Breitbart used to say, “Culture is upstream from politics”, which is why I am writing this blog.
This one, from Iraq or Afghanistan, is from the “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” category.
This sign announces the unavailability of a mind for new or corrected knowledge. This one is truly depressing, even terrifying. Jesus often found that people felt so threatened by him, that they refused to see what was right before their eyes. On the other hand, of course, one might be too “open-minded”. Witness all the foolish and contradictory ideas that people will entertain. G.K. Chesterton said something like, “The purpose of opening one’s mind is the same as the purpose for opening one’s mouth: to close it on something.”
I must include this one. Living well is the best revenge. I saw CSN&Y live three times!
Finally, I leave you with the most important one. Ingratitude takes us away from God (Rom. 1:18-23) and reality and sanity (Rom. !:24-25, 28-31). Thankfulness opens us to appreciation and then worship and finally to God, reality, sanity and joy.
This post was powered by the album, “Young Oceans – Collection” (2014) by Young Oceans, the album, “Endless Years” (2012) by Will Reagan & United Pursuit, and the albums, “The Late Greats – 2014 Summer Tour Mix” (2014) and “More Miserable Than You’ll Ever Be (Deluxe)” (2014), both by The 77s.