What do we do when we are lost? Wandering aimlessly is not likely to help, in fact we would probably end up back where we started. In order to rescue ourselves from being lost, we need an unchanging guide to keep looking at, so that we don’t get off course. The stars have provided that for sailors and others to navigate by. A compass does much the same. A map is only useful if you know where you are starting from.
We can get lost in life, get off track, go down blind alleys, get frustrated and exhausted. Psalm 119 tells us that God’s Word is a light to our path; it illuminates the way we should walk in. On Tuesday my reflection considered the issue of being lost. The readings were Psalm 84 and Mark 7:1-13. The text of my reflection is given below:
Imagine being in thick woods with the trees blocking out much of the sky. Somehow you have lost your bearings and you are trying to get home. So you take a look around and decide which way you came by and begin to walk in that direction. You continue to walk that way as best you can, though trees often get in the way. As you can only see a little way behind and in front it’s very easy to get off course. After a very long time walking you find yourself back where you started, no nearer home, just as thoroughly lost as before.
The Pharisees set out on their journey in a quest to get back to living in a way that would honour God. They looked for the commandments of God to guide them in the way they should go and they added to them by interpreting just what each one should mean exactly. Eventually they fenced themselves around with rules, over 600 of them. They believed that in following them they were bringing their lives into line with what God wanted. They had taken their bearings and were walking in the right direction. Jesus pointed out to them that in reality they were well and truly lost: ‘In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.’
The Pharisees had made some mistakes in my opinion which had landed them in this position. One mistake I think is not taking an overview of the Scriptures. Take the example Jesus gave about the tradition of Corban. It’s obviously very good to give generously to God to show your love for him and to enable the work of God to be done. However, in focussing on giving to God the Pharisees had not looked at the equally important issue of honour for parents. They also had not taken into account the numerous admonitions to care for the poor yet their parents would be poor indeed if not supported. The Bible is designed to work as a whole but they, well meaning though they might have been, had become well and truly lost.
Getting lost in this way is not peculiar to the Pharisees. They were not especially wicked or stupid. We can all fall into the same trap that they did. As Anglicans we find our bearings using scripture, reason and tradition as described by Richard Hooker. You will find this quote on our blog under ‘The Vision’:
“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due. The next whereunto is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason. After these the voice of the church succeeds.”
What Hooker tells us to do is first of all to believe the plain reading of Scripture. Some things are just obvious and as such need little enquiry to understand. Some people might find it difficult to accept that they can just read Scripture and accept it as written. That seems like unthinking obedience, not suitable for educated people. Perhaps it was fine for simple uneducated, superstitious folk in the past but not for we cultured members of the 21st century.
Blind obedience can cause all sorts of trouble as the following example shows. In June 1893 the British Mediterranean fleet was on exercises. Vice-Admiral George Tryon was commanding one half of the fleet and Rear Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham was commanding the other half. The two halves of the fleet were sailing parallel to one another. Tryon gave the order for each half to turn inwards towards one another. Such ships took a long distance to turn. Markham recognised that if he obeyed the order there was a strong likelihood of a collision. He didn’t respond but on being told a second time, against his better judgement, he did as he was asked. It became apparent all too late that HMS Victoria and HMS Camperdown were going to collide, which they did despite valiant last minute efforts to avert disaster. 358 men including Tryon died that day. At the later court martial Markham was acquitted as he had followed the orders of Tryon. Blind obedience won over good sense.
The Bible actually encourages us to use our minds. Jesus quotes the Old Testament when asked about the greatest commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Our minds are to be used as part of our loving God. Loving God is doing as his commandments tell us. So Jesus is commending the use of our minds to help us to follow the right way through life.
In fact without using our minds well we can end up in a very big mess. I’m sure you will have heard the story of the person who wanted to get some guidance from the Bible. Instead of applying the general principles in there or any specific guidance on the matter in hand, they decided to use the Bible as a kind of oracle. Opening the first page and stabbing a finger randomly on the page they read: ‘And Judas went and hanged himself.’ Not gaining a lot from that they repeated the process and found themselves reading: ‘Go, and do thou likewise.’
This using of our minds is the ‘reason’ part of Hooker’s advice. We need to apply common sense to our reading of the Bible. That means not taking verses out of context as the example I have just given does. It means allowing one part of scripture to support another, and giving a lot of thought when that apparently isn’t the case. Take for instance the possible rendering of the words of the centurion when Jesus was crucified. He could have said, ‘Truly this man was THE Son of God’ or ‘Truly this man was A son of God.’ One statement makes a very different claim from the other. Taken in isolation it would be difficult to know which was right. But if you read of God’s words at Jesus’ baptism and at the transfiguration: ‘This is my son’; if you read in Mark’s gospel of the evil spirits recognising Jesus as the Son of God; if you read in John’s gospel: ‘glory as of the only Son from the Father’; or in Paul’s words in Romans: ‘by sending his own Son’; it becomes clear that Jesus was not A son but THE Son.
We are told in Psalm 119: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ If we allow God’s word to guide us we will not be lost, finding ourselves walking in circles or confusing ourselves with doctrines of our own making. We will instead have a clear path outlined to walk in and will bring glory to God by our lives.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor