July 8, 2009

Reason Like a Man

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:8-12

I've been reading straight through the Bible for the past year. I'm now in 1 Corinthians, which is no great accomplishment because I should be further but for all my fits and starts. (I got stuck on the Psalms, not in the way other people might - because they don't want to leave them - but because I didn't like reading them. I wanted to get to Proverbs, to the meat of the wisdom, so-to-speak. Shows how much I know about wisdom.)

Nonetheless, here I am in 1 Corinthians, having imagined, or maybe hoped, that Paul would address them scathingly since they were fond of such obviously sinful activities. He should say, I thought, like Jonah wanted to say to the people of Ninevah, that they deserve to be destroyed. Because, well, don't they? Aren't they evil idolaters who do anything but what is proper in regards to sex and marriage? Don't they love their licentiousness more than God?

However, I'm always surprised to read how Paul addresses them from the outset ("To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours") and the gentle admonishment he gives them throughout the book. He seems to want to instruct more than rebuke, and that brings us to the passage above.

Paul had been addressing the "gift of the Spirit" and the qualities of love that make it eternal just before going into this oft-quoted string of verses, hence the introduction that love never ends (while all the other gifts, though they may be temporarily helpful - in the order he lists them - to the Church, will ultimately pass away with the harbingers of those gifts). That explains, albeit in my simple way, the first two verses.

The last two verses make sense in this context also, that now we only know partially (half-hidden, veiled, shadowed or whatever metaphor you'd like to employ) what will be revealed in our passing into God's presence after death. (*I'd like to recommend the book, "Til We Have Faces" by C.S. Lewis here, as it is an amazing allegorical novel about this veiling period.) This part of his teaching I understand, and reading that book actually helped flesh it out for me a lot more.

I can't make sense of the middle section. Superficially I get it, that Paul used to reason more simplistically and with less wisdom when he was both physically and spiritually a child. But besides that literal reading, I don't get the immediate connection to the wisdom he's imparting. What did he used to believe about knowing God, or seeing him face-to-face? What were the "childish ways" by which he reasoned about God?

It has always struck me when reading this that there is so much more about it I'm not understanding. And perhaps it is because I reason like a child. I suppose that's the reason I ask, too, since I want to "reason like a man" but feel perpetually stuck in a child's mind.

1 comment:

cityfarmer said...

I'm eating up Proverbs right now ... sometimes have to read a few a day to catch up.

Any new news?

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