Showing posts with label #Wisdom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Wisdom. Show all posts

Supernatural discernment: Knowing what you can’t know.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Yesterday a coworker was trying to explain some scripture to me. It’s an interpretation I was entirely unfamiliar with, so I found it interesting. Had my doubts, but kept an open mind. It sounds a little bit plausible, so I spent some of this morning investigating it. Turns out it’s something the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, and nobody else. So, nah.

But yesterday, while he was still talking to me, before I ever looked it up and knew it was something JWs teach, I had deduced, “Y’know, I think this guy’s Jehovah’s Witness.”

No, the Holy Spirit didn’t supernaturally reveal this to me. I deduced it. From the clues:

  • It’s the Christmas season, and I had heard him mock Christmas a number of times. Admittedly I do this too with the materialism around the holiday, but JWs are particularly notorious for not observing Christmas. Big obvious red flag there.
  • He dismissed any comments I had to make, or any corrections I offered to his proof texts. He was entirely sure he knew what he was talking about. JWs are notorious know-it-alls; their claims of knowing it all is largely what attracts people to them.
  • I’ve studied Christianity all my life and generally know what most Christian branches teach about that particular scripture. (And I know what Mormons teach about it; it’s not substantially different.) I’ve not studied JW teachings, so I suspected that was why this teaching was unfamiliar.
  • We have two big JW churches (ar as they prefer to call ’em, “Kingdom Halls”) in town. They’re predominantly black churches; every JW who’s come to my door has been black; and this coworker is black. Yeah, I admit there’s some racial profiling in this “clue.” Still.

So I had a working hypothesis. But of course I couldn’t prove this hypothesis… till I looked this interpretation up on the internet, and bada-bing: It’s a Jehovah’s Witness view; dude’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Okay. So now I gotta approach him from that angle whenever we talk about Jesus.

Okay. How would supernatural discernment work? Simple: The very minute I met him, before he’d said or done anything, before I had anything I can draw a conclusion from, I’d know he was Jehovah’s Witness. I’d just know.

I’d still have to confirm this belief, ’cause while the Holy Spirit is infallible, I’m surely not. It might be my own gut, not him. But it’s the easiest thing to confirm. “Hey, what church do you go to?” “Well it’s not a church; the church is people, not a building.” Ah, so you are one of those. Good to know.

You see the difference? Natural deduction, the non-supernatural stuff, involves my brain finding clues and drawing a conclusion. Sometimes properly, sometimes improperly, but it takes brainpower. The supernatural stuff does not. It’s revelation: The Holy Spirit had to give it to me. It appeared in my mind as if it’s any other data I drew from it, like how many toes are on my foot, or what color are that passerby’s shoes. It felt like pre-existing knowledge, not something the Holy Spirit told me at that instant.

Prayer instead of wisdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 April

We see this happen all the time, but the current COVID-19 outbreak is just making it more obvious: We got Christians who ignore science, ignore all medical and professional and government advice, ignore commonsense… because they pray.

They have access to the Almighty, and he can stop every potential bad thing from happening to them. “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” and all that. This being the case, it’s okay if they ignore safety warnings. They got faith. You should have faith like they do.

Bluntly, no you shouldn’t. They’re fools, and that’s not faith. It’s wishful thinking.

Faith is based on a trustworthy person or thing, and Christian faith is of course based on Christ Jesus. Faith is based on evidence, He 11.1 and that evidence is God’s word, whether it comes from the scriptures, from God’s prophets, or from the stuff he tells us when we pray. (All of which oughta jibe with one another.) If it’s not based on any of those things—if it’s based on knowing God is almighty, yet he never said he’d use his almightiness and do stuff—y’got nothing. You might call it faith, and plenty of people will agree with that misrepresentation, but again: It’s wishful thinking.

Did the Holy Spirit say he was gonna defend us against this particular disease? Actually, specifically, personally tell us so? Or did we start with a preexisting desire, and now we’re just appropriating bible verses regardless of context in an attempt to defend ourselves?


TV preacher Kenneth Copeland cursing COVID-19. I know this disease is awful, but I still say there’s a lot more rage in this guy than we oughta see in fruitful Christians. Now This News

Are we actually following Jesus? Or are we hoping, with just the right combination of proof texts, maybe we can get Jesus to follow our lead? If we shout like an angry televangelist, and curse the disease in the LORD’s name, maybe we can obligate the LORD to follow our will, instead of praying we follow his.

I hope you see the difference. One path is wise, and uses prayer correctly. The other is stupid and presumptive.

And we got a lot of stupid Christians out there. The Holy Spirit told ’em nothing when it came to this outbreak. Not that he has nothing to say; they never asked! They just presume he makes them immune—hence all the “No weapon formed against me…” quotes—and continue through life incautious and oblivious. Like a child who never learned to not follow the candy-bearing stranger into the unmarked white van. (Which is why so many Christians are so quick to fall for ridiculous, unproven “remedies”… but that’s another rant.)

For those Christians who think prayer is an almighty substitute for wisdom, caution, planning, patience, study, or for using your brain in general: Obviously it’s not.

Prayer is not a magic cure.

Prayer is talking with God. That’s all. We talk to him; he talks back. We ask for stuff; he says yes or no or “Wait” or “Do this for me first” or “No, you do it.” He grounds us, teaches us, corrects us, and encourages us. It’s like any healthy conversation with the wisest being ever.

Conversely prayer is not a ritual we perform which grants us holiness, good karma, or magic powers—including the power to fight disease. If any power follows prayer, it’s the Holy Spirit who grants it, not prayer in and of itself. Praying doesn’t grant you immunity; the Holy Spirit does that. Praying doesn’t cure illness or banish evil spirits; the Holy Spirit does that. And that’s assuming the Holy Spirit wants to do that. If he hasn’t told you he’s doing that, it’d be stupid to presume.

But of course a lot of Christians are totally presuming. They want that; they can’t imagine why the Holy Spirit wouldn’t want it as well.

If they ever bothered to pray, it’s all been unidirectional. The Spirit told them nothing. (Or maybe he has, but they weren’t listening.) Nonetheless they got out in front of him, and are claiming immunity. They’re screaming “Begone, coronavirus!” like an enraged televangelist, as if the Holy Spirit empowered them to do this; again, without first consulting him. They have no evidence this’ll come to anything. Their “faith” is based on nothing.

Well, other than the belief they prayed, so that’s something.

But that’s karma-based thinking, and God’s kingdom runs on grace. God doesn’t grant us superpowers because we pray. God acts when we trust him to do the right thing, regardless of what we might think is “the right thing,” because frequently he’s got way better ideas than we do.

And until you know what God’s ideas are… it’s best to follow basic commonsense. Like washing your hands, standing 2 meters (or 6 feet) apart from other people, covering your nose and mouth, staying home as much as possible, and prioritizing the weak and the sick over wealth and materialism. And certainly over your favorite politicians’ political priorities.

Likewise any other ailment. If you cut your hand, do you wash out the wound, or do you ignore basic first aid and pray super hard that God’ll keep you from infection, and maybe miraculously make the cut disappear? It’s freakish that Christians will immediately resort to Neosporin and Band-Aids when it comes to small injuries, but when it‘s heart disease or cancer or something else just as life-endangering, they’ll actually postpone surgery or chemotherapy and claim prayer will fix ’em. Unless God definitively answers their requests with yes, no it won’t. And even if God does plan to supernaturally cure ’em, he may want us to go to hospital just so he can cure us right in front of the nurses and doctors, and give their faith (or doubts) a massive jolt. Don’t presume one way or another! Do the commonsense thing. And pray; never stop praying.

Likewise any other safety precaution. Put smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your house! Wear your seat belts! Don’t dive into the shallow end of the pool! In general, use your head, and don’t figure prayer will make up for common stupidity. That’s not what it’s for. It’s to talk with God, and the fact Christians persist in common stupidity kinda reveals they aren’t really praying as much as they claim: If they had that much interaction with the wisest being in the universe, you’d think some of that wisdom woulda rubbed off by now.

Wisdom: Use your head!

by K.W. Leslie, 24 January
WISDOM 'wɪz.dəm noun. Having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Being wise.
2. The biblical genre which explains and teaches how to think and practice good judgment.

In the Old Testament, חָכְמָה/khokhmáh, “wisdom,” basically means the ability to think. To have a working brain. To use the sense God gave us, instead of passively letting stuff happen to us, and then blaming all the bad stuff on the government or the Republicans or the devil.

You know all those Christian ninnies whose lives are an utter mess, who complain all the time about Satan trying to steal their victory, and try to ward it off with incantations by claiming their blessings? Yeah, that’s not the devil; that’s them. Their own lack of wisdom will create all that chaos just fine without Satan lifting a finger.

Khokhmáh is the ability to understand cause and effect: When you do this, it produces that; when you don’t do this, it produces something else. You’ll notice a lot of biblical proverbs follow that format.

Proverbs 10.4-5 KWL
4 You create poverty with slack hands. Diligent hands create wealth.
5 The wise child gathers in summer. The embarrassing child sleeps through harvest.

The authors were trying to teach good sense: Human psychology, ethical behavior, clever planning, and all the stuff our culture typically associates with wise people. Actions have consequences, and all things being equal, these are the consequences, so bear them in mind. (And, because wisdom covers its bases, Ecclesiastes points out sometimes all things aren’t equal, and there are exceptions to these rules. Because life isn’t fair. Not that we should therefore be a dick about it and refuse to be fair either.)

Various bible commentators figure khokhmáh doesn’t just refer to good sense, but smarts of all sorts. For their proof text they point to when the LORD singled out Bechalel ben Uri and Oholiav ben Akhisamakh as the craftsmen who’d design all the stuff for his tabernacle. He told Moses he filled the both of ’em with khokhmáh, with wisdom. Ex 31.1-6 So these commentators figure, “Oh, wisdom also means skills and talents.” Nah. Wisdom is still wisdom. God gave Bechalel and Oholiav ability, but they needed the wisdom to use their ability well.

  • They needed time management. Israel needed these things built as soon as possible.
  • They needed people skills: They had to work with other artists, who built other things. And they’d have to deal with nitpicking people who thought they knew better what the tabernacle might need.
  • They needed the good sense to not obsess about getting their stuff “perfect”—as people do when they have a really important client to impress, and who’s more important than God?
  • Conversely they needed to not be so fixated on what they were doing, they forgot their work was meant to facilitate worship. Unlike certain music pastors… but let’s not go there today.
  • They needed to be appropriate: “Come on guys, don’t put penises on the cherubs!”

Artistry itself isn’t wisdom. But artists definitely need wisdom! Same as everyone.

However. There are plenty of folks, Christians included, who don’t care to be wise. Usually it’s because we figure we already know everything we need to know, and needn’t add any “useless trivia” to it. We figure we know best. Or that the laws of cause and effect don’t apply to us, ’cause “I claimed my victory.” Or we don’t like what someone’s saying, and figure it therefore can’t be true—as if truth is only gonna be what we like. (I run into this attitude all the time. Occasionally people claim it’s a recent trend, but it’s really not. Wishful thinking has always been hardwired into humanity.)

The writers of the scriptures have a lot of choice words for such people.

  • אֱוִיל/evýl, “silly” or “twisted.”
  • כָּסַל/kasál, “dense.” Literally “fat,” in reference to one’s heart (which they imagined we thought with), which they figured was too surrounded by fatty tissue for anyone to get through to.
  • נָבָל/navál, “empty.” Like a wineskin, deflated ’cause there’s nothing in it. Or like an empty brain, which is why Hebrew-speakers used it to indicate a moron.

Translators kindly render these words as “foolish” and “folly.” But let’s not sugar-coat things: The proper term for this thinking is stupid.

When I use the word “stupid,” a lot of young people flinch. A lot of ’em, unless they were raised by awful parents, were taught “stupid” is a bad word; that you never call somebody stupid. Because they assume (again, as they were taught) stupidity is a condition you can’t change. Some people were born without smarts, without intelligence, without the ability to use their commonsense. And can’t help it if they’re stupid. Likewise if you call someone stupid you’re sorta cursing them, and they’ll think they are stupid, and give up hope of ever doing better.

But anyone can do better. Stupidity is a choice. So’s wisdom.

That’s why the scriptures describe fools as getting punished for their stupidity:

Proverbs 26.3 KWL
You take a whip to a horse, a bridle to a donkey, and a cane to an idiot’s backside.

Because they choose to shun wisdom. They deliberately make bad choices and refuse to listen to reason or sense. It’s not just because they’re deficient, or because life is unfair. Stupid is a decision.

Throughout the bible’s wisdom writings, wisdom gets compared to stupidity. The scriptures teach it’s far better to be wise than dumb. Far better to know how the world works, than passively let things just happen, or to guess wrong and come to ruin. We see examples of this all the time: If you don’t care about gravity, your poorly-built house may cave in on you. If you don’t care about fairness, your neighbors and coworkers will avenge themselves upon you when they feel you’ve wronged them.

Wisdom is found all over the bible. Most of it is concentrated in the wisdom literature, and found in the form of proverbs, brief wisdom sayings which are usually true.

Usually true?

Proverbs and biblical wisdom regularly gets misinterpreted: People assume if something’s in the bible, it’s always true, never fails, works in every situation. These, they claim, are God’s promises.

Let’s be clear: The scriptures are infallible. But that’s when we use them correctly. When we misinterpret them of course they’re not gonna work the way we claim. If you think Psalm 91 means we can jump off tall buildings and angels will catch you, man are you stupid. The devil’s temptation of Jesus would’ve totally worked on you, and it’s gonna have a lot of fun tripping you up. But obviously that’s not what that psalm’s about! As Jesus knew when Satan misquoted it. Lk 4.9-12

When the LORD commands something, when Jesus teaches something, when the apostles give their interpretations, these are absolute statements. They’re always true; circumstances don’t change ’em; take ’em to the bank. And in the case of prophecies these are conditional statements: If you meet the conditions, they’ll happen, otherwise not. If Jerusalem stops sinning, God’ll bless them; if Jerusalem keeps sinning, God won’t. Prophecies have catches, and they’re based on how we humans respond to the prophecies. God stays consistent, but we’re the variable. Fill in the correct variables, get the correct answers.

And proverbs are circumstantial statements: For them to be true, the circumstances have to be right. Circumstances change things. Generally God permits the wise and righteous to prosper, and the foolish and lawless to come to ruin. But not always. There are, like Ecclesiastes points out, cases where that’s not so. The proverbs are what tend to be true, all things being equal. But life and nature aren’t consistent. Circumstances change things.

How can I claim proverbs aren’t absolute statements? Simple: Some proverbs contradict one another. Deliberately so. I like to use this pair of proverbs on answering a fool as an example:

Proverbs 26.4-5 KWL
4 Don’t respond to a fool’s stupidity, lest you be compared to them.
5 Respond to a fool’s stupidity, lest they become wise in their own eyes.

If you were raised to believe the bible never, ever contradicts itself, are you in for a rude awakening. It’s much of the reason Christians tend to ignore Ecclesiastes. In Proverbs we’re taught wisdom pays off and stupidity doesn’t; in Ecclesiastes we’re taught the stupid might prosper, the wise might go without, and none of this means a thing. Those who love to quote Proverbs with impunity, absolutely hate how Ecclesiastes undermines it. So they either pretend Jesus undoes Ecclesiastes, or imply Solomon wrote it after he started to dabble in idolatry. Or otherwise illegitimately impugn its wisdom.

And yet we see a contradiction smack dab in mid-Proverbs. Its editor intentionally put 26.4-5 next to one another. Both proverbs are credited to Solomon. And both were composed to fit different circumstances. With some fools, follow verse 4, ’cause they’re too stupid to take correction. With other fools, correct ’em as verse 5 instructs, ’cause they’re still able to receive it. Sometimes verse 4 is true, sometimes verse 5.

Same with every other contradictory proverb. Like these.

COMME ÇICOMME ÇA
Wisdom will make you happy. Pr 3.13 Wisdom will make you miserable. Ec 1.18
Discipline is wasted on fools. Pr 16.22 Discipline fools. Pr 19.29
The godly have food and the wicked go hungry. Pr 13.25 The godly have treasure and the wicked have trouble. Pr 15.6 Sometimes the wise go hungry. Sometimes the skillful aren’t rich. Ec 9.11
The wise inherit honor. Pr 3.35 Qohelet watched wicked people get buried with honor. Ec 8.10

How do you sort out which one applies to your circumstances? Duh: Wisdom.

You need wisdom to study wisdom.

I know. There are Christians who teach, “If the bible ever contradicts itself, we’ll have to throw the entire thing out, because we can’t trust it anymore.” The Fundamentalists who taught my childhood Sunday school classes never tired of saying this.

And they’d be fools. Because anybody who seriously studies the wisdom portions of the bible knows there are contradictions in there. That’s what happens when you teach ethics! Life is messy and complicated, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to some problems—as Ecclesiastes regularly points out. Sometimes you gotta answer fools in their folly, and sometimes you’re the fool if you don’t keep your mouth shut.

So those who wanna turn off their brains and just quote Proverbs in every situation, are being the very sort of fools Proverbs warns against. We’re not to read the bible’s wisdom so we can stop thinking and quote proof texts. We’re to read it so we can learn: Okay, in these circumstances it’s best to think like so. In other circumstances it’s best to think another way. In life there’s a time for this, and a time for that. Ec 3.1 So we gotta judge which circumstance we’re in. We gotta think. It’s why God gave us our brains.

True, our motives are corrupted by our selfishness. This doesn’t mean, as many brain-dead Christians presume, we can’t be trusted, so stop thinking and just quote bible. We humans might be flawed, but we’re learning better, and growing good fruit. We’re learning to recognize our biases and undo them. It’s why we’re encouraged to pray for wisdom. Jm 1.5 It’s why we’re instructed to judge righteously. Jn 7.24 Grow wisdom.

Honestly, some Christians don’t wanna do this. They’re really bugged by the idea we get to deduce right and wrong; humans aren’t trustworthy! They don’t trust themselves to do it right. They certainly don’t trust others. It’s way more comfortable to not think at all, and follow blind basic instructions from the bible.

Which is why such people tend to treat Proverbs as if it’s not just situational guidelines, but biblical commands. Which is why they invent “biblical principles” based on Proverbs, and foolishly treat the wisdom as if one size does fit all. In so doing they utterly miss wisdom. We’re to grapple with wise sayings, not just swallow ’em whole. Pr 1.5-6 We’re to understand, not just accept. We’re to see beyond the proverbs, and grow to understand the God who inspired them.

This is why foolish Christians misquote proverbs as if they’re commands or promises. Whereas wise Christians recognize ordinarily the race is to the swift, and the battle to the strong. But sometimes it’s not. Ec 9.11 It’s stupid to treat proverbs as always, universally true. (And particularly stupid to quote certain friends of Job, considering how the LORD stated nothing they said about him was correct. Jb 42.7 Context, folks.)

Discernment: Using your noggin.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 May

I’ve written briefly on the supernatural kind of discernment—one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us to minister to others, But today I get to the stuff we totally realize on our own. Good old-fashioned brain-powered discernment. The ability to judge stuff.

There are two kinds of discernment. There’s the supernatural stuff, one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us so we can minister to others, which enables us to realize stuff we’d never realize on our own. And there’s the natural stuff, the ability to figure stuff out on our own. Today I’m writing about the natural stuff.

Unfortunately there are Christians who don’t realize there are two kinds. Either they think it’s all supernatural, and that every person with a knack for deductive reasoning must be some sort of prophet (and no they’re not); or they think none of it’s supernatural, including cases where the available evidence can’t possibly have shown you to your conclusions.

I get why people might think all discernment is supernatural: It’s because they themselves don’t know how to discern stuff. They leap to conclusions. They confuse their unthinking, knee-jerk prejudices with insight: When they’re not comfortable with a new thing, they presume it’s evil. (Same as those old-timers in the 1950s and ’60s who presumed rock ’n roll was evil; same as those folks in the present day who presume Harry Potter is evil. “It’s about magic? Must be evil.”) They apply connect-the-dots reasoning to things, come to wacky conclusions, and because others can’t follow their illogic, imagine God gave ’em the ability to see stuff others can’t. Nope; ’twasn’t God; that’s all them. And that’s not discernment either.

Actual, regular, non-supernatural discernment means we gotta think. We gotta figure things out. We gotta look at people’s motives. We gotta look for the things the scriptures instruct us to: Fruit of the Spirit, or works of the flesh. Good or bad character. Motives. Self-sacrificing or self-serving deeds. There’s a difference, and we gotta detect these differences.

Discernment is a form of wisdom, and the Old Testament frequently uses wisdom as a synonym for practicing discernment. Dt 32.29, 1Ki 3.12, Pr 16.21, Is 44.18 Wisdom is knowing what we oughta do, and doing it. Likewise knowing what we ought not do, and not doing that. We gotta recognize the difference between good and evil before we do what’s good. Otherwise we’ll get tricked into evil: We’ll do what looks wise, but it’s self-deception, the product of shallow thinking, or frauds invented by evil people.

Give you an example. Lots of people assume “natural” is always good, and “artificial” is always bad. In food, in fabric, in cleaning products, in building materials, in personality traits—doesn’t matter; what comes “natural” is good. If nature made it, eat plenty. If humans made it in a lab, avoid.

And here’s where that rationale falls apart: Tobacco is natural, but it’s awful for you. Pasteurized milk, processed in a lab, is way safer to drink than untreated raw milk. There are plenty of cases where “natural” is dangerous, and “artificial” is best. But you try telling that to some stay-at-home mom who read four websites and is now convinced vaccines are deadly.

Yep, most people don’t bother with any kind of discernment. Christians included.

It’s why we Christians are suckers for every “natural” fad. Why we spread Christian-sounding sayings around, yet never double-check ’em against the scriptures. Why we embrace interesting pop-culture wisdom, but never ask “Is that from God?” Whatever makes us feel good, affirmed, righteous, excited, inspired, clever, positive—if we’re happy and we know it, we shout Amen.

As if the devil doesn’t know how to manufacture happiness.

No, it won’t be lasting happiness. The devil can’t actually do joy. But the fake joy only has to last long enough to lead us astray, exploit us, or use us to mislead others. When we’re fools enough, we’ll get ensnared in other schemes long before we realize errors of that first scheme. So this is precisely why we gotta learn discernment: We gotta extricate ourselves from our current mess, and learn to stay out of future messes.