Friday, May 28, 2010

Holy Means Whole: According to Golden and Greatest

Sometimes Christians are guilty of saying things are OK, when they are not. I remember one such instance, when I was around 10 years old. Our Sunday School teacher asked us this question: “What does love mean?” One thing still stands out to me. I wasn’t as sure I knew what love meant leaving the class as I was when I had come into it. I’m afraid that sometimes children's and adult's experiences with knowing the meaning of holy can be equally unsettling. That is not OK.
There is a number of possible reasons for why I felt uneasy and I am sure my teacher may have felt like saying: "Oops, I left my students a bit overwhelmed." She might have seen it in our faces.

Maybe I misunderstood the teacher, though it is doubtful based on me offering what she considered the best attempt at defining it. I think the rest of the class was overwhelmed too. Then again, maybe I was daydreaming and missed her great answer right at the end. I suppose I’ve done that once in a while. Maybe the teacher used a bad technique in teaching. I suppose this is possible because I have had wonderful experiences in the Sunday School on other days. Maybe one of my classmates was a bad distraction that day. Actually, I think we were pretty well behaved that day. Or maybe the ultimate culprit is my feeling of comfort before we tried to define holy. Maybe my understanding just wasn’t that good (“caring” was my definition), so I needed to be challenged. This could produce a hot debate.

Trying to figure out the culprit that day is not easy. It is made even more difficult by the fact that this is a 40 year old cold case. I’m not sure even Agatha Christie could make this story come alive. I think if I ask the question of what went wrong that day I would hear as many reasons for why as I would definitions of love on that Sunday morning 40 years ago. So things can get worse through this line of investigation rather than better. Likewise, if we can’t agree on the meaning of love or what went wrong in trying to define it, what hope do we have that we can define holy?
There might be a clue in the Bible itself that might allow us to solve this 40 year old cold case, even if the facts are not all that clear compared to years ago. Maybe we can find a clue not investigated 40 years ago.
Many people are likely familiar with 2 lines in the Bible. They are: 1) The Golden Rule and 2) The 2nd Greatest Commandment. The Golden Rule (a clear English translation) reads: “Do for others what you want them to do for you.” The 2nd Greatest Commandment reads: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

At first glance these two statements may seem equally easy, but I would argue that it is more likely someone would reach for a dictionary more often on the 2nd Greatest Commandment than on the Golden Rule. For some pastors, the dictionary is the first tool in their tool box. What if they didn’t need to reach for a dictionary as often or you didn’t have to either? What if the definitions for the words of the 2nd Greatest Commandment were in the Bible itself, only hidden from our view by our culture’s educational practices and brought to our view by the Bible’s own educational practices?
In the letter to the Hebrews, part of the the Biblical pattern of education is disclosed. The teacher is to move from milk to solid food, not from solid to food to milk. Likewise, the central point of the statement is that a person should not be satisfied with milk. Another implication is that a person is not a teacher unless they can handle solid food.
One specific example of solid food is “the word of righteousness.” It is pretty well known that this is not initially an easy word to understand. I would argue that the word of love has the same status even though we consider it to be simpler to understand. Here is my reason why. It is that they are both, at a minimum, complex ideas. They require more than just one word to define them. That is why care is not quite adequate to define love, even if it is a step in the right direction. This has big implications for our 40 year old cold case.

This would mean that the teacher was not asking us 10 year olds (maybe only 8 or 9) a milk question, but a solid food question. This would further mean that because we were at most only 10 years old, we were probably not yet equipped to handle the question. That’s probably the real reason I felt unsettled, not because my answer was unsatisfactory and as a 10 year old I needed to be challenged more. My classmates and I had been introduced to a topic over our heads. I would say further that the word of holy is in the same class as righteousness and love in terms of complexity. It can likewise overwhelm us at stages in life.
So what can be done? In our Christian education growing up, we were most likely introduced to the Golden Rule and the 2nd Greatest Commandment around the same time. In fact, I hear fairly often the 2nd Greatest Commandment declared basic even now. Yet, if one is milk and the other solid food, they should not be introduced at the same time in one’s development. Also, what if Golden is a clue to the value of this rule as a youthful statement of meaning? What if we are to tach the Golden Rule first and the 2nd Greatest Commandment second, so it follows the first and is seen as not basic but at the pinnacle of Biblical education? What too are the implications for understanding holy, if it too is on the solid food level?
Let’s experiment with the method of placing the Golden rule in the place of milk and the 2nd Greatest Comandment in the place of solid food. Let’s see if the milk of the Golden Rule helps us later digest solid food of the 2nd Greatest Commandment.
The way I am going to display this method is to write out the 2nd Greatest Commandment/solid food and then write in parentheses behind each word of the commandment words from the Golden Rule/milk. In a 2nd stage I will add block parentheses for words to give a fuller meaning to the commandment.
The 2nd Greatest Commandment reads:
Love (do for) your (you) neighbor (others) as (what you want them to do for) yourself (you).
Notice the simple definitions you can equip people with for understanding more complex ideas. And these definitions are right out of the Bible itself. Please don’t throw any of your dictionaries quite yet.
The 2nd Greatest Commandment reads again (now with added block parentheses):
Love ([all kinds] do for) your ([of] you) neighbor ([nearest] others) as (what you want them [others] to [all kinds] do for) yourself ([self {all of hearts, soul, strength, mind}] of you).
Notice this even better demonstration of the complexity of the 2nd Greatest Commandment over the Golden Rule. While the Golden Rule is very good at explaining the basics it is not equal in greatness to the 2nd Greatest Commandment. It is like comparing milk and solid food.
Yet moving toward a solution to our earlier problem in Sunday school requires moving in the opposite direction and seeing the hidden value of something golden or something that is called milk. Love is far easier to grasp, if you begin by defining it with “do for.” Your and yourself are much easier, if you begin from “you.” As is far easier to grasp, if you think of “what you want them to do for you.” It expresses equality and justice at a pretty basic level. So likewise I would argue that we need to know the milk word behind the solid meat word to really understand what holy means. Holy is solid food. What would be its parallel milk word?
Let me share with you some baby steps or should I say milk steps in the area of what might be the gold before the greatest when it comes to holy. I believe the place to begin to understand holy is with the simpler concepts of the body and its members. That is what I believe is the milk of the Word that needs to precede the solid food of the Word. These need to precede holy and its parts.
My strongest argument for this idea right now is the frequency of the words involving these topics – body, members, feet, foot, eye, hand, finger, etc. and that frequency in writing can point to its level of importance in language. I also believe that this is a popular analogy with Paul and Jesus. Likewise we know holy is very important and very frequently used involving – holy, holiness, sanctification, sanctify, hallow, etc. We also know its importance from: “holy, holy, holy.” So they could have a connection like the Golden Rule and the 2nd Greatest Commandment, because of their equivalent importance on their respective levels.

To use actual Biblical texts as a starting point, I think the Bible moves from milk to solid food or from Golden to Greatest in the following:
“… the body is one and has many members and all the members, though many, are one body….” (1 Cor. 12:12 – in part).
“Because it is written, `Be holy for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:16 – in part)
Let me demonstrate how this works out through a process similar to what I did before:
Be holy (one and has many members) for I am holy (all the members, though many, are one).
In plain language, this is all I have ever been saying in anything I have written previously in trying to define holy. It is that basic on the level of milk.

These texts above may not be the most important texts in the Bible for what I am saying, but I do think that they are at least baby or milk steps in the right direction. When I get more time, I will come up with the best two texts to use.

A major part of my confidence is in the idea that both milk and solid food have this is in common, that they are both healthy. Holy should produce healthy consequences like the importance of the body and not just singular members. They should have things in common like that of the Golden Rule and that of the 2nd Greatest Commandment.

So in summary, I believe we need to do the following:

· Proceed from milk to solid food, from golden (least) to greatest
· Use milk words as the Bible’s own internal dictionary for solid food words
· Don’t overload or overwhelm children with solid food nor let adults be satisfied with milk
· Use this method of milk to solid food to clarify solid food words like holy, righteous or love
· Lastly, discover the culprit who has reversed the order to solid food to milk.
I don't think my teacher was the primary culprit since she probably was not the first nor the last. Besides this I am convinced she loved us in the truest sense, so I doubt she reversed things intentionally.

Please be aware that my confidence in writing about holy does not come so much from my grasp of greatest things as in my grasp of least things. My understanding of “this little piggy went to market,” apparently from Mother Goose origin and definitely from my mother, has a lot to do with my confidence. I got what my mother was trying to teach me about my body and its members. So I understand very well the healthy teaching of the concept of the body and its members. It is my best explanation for the meaning of holy I have argued for up to this moment. This is what I mean when I say holy means whole.

I am suggesting that holy is a healthy continuation from body like love is from do for. Like moving from milk to solid food there is a healthy continuation from the stage of childhood to adulthood. The food needs change. Milk alone is a very poor diet and unhealthy. But the solid food choices in this world are inexhaustible, so not as easy as an early diet. I think likewise love, righteousness and holiness are inexhaustible ideas that have a complexity to them that simple ideas alone do not grasp. You can use a number of these simple ideas to define them, but one alone does not suffice.

Please join with me in proceeding from the least to the greatest, but don’t lose the gold of the least or lose yourself in the idea that only the greatest words deserve your attention. Then it will be alright for Christians to say things are OK, when it comes to education in the church. It will also assist the church in seeing that holy means whole. Then things will truly be OK.