Friday, February 22, 2008

Cynicism: Broken Wisdom

Continuing from "Cynicism: Name It and Claim It."

I was thinking about my critical attitude when I read 1 Cor 4:6: “If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another.” For me, I’ve realized that the leader I am proud of is an ideal I’ve set up in my imagination; I’ve set up a glorified ideal Christian leader (and community) and criticized everyone by measuring them against that.

In some ways, that ideal is a projection of myself, proud and pathetic as that is. (I suspected as much in my last post: [believing I have license to criticize everything] is a few small steps from setting myself up as the standard . . . and the judge . . .) Maybe not the person I am now, but who I think I could be if I truly lived by my values and beliefs. As I compare, I do this “at the expense of another,” judging them and finding them lacking some essential by measuring them according to my fallen concept of perfection. But my ideal is a nobody, nonexistent, unreal.

But Paul offers some hope, that “if [I] pay attention to what [he has] quoted from the Scriptures,” I could possibly avoid this proud pitfall and a subsequent judgmental attitude. In the chapters preceding this verse, Paul does in fact quote a number of passages: Isa 29:14; Jer 9:24; Isa 64:4; 40:13; Job 5:13; Ps 94:11. In all these verses, we might find a common theme: Human wisdom is broken, and no human can imagine God’s wisdom.

Here I'd used my own imagination to create some clever ideal, but these truths blow that apart. The Scriptures he's quoted certainly accomplish Paul’s purpose: so “you won’t be proud.” Not only am I wrong to establish myself as judge, but the ones I am judging are in this boat with me. There's nothing for me to be proud of. Together in our community of stupidity, we decide what’s cool or valuable or true or legitimate (is this “culture”?), but even if we set about to think it through carefully, our wisdom is broken. Even if we set about to imagine what God’s values are, we can't.

Paul seems to back me up: “It matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.”

With broken wisdom and impotent imagination, can I even obey Paul’s instruction to “question everything” and “keep the good”?

Continue . . .

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