Tag Archives: intelligence

What I Learned in Church Today: Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Even a fool will be considered wise if he is silent; when he seals his lips [he will be considered] understanding.

Proverbs 17:28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

There are instances when it takes courage to remain silent. It would be easier to speak up, but the right thing to do is to be silent.

Someone insults you. You can easily say something in return that would be the equivalent of a devastating knockout punch. You don’t say a word. Your silence is an expression of courage.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #463 “Courageous Silence”

After a short absence, Pastor Randy picked up his sermons on the Book of Acts today and Sunday School resumed its usual schedule. The sermon and topic in Sunday School was on Acts 19:23-41. You wouldn’t think a riot in Ephesus (the featured image above is supposed to be a riot) over the teachings of Paul and his associates on “the Way” and how the result of those teachings were cutting into the prophets of the idol-making silversmiths would provide me with much theological or doctrinal angst. Really, it should all be pretty straightforward stuff.

But there’s always something.

I provided the quotes above to illustrate how often I choose being silent rather than actually speaking my mind in Sunday School, because I might end up starting a small riot of my own. Not that I really want to, but because my opinions are so at odds sometimes with the people around me in church.

There was actually quite a lot I agreed with in how Pastor Randy framed his sermon. I think people of faith are at their best when the society around them/us challenges us, and we are often at our worst in a culture or nation that completely accepts us (we tend to get lazy and assimilate into the politically correct realm). Christians aren’t really persecuted in the United States. Try being a Christian in an African nation dominated by Muslims and then you’ll see what persecution is really like. Just because someone disagrees with you and calls you names doesn’t mean you’re being persecuted. That’s the limit of “persecution” most Christians in America experience today.

But then as Pastor was speaking and later on in Sunday School, I got to thinking about who I am in the midst of the local church. Pastor Randy and I had lunch about a week and a half ago, and in the course of discussing my recent blog posts, he asked me how I can call him “my Pastor” when I disagree with just about everything he says.

Actually, I’d been thinking about that, too. I don’t really disagree with 100% of what he says and I really do learn a lot, especially about Christian history, in what he says and teaches. But it is true that even my understanding of the core of the gospel message isn’t exactly the same as how it is taught by most Pastors, including Randy (To learn more, see my review of FFOZ TV’s episode The Gospel Message, as well as what I have to say about Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited).

ChurchOf course, during a sermon, one keeps quiet by definition but in Sunday School, I have to work on it. I know I’m risking being seen as a fool (and who knows, maybe I am) by even writing this when I should just keep my hands off the keyboard, but I don’t know if anyone else like me is recording their own Tent of David experience, and I figure someone should. So here I am.

There were a lot of good things that came out of both the sermon and the Sunday School teaching. But I did catch the Sunday School teacher engaging in what I might call “Christian Midrash” by his applying the phrase “the way” as recorded in Genesis 3:24 and Psalm 1:6 to how it’s used to formally describe the community of disciples of the Master in Acts 19:23. After all, the term “the Way” used to describe followers of Christ didn’t appear in the Bible until Acts 9:2. I spoke to the teacher before class to ask about his method of constructing his lessons and he gave me permission to bring the matter up during class. Not really sure it was worthwhile, but if we are to be critical of people in Messianic Judaism inserting meaning on one part of scripture based on earlier texts where it might not really fit, shouldn’t we extend the same “courtesy” inside the local church?

But the really big deal was the discussion on idolatry. Of course there would be tension between the ever-growing body of believers in and around Ephesus and the community that was supported by the worship of the goddess Artemus (Diana), and of course it makes sense to apply this topic to modern times and discuss the idols (anything we have in our lives that is more important than God) that we let rule our lives, but having just finished reading and reviewing Dr. Roy Blizzard’s book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus, I naturally thought of the following quote which I’ve previously cited:

Jesus has become an idol, if you will, our focus of attention, our focus of worship, and it seems that very few think of God anymore. Seldom do we hear anyone speak of the glory of God, his grandeur and mercy, the holiness of God, and the other many attributes and characteristics of God.

But remember, Blizzard also said this:

Please understand that I am not trying to lessen the importance of Jesus. What I am trying to do is emphasize that, in all the teachings of Jesus recorded for us in the gospels, his focus is not upon himself, what he is, what he is doing, or what he is to become. Additionally, Jesus has very little to say about God and, in particular, the Worship of God.

My point is that, in the teachings of Jesus, there is not all that much emphasis upward.

It seems in the process of promoting devotion to God through the Messiah, we’ve focused our entire attention on the Messiah, the doorway (“no one comes to the Father but through Me,” from John 14:6) and forgotten that the object was to “come to the Father.”

However, can we really say there are any other “idols” in the church? That seems like an odd question to ask. I suppose you might think of the Catholic Church or the Greek Orthodox Church, both of which use iconic symbols in their worship, but as Pastor Randy pointed out, anything that we put ahead of God in our lives can be considered an idol. Can Jesus be considered an idol if we focus exclusively on him and ignore God the Father? I don’t know. Some Christian songs that focus only on Jesus kind of bother me. The exclusive focus of some churches on the gospel as a plan of personal salvation without any thought to what else the gospel message says about what you are supposed to do with a “saved” life (the focus on Dr. Blizzard’s book relative to tzedakah) or the roles of Jewish and Gentile believers in preparing the world for the coming Messianic Age (often taught by the ministry First Fruits of Zion)…can any of that be considered an “idol?” Could “getting saved” and “getting other people saved” as our sole purpose in life actually result in our missing out of serving God in the other ways He actually intends?

The church I’m at right now is very study and very service oriented, but a lot of other churches aren’t. Am I supposed to bring stuff like that up in Sunday School? If I chose to introduce Blizzard’s or McKnight’s or Boaz Michael’s perspectives (as I understand them) to the discussion at hand, what would actually happen? Probably nothing good. And so, I keep silent, except in the one place I can claim any sort of ownership over which is this blog.

One of the questions in today’s Sunday School study notes asked:

How can God’s Word have a similar irritating effect on you or me, when the Holy Spirit uses it to affect us materially, or in our religious beliefs, or our pride?

The intended answer is “when the Holy Spirit uses the scriptures to convict us of our sins,” but my immediate response (which I never uttered) was, “when we find out the Bible says something different about God and people that church doctrine never teaches.”

No, I won’t be giving that answer. I only write about it here.

SilenceBut doesn’t that defeat the entire purpose of having a Tent of David experience? Probably, but offending people isn’t going to be very helpful in convincing people of an alternative point of view, so I suppose keeping quiet is the better part of valor. Pastor Randy reads my blogs so he’s quite familiar with my beliefs. I don’t doubt that I frustrate him terribly. I’m not trying to go out of my way to do so, but am I supposed to surrender my personal convictions on what I believe the Bible is saying or at least never write about them in a public forum such as the blogosphere?

I admit not knowing what to do. This form of communication helps me process the stuff that’s going through my head. I did allow myself to make one minor comment on exegesis and eisegesis in Sunday School (not calling it that, of course) and otherwise kept my mouth shut for the majority of class.

My opinion is that Pastor Randy is frustrated with me, in part, because he believes I’m an intelligent person but that I still don’t agree with how he teaches what the Bible is saying on a number of important subjects.

I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not trying to be a troublemaker. That’s why I have to remind myself of what the Proverbs say about silence and wisdom and how that’s reinforced in the comments of Rabbi Pliskin. I also have to remind myself that being considered intelligent by someone is a far cry from being considered wise. It might be better to practice silence in order to learn wisdom (a lesson I desperately need to apprehend). It would be ironic if that were my sole purpose in the local church, but then who knows what really goes on in the mind of God when He directs His attention to your life or mine?

The Resolute and Supple Reed

“Who is wise? One who learns from every person.”
-Ben Zoma, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)

Throughout the existence of the Jewish people, we have long been enamored with intelligence. Just look at the disproportionate amount of Jews who have been awarded the Nobel Prize. However, intelligence by itself is not a supreme value; it can be used for either good or evil. Thus, the Talmud tells us, “The purpose of wisdom is to bring about repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17a). In other words, if we’re not using our minds to try to become better people, our intelligence really doesn’t amount to much at all. Furthermore, Ben Zoma’s excerpt from Pirkei Avot alludes to the fact that while a person’s intellectual capacity is innately limited, wisdom can be attained by anyone. A wise person is not someone who graduated first in their class, but rather someone who is constantly trying to learn.

“Who is Wise”
Lev Echad blog

I didn’t create this “morning meditation” blog to simply spew out answers but rather to ask hard questions. I don’t pretend to have some special insight into God or religion or faith. I only have my experience as I continue and grow in my relationship with God. I chronicle the developments of that relationship here in a variety of forms, including commentary on the Bible and occasionally reviews of related publications. I’m not really here to teach but to learn, and I learn from every person who talks to me in this blog. I think that’s how we all learn…by communicating.

It’s not always easy. As I’m sure you’ve discovered by participating in or just reading the comments on this blog, a lot of disagreement and sometimes heated debate happens. Occasionally, tempers flare, though I do my best to try and contain the “emotionalism” of our debates. The goal, as I see it, is not to try to prove who is right and who is wrong, but to pursue realization and truth. Truth, as I’ve said before, is not the same as fact, and thus truth can take on more than one form.

As Asher said in the quote I posted above, “A wise person is not someone who graduated first in their class, but rather someone who is constantly trying to learn.” He also said this:

Thus, the Talmud tells us, “The purpose of wisdom is to bring about repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17a). In other words, if we’re not using our minds to try to become better people, our intelligence really doesn’t amount to much at all.

The goal Asher describes is similar to mine. The point of being intelligent isn’t to “be right” but to “bring about repentance and good deeds.” We’re supposed to study and explore and debate and discuss, not to exalt ourselves and to prove we’re the “smarter guy,” but to become better people through a greater understanding of our relationship with God. From a Jewish point of view, that also involves doing and not just thinking or saying, so “good deeds” are a vital part of that process as is repentance of our sins before man and God.

Does that mean a truly wise person is always a doormat who never takes a strong stand on a moral principle? Not at all.

On today’s daf we find that the Beis HaMikdash was purposely destroyed either before or after Shemittah, since bad things happen during times that are already difficult.

Keeping Shemittah in Israel was a big conflict not too long ago. Hardly anyone was doing it—even otherwise religious farmers—and those who were willing were often intimidated by their peers. The Chazon Ish, zt”l, wrote a beautiful letter of encouragement to those farmers who were willing to consider sacrificing what appeared to be their advantage in order to keep the letter of the law.

“I am a farmer who makes his living through the work of my hands. It is now almost Shemittah and a riveting thought has gotten into my head: I want to keep the laws of Shemittah with courage and boldness. I am alone and unaided, a joke to all of my neighbors. ‘How could it be?’ they asked when I began. ‘You won’t plant and you won’t harvest? You can’t fight against reality!’

“But my chutzpah stood me well and despite the indisputable fact that anyone with intelligence knows that it is physically impossible to keep these halachos unless one has a silo filled with grain for three years—since Shemittah is obviously impossible to fulfill in our times without enough grain before the seventh year. Now isn’t like it used to be, they say; you cannot rely on miracles. Yet the year is already halfway over and it looks like one can keep Shemittah after all. I planted everything before Rosh Hashannah, while it was still the sixth year, and during the seventh year I have not worked my field. I am careful to treat the produce which overlaps from the sixth year to the seventh with holiness and I hope to make peace with reality—or that reality should mete out what is good for me.

“My neighbors mock me—yet the weather mocks them. It works out to be good for one who planted early, but not for their crops planted during Shemittah. Only my early-planted crops have survived!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Time of Challenge”
Arachin 12

It seems obvious that if we are in the right in an argument or dispute, we should stand our ground, even against overwhelming odds, including that of “popular public opinion.” The question is, how can you know that you are always right? If you are a reasonable person and honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that you can never be “always right”. That’s where learning from others comes in. Even a genius cannot know everything if that genius is in isolation. Only by discourse with the rest of the world, including a world that is fundamentally different from you, can real learning ever take place. The trick is to differentiate between being resolute in your principles and being mule-headed stubborn, even in the face of great evidence that discounts the validity of your arguments.

OK, I say that with the understanding that most people don’t change once they’ve made up their minds. But if change were impossible, then no one would come to realize that the God of Abraham is the Maker of the Universe. If we could not humble ourselves and admit that we were wrong, no one would come to faith in the Jewish Messiah, our Lord, Savior, and King.

But our greatest adversary doesn’t exist outside of us in some other group or church or synagogue or even in the supernatural realm. Our greatest enemy is who we are.

There are times you must be like a reed in the wind. And there are times you must face it like an iron wall.

When it comes to matters that lie at the surface, then “I hold like this” and “my opinion is like this” stand in the way of harmony and peace. Every such “I” is the very root and source of evil.

But when it comes to matters that touch your essence and core, the purpose for which you were placed in this world, then you must be an iron wall. Then you must say, “On this, I cannot budge.”

Liberated from its thick shell of ego, empowered and emboldened, the essential self breaks through the concrete, blossoms and flourishes.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“I Versus I”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Although “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), we must not “dull” ourselves by always seeking resistance. To “sharpen” a human being requires debate, disagreement, and discourse, and then an experience of contrition before God to help us understand when it is time to stand our ground like an iron wall, and when it is time to be supple like the reed before the wind.

In the midst of our human storms, we must never forget that what matters most is to seek His Face.

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples. –Psalm 108:1-3