Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Alibaba, Hermeneutics, and Whims

Alibaba became a Christian and since then he had this desire to serve full time in church-based work. As he grew in the faith, there came a point in life that he took the step of faith to study in a theological institution. In his heart, he has prophet Samuel in view as one who had prepared himself for his service since young. Just like Samuel, being nurtured by Eli during his childhood, Alibaba saw theological education as the nurture that he needs.

But then Alibaba has issues which are troubling him. Although his retired parents and sister do not require him to contribute to their expenses, nonetheless, Alibaba felt the requirement. So he was torn in between. Should he go for his education or should he continue to provide for his family? He opened the Bible to look for answers, he sought friends' advise, he spoke to the church's leaders. All of them signal that he need to have faith that God will provides.

His friends and the church's leaders share the same source to support Alibaba in pursuing his passion. They cite Bible passages like Matthew 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 to assure Alibaba that God will provides. And so Alibaba was encouraged.

When he went home, he went on to read the gospel according to Matthew to find out more. Then he came to chapter 15.1-9. The stroy is about the Pharisees' tradition of giving to God what should be given to their parents instead. And Jesus condemned that tradition. Upon reading this, Alibaba realized that he is facing a dilemma. On one hand, his friends and the church's leaders showed him passages that encourage him to go all out to answer God's call. On the other hand, there is that conflicting story. Alibaba does not know what to do.

So he consulted his friends and the church's leaders on this. They unanimously said that Alibaba has to read the gospel in context. In Matt 15.1-9, Jesus was condemning that particular corrupted Pharisees and their corrupted tradition at that time. It is not applicable now. And so Alibaba felt relief.

While on his way home, he suddenly thought of something. 'Wait a minute,' sought Alibaba to himself, 'if Matt 15.1-9 is to be read in its historical context, then shouldn't Matt 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 be read in that manner too?' He realized that if he is to be consistent, those assuring passages are to be understood in that particular context for those particular hearers and disciples at that time. If so, how can such stories be any more assuring to Alibaba than Genghis Khan's speech to his soldiers? And so he does not know what to do again.

After some while of praying and contemplating, Alibaba decided to answer God's call. So he decided to apply for a course in a local theological institution. He chose to interpret Matt 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 as some sort of 'eternal message' while Matt 15.1-9 as some historically constraint story.

He went through all the required procedures of the application. It took him 2 weeks to get everything done; from filling up forms to student pass application to medical check-up. After all the hassle, he submitted all the documents. Happily, he walked away from the registra's office, anticipating the coming new chapter in his life. On that night, with a smile, he slept.

Two months passed. The new in-take semester arrived. Alibaba attended his first lecture. While waiting for the lecturer in the theatre, with the new pen he bought, he gently wrote on his notepad the date of the first lecture. The lecturer came in. She is the foremost scholar on the subject in this region. She introduced herself while Alibaba was recalling all her bibliography and credential that he read about her. As the lecturer about to speak on the subject, there was a knock at the theatre's door. There came the Registra. She whispered to the lecturer softly. Immediately after than, Alibaba just realized that the Registra was looking for him. So Alibaba stood up from his chair and walked out from the theatre together with the Registra. Then Alibaba was being told that his student pass was being rejected by the authorities. And so he does not know what to do.

Feeling a bit tired and exasperate, he pondered whether does God really calls him for such work. As he walked home, his memory brought back those sermons, lectures, and testimonies about 'waiting on the Lord'. He then understands that it is about God's timing. Perhaps it is as Ecclesiastes 3 ,"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven".

With that as assurance, he slept.

The next morning, Alibaba determined to find out whether is he really being called for that particular vocation. He examined his own desires, passions, and ambitions. He talked to his friends and the church's leaders about his reflection. He spent time reading the Bible and books on this particular subject. After a few weeks of thinking and re-thinking, he finally decided that there is really no objective indicator or certainty on whether did God really call him to do this or that. All along it was his own disposition that makes him to be what he wants to think he is. His friends, the church leaders, the books, and the Bible indicates that passions is one good pointer that God wants someone to do something. And so far, that is the best one can believes. No further condition or indicator can make one thinks otherwise. Alibaba thinks that he might be like Samuel who was groomed to serve in the area God has prepared him for. But if that did not turn out well, it is perhaps not what or how God wants Alibaba to serve. It is God's timing. Or is it so?

Why are Alibaba, his friends, and the church's leaders interpret the Bible to cover for God? Does God needs such covering? Or are they, all this while, covering only their own desires and mistaken justifications and rationalizations? At any moment, they are just supplementing their belief so that they can go on believing what they want to believe as true?

Can Alibaba, his friends, and the church leaders be humble enough to acknowledge that they have mistakenly interpret God's calling for Alibaba (assuming there is such calling)? But it is not a case of humility. It's about 'confidence'. They can't be sure.

8 comments:

The Inquisitor said...

In the older Greek philosophic traditions, it was a wide-spread notion that to be able to achieve the virtues, one required a fair bit amount of luck like good upbringing and circumstances.

Our predominant capitalistic culture is such that you can achieve anything as long as you have the passion and the drive to do it.

And this culture has also infected the church where the thought too is that a passion for ministry will be fulfilled by God.

As much John Piper would like to insist that all Godly desires are from God, but I think that there comes a time when we must humble ourselves before the Divine Providence and God's ruling of the universe whereby He has appointed a place and vocation for everyone and our desires are to be submitted to that governance.

For myself, I experienced something somewhat similar where I used to think that I would like to advance to high academia, philosophy and stuff. But I recently realize that as much as I would like to serve the Kingdom in such a capacity, but I think that divine providence has placed me where I am for humbler things like serving a local church rather than hanging out with the big-guys in high-academia.

So, take heart in God's government of the world, for he determines the time and the place for each person. (Acts 17:26)

Donatello said...

Is it remotely possible that Alibaba has picked up some habits which would be detrimental to his life if he continued in that seminary?

Anonymous said...

Donatello has a point.
Perhaps alibaba needs to reflect and sort out some fundamental issues of faith first before thinking about seminary.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Donna and Anony,

Thanks for commenting.

The post has a point to make and that point is not to describe Alibaba's calling. I've written the post to convey one subtle point. Perhaps, i've made it too subtle.

The point is the interpretation of the Bible. Thus, the title of the post. The climax of the story of Alibaba is not about his rejected application or his theological education or his calling. It's about his interpretation, his friends' interpretation, and the church leaders' interpretation of the Bible, which is prevalently bankrupting churches and Christian vision today.

These 2 passages are the climax:

While on his way home, he suddenly thought of something. 'Wait a minute,' sought Alibaba to himself, 'if Matt 15.1-9 is to be read in its historical context, then shouldn't Matt 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 be read in that manner too?' He realized that if he is to be consistent, those assuring passages are to be understood in that particular context for those particular hearers and disciples at that time. If so, how can such stories be any more assuring to Alibaba than Genghis Khan's speech to his soldiers? And so he does not know what to do again.

After some while of praying and contemplating, Alibaba decided to answer God's call. So he decided to apply for a course in a local theological institution. He chose to interpret Matt 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 as some sort of 'eternal message' while Matt 15.1-9 as some historically constraint story.

Take care there.

Anonymous said...

Precisely the point.
Is not the doctrine of revelation fundamental and does it not affect hermeneutics?

Its interesting to note that Alibaba is caught in a situation where he thinks he has to be the arbiter of which part of the bible is truly God's word and which part is not.

Maybe he should ask himself, if a small part of the Bible could be false or just man made, how can he be sure that the important matters of faith like soteriology or the historical validity of jesus in the bible be true?

Is there a remote possiblity that alibaba could have believed all along the god of his imagination rather than the God of the Bible?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Donna,

Yes, there is possibility that Alibaba, his friends, and the church's leaders believe the god(s) of their own imaginations.

Doctrine of revelation is not fundamental to hermeneutics. But that is not a point that can be clarified in a blog's comment box. Just give me the benefit of doubt. If not, pls email me to clarify.

joshuawoo@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I'll reveal something to you.
I'm not donna. So don't mistake me for he/she.
So I guess ermm your hermeneutic is not very good isn't it?

But then again it doesnt matter, since you believe that hermenuetics and revelation is not tied together right? :p

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Anony,

Thank you for the revelation.

BTW, to think about it, isn't 'Anony' sounds nice?

:)

Good day.