Sunday, March 25, 2018

On the Mount (23)

I like to think of wisdom as applied reality: taking one’s knowledge of the actual nature of things and working that knowledge through in a very practical way in the circumstances of life.

That sort of discernment is pictured for us metaphorically in scripture. It is not that the Lord Jesus came so that men and women might pay lip service to a particular series of moral data points, but that we might make use of those facts to act in our own best interests, in the best interests of others, and ultimately and most importantly, in accordance with the will of God.

The metaphor the Lord uses to describe applied reality is light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Being able to see where we are going is exceedingly practical, and has tremendous value.

The Lamp of the Body

In his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord again takes up the light metaphor, and it means what it usually means, I think:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Here, I think, Jesus is saying considerably more than “Blind people have hard lives.” While that is certainly true, even a child grasps that the eye signifies discernment.

Natural and Derived

But we should probably distinguish between natural light and derived light. It is the latter image the Lord is using in the Sermon. Natural light occurs when it occurs, usually from dawn to dusk. We have zero control over it. Derived light is something we choose, and it is the image of the lychnos, meaning candle or lantern, that Jesus selected to illustrate wisdom.

Candles and lanterns are derived light. They themselves must be lit by fire from other sources. Likewise, spiritual illumination comes from revelation. Peter talks about confirmed prophecy as a “light that shines in a dark place”, and the Lord Jesus described John the Baptist as a “burning and shining light”.

That’s important. Spiritual perception is healthy when it is informed by other healthy sources. Wisdom is derived, not intrinsic to us. Mankind does not figure things out on its own through some process of intellectual evolution, no matter how many millennia may pass. We need the light of God’s revelation to kindle our own spiritual perceptions. We cannot get to the right place morally through our own intellectual processes: “The wisdom of this world is folly with God.”

Failing to Represent Reality

This is one reason progressivism fails as a philosophy: it does not accurately represent reality. It contradicts history, which provides us with ample evidence of man’s failure to apply his knowledge of reality consistently across time. For several generations, people may act wisely and in their best interests. Then, discontented by sin, they explore ways to make their lot more desirable, and almost inevitably end up making it far worse. This is why we have things like Dark Ages, Communism and Great Leaps Backward. When the eye is unhealthy, the body suffers, including the body politic.

Thus, on a corporate level, the perceptiveness of leadership determines the consequences for the entire group. Where the leaders are blind, incoherent or self-contradicting, the conduct of the group cannot help but suffer. They are getting no clear direction.

At the individual level too, a clear view of the world has physical consequences. It is not merely theoretical. When you see clearly about the spiritual realities of life, you behave in a way that is good for your body. When you don’t, you don’t.

This truth is easily demonstrated medically, which is why depressed people are often physically sick as well. A warped view of the world cannot help but damage the way you function in it. Angry people and worried people stress their bodies. People who tell lies stress their bodies. People who behave sexually as if they are animals rather than made in the image of God stress their bodies and find them failing in their operation.

In Harmony with the Truth

But I am speaking generally. To grasp what I think the Lord is saying here, we must go back a few verses. Jesus has been speaking about laying up treasures in heaven rather than on earth; about putting God’s priorities ahead of our own. That’s absolutely counterintuitive, isn’t it. Our natural minds rebel against that sort of priority-setting. After all, we have no evidence in this life that it is working. We cannot visit a heavenly “treasury” or weigh and measure our heavenly treasure. Its existence must be taken on faith.

And yet if the spiritual world is the world with genuine substance, and if our earthly lives are merely a blink of an eye or a passing shadow, what could be more in harmony with reality than laying up treasure in heaven?

Thus it is the healthy eye of spiritual discernment that sees this truth clearly. The glory of God and his way of being are the highest possible goals to shoot for. Seeking them serves to illuminate the believer’s entire being. It provides direction that leads to an ordered, functional, harmonious life.

On the other hand, the person who receives that truth and rejects it is in a very bad spot. The person with the “bad eye” processes revelation and glimpses heavenly priorities but does not respond to them. The truth is not worked out in their life, and the result is not just darkness, but the greatest darkness of all. I mean, if the conclusion of your contemplation of revelation is rejection, where exactly do you go next for illumination, and how can you ever correctly order your life?

This is the dilemma of the religious person who rejects the knowledge of Christ.

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