So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. Colossians 1:9-13
As people of faith and followers of Jesus, we want to do what the Letter to the Colossians exhorts us: to honor and please the Lord. We go to church to learn and grow in our knowledge of the Lord so that we can experience God’s love on a deeper and more abiding level. We may read, watch, or listen to media that reflects Holy Scripture and teaches the lessons of Christ in a contemporary way. We may have friends through whom we find Christian values, morals and ethics reflected and even discussable. We are creatures that have been designed to learn and grow, and as Christians, we are ‘Holy Sponges,’ soaking up the divine witness.
Alas, we are also human: finite, flawed, and broken. We live in fear or at least in a state of anxiety, concerned whether we fit in, are approved of, have standing and voice, and are liked—even loved. As humans, we are driven by our emotions, and as finite creatures, we’re easily exhausted by our efforts. As Christians, we are pulled this way and that by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), Scriptural and societal, and must navigate and choose our mooring carefully.
The way to get started is actually very simple: Know your enemy! This phrase was written in the fifth century B.C. in the book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher whose insights have changed the course of human existence for centuries. The whole quote is,
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
(Please don’t recoil from this reference because of the use of the word ‘enemy.’ The application is much too profound to be dismissed and the word can easily be substituted.) According to Sun Tzu, without true knowledge of the enemy, to even label someone as “enemy” is a form of self-deception. Having available the resources to understand the enemy and not avail ourselves of that knowledge actually makes us our own enemy, as we have not fulfilled our calling to know.
All too often we find ourselves in the last category: If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle, though we don’t recognize it, or if we do, we don’t acknowledge it. The key is in knowing that we don’t know, or at least, that we don’t know enough.
Socrates, the “Father of the Socratic Method” and one of the most important figures in the evolution of philosophy and learning (circa 540 B.C.), was famous for questioning everything. The Socratic Method is “a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.” (Wikipedia) The basis of everything is the truth, based on asking and answering in order to gain understanding (wisdom.)
Socrates and Sun Tzu are both extolling the same process: Socrates at the macro level as a basis of all deliberation, and Sun Tzu specifically applied empirical support. As people of faith, we are called by God to immerse ourselves in Holy Scripture and the practices of spiritual growth in the same way and for the same reasons that Socrates and Sun Tzu taught.
Know your enemy. It is not enough to believe what we believe if we are going be a witness and take a stand based on our understanding. Anselm of Canterbury, monk, theologian, and the Archbishop of Canterbury (1033–1109), coined a phrase in his book the Prostomium: “fides quaerens intellectum, which means “faith seeking understanding.” This phrase quickly became a motto and is highly regarded as the synopsis of the scriptural instruction to learn and grow, it is considered a classical definition of Christian Theology. Anselm’s book, like Socrates’ philosophy and Sun Tzu’s observations, is a call to reflection and study, not simply as a reinforcing structure for our own beliefs, but as an explanation of counter ideas.
To know whether we are being true to our faith and following the Way taught by Jesus, we must be willing to take the opposite path. We must “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the words and lessons of our faith openly and without prejudice (Proper 28, BCP 236). In order to embrace and hold fast to our faith honestly, we must hear and learn what our Lord said and meant, not to bolster our belief, but simply to receive the teaching He gave. When we are able to come to the Scripture in this way, we will be able to engage the “enemy” who holds a different view and an opposing opinion.
The result of this practice will lead us to one of two places. Either I will hear, perhaps for the first time, the true teaching of Christ and know that I have been faithfully following his Way, or I will encounter a truth different from my own opinion. In the second case, the “enemy” must now simply become the “other,” and I must change what I had previously believed.
As we navigate our humanity, we are called by God into deeper and deeper waters, rich in truth and flowing with love. As we faithfully encounter the Risen Christ as He is and not as we want Him to be, we will see through Him ourselves and others and dispel the fear by His grace and mercy.
Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†