A key principle of the martial arts is that for every ‘strength’ in your opponent there is a weakness you can exploit. (Also known as Yin & Yang.) And, more generally, for every ‘good’ thing you do, there can be an unforeseen negative side effect. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do ‘good’ in our community or in general — just that it would be wise to do so with mindfulness and humility that the results of our efforts may not be what we expected — or may not even advance the agenda we were trying to further in the first place. Ultimately, given our profoundly finite understanding, all we can do is plant the seeds as best we can, and entrust the harvest to God.
We just celebrated Reformation, and rightfully so. But I also have to wonder what the ‘downside’ of the Reformation might be. And I’m mindful that the negative implications of any movement generally don’t manifest themselves right away. I think we would all agree that the Church in our day is struggling, and I have to wonder if that is in part due to ‘downsides of the Reformation’ finally coming home to roost.
Stepping back from church history in the 15th century per se (the beginnings of the Reformation) and looking at the broader trends in European history instead, it is clear that Science was powerfully on the ascendancy. And who can argue with a methodology that has apparently so profoundly improved the human condition. And yet I keep in the back of my mind that for every ‘strength’ there is a corresponding ‘weakness’ — even when it doesn’t immediately manifest itself.
Before the Reformation, it was standard practice to view Scripture as largely ‘metaphorical’ — the idea of primarily interpreting Scripture literally was considered foolish from the dawn of Christianity up through the Reformation. It’s only after the Reformation that questions like “did six days of creation really mean six literal clock days?” were regarded as worthy of consideration.
The Jews have been wrestling with Scripture long before Christianity, and one methodology was developed (near as we can tell) in the first century CE. It’s called PaRDeS — a Persian word that means ‘orchard’ or ‘garden’ — PaRDeS is an acronym for the Hebrew words [P]ashat = “simple”,[R]emez = “hint”, [D]rash = “search”, and [S]od = “hidden”. (At the time Hebrew didn’t notate vowels). Pashat refers to the ‘literal’ face value meaning of the passage, Remez to the meaning/implications of the passage at hand, Drash to the meaning of the passage in light of the rest of Scripture, and Sod to the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text.
In other words — I wonder if there wasn’t a profound change in thinking that took place in the Church because of the Reformation — that the Reformation (unwittingly) was in part about trying to align the Church with the up and coming worldview of Science.
One way we see this is how many modern preachers approach the miracles. An example would be Jesus feeding the 5000. From the ‘scientific’ modern point of view all miracles must be explained away “scientifically”, and in the case of this particular miracle, what ‘really happened’ was that “Jesus inspired everyone to share their lunch.”