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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Case for Uncertainty

Thursday, May 17, 2007

NPH heard the word this morning from John 16:16-20. In that reading, Jesus tells the disciples something they don't understand, and some of their response is simply to say, "we do not know what he means."

We do not know what he means. It's an explicit admission of something that even the casual reader of the gospels knows, that the disciples don't know what Jesus means. The gospels almost uniformly depict Jesus disciples as confused, mistaken, and misunderstanding of what he is doing.

In most preaching and teaching involving these texts, NPH has heard the disciples' lack of understanding depicted as mental sluggishness, even stupidity. From a detached third person perspective, a perspective that already knows the end of the story, preachers and teachers routinely lampoon the disciples for "not getting it" (winking all the while at those of us who do "get it"). This is a problem, not only for the homiletical hubris it displays, but also because the detached third-person perspective doesn't seem to be the perspective from which the gospel accounts were written. Rarely is there an account of disciple confusion that draws the condemnation or criticism of Jesus in the gospel stories.

Could that be because the writers of the gospels, followers of Jesus all, understood confusion and a lack of understanding to be normative for Christian discipleship? Could it be that the kind of discipleship the gospels depict is supposed to be marked by uncertainty?

NPH thinks so. Although this is a tough sell for Bible believers in North America in the year 2007. Because we have been enslaved to an Enlightenment-derived rationalism that seeks to gain all knowledge, and that, in the process, flattens out all ambiguity and mystery. To such a pursuit, the Bible is a book of "answers" that can simply be applied to one's life with the sure result of health, wealth, and happiness. It's thoroughly technical, as technics and rationalism are close relatives. This rationalism has a lot to do with the kind of following given to someone like the late Jerry Falwell, someone who had the Bible and morality down pat (who "got it") and who's life pursuit was to simply apply extracted Biblical "truth" to modern life.

There's a deep unfaithfulness that can result from that. There's a reduction of the gospel involved, a flattening out of something that is inherently and incomprehensibly mysterious, multivalent, and rich.

Instead, NPH wonders what might a church look like that, with the disciples in John 16, is able to say "we don't know?"
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:17 AM

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