Scripture as Our Glass of Vision

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B.1 Scripture as our glass of vision

‘The Windows’ by George Herbert

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word? 

    He is a brittle crazy glass; 

Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford 

    This glorious and transcendent place, 

    To be a window, through thy grace. 

But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story, 

    Making thy life to shine within 

The holy preachers, then the light and glory 

    More reverend grows, and more doth win; 

    Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin. 

Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one 

    When they combine and mingle, bring 

A strong regard and awe; but speech alone 

    Doth vanish like a flaring thing, 

    And in the ear, not conscience, ring.

We come now to the next section of our catechism which considers the stained glass on all sides of our spiritual and theological temple. They color the light, and so define how those within see the world.  They are, in short, not one part of the edifice, but the lens, the medium, through which the worshipper sees everything.

I am borrowing here from the image found in the poem of the great Anglican poet-parish priest George Herbert, so we do well at the outset to listen to him. We, or more specifically the preacher who is one of us, is himself or herself a glass, but one that is ‘brittle, crazy.’  Something can be seen through us, as we have heard in the preceding sections, but in a distorted and fragile way.  We need help to see the light truly, a place to gaze which is a ‘glorious and transcendent place,’ so as to see the world in the light of God’s grace. 

In the poem Herbert makes it clear that the window implies a relation, a word spoken and received, between God and His creature. Thus, the poem is full of interaction: between God’s Word and His servants, on whom the light shines, between the doctrine (or teaching) it imparts and their lives which need to ‘read, mark. Learn, and inwardly digest’ (BCP) it.  The Bible offers a narrative, a story, but it needs to be ‘annealed,’ made stronger and fitted to God’s purpose, so that we do not rework it in our own image, i.e. make it as ‘brittle [and] crazy’ like ourselves.  The coming sections will address how it is that the window of Scripture enables us to see the world, ourselves and God aright.

Before I close this introduction to the ‘stained glass’ section, let me dispel one subtle misunderstanding.  An anthropologist might tell us how stories serve to ground a particular community’s worldview. Maybe the Bible happens to be the foundational myth for the Christian community, so that its function may be found in how it organizes its adherents; in other words, it is useful for people ‘into that sort of thing,’ while other communities have other such stories. Well, there certainly are other communities, and their narratives likewise serve just such a function.  But that preacher, and his or her listeners, are standing within the temple of God.  And by those windows’ light they believe that they behold God, themselves, and the world aright.  To be a Christian, then, is to believe that the light of the ‘eternal word’ gives to them, by grace, a purchase on reality.  Christians must be humble, since on their own they are ‘brittle [and] crazy.’  But they cannot be in the last analysis pluralists, relativists, or nihilists. There is a truth to be seen, it does not reside in themselves, and in the light of the Scriptures it can be seen and embraced by the gift of faith.

II Timothy 3:6

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Measuring the Tower: The Christian Life as Risky

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‘One day we’ll all know the answer,

or else we won’t.’

So goes a line from the Canadian Christian musician (and a friend), Wyndham Thiessen (check him out on itunes!). He is exploring the essentially risky nature of faith in a way that echoes St. Paul in I Corinthians 15.  There Paul says that everything depends on the reality of the resurrection, first of Jesus and later of humankind.  If it turns out not to be so, we are ‘of all people most to be pitied.’ 

The great mathematician and Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal went so far as famously to call it a ‘wager,’ only what we are betting is our life itself.  Jesus after all said you had better be ready to lose it to gain it for eternity.  In the entries up until now we have been pointing out the variegated and partial pointers, suggestions, encouragements to faith.  In other words, faith as its valid reasons, but these do not remove its risky side, rather like a man summoned to leave the boat and walk on the water toward his Master.  The important thing is to come to understand those bits of evidence, those breadcrumbs, as themselves His summons.

Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian and the official one for Roman Catholics, asks himself if faith is ‘certain.’ It’s an important question for us too: but how can I be sure?  He wisely (or exasperatingly) says ‘yes and no.’ With respect to the One in whom we believe, it is sure, because he is trustworthy. But with respect to the one believing (namely us), it is unsure, since we are weak, fickle, confused, willful, etc. Now if one thinks about this answer, one comes to see that there is a difference between thinking about ourselves and the world starting with Christ, or starting with ourselves. One is ‘sure,’ says Thomas, and one is not. But how do I get from where I am, to the point of assuming Him and His resurrection in all things - and there the question of risk returns once again. 

We have come to the conclusion of our time in the narthex, the lobby, as it were, of the house of faith, which is the house of God, Father, Son, and Spirit.  We have seen some of the aspects of reality which seem to be openings of the front door; there are doubtless others.  From now on however, having entered, we begin to see things ‘from inside,’ that is, as we assume the reality of God.  This doesn’t mean that we stop striving to make sense of things or stop asking questions. We continue to see to find ways to offer ‘a reason for the hope that is in us.’ (I Peter3). We begin to enjoy how the world comes to ‘fit together’ in the light of faith.  And we can use what we learn better to order the life of God’s people in His house, and to explain that ordering.  St. Anselm, an Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12thCentury spoke of theology as ‘faith seeking understanding,’ which says both that it must begin ‘from within’ but also must not become a ‘know nothing’ affair.  As we seek this understanding, we are exposed to risk in new ways, for we must make sure that the resulting understanding does not come to undermine the faith from which is emerges.

The contemporary apologist Peter Kreeft on Pascal’s wager:

The most powerful part of Pascal's argument comes next. It is not his refutation of atheism as a foolish wager (that comes last) but his refutation of agnosticism as impossible. Agnosticism, not-knowing, maintaining a skeptical, uncommitted attitude, seems to be the most reasonable option. The agnostic says, “The right thing is not to wager at all.” Pascal replies, “But you must wager. There is no choice. You are already committed [embarked].” We are not outside observers of life, but participants. We are like ships that need to get home, sailing past a port that has signs on it proclaiming that it is our true home and our true happiness. The ships are our own lives and the signs on the port say “God”. The agnostic says he will neither put in at that port (believe) nor turn away from it (disbelieve) but stay anchored a reasonable distance away until the weather clears and he can see better whether this is the true port or a fake (for there are a lot of fakes around). Why is this attitude unreasonable, even impossible? Because we are moving. The ship of life is moving along the waters of time, and there comes a point of no return, when our fuel runs out, when it is too late. The Wager works because of the fact of death.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For th

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