Wisdom vs Knowledge

1. The Bible credits which two men with killing Goliath?

I am a big nerd.

Seriously. I almost exclusively read non-fiction and I listen to TED Talks on my way to work. I once made a spreadsheet to help me keep track of world history. I’m a great big nerd, but to be honest I take that as a compliment. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy curiosity about, well, everything.

Trouble is, I’m not sure how well that works when it comes to the Bible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for studying the Bible; this blog wouldn’t exist otherwise. But as I get older and realise how little I really know, I get nervous about my obsession with the minutiae. Because that can become the be all and end all of our reading, and yet if our Bible study fails to transform us then really, what’s the point?

2. How many children did Abraham have?

Reading and studying the Bible should be a dynamic process, the word of God helping us encounter the living, active Word of God. Ultimately it should leave us more like Jesus, so we should start getting worried if it seems to be making Jesus more like us.

That can happen when the words calcify and when we become more interested in backing up our arguments and when we sit there trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out. I’m not sure how much the Kingdom is grown by online poopstorms between pastors. All those words, which the Spirit can use to change and refine us become placard fodder, verbal stonings delivered by a sign in a church car park. The Bible may be the sword of the Spirit, but that doesn’t mean we should go around looking for victims to skewer.

3. Which biblical king was responsible for wall mounted death machines?

But then, there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom: I know a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, but I’m wise enough not to put it in a fruit salad (as the old cliche goes). Knowing about the Bible is great, but we constantly need to be praying how to use that knowledge wisely. It’s not about building walls between us and those around us, not about amassing trivia, not about whittling a pointy stick out of our proof texts.

I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of some of that. I like knowing stuff, but often that’s at a distance – I’m not sure I’m altogether comfortable with it changing me, or if I’m brave enough to let it take my burdens.

But to quote WB Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire”. That’s doubly true of the Bible, which isn’t a dusty old textbook but a means to encounter and engage the living God.

Maybe I should pray for less data and more sparks.

Answers
1. David and Elhanan (but see 1 Chronicles 20:5)

2. Eight; Isaac, Ishmael and six far less famous sons

3. King Uzziah

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All Things New (Revelation 21:1-5)

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“Behold! I make all things new.”

That phrase has been with me all day and I don’t know why. Heck, if I’m honest it took a bit of tracking down; I thought it was in the gospels but it’s actually from Revelation, and it turns out I was searching in the NIV for the KJV version of the verse. Frankly I’m amazed WordPress doesn’t take the keys to this blog from me.

“Behold! I make all things new.”

It’s a beautiful promise. I hear it said in a quiet voice that somehow drowns out the imagery of noise and confusion and blood and fire that makes up so much of Revelation. This is how the Story ends – with a new Story being told. In its own way, Revelation is as much about beginnings as Genesis. God puts right what once went wrong and Heaven and Earth are restored.

That vast, cosmic restoration is awe-inspiring, certainly, but it follows a more intimate, paternal image; this holy, omnipotent God stooping to wipe away the tears of his people. These huge ideas are thrown into relief by that image of love and tenderness. This is who God is.

I need to hear that, because there are times I don’t trust God. I know he loves me as one of 7 billion people running around the planet, but can I accept that he’s there for me specifically? Not always, and it’s when I most need to have that sort of faith that I find it most difficult. The bad things out there seem bigger and more real than God’s inclination to do anything about them.

“Behold! I make all things new.”

And yet this is the gospel: things are messed up, and yet rather than leaving us to deal with that mess on our own, God actively enters into it. That’s why the Incarnation is so important; that’s why Revelation climaxes with a King on His cosmic throne who nevertheless lives among his people and wipes the tears from their eyes. And that’s not just corporate, it’s personal.

I have to trust that a God who can remake the universe can do something similar. I have to trust that he will fight – win – some battles on behalf of me and my family. I have to trust that he’s there when we need him because he’s already here every day.

And I have to trust that we don’t have to be slaves to our circumstances, our enemies, our history, our assumptions. It’s easy to become prisoners of same-old-same-old, but sometimes we need to take a step of faith and believe that things can be different – that God will make them different.

Do I believe that? Can I?

“Behold! I make all things new.”

Doctor Who and the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:19)

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This week saw the collective expression of geek ecstasy; nine episodes of sixties Doctor Who, long thought lost but now uncovered in Nigeria, were released on iTunes. The master tapes wiped as part of a cost cutting exercise, no-one’s seen these episodes for decades; they’ve achieved almost mythical status, known only through novelisations and grainy photo reconstructions.

Now, this is important for all sorts of reasons – a part of the UK’s pop culture heritage being restored, and the unexpected opportunity to watch sort-of new episodes during the show’s 50th anniversary. And, once you factor in the intrinsic OCD of us fans of science fiction TV, there’s a joy in knowing that gaps can still be filled, that there’s a hope, however slim, that missing episodes will no longer be missing. The canon is slowly being restored.

Now you’re asking why I’m going on about all this on a Bible blog. Fair enough.

Throughout 1 Kings there are references to the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel. Effectively, it implies that the outlines of all the reigns we read about in Kings and Chronicles are just the tip of the iceberg. The writer of Kings doesn’t feel the need to overdo the detail; after all, anyone who’s interested can go find this book and get all the juicy gossip.

It’s just a pity the book no longer exists.

It’s frustrating, like a dead hyperlink or all those missing Doctor Who episodes. The absence of this book makes things feel incomplete. I want to know what’s in it. I want to know what happened to all these kings with borderline unpronounceable names. There are a bunch of stories, a mass of history that we don’t know about because a specific book hasn’t managed to survive. There’s always the hope that it found it’s way into a pot buried somewhere in the Middle East, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

It gets worse. Numbers 21:14 mentions the Book of the Wars of The Lord – no longer exists, which sucks because it sounds awesome. When the Chronicler gets to the reign of King David he talks about the records of Gad the Seer and Nathan the Prophet, neither of which are in the Bible. The story goes on; the Hebrew Scriptures keep making references to books that no longer exist.

This bugs me, and it brings me back to the Doctor Who thing: the references to these works triggers my geek gene, making me feel like I’m missing something. In he case of Doctor Who, this is the case; 90-something episodes that form part of the show’s ongoing narrative are gone, including some pretty landmark moments. Of course fans should celebrate getting them back.

The Bible, however, is different. As a history book it leaves stuff out; as a science book it implies that the sun orbits the Earth rather than vice versa. And that’s fine as long as we realise it’s actually neither of these things. That’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak to how we view the natural world, or the impact of politics and sociology and theology on a particular society, but none of that is it’s primary aim.

No, the primary narrative of the Bible is the story of how God and humanity work out their relationship to each other, culminating in the Cross which ultimately restores all things. It’s the word of God inasmuch as it points to Jesus, the Word of God. Anything else is just gravy.

Does it matter that we’re missing the Annals of the Kings of Israel? Hey, I’ve got a history degree, I’d love to know what else Jeroboam or Zimri got up to. When John mentions that a lot of stuff went down but for which he didn’t have room in his gospel, I want to tell him to stop moaning and write a few more chapters. I want to know these things.

But I need to get over my nerdery – the Bible is not incomplete. It is the story of how God reconciles himself to humanity through Jesus, and as such everything we need to know is there. And as much as I might want more information, the fact is that I’m not even close to understanding the entirety of what’s actually in the Bible, let alone the ‘missing’ bits.

Maybe that should be my focus – to look at what’s there, rather than what’s not. To see more of Jesus , rather than some trivia about King Uzziah. And to appreciate the completeness of the Bible, and of the story it tells.

Vote For The Padley Centre

I don’t normally do this but a local charity, the Padley Group, is potentially in line to receive a £3,000 grant from Lloyd’s Bank. They support local people through both accommodation and specialist support, tackling a variety of complex needs such as homelessness, substance abuse, long term unemployment and mental health issues. If this is something you’d like to support, you can vote for them at this link. Voting closes on November 1st.

And I promise to update this blog in the near future!