The 2021 Shawn Levy film, Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, is a great show even if you are not a video game person. Spoilers follow.
The story follows Guy, an NPC in a popular video game, who “discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, and decides to become the hero of his own story. Now, in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way before it’s too late.” An NPC, or non player character, is a character in a game that isn’t controlled by the player. They provide background colour that makes the game more realistic. Guy goes through much of the movie clueless that he is actually an NPC living inside a video game.
There’s a great scene at the turning point of the movie, where Guy lets his fellow NPCs know the truth.
The scene is very much reminiscent of Jesus presenting the good news of the kingdom to the people of Galilee and Judea. Jesus’ intent was to open the door to a world run, not by sin and evil, but by God Himself. This kingdom that he spoke of was so unique that many people couldn’t grasp it at first. As Guy says, “What if the guy with the gun doesn’t come” and the other NPCs can’t even understand that.
It is a struggle to grasp, sometimes, just like the Hostage in the above scene found out when he tried to lower his arms. He had been so used to having his arms in the air that anything else seemed unnatural.
This is why the Gospel — or Good News — is more than simply “Jesus died to save you from your sins.” It extends beyond merely something that happens after we die to something that encompasses the entire universe. God’s reign makes everything better in the here and now just as much as it does in the hereafter!
Why do I say this?
Isaiah paints a picture of the impact of the good news on the world when he writes, “Every valley will be raised. Every mountain and hill will be lowered. Steep places will be made level. Rough places will be made smooth. Then the Lord’s glory will be revealed and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:4-5).
That’s why Jesus went around trying to get people to understand the Kingdom. By healing the sick he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” By making the blind see he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” By confronting the religious leaders of his community he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” By dying on the cross and being raised from the dead he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?”
This certainly sounds like good news to me. “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?”
What are your thoughts? What makes the good news good for you?
I really would like to hear your voice. That’s why comments are enabled below.
Have you ever thought about your preferred form of church polity? Church polity basically means the ways church organise themselves. There are four main types of church polity: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Hybrid.
Episcopal. This word is derived from the the Greek word episkopos, which basically means overseers or bishops. As you might have guessed, these churches often have people serving in the role of Bishops. Churches in this tradition include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist. They find biblical support in Acts 6:6; 14:23; and Galatians 1:19; 2:9. They claim connection to the biblical Apostles because of Apostolic succession.
Reformed. The picture at the top identifies this as “Reformed” but a better term might be Presbyterian, derived from the Greek word presbuteros, which means basically elders. Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reformed churches all have this polity. The find biblical support in Acts 20:17; 1 Tim 5:17; and Titus 1:5. They claim connection to the biblical Apostles because they follow Apostolic teaching.
Congregational. Congregational churches put the congregation at the top of any organisational chart because it is the congregation that makes the decisions for the church. Churches in this tradition include Baptist, Mennonite, Evangelical Free, Congregational. They find biblical support in Acts 15:12, 22-25; Colossians 1:18; and 1 Peter 2:9. Like the Presbyterian system above, they claim connection to the biblical Apostles because they follow Apostolic teaching.
Hybrid. A blending of the above three. Churches in this tradition include many Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Because they are a blend, they find biblical support in the verses used by the other three traditions. They claim connection to the biblical Apostles because they exhibit the Apostolic signs.
As we can see, each of these systems has a series of biblical supports that they use to prove that theirs is the true biblical way. Of course that means that, if each of them has biblical proof, each one of them is biblical! It also means that none of them is actually prescribed by the Bible.
My missions professor in seminary, Dr. Vern Middleton, made an observation about church polity that has stayed with me until today. According to his observations a church’s polity is more a reflection of the political situation at the time the church was initially formed than it is of any biblical influence. Thus the Episcopal system was developed largely when Emperors, Kings, and Queens ruled; the Presbyterian system was developed largely when city and state councils ruled; the Congregational system was developed largely when democratic systems ruled; and Hybrid systems have developed only in the past 100 years or so. For example, in the Philippines many evangelical churches — even while being from a congregational tradition — often incorporate features from Episcopal systems because of the country’s long relationship with the Roman Catholic church.
More to the point, the term “New Testament church” should actually be the “New Testament churches“ because there was more than one of them. We often assume that the New Testament church is the one in Jerusalem as described in Acts. But what then about the other churches — in Corinth, Rome, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, etc? Are they not also New Testament churches? What also of the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3? Are they not also New Testament churches?
More importantly, does polity really matter? We often argue and act against other ways of doing things regardless of whether they matter or not. Oftentimes it’s merely an issue of preference or habit.
What really matters is functionality. Functionality is one of the main organising frameworks that I use in this blog so it shouldn’t be strange to us. In a nutshell, we propose that a church begin measuring its functionality using the fourfold matrix of kerygma, koinonia, diakonia, and marturia. Here is an example of what this looks like in real life.
I want to hear your voice. That’s why feedback is always welcome.
Sharing is what friends do.
Image from Vencer, A. (2004), DAWN Vision and Strategy (DAWN Ministries Leadership Development).
Savage says, “I’ve run into many people who don’t believe in sharing their work, or more specifically that sharing their work, their methodologies, their custom processes, even their enthusiasm, incurs a direct cost to them…. Why would you not want to share the things you love? Why would you not want to share the cool things you’ve made? Or the triumph of a challenging project you’ve overcome with your friends? Why would you hide the knowledge you’ve acquired over the years or pretend that your hopes and dreams aren’t worth shouting from the rooftops? In my experience the more you give away the richer you will be.”
The same can be said for theologising. Rather than trying to protect the truth and putting it in a box — as if the truth needs protecting and as if I have a corner on that truth — it might be better to share the truths that I have come to know so that I can learn from the truths that others have come to know and that together we can journey towards the Truth!
This is because the opposite of sharing is selfishness.
Mikhail Bakhtin likened this kind of selfishness to monologue. For Bakhtin, monologue isn’t the carefully created comedic routine of the standup comedian. Rather monologue is the predominance of one voice over and above all other voices. It’s when, for example, one group, one church, one person, or one coalition claims to have a corner on the truth and subsequently rejects, silences, or bids farewell to any other voices. In many ways it sees other voices as opposing voices rather than voices to chat with. These are “It’s my way or the highway” kinds of voices.
Bakhtin saw truth as being discovered through dialogue. As he says in his Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.” This solution was what he called dialogic and heteroglossia, or the recognition of other voices in the conversation.
It’s only through dialogue that I can see the Other’s perspective. Usually in theology we come into a situation with a pre-defined perspective — of darkness and light, good and evil, insiders and outsiders, sheep and goats, etc. These are certainly biblical concepts that describe the world. However, where it all falls apart is when I begin placing people into these various categories without actually finding out if in fact they should be placed there! It also falls apart when I miss whether I myself need to be placed into the negative category. What I mean is that the tendency we have when reading scripture is to place ourselves in the role of the hero when in fact we may be the villain.
Case in point is the story of the prodigal son. We all like to identify with the prodigal son, who goes away and lives a wasteful, sinful life before repenting and returning to his father. While the father is the true hero of the story, it’s the prodigal who does the right thing. What I have yet to hear preached (nor have I myself preached) is a sermon where I identify with the older brother, who starts out inside his father’s home but ends the story outside the home. The son who is the bad guy. The fact that, even though both sons are given equal time in the parable, we identify the parable as being about the prodigal son proves my point.
When I engage in dialogue with others, when I share with them and when they share with me, I discover things about them that I didn’t know and about myself that I also didn’t know. Because we have now shared our stories, we can begin a journey together towards a proper relationship with God.
But I do have a confession. Even though I enjoy discovering truth together with someone else, I am not really that good at doing it. I prefer to be right. I prefer to be the one that people listen to. I prefer to already have the answer figured out. It’s hard for me to sit and listen rather than sit and think about what I will say next. I need to continue to work on listening rather than answering.
I’m curious as to your take on this, which is why comments have been enabled on this blog post. Is it easy for you to engage in dialogue? Please share your thoughts below.
Truth and its discovery has taken a beating of late. The above photo was taken while I was facing North and is often laughed at by the local kids who pass by daily on the schoolbus. “How can it be ‘Highway 31 West‘ when the road goes North?” they scoff. This is compounded by the fact that the arrow under ‘West’ on the sign does actually point North. How can this be? The answer is actually quite simple but it does take some extra knowledge in order to figure it out. We need to know that Highway 31 only heads north for another couple of kilometres before turning West once again. In addition, we need to know that the general trend of Highway 31 is East-West and not North-South. Finally we need to realise that the sign is on another road and the arrows simply indicate the direction one needs to travel in order to go either East or West. Once we know this additional information we realise that the sign makes perfect sense and that the sign speaks the truth.
It reminds me of the meme that circulates from time to time on social media where two people are looking at a number lying on the ground. From one’s perspective it is the number 6 but from the other’s perspective it’s the number 9. The meme is presented as a way of showing that truth is governed by our perspectives. What the meme doesn’t point out, however, is that a 6 is a 6 and a 9 is a 9. In fact on some playing cards where the context is not able to immediately determine which number is intended, a line is placed under the number to show us the proper intent. We can’t just change a 6 to a 9 or a 9 to a 6 willy-nilly depending on our perspectives. So then how can we figure these kinds of things out?
The process of knowing the truth is called epistemology and it is more complex than we might think. [For more on whether we can actually know truth, see my posts here, here, here, and here].
Luke’s prologue in Luke-Acts shows us the complex nature of the epistemology used it writing the book when he says “many have attempted to write,” receiving information from “eyewitnesses” and “servants of God,” that he himself has “followed everything from the beginning,” and all of this confirms as true “what you have been told.”
Just like Luke, we also use a rather complex process in determining whether something is true or not. This process often includes five factors: Ancient source, family, expert, frameworks and institutions, and self.
1. Ancient source. Sometimes this is the Bible. Even the textual criticism of the Bible is partially based on “the earliest and most reliable mansuscripts.” I like how the Manga Messiah says that Jesus’ stories are “Adapted from the Ancient Texts.” Other times it’s the older of two documents making truth claims about the same topic. For example, in the property disputes in the Philippines are often determined based upon whose documents are older. Regardless, we tend to prioritise older sources over newer sources, perhaps because they are tried and tested.
2. Family members. Family members are instrumental in both setting the stage for how we know if something is true or not and in how we negotiate truth on a day by day basis. The faiths that we follow, the truths that we believe, and the traditions that we hold dear are largely because of the family members who have helped shape our reality. Our family is also significant in helping guide us as we change our truths from one to another.
3. Experts and Guides. We often look to experts and guides when trying to determine truth. But sometimes our understandings of who fits this category change. For example, medical doctors used to be people that were listened to without question. Lately it seems that this is no longer the case. The speed of changes that have happened during the pandemic have opened the scientific process to scrutiny in ways that are unprecedented. Any change in official responses to or understandings of COVID-19 are viewed with suspicion because the general populace is largely unaware of how the scientific process works.
Of course none of this is news for people in science or in the medical profession as a whole. My wife Eva likes to recount her experience as a Public Health Nurse. She did it long enough for the advice she was giving to come full circle. She started out saying one thing, then that changed to something else, which then changed back to the original thing after a few years. Rather than this being evidence that medical experts don’t know anything, it is actually reflection on how the process of scientific discovery takes place. Each and every truth claim is constantly being tested and retested through a process that includes peer review, re-experimentation to try and duplicate results, other researchers discovering new things about old topics, and changes in the frameworks and perspectives behind the science.
Those who claim persecution [“I have been fired from my position for taking this perspective”] or censorship [“read this before it gets taken down!”] are often touted among some circles as experts because they are going against the flow. These outliers have assumed the role of new experts among some segments of the population. What is important to notice here is that there is also lots of evidence of manipulation taking place on this level, especially through the use of social media and big data. There is a complex system of networked disinformation that through an elaborate system of levels create a buzz on social media that seems to change political outcomes. See the Cambridge Analytica scandal for how this works. What this means is that a mere claim of persecution or censorship may be merely one of the cogs in the misinformation or fake news system.
4. Institutions and Doctrines. Many times our beliefs line up with the institutions or the agreed set of rules that those institutions espouse. Whether it is signing a code of conduct, a statement of faith, or a contract, these rules govern to a certain extent the way in which we interpret truth. Take for example the arguments churches have over the minute details of the church constitution when there is a problem.
There has been a growing mistrust of institutions over the years. From the concept of “the Man,” it has grown to distrust and sometimes anger towards the government, the church, etc. And for good reason — sometimes institutions get it wrong. Sometimes they only prioritise one perspective at the expense of the Other. Sometimes they have an agenda that may or may not be opposed to the interests of the majority. Examples abound.
Doctrines are undergoing deconstruction largely because people are dissatisfied with them. I like this quote from Zachary Wagner: “A huge percentage of people who ‘deconstruct’ are trying to save their faith, not abandon it. They’re reevaluating the relationship between the Christian culture and Christianity itself because they *don’t* want to lose faith in Jesus.” To this I would add, deconstruction is okay for the Christian, as long as it follows Jesus’ path of redemption, rebirth & resurrection.
5. Personal experience. Ultimately it all boils down to this. All of the above sources of truth are filtered through our own understandings and frameworks. Are we skilled enough at this? In reality it has always come down to this. But since our personal experiences have led to mistrust in the other parts of epistemology, our final decisions will be different than past generations.
This complex epistemological process is why it is difficult to change the way people think and act; why it’s nearly impossible to change how someone views the truth because even if we are able to change one of these factors there are four others ready and willing to keep on keeping on the way it has always been.
What do you think of all of this? Do you find these are also your go-to sources when determining truth?
Your voice is important to me. That’s why commenting has been enabled on this post.
Sharing is what friends do.
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Lumilitaw na nabubuhay tayo sa isang panahon kung saan ang katotohanan ay nakataya. Ang postmodernism ay madalas na sinisisi para dito higit sa lahat dahil ipinapalagay ng mga tao na ang postmodernism ay katumbas ng post-truth. Sa katunayan, wala nang hihigit pa sa katotohanan. Hindi talaga itinatanggi ng postmodernism ang realidad ng Ganap na Katotohanan ngunit sa halip ay isang kritika na nalaman ng sinuman ang Ganap na Katotohanan. Ito ay isang panawagan na muling bisitahin ang mga katotohanang alam natin na may layuning dalhin ang mga ito sa mas malapit na pagkakahanay sa Katotohanan.
Nagsasalita ang Bibliya, sa pamamagitan ng pagtukoy sa misteryo, tungkol sa kahirapan ng paglapit sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Ang pahayag ni Pablo sa 1 Corinto 13:12 ng “Sa ngayon, para tayong nakatingin sa malabong salamin. Ngunit darating ang araw na magiging malinaw ang lahat sa atin. Bahagya lamang ang ating nalalaman sa ngayon; ngunit darating ang araw na malalaman natin ang lahat, tulad ng pagkakaalam ng Dios sa atin” inilalarawan ang problemang ito para sa atin sa napaka-unawang paraan.
Ang problema kapag pinag-uusapan ang katotohanan ay madalas nating nalilito ang ating sariling mga katotohanan sa Ganap na Katotohanan kung sa katunayan ang isang pag-angkin laban sa aking katotohanan at isang pag-angkin laban sa Ganap na Katotohanan ay dalawang magkaibang bagay. Ang pag-aangkin laban sa aking katotohanan ay talagang isang pahayag na nagsasabing wala pa akong Ganap na Katotohanan at higit pang trabaho ang kailangang gawin sa paglapit dito.
Huwag mo sana akong intindihin. Naniniwala ako sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Naniniwala ako na ang Diyos ng Bibliya ay ang Pinaka Realidad. Naniniwala ako na ang kuwentong nakapaloob sa Bibliya ay ibinigay sa atin upang magkaroon tayo ng access sa Ganap na Katotohanang ito. Ipinapahayag ko na si Hesus ay PANGINOON. Ang hindi ko pinaniniwalaan ay nalaman ko na ang lahat (kahit na ayaw kong magkamali!). Ang napagtanto ko ay ang lahat ng katotohanang pinanghahawakan at minamahal natin ay mga katotohanang pinag-usapan.
Pakikipag-ayos ng Katotohanan.
Halimbawa ang iba’t ibang konseho ng simbahan na naganap simula sa Jerusalem gaya ng inilarawan sa Gawa 15. Ang mga konsehong ito ay nagtampok ng malaking bilang ng mga pinuno ng simbahan na nagtipon upang talakayin, at makipag-ayos, kung ano ang hitsura ng kinikilala na Kristiyanismo. Ang kanilang mga desisyon ay patuloy na nakakaapekto sa mga simbahang Kristiyano hanggang ngayon. Ang kagiliw-giliw na tandaan ay kahit na ang konseho ay humantong sa isang pagkakahati, ang parehong partido ay naninindigan na ang katotohanan ay nasa kanilang panig kumpara sa kabilang panig. Ang resulta ay isang simbahan na mayroong 5 pangunahing sangay — Orthodox, Romano Katoliko, Evangelical, Mainline, at Pentecostal/Charismatic — ngunit ang mahalagang tandaan ay ang bawat sangay na ito ay nananatiling bahagi ng simbahan.
Ang mga denominasyon ay isa pang paraan ng pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan. Ang bawat denominasyon ay may sariling pahayag o pagpapatibay ng pananampalataya na nagtatakda ng alinman sa mga hangganan o pokus para sa bawat grupo.
Ang hapag-kainan pagkatapos magsimba tuwing Linggo ay isa pang tradisyonal na lokasyon para sa pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan habang ang pastor at ang kanilang sermon ay pinaghiwa-hiwalay. Ang katotohanan na ang mga katulad na negosasyon ay nagaganap sa maraming mga hapag-kainan ay ginagawang mas kumplikado ang pagtuklas ng katotohanan!
Ang isa pang halimbawa ay sa mundo ng agham kung saan nagaganap ang negosasyon sa pamamagitan ng peer review at mga Q&A na bahagi ng mga presentasyon sa papel, na humahantong sa mga rebisyon bago ang paglalathala.
Minsan nangyayari ang mga pagbabago ng paradigm na binabaligtad ang mga kasalukuyang pag-unawa sa katotohanan pabor sa isang ganap na bagong paraan ng pag-iisip. Isang magandang halimbawa nito ay ang paglipat mula sa paniniwala na ang mundo ay nasa sentro ng sanlibutan patungo sa paniniwala na ang araw ay nasa centro ng sanlibutan.
Nakikipag-ayos tayo Upang Gumuhit ng mga Linya.
Bakit tayo nakikipag-ayos? Dahil gusto nating malaman kung saan iguguhit ang linya sa buhangin! Sa isang tiyak na punto ang negosasyon ay magtatapos at ang mga linya ay iguguhit na. Sa simbahan gumuguhit tayo ng mga linya batay sa teolohiya. Ang nakatutuwa ay iniisip ng bawat isa na ang ating teolohiya ang tama at ang lahat ng iba ay mali.
Ang lahat ng ito ay nagpapahirap na malaman kung saan dapat iguhit ang linya. Siyempre, gusto nating iguhit ang linya sa pagitan ng katotohanan at kasinungalingan ngunit paano kung ang linyang iyon ay palipat-lipat pa? O paano kung ang mga pagkakaiba ay kulay abo?
Sa aking nakaraan, nakapagguhit ako ng maraming linya. Ang isa na namumukod-tangi ay na sa aking mga kabataang taon ay tinanggap ko ang katotohanan ng 5-point Calvinism, na may espesyal na diin sa dobleng predestinasyon. Ang ibig sabihin ng dobleng predestination ay hindi lamang itinalaga ng Diyos ang mga tao na maligtas niya, itinalaga rin niya ang iba sa kapahamakan sa Impiyerno. Ito ay humantong sa akin minsan na ituro sa publiko na ang mga sanggol na namamatay ay hindi kinakailangang mapupunta sa langit dahil sino ang nakakaalam kung sila ay pinili o hindi pinila? Yup ginawa ko talaga yun. Sa kabutihang palad, ako ay sinaway at itinuwid (sa pag-ibig) ng aking tagapagturo at higit na mabuti na nakita ko kung paanong ang mga bagay ay hindi lubos na nasusukat laban sa banal na kasulatan.
Mga Susi sa Pagguhit ng mga Linya.
Iniisip ko kung posible bang gumuhit ng mga linya – kung ang pagguhit ng mga linya ay talagang kailangan nating gawin – batay kay Jesus? Isang susi ay ang pagsasagawa ng WWJD? (Ibig sabihin, What Would Jesus Do? o Ano ba kaya Ang Gagawin ni Jesus?). Ang isang tawag sa personal na kabanalan batay sa pangunahan na ang pamamuhay tulad ng ipinamuhay ni Jesus habang nasa lupa siya ay isang magandang bagay. Syempre itinataas nito ang tanong kung sino si Jesus para sa atin? Ngunit iyon ang paksa para sa ibang panahon!
Ang isa pang susi ay ang pag-uusap. Ang pag-uusap ay nangangahulugan ng pakikinig sa lahat ng boses. Ang isang halimbawa ay kapag tayo ay mga bata, lahat ay nagsasalita tulad ng ng ating pagsasalita — hanggang sa unang beses na marinig natin ang taong na may accent. Bigla nating napagtanto na hindi lahat ng tao ay nagsasalita sa parehong paraan na ginagawa natin. Minsan gusto pa nating gayahin ang ibang accent. Mas matagal bago natin mapagtanto na mayroon din tayong accent at ang realization na ito ay humahantong sa atin na magtanong kung ano ang iba pang mga bagay na maaaring hindi natin lubos na maunawaan.
Ang ikatlong susi ay ang paglipat mula sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may hangganan (bounded set) patungo sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may sentro (centred set). Tinutukoy ng hanay na may hangganan, sa pamamagitan ng mga palatandaan, kung sino ang mga nasa loob at sino ang mga nasa labas. Ang isang hanay na may sentro sa kabilang banda ay kinikilala ang isang direksyon ng paggalaw patungo sa isang karaniwang layunin.
Kung saan Gumuhit ng Linya ang Bibliya.
Gumuhit ng isang linya ang Bibliya. Nakita natin ito sa buong Bagong Tipan (Gawa 8:16; 19:5, at 1Cor 6:11; at 1Cor 12:3). Matatagpuan ang isang lugar sa Filipos 2:9-11 kung saan mababasa natin, “Kaya naman itinaas siyang lubos ng Dios at binigyan ng titulong higit sa lahat ng titulo, upang ang lahat ng nasa langit at lupa, at nasa ilalim ng lupa ay luluhod sa pagsamba sa kanya. At kikilalanin ng lahat na si Jesu-Cristo ang Panginoon, sa ikapupuri ng Dios Ama.” Ang ideyang ito ay inulit sa Roma 10:9 na nagsasabing, “kung ipapahayag mo na si Jesus ay Panginoon at sasampalataya ka nang buong puso na muli siyang binuhay ng Dios, maliligtas ka.” Ang nakatutuwa ay ito ay isang linya na hindi iginuhit sa paligid ni Jesus ngunit sa kanya!
Paano ako magsisikap sa pagguhit ng mga linya patungo kay Jesus ngayon?
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Apparently we live in an era where truth is at stake. Postmodernism is often blamed for this largely because people assume postmodernism is the equivalent to post-truth. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Postmodernism doesn’t actually deny the reality of Absolute Truth but is rather a critique that anyone has Absolute Truth figured out. It is a call to revisit the truths that we know with the goal of bringing them into closer alignment with the Truth.
The Bible talks about the difficulty of approaching Absolute Truth by referring to the mystery. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:12 of “Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me” illustrates this problem for us in very understandable way.
The problem when talking about truth is that we often confuse our own truths with Absolute Truth when in fact a claim against my truth and one against Absolute Truth are two different things. A claim against my truth is really a statement saying that I don’t have Absolute Truth figured out just yet and more work needs to be done in approaching it.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in the reality of absolute truth. I do believe that the God of the Bible is Ultimate Reality. I believe that the story contained in the Bible is given to us so that we can have access to this Absolute Truth. I do declare that Jesus is LORD. What I don’t believe is that I have it all figured out (even if I don’t like to be wrong!). What I have come to realise is that all the truths that we hold near and dear are negotiated truths.
Take for example the various church councils that took place starting with the one in Jerusalem as described in Acts 15. These councils featured large numbers of church leaders who gathered to discuss, and negotiate, what orthodox Christianity looked like. Their decisions continue to impact Christian churches to this day. What is interesting to note is that even if the council led to a schism, both parties maintain that the truth lies with their side as opposed to the other side. The end result is a church that has 5 main branches — Orthodox, Roman catholic, Evangelical, Mainline, and Pentecostal/Charismatic — but what is important to remember is that each of these branches remains a part of the church.
Denominations are another way that truth is negotiated. Each denomination has its own statement or affirmation of faith that sets either the boundaries or the focus for each group.
The dinner table after church on Sundays is another traditional location for negotiating truth as the pastor and their sermon is dissected. The fact that similar negotiations take place at multiple dinner tables makes the discovery of truth all that much more complex!
Another example is in the world of science where negotiation takes place through peer review and Q&A portions of paper presentations, that lead to revisions before publication.
Sometimes paradigm shifts occur that turn current understandings of truth on their head in favour of a completely new way of thinking. The shift from earth-centric to heliocentric understandings of cosmology is a great example of this.
We Negotiate in Order to Draw Lines.
Why are we negotiating? Because we want to know where to draw the line in the sand! At a certain point negotiation ends and lines are drawn. In the church we tend to draw lines based on theology. What is interesting is that we each think that our theology is the correct one and that all others are wrong.
All of this makes it hard to know where to draw the line. Of course, we want to draw the line between truth and falsehood but what if that line keeps moving? Or what if the differences are grey?
I have drawn many lines in the past. One that stands out is that in my younger years I embraced the truth of 5-point Calvinism, with special emphasis on double predestination. Double predestination means that not only did God predestine people to be saved, he also predestined others to damnation in Hell. It even led me one time to teach publicly that babies who die don’t necessarily go to heaven because who knows if they are elect or not? Yup really I did that. Thankfully I was rebuked and corrected in love by my mentor and even more thankfully I have since seen how things don’t entirely measure up against scripture.
Keys to drawing lines.
I wonder if it’s possible to draw lines — if drawing lines is indeed what we need to do — based on Jesus? One possibility is the practice of WWJD? A call to personal holiness based upon the premise that to live like Jesus lived while on earth is a good thing. Of course that raises the whole question of who is Jesus for us? But that is the subject for another post!
Another key is dialogue. Dialogue means hearing all the voices. One example is when we are kids everyone talks the same as we do — until we hear our first person with an accent. All of a sudden we realise that not everyone talks the same way we do. Sometimes we even want to imitate other accents. What takes us longer to realise is that we have an accent too and this realisation leads us to question what other things we may not completely understand.
A third key would be to move from truth defined as a bounded set towards truth defined as a centred set. A bounded set identifies, through a series of markers, those who are in and those who are out. A centred set on the other hand identifies a direction of movement towards a common goal.
Where the Bible Draws the Line.
The Bible draws a line. We see it several places in the New Testament (Acts 8:16; 19:5, and 1 Cor 6:11; and 1 Corinthians 12:3). One place is found in Philippians 2:9-11 where we read, “This is why God has given him an exceptional honor— the name honored above all other names— so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This idea is reiterated in Romans 10:9 that says, “If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved.“ What is interesting is that this is a line not drawn around Jesus but toward him!
How can I work at drawing lines toward Jesus today?
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I overheard the young virtual tour guide as she interacted with a school class in some other part of Canada. She held a phone on a gimbal and narrated as she walked through the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I was particularly interested when she started talking about these wonderful ramps that lead from one floor to the next. The ramps are covered by this translucent yellow stone that the guide said was alabaster.
The design is intentional, leading the eye as one looks up. As you can see in the above picture, the eye moves from darkness to light and is a metaphor for the entire purpose of the museum — to move people from darkness to light in the realm of human rights. As the website says, “Alabaster ramps carry visitors between galleries. Glowing with LED lights, they criss-cross upwards for 800 metres between chalkboard black concrete walls – a literal path of light through the darkness.”
The alabaster was significant for me because it reminds me of the woman with the alabaster jar in the Bible. You may recall the story that is recounted in all four gospels. Here is how Matthew tells it:
“Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon, a man who had suffered from a skin disease. While Jesus was sitting there, a woman went to him with a bottle of very expensive perfume and poured it on his head. The disciples were irritated when they saw this. They asked, “Why did she waste it like this? It could have been sold for a high price, and the money could have been given to the poor.” Since Jesus knew what was going on, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you. She poured this perfume on my body before it is placed in a tomb. I can guarantee this truth: Wherever this Good News is spoken in the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
The thing about alabaster jars was that you had to go all in to open them. There was no cap — you had to break the neck of the jar in order to get the perfume out. That means that it was saved for a very special occasion. The theme of all in is important.
This story is in the context of the Passover feast celebrated by Jesus and His disciples (also known as the Last Supper — also in Mt 26). Passover celebrates God’s salvation of His people from oppression and its associated punishment of the enemy. It’s when both parties went all in so that they can assure the salvation of God’s people.
The same could be said for the fight for human rights — we need to go all in. If we only wanted to go half way it would be called “human right.” But all humans have rights. Saving the world means looking at everyone’s rights, not just those of a few.
Jesus alabaster jar experience, meaning his decision to be the saviour of the world, was also all in. Jesus couldn’t go half way in His plan to save the world.
There is the other side of the story that makes alabaster all that more symbolic for a human right museum. The story also talks of those opposed to the woman’s actions — namely Simon, the host, and Judas.
Simon’s criticism merely sees the woman’s actions based on their monetary value and tries to redirect the investment somewhere else — not realising that the woman and Jesus are planning something priceless — the salvation of the world!
Judas decides to betray Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. I guess Judas’ decision was to go all in in the wrong direction.
What is your alabaster jar experience? What are you willing to go all in on?
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Image taken at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is mine.
Tanungin ang sinumang Kristiyano kung paano makitungo sa tunggalian at huhugot nila ang Mateo 18 sapagkat inilalabas nito kung ano ang nakikita ng marami bilang TANGING PARAAN para makitungo ang mga Kristiyano sa kasalanan ng interpersonal. Sa loob ng maraming taon ay inilatag ng simbahan ang proseso ng pakikipag-usap sa tao nang paisa-isa, kung kung walang resolusyon magdala ng isang tao bilang saksi. Kung wala pa ring resolusyon, dalhin ang tao sa harap ng simbahan at kung wala pa ring resolusyon ay paalisin ang tao mula sa simbahan. Ito ang pamantayan ngunit paano kung sinabi ko sa iyo na hindi lamang ito ang biblikal na paraan na harapin ng pamilya ng Diyos ang kasalanan? Mayroong talagang hindi mabilang na mga halimbawa ng iba pang mga paraan ng paggawa ng parehong bagay na maaaring mas may kaugnayan sa iba pang mga konteksto ng kultura.
Sapagkat ang magkakaibang kultura ay mayroong magkakaibang paraan ng pagharap sa hidwaan. Ang di-tuwirang komunikasyon, sa pamamagitan ng mga konsepto tulad ng pahiwatig at pakikiramdam, ay pangunahing batayan ng komunikasyon at hidwaan ng ilang mga mamamayang Pilipino at mga Sinaunang Tao [First Nations] sa Hilagang Amerika. Ang Lupon Tagapamayapa ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng lipunang Pilipino at isang mabisang paraan upang mapanatili ang kapayapaan sa ating mga pamayanan.
Para kay Elmer, ang diskarte sa Mateo 18 ay lalong kapaki-pakinabang sa tinaguriang mga lipunan sa Kanluranin kung saan ang paghaharap at pagiging prangka ay mga pagpapahalagang pangkultura. Tulad ng sinabi ni Elmer, kahit na “ang pagiging diretso, komprontasyon, pagiging lantad at lantad na pagsasalita ay pinahahalagahan at inaasahan sa kultura ng Kanluranin, sa karamihan ng mundo ang kaparehong mga halagang ito, kahit na ipinakita nang may paggalang, ay itinuturing na masungit, walang pino, masamang asal, masungit at nakakainsulto” (p. 62). Ang diskarte na ito ay hindi gaanong kapaki-pakinabang sa iba pang mga setting ng kultura kung saan ang komprontasyon at pagiging prangka ay talagang lumilikha ng mas maraming hidwaan. Idadagdag ko na ang pagtuon lamang sa Mateo 18 ay nagbibigay ng mga dahilan para sa mga nahuhuli sa kasalanan kasi ginamit ito paminsan-minsan bilang isang dahilan upang tanggihan ang anumang proseso ng pagkakasundo.
Hinahati ni Elmer ang kanyang diskarte sa apat na kategorya. Magbibigay ako ng isang maikling balangkas ng argumento ni Elmer kasama ang kahulugan at mga halimbawa mula sa bibliya sa bawat kategorya. Ang aklat ni Elmer ay higit na lumalagpas dito sa pagbibigay ng mga halimbawa mula sa tunay na mundo kung paano naging epektibo ang paggana ng iba’t ibang mga pamamaraan sa mga setting na cross-cultural subalit dapat kong ipahiwatig na lumalapit si Elmer sa karamihan ng mga sitwasyong ito bilang isang taong nasa labas ng kultura. Gayunpaman, hindi ito nakakaapekto sa teolohiya sa Bibliya na binuo niya sa libro.
Pamamagitan at ang Tagapamagitan [Mediation and the Mediator]. Ang isang hanay ng mga talata sa bibliya ay nagsasalita tungkol sa kung paano minsan nalulutas ang salungatan sa pamamagitan ng paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan. Ang pamamagitan ay sa katunayan isang malaking tema sa lahat ng banal na kasulatan, tulad ng nakikita natin sa ibaba.
Malinaw na sinabi ng 1 Timoteo 2:5-6 – “Sapagkat iisa lang ang Dios at iisa lang ang tagapamagitan sa Dios at sa mga tao. Itoʼy walang iba kundi ang taong si Cristo Jesus. Ibinigay niya ang buhay niya bilang pantubos sa lahat ng tao. Ito ang nagpapatunay na nais ng Dios na maligtas ang lahat ng tao , at inihayag niya ito sa takdang panahon.” Ang tungkulin ni Jesus bilang tagapamagitan ay pinalawak sa Juan 3:17, Roma 5:10-11, at Mga Hebreyo 7–8.
Sinabi ni Elmer na ang isang tagapamagitan ay isang “iginagalang, walang kinikilingan, at layunin” at kumikilos bilang isang tulay sa pagitan ng dalawang partido na may salungatan na may layunin na makamit ang isang win-win solution. Ayon kay Elmer, ang paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan kapag naghahanap ng pagkakasundo ay normal sa maraming mga kultura. Tulad ng sinabi ni Elmer, “maraming mga kultura ng mundo ang mas gusto ang mga hindi direktang pamamaraan para sa paghawak ng salungatan at mga potensyal na salungatan. Ang isa sa mga pinaka-karaniwang hindi direktang pamamaraan ay ang paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan. Ni ang pagkakaroon ng isang tagapamagitan o ang mga pagpapaandar ng isang tagapamagitan ay dayuhan sa account sa banal na kasulatan. Habang ang lipunan ay maaaring nahawahan ang papel ng tagapamagitan o ginamit ito para sa makasarili, kahit sa mga masasamang hangarin, ito ay isang lehitimong papel na kailangang maunawaan at naaangkop na gamitin ng mga Kristiyano.”
Ang posisyon ng isang-baba at kahinaan [The one-down position and vulnerability]. Ang isa pang hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay nagsasalita tungkol sa kung paano nagaganap ang resolusyon kung kailan inilalagay ng isa o pareho ng mga partido ang kanilang mga sarili sa alinman sa mahina o mas mababang posisyon. Halimbawa, kapag ang mga pastol nina Abram at Lot ay nagkasalungatan sa mga karapatan sa pag-gamit ng pastulan sa Genesis 13:8, kinuha ni Abram ang isang-pababang posisyon sa paghingi ng resolusyon sa pamamagitan ng pag-aalok na ilipat sa ibang lugar.
Mamaya si Lot ay nasa posisyon na isang-pababa dahil siya ay nakuha ng ilang mga namamayagpag na hari sa Genesis 14:5-12. Si Abram ay dumating upang iligtas si Lot mula sa posisyon na ito sa Genesis 14:13-20.
Si David, sa kanyang pagkakasalungatan kay Absalom, ay nagpapalagay din sa posisyon na one-down. Sa 2 Samuel 14:1-4 sinenyasan ni Joab ang babae na sabihin, “Tulungan nʼyo po ako, Mahal na Hari!” sapagkat mailalagay nito ang babae sa isang pababang posisyon sa hari, na may obligasyong tulungan siya.
Sinabi ni Elmer, “Ang pagkuha ng one-down na posisyon ay nangangahulugang gawing mahina ang iyong sarili sa ibang tao o ipahiwatig na wala ang kanilang tulong ikaw ay nasa panganib na mapahiya o mawalan ng mukha.” “Mahalaga para sa iyo na huwag maging sanhi upang mawala ang mukha o mapahiya ng ibang tao, ngunit kung may panganib na mangyari sa iyo, maaari kang tumawag sa iba upang protektahan ka mula sa pagkawala ng mukha. Sa katunayan maaari ka ring tumawag sa sarili nitong nagbabanta sa iyong karangalan upang iligtas ka mula sa parehong kahihiyang maaaring dumating sa iyo. ”(p. 80) Binigyan ni Elmer ang pakikitungo ng Diyos kina Abram at David bilang mga halimbawa.
Pagkukuwento at salawikain [Story-telling and proverbs]. Ang pangatlong hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay nagbibigay diin sa mga kwento bilang mga tool sa paglutas ng hidwaan.
Marahil ang pinakamahusay na halimbawa nito sa Bibliya ay nang harapin ng propetang si Nathan si Haring David dahil sa kanyang kasalanan kay Batsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Si Nathan ay nagsasabi ng isang detalyadong kuwento ng isang mayamang tao na nagnanakaw ng minamahal na tupa ng isang mahirap na tao. Kapag nagalit si David, pinapagal siya ni Nathan sa pagsasabing, “Ikaw ang taong iyon!” Ang resulta ay ang pagsisisi ni David.
Ginamit din ito ni Jesus nang maraming beses nang sinabi niya sa mga talinghaga na magturo ng mga pagpapahalagang nais niyang ituro. Kumbaga, maaari siyang direktang maglibot at hamunin ang mga tao tungkol sa kanilang kasalanan at masabing, “Magsisi kayo!” Sa halip ay pinili niya ang pagkukuwento bilang kanyang pangunahing anyo ng pakikipag-ugnayan.
Mayroong maraming mga halimbawa ng pagsasabi ni Jesus ng mga talinghaga, ngunit ang ilang mga makabuluhang halimbawa ay kasama ang Lucas 18:10-14, nang ikinuwento ni Jesus ang tungkol sa Fariseo at sa Maniningil ng Buwis sa isang pagsisikap na parehong maipakita ang pag-asa sa mga maniningil ng buwis at hikayatin ang pagsisisi ng mga Pariseo.
Ginagamit din ni Jesus ang pamamaraang ito nang harapin ng mga pinuno sa Mateo 21:23-27. Nang tanungin, “Ano ang awtoridad mong gumawa ng mga bagay na ginagawa mo? Sino ang nagbigay sa iyo ng awtoridad na iyan?” sumagot si Hesus sa pamamagitan ng paglalagay ng palaisipan na nagpapahintulot sa kanya na maiwasan ang isang direktang paghaharap.
Ang bisa ng pamamaraang ito ay ipinakita sa paglaon sa Mateo 21:33-46 nang ikuwento ni Jesus ang tungkol sa taong umarkila ng kanyang ubasan. Ang kanyang mga tagapaglingkod, na ipinadala upang kolektahin ang kanyang bahagi ng ani, ay pinapintasan at ang kanyang anak ay pinatay. Kapag natapos na ang kuwento nalaman natin na ang Punong mga Pari at Pariseo ay alam na pinag-uusapan sila ni Jesus – ibig sabihin ay hindi direktang naihatid ni Jesus ang kanyang mensahe.
Elmer muli: “Ang pagkukuwento sa ganitong pang-unawa ay hindi simpleng paggamit ng mga kwento ngunit… ang pagtuturo, pagwawasto at nuanced na paggamit ng mga salita …. upang makisalamuha ang mga mas batang kasapi ng isang lipunan sa mga pamantayan at halaga ng lipunang iyon. Gayunpaman ang parehong mga tool na ito ay madaling gawin sa mga tugon sa mga sitwasyon ng kontrahan.”
Tandaan din ang pag-unlad na kasama sa pagpipiliang ito: Ang isa ay pinapayagan na maging mas direkta kung ang mga inilaan na target ng kuwento ay hindi masyadong makakonekta sa kanilang sarili.
Hindi pagkilos, maling direksyon, katahimikan, at mga taong walang katiyakan [Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinitepersons]. Ang huling hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay titingnan natin ang mga pag-uusap tungkol sa kung paano nalulutas kung minsan ang pagkakasalungatan gamit ang hindi direktang paraan. Ang ilang mga kultura ay binibigyang diin ang higit na hindi tuwirang mga paraan ng pakikipag-ugnayan at humantong ito sa isa pang uri ng pamamahala ng salungatan na binibigyang diin ang kawalang-derekta.
Dalawang Hebreong komadrona sina Shifrah at Pua na tinalakay sa Exodo 1:8-19. Matapos mag-utos ng Paraon “Kung magpapaanak kayo ng mga babaeng Hebreo, patayin ninyo kung lalaki ang anak, pero kung babae, huwag nʼyo nang patayin” tumugon ang mga kumadrona sa hiling ng Paraon sa maraming paraan: katahimikan dahil walang direktang sagot mula sa kanila sa utos ng Paraon; hindi pagkilos (v17) sa “hindi nila sinunod ang iniutos ng hari”; at maling direksyon (v19) sa kung saan sinisi nila ang kalusugan ng mga babaeng Hebrew bilang dahilan kung bakit hindi sila maaaring sumunod. Ang kwentong ito ay maaaring mukhang kakaiba, hindi bababa sa mula sa isang pananaw sa Kanluran na maaaring bigyang kahulugan ang mga komadrona bilang hindi matapat. Gayunpaman, ang katotohanang “kaya pinagpala ng Diyos ang mga komadrona” ay nagsasabi sa atin na inaprubahan niya ang kanilang mga pamamaraan.
Nakita rin natin ang mga prinsipyong ito sa mga kwento ni Haring Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) at sa Esther.
Sa Marcos 9:33-37 mababasa natin na ang mga alagad ni Jesus ay “hindi sumagot.” Ito ay dahil nais nilang iligtas ang kanilang mga sarili mula sa kahihiyang pagkakaroon ng pagtatapat sa kanilang tinatalakay sa kalsada. Hindi sila hinarap ni Jesus tungkol dito ngunit sa halip ay gumagamit sya ng isang hindi direktang object lesson upang matulungan silang mas maunawaan ang mismong tanong na pinagtatalunan nila.
Si Hesus mismo ay gumagamit ng katahimikan nang subukang pilitin siya ng mga Pariseo na kondenahin ang babaeng nahuli sa pangangalunya sa Juan 8:1-11. Gumamit siya ng maling direksyon upang ibalik ang tanong sa mga akusado nang sabihin niya na, “Kung sino sa inyo ang walang kasalanan ay siya ang maunang bumato sa kanya.”
At syempre si Jesus ay nanatiling tahimik din sa Mateo 27:14 nang tinanong sya ni Pilato.
Sa pakikipag-usap sa katahimikan sinabi ni Elmer, “ang katahimikan ay hindi nangangahulugang naayos na ang isyu o naabot na ang kasunduan. Karaniwan nang nangangahulugan ito ng pagkaantala hanggang sa maaaring magamit ang ibang naaangkop na diskarte …. Mayroong oras para sa katahimikan at oras para sa pagiging maingay. Tila ang grabidad ng isyu ay isang tagapagpahiwatig para sa pagpili, tulad ng pagiging maagap.”
Ang ilang mga huling pangungusap. Napagtatanto na wala sa mga pagpipiliang ito ang eksklusibo ay ang susi sa pag-unawa sa iba pang mga anyo ng paglutas ng salungatan sa Bibliya. Sa halip maaari nating paikutin ang iba’t ibang mga paraan ng mga pamamaraang ito na may layunin na makarating sa isang sitwasyon na win-win sa huli. Mahalagang tandaan din na kailangan nating gamitin ang mga porma ng paglutas ng tunggalian na angkop sa kultura , na may hangarin ng aktwal na resolusyon. Hindi lamang natin nais na pumili ng pamamaraan na pinakamahusay na susuporta sa aming panig ng isyu. Kailangan nating piliin ang diskarte na pinakamahusay na hahantong sa resolusyon.
Ito ay maaaring isang pagkakataon na pumunta sa palengke upang mamili lamang ng gusto natin pag dating sa conflict resolution at piliin ang pinakamahusay na magsisilbi sa aming panig ng hidwaan. Hindi iyon ang punto ng ehersisyo na ito. Ipinapakita sa atin na paminsan-minsan ang ating paggamit ng Mateo 18 ay nagpapatibay sa hidwaan kaysa sa paglutas nito sapagkat nilalayon itong magamit sa isang partikular na setting ng kultura. Ang pagpili ng isa sa iba pang mga pagpipilian ay maaaring humantong sa mas mahusay na mga resulta sa iba pang mga konteksto.
Ito rin ay isang magandang lugar upang banggitin na ang tinatawag na mga Western theology ay hegemonic. Nangangahulugan ito na mayroon sila, ayon sa dami ng isinulat ng mga taga-kanluranin, kinuha ang pamamayani at ginamit na kapangyarihan sa Iba. Kailangan itong magbago habang ang ibang mga kultura ay pumasok sa pag-uusap kasama ang kanilang sariling mga konteksto at system. Ang resulta ay magiging isang teolohiya na mas mayaman sa huli.
Ano ang palagay mo sa mga iginigiit ni Elmer? Sa palagay mo ba ay nagbibigay ito sa simbahan ng ilang mga mas mahusay na pagpipilian para sa pagharap at paglutas ng hidwaan? Mayroon bang mga hindi nalutas na isyu na mayroon ka sa isang tao na maaayos kung sumunod ka sa ibang proseso?
Gusto kong marinig ang boses mo. Kaya palaging malugod na tinatanggap ang feedback.
Ask any Christian how to deal with conflict and they will pull out Matthew 18 because it lays out what many see as THE way for Christians to deal with interpersonal sin. For years the church has laid out the process of talk to the person individually, then if things don’t work out bring someone as a witness. Then, if things still don’t work out, bring the matter before the church and if that doesn’t work out then expel the person from the church. It’s pretty standard but what if I told you that this wasn’t the only biblical way that God’s people deal with sin? There are actually countless examples of other ways of doing the same thing that may be more relevant in other cultural contexts.
Because different cultures do indeed have differing ways of dealing with conflict. Indirect communication, through concepts such as pahiwatig [hinting] and pakikiramdam [sensing non-verbal cues], are at the core of communication and conflict resolutions of some Filipino and First Nations peoples. The Lupon tagapamayapa, or peacemaker board, is a key part of Philippine society and is one effective way in keeping peace in our communities.
For Elmer, the Matthew 18 approach is especially useful in so-called Western societies where confrontation and frankness are cultural values. As Elmer says, even though “directness, confrontation, forthrightness and candid outspokenness are valued and expected in Western culture, in most of the world these same values, even when demonstrated respectfully, are considered rude, unrefined, ill-mannered, discourteous and even contemptuous” (p. 62). This approach is less useful in other culture settings where confrontation and frankness actually create more conflict. I would add that focussing solely on Matthew 18 provides excuses for those who are caught in sin because it can be used as an excuse to reject any process of reconciliation.
Elmer divides his approach into four categories. I will give a brief outline of Elmer’s argument including a definition and biblical example or two of each category. Elmer’s book goes far beyond this by giving real-world examples of how these various methods have worked effectively in cross-cultural settings however I should point out that Elmer approaches most of these situations as a cultural outsider. However, this doesn’t impact the biblical theology that he also develops in the book.
Mediation and the Mediator. One set of bible passages talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved through the use of an intermediary. Mediation is in fact a big theme in all of scripture, as we can see below.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 explicitly states — “There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and humans—a human, Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for all people to free them from their sins. This message is valid for every era.” Jesus’ role as mediator is expanded in John 3:17, Romans 5:10-11, and Hebrews 7–8.
Elmer says a mediator is a third party who is “respected, neutral, and objective” and who acts as a bridge between the two parties in conflict with the goal of achieving a win-win solution. According to Elmer, the use of a mediator when seeking reconciliation is normal in many cultures. As Elmer says, “many cultures of the world prefer indirect methods for handling conflict and potential conflict. One of the more common indirect methods is the use of a mediator. Neither the existence of a mediator nor the functions of a mediator are foreign to the scriptural account. While society may have contaminated the role of the mediator or used it for selfish, even evil purposes, it is still a legitimate role that needs to be understood and appropriately employed by Christians.”
The one-down position and vulnerability. Another set of Bible passages talk about how resolution sometimes takes place when one or both of the parties place themselves in either a vulnerable or a lower position. For example, when Abram and Lot’s shepherds have a conflict over grazing rights in Genesis 13:8, Abram takes the one-down position in seeking resolution by offering to transfer to another area.
Later on, Lot was in the one-down position because he had been captured by some rampaging kings in Genesis 14:5-12. Abram comes to rescue Lot from this position in Genesis 14:13-20.
David, in his conflict with Absalom, also assumes the one-down position. In 2 Samuel 14:1-4 Joab prompts the woman to say, “Help ⌞me⌟, Your Majesty” because this would put the woman in a one-down position to the king, who would then be obligated to help her.
Elmer says, “Taking the one down position means you make yourself vulnerable to another person or indicate that without their help you are in danger of being shamed or losing face.” “It is important for you not to cause another person to lose face or be ashamed, but if there is danger of this happening to you, you may call on another to protect you from losing face. In fact you may call even on the very one endangering your honor to save you from the same shame that may befall you” (p. 80). Elmer gives God’s dealings with Abram and David as examples.
Story-telling and proverbs. A third set of Bible passages emphasise stories as tools for resolving conflict.
Perhaps the best example of this in the Bible is when the prophet Nathan confronts King David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Nathan tells an elaborate story of a rich man who steals a poor man’s beloved lamb. When David is enraged, Nathan stuns him by saying, “You are that man.” The result is David’s repentance.
Jesus also used this many times when he told parables in order to teach the values that he wanted taught. Conceivably, he could have directly gone around challenging people with their sin and saying, “Repent!” Rather he chose storytelling as his main form of interaction.
There are countless examples of Jesus telling parables, but some significant examples include Luke 18:10-14, when Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in an effort to both present hope to tax collectors and encourage repentance by the Pharisees.
Jesus also uses this method when confronted by the leaders in Matthew 21:23-27. When asked, “By whose authority do you do these things” Jesus replies by posing a puzzle that allows him to avoid a direct confrontation.
The effectiveness of this method is shown later on in Matthew 21:33-46 when Jesus tells the story of the man who rented his vineyard. His servants, sent to collect his portion of the produce, are mistreated and his son is killed. When the story is over we learn that the chief priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them — meaning that Jesus was able to indirectly get his message across.
Elmer again: “Storytelling in this sense is not simply the use of stories but … the instructional, corrective and nuanced use of words …. to socialize the younger members of a society into the norms and values of that society. Yet these same tools are easily crafted into responses in conflict situations.”
Note also the progression included in this option: One is allowed to become more direct if the intended targets of the story don’t quite make the connection with themselves.
Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinitepersons. The final set of Bible passages we will look at talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved using indirect means. Some cultures emphasize more indirect forms of interaction and this leads to another type of conflict management that emphasizes indirectness.
Shiphrah and Puah are two Hebrew midwives discussed in Exodus 1:8-19. After being ordered by the Pharaoh “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth, look at the child when you deliver it. If it’s a boy, kill it, but if it’s a girl, let it live,” the midwives respond to the Pharaoh’s request in several ways: silence in that the passage doesn’t record any direct answer from them to the Pharaoh’s order; inaction (v17) in that “they didn’t obey the king of Egypt’s orders”; and misdirection (v19) in that they blamed the Hebrew women’s health as the reason why they couldn’t obey. This story may seem odd, at least from a Western perspective that might interpret the midwives as being dishonest. However, the fact that “God was good to the midwives” tells us that he approved of their methods.
We also see these principles in the stories of King Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) and in Esther.
In Mark 9:33-37 we read that Jesus’ disciples “were silent.” This is because they wanted to save themselves from the shame of having to confess what they were discussing on the road. Jesus doesn’t confront them about this but rather uses an indirect object lesson to help them better understand the very question they were arguing about.
Jesus himself uses silence when the Pharisees tried to force him to condemn the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. He then uses misdirection to turn the question back to the accusers when he says, “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And of course Jesus also remained silent in Matthew 27:14 when being questioned by Pilate.
In talking about silence Elmer says, “silence does not mean the issue is settled or that some agreement has been reached. It usually means a delay until another appropriate strategy can be employed…. There is a time for silence and a time for forthrightness. It seems that the gravity of the issue is one indicator for choosing, as is timeliness.”
Some concluding remarks. One key to these alternative biblical forms of conflict management is to realise that none of them are exclusive. Rather one can cycle through various forms of these approaches with the goal of arriving at a win-win situation in the end. It is also important to note that we need to use culturally appropriate forms of conflict resolution, with the goal of actual resolution. We don’t just want to pick and choose the method that will best support our side of the issue. We need to choose the approach that will best lead to resolution.
This might seem like an opportunity to go “conflict resolution shopping” and choose the option that will best serve our side of the conflict. That isn’t the point of this exercise. What this is trying to show us is that sometimes using Matthew 18’s approach solidifies the conflict rather than resolving it because it is intended to be used in a particular cultural setting. Choosing one of the other options may lead to better results in other contexts.
It is also a good place to mention, at least in passing, that so-called Western theologies are hegemonic. This means that they have, by virtue of the volumes written by westerners taken predominance and exterted power over the Other. This needs to change as other cultures enter into the conversation with their own contexts and systems. The result will be a theology that is richer in the end.
What do you think of Elmer’s assertions? Do you think this provides the church with some better options for dealing with and resolving conflict? Are there unresolved issues that you have with someone that would be fixed if you had followed another process?
I want to hear your voice. That’s why feedback is always welcome.