Drinking Deeply

Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 3:02 PM

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Sometimes people use the argument that “you're not ____ so you can't speak on this issue because you don't understand.” This comes up when we discuss abortion, this comes up when we discuss marriage, when we discuss complementarianism, when we discuss submission to parents, to the authorities, divorce, tithing, so on.

The underlying assumption behind all of these things is that one cannot claim authority unless one has experienced it. Pretty sensible right? You don't want someone who is a statistics major telling a surgeon how to operate. Of course that surgeon should only listen to other surgeons, as they've done the research and so on.

Unfortunately, the issue isn't like that when we discuss some of the topics referenced above. Why? Because the person speaking isn't speaking on their own authority, saying that “I know about this” but instead the person is speaking on God's authority. “This is what God says.” Of course, those speaking up should always keep in mind the command not to use the Lord's name in vain. When invoking God's authority, one better be sure that God's authority is correctly being invoked. But when a Christian has done his research, looked at the relevant Bible passages, and is able to answer objections, then when they speak on the topic, they speak as a mouthpiece for God.

A person doesn't need to be married in order to counsel married couples. A person doesn't need to be working in order to counsel working young adults. Doesn't need to be female in order to take a stance on abortion. A person need only to know the Word of God and how it applies, as it speaks to all such situations.

Job 32

6And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:

"I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
7I said, 'Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.'
8But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
9It is not the old[a] who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what is right.
10Therefore I say, 'Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.'

It is the breath of the Almighty that makes him understand. It is not experience automatically gained through age (though sometimes it is through age that God grants wisdom), but the grace of God.

When we prize experience on topics that Scripture addresses (and Scripture addresses a lot ), we are using “you don't know” to excuse our own sins or the sins of others. But God does know and God is not silent. We who have been given the Holy Scriptures also do know, and we cannot be silent.

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Blogger jefe said...

i'd hesitate to take elihu as an example, or his words at face value. job's friends are hardly offered as paradigms of wise counselors.

more generally, i think the person who says "you don't know" is largely right. not that i don't know anything about the experiences in question--i may know perfectly well the frequency, methodology, and morality of certain actions. but nonetheless i don't know or understand a lot of things which may be important in speaking to a situation. what it's like. the subtle sins in the neighborhood that one might be inadvertently scared into. whether the salient temptation is pride or despair. and whereof i cannot speak, thereof i shall be silent. and when i must speak (as is often true for a parent or a pastor), i should so with fear and trembling.

c.s. lewis had a policy i consider wise (from Surprised by Joy):

"Here's a fellow, you say, who used to come before us as a moral and religious writer, and now, if you please, he's written a whole chapter describing his old school as a very furnace of impure loves without one word on the heinousness of the sin. But there are two reasons. One you shall hear before this chapter ends. The other is that, as I have said, the sin in question is one of the two (gambling is the other) which I have never been tempted to commit. I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle.

"('This means, then, that all the other vices you have so largely written about...' Well, yes, it does, and more's the pity; but it's nothing to our purpose at the moment.)"  

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Blogger mxu said...

I think Elihu can be taken as a positive example as he is not lumped in with the rest of Job's friends. Notice that Job does not respond to Elihu, Elihu rebukes the other 3 friends, how much of what Elihu says is reflected in God's discourse, and how God rebukes Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar but not Elihu in Job 42. A quick examination of a commentary on Job can tell us that Elihu is looked upon in a far more positive light.

Regarding your main point, I don't agree for reasons previously stated, but I suspect we're in far more agreement than it sounds, so I'm willing to leave it at that.  

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