From the Pit

The problem for those who operate on the basis of prejudice as if these were principles and who count opinions as if they were convictions (which is all of us, some of the time, but should be as we mature increasingly less) is that whether they suspect their own principles and convictions or not, they have every reason to be suspicious of everybody else’s because they simply don’t behave the way they themselves do. Sometimes, I suppose, you will have enough people with similar enough prejudices to all agree and confirm each other. But then prejudices being what they are, forming large consensuses of prejudices would require machinery on the scale of Hollywood . . .

Of course you can criticize those prevailing prejudices on the basis of your own private prejudices. And if you don’t have principles, prejudices are all you have to go on. You will end up uneasy if you just operate on prejudice, because prejudice does not lend itself to understanding. At least it seems to me that that is the difference between a prejudice and a principle–a principle comes with understanding, some basis of certainty and intelligibility whereas a prejudice is largely unexamined. What you need is something better than prejudices. You need to be freed more and more from operating on the basis of prejudice even if you start out with a pretty good set of guiding prejudices.

So there are two questions you need to answer.

1 Where do you get principles?
2 How do you put them to good use?

Those are basic and important questions. They are the kinds of questions Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would ask; good questions. There are long implications in the answers we provide for each.

Christians of all sorts will readily answer that (some/most/all, and it does vary) principles come from the Bible, and they are correct. God reveals certainties in Scripture. He shines precious certainties out of the realm of eternity, things that are permanent and can be counted on, things that are true: principles upon which we can operate.

What this brings us to is the importance of hermeneutics. How do you handle the Scripture? How are these principles harvested out of a book written by men in the realm of time–change–impermanence?

Do you read it like any other book or not like any other book? And the answer to that is not as straightforward as it seems, mostly because the question is wrongly put. It is not a matter of one or the other, you see. The Bible is ordinary human writing and never is it less, but it is certainly more. It is kind of like the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is not extraordinary divine blood that has magical qualities. It is thoroughly human, with its own type, cell count, etc. If you matched the type you could have gotten a transfusion (and still could) without any added benefits than those of anybody else’s blood of the same type. But only the blood of Christ can save his people and not only (but certainly also) because it is innocent blood; the blood of Christ can save because it is the blood of the God-man, though this metaphysical value (who it belongs to) in no way changes the physical blood. The glory of Scripture lies not in magical qualities that remove this book from the category of human literature anymore than the blood of Christ must be removed from the category of human blood. But Scripture while remaining human literature, is more. There is no book like this book, nor is there any other blood that can save mankind. Put that answer in the question at the beginning of this paragraph and you’ll see the ambivalent response you get.

And this highlights the importance of asking the right questions, which is the whole point of hermeneutics. What questions are we supposed to ask the text?

Reverent questions, is one answer to that. Not irreverent questions, obviously. And now you find yourself–if you’re following along–wondering how you determine that, right?

So it goes and so it deepens out under us in what seems an infinity of inquiry. But so it must be. Consider, in the light of these considerations above, this passage:

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;

To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;

To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning [always? in other words, infinitely?]; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels [you see how understanding is a beginning of something deeper here]:

To understand a proverb [ah, not so easy to grasp, are they?], and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [that great intangible, reverence]: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

It does not sound to me like he is saying it is simple–simplicity is not subtle and the dark saying of the wise are not at first glance clear–but he is saying it is possible. Which returns us to the two questions above: where do you get them and how do you use them. And I think those are questions the wisdom literature of Scripture sets out to answer. Which, if I’m right, ought to wrest from us some prejudices, and transform others, and put us on the road to deliverance from them.

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