Human Development through Scripture

Prophets

Human Development through Scripture
Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Hebrew Scriptures are divided into three major sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books. Theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that these three excellently represent the development of human consciousness itself. [1]

The Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) gave the Israelites the Law and a sense of their chosenness. For natural and healthy self-development, any culture or family follows a pattern of first providing structure, which develops identity, boundaries, and self-worth as beloved and special. It is easiest to start with an initial sense of “order,” as even educators now recognize.

The books of the Prophets represent the birth of good and necessary critical thinking. Without it, we remain far too self-enclosed and smug. The lack of healthy self-criticism within both Judaism and Christianity shows how little attention we’ve paid to this part of Scripture. (We read the prophets as if their only function was to “foretell Jesus” which is really not their direct message!) The Roman Catholic Church did not allow prophetic/critical thinking for almost 500 years after the Reformation, nor did the United States for most of its 200-year history (slavery and segregation are the most obvious examples). When the floodgates opened in the 1960s, there was no stopping critical thinking, and then it became widespread in postmodernism. Finally, Evangelicals are going through the same process on many levels.

While critical thinking typically arises in human development in the teens and early adulthood, it is usually oriented outwardly, in criticizing others. But honest and humble self-critical thinking is necessary to see one’s own shadow and usually well-hidden narcissism. Only when I encounter my shadow do I realize that my biggest problem is me!

The Wisdom section of the Hebrew Scriptures includes the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and many of the Psalms. Wisdom literature reveals an ability to be patient with mystery and contradictions—and the soul itself. Wise people have always passed through a major death to their egocentricity. This is the core meaning of transformation.

We have to go through interior deaths to reach the third stage of wisdom. Only here does contemplation and nondual thinking become possible; we can begin to learn to live with mystery and paradox and to develop true compassion. If stage one is order and stage two is disorder, then stage three is the final goal of reorder. There is no way around stage two! It is what Paul calls “the folly of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Conservatives tend to stop at stage one, liberals tend to get trapped in stage two, but only stage three is the full risen life of Christ.

Gateway to Silence:
Do not be afraid.

References:
[1] See Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, 2nd ed. (Westminster John Knox Press: 2012, ©2003).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available;
Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CD, MP3 download; and
Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

Image credit: Jeremiah (detail), Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, 1511, Vatican City, Italy.
Numbers only; no punctuation

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