Friday, July 22, 2016

Thinking Critically

This past week’s sermon was about the demon-possessed man from the Decapolis region in Mark 5. When studying the passage, a few issues become apparent rather quickly.
  • The man is a menace and represents virtually everything that the Jews would consider unclean.
  • The source of the man’s strength is the strong man that Jesus could bind (cf. Mark 3.27).
  • The demons, the people, and the man all “beg” Jesus for something.
  • The man follows Jesus by not physically following.
  • Jesus calmed the storm on the lake, and now in this man’s life.
  • The people who witness the calming (both on the lake and in the man) are more fearful at the end of the story than they were before the miracle.
A few other items are important in this story as well. Others may seem important, but perhaps too much emphasis is given (e.g. the difference in the name of the place in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). (You can view a possible explanation for the difference in the post on the church’s blog.) It is this last point that leads to the purpose of this post. As a student of the Bible, I must begin by saying that it is important to reconcile the Bible, as best we can, with itself, to history, to science, etc. But for me, the starting point in the Bible, not elsewhere. What I mean is that we should hold the Bible as our source and reconcile science against it, for instance, not the other way around. (Incidentally, when done in this fashion, the Bible and science are not opposed, but we simply cannot (or do not yet) understand how to properly reconcile them together.)

The truth is that we should explore the differences. But to do so requires more than a cursory look at the Bible. It requires trying to understand the presuppositions we bring to the text. Much of this is based upon cultural differences, which are not only true of the space between most who will read this and the Middle East, but the time difference as well. For instance, my study during this current series is as much about the culture as it is the text. In some ways, the culture dominates the text, and despite having read and studies the book of Mark (and the life of Jesus before), I am learning so much about Jesus, His message, and His mission that I have not known before.

Regarding the idea of differences, we should explore them – deeply. But we must also keep the main thing the main thing. Regarding the difference in the places mentioned in Mark 5.1, the main thing is Jesus healing a man, not necessarily the exact location. The fact that it was on the east side of the Sea of Galilee is important (non-Jewish territory), and practical matters, such as the pigs running into the sea, suggest the place is closer to the sea (i,e more likely Gadara or Gergesa) than not (i.e. Geresa).

But the bigger story is of a man who could not be controlled by others (he broke out of shackles, Mark 5.3-4) nor could he control himself (crying out and cutting himself, v. 5). Luke 8.27 says the man wore no clothes, but after the demons leave, we find the man sitting sitting near Jesus, clothed, and “in his right mind” (v. 15). The man who was feared by society for being out of control was now charged (by Jesus, v. 20) to go throughout the region to share his story now that he was not only self-controlled, but also was in his right mind.

What does that mean? It is one thing to be out of one’s mind, it is another to be in one’s right mind, but it is yet another to use the mind we have been given. The reality is that many people have their right mind, but are more under the control of others, like the man was before he was healed. Our culture today is largely focused on keeping people from engaging their minds. Instead of teaching how to think we are often told what to think. Any disagreement often means extreme criticism by those who respond by what they have been told rather than what they have deduced. Make no mistake, we all do this to some degree. None of us researches every detail we hear or read. And all of us have bias to certain sources or materials. But we have been given minds of our own in order to think for ourselves and make decisions based upon our own conclusions rather than being force-fed our thoughts, feelings, and even our actions.

The reality is that unless society begins to think critically again, our culture will be further controlled by the (imposed) sentiment of the day and, like the demon-possessed man in the story, our ability to think and reason will be all but lost. A level of control will enforced upon society, but short of another act of God, the idea of self-control will likely be lost for many years to come.

So, think critically...about the Bible, about culture, about life. To have the freedom to use our minds is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. But we must use that freedom wisely, otherwise we may just lose it.

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