Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Puzzle

" Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he shall shew thee; thy elders and they shall tell thee." (Deut. 32:7)

Are you like me? Do you like puzzles? Here's one for us today.

Compare this verse in Deuteronomy with one in Isaiah that contemplates the dangers of nostalgia. "Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old" (Isa. 43:18). Sounds like one those oft-cited instances of contradictions in the Bible, doesn't it? That's why a cursory reading of the Bible can sometimes cause more frustration than illumination. Often it takes many readings to grasp multi-faceted truths in the Word of God, and few of us seem to have the time or inclination to do it. This is unfortunate since we can be sure any seeming contradiction is only the result of our own inability to approach the problematic text from the right perspective. Having said that, I will try to point out what to me seems to be one obvious difference between the two texts, which might help to account for their mutual contradiction.

Deuteronomy is talking about people (generations, fathers, elders), while Isaiah is addressing "things." One is living history; the other is dead tradition. With knowledge of history, you and I are offered personal insight into the successes and mistakes of those who have gone before, so that we might make wise judgments for our own conduct. But on the other hand, with tradition, we run the risk of easing into stagnation. It can hold us back. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves acting by rote, instead of reason.

By all means, learn history—written and oral. Familiarize yourself with God's dealings with His children in the past, and learn from those who have seen His glory. This verse in Deuteronomy instructs to do just that. But, at the same time, when God clearly opens to us His will, we must forget "the former things," without even giving lip service to "the things of old." At times (perhaps, most of the time), God will expect us to walk as pilgrims; but there will undoubtedly come a time when He will ask each of us to walk as pioneers. At least, it will seem that way to many around us.

Know the past; live in the present; and step boldly into the future.

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