Torah. Prophecy. Wisdom.
These three kinds of literature make up what we call the Old Testament. But they tell us much about our progression as human beings from spiritual babies to a transformed people.
Torah. Law. It’s where we begin. We need to know the rules. All good parents provide not just a safe and loving home, but a secure foundation. Children need boundaries, rules, instruction. In fact, Torah is called a “tutor” by St. Paul, a necessary teacher. But Torah is an insufficient guide to maturity. So, we progress.
Prophecy. A necessary criticism. Walter Brueggemann argues that the prophets awaken us to our dark side. Even God’s chosen people, Israel, became subject to a harsh wake-up call. Developmentally, Christians need to move from law to criticism. We need to begin to see our shadow side, the depth of our depravity and brokenness. This, in turn, leads us to humility…wisdom.
Wisdom. Paradox. What we learn as we’re transformed is that we don’t know what we thought we knew, we don’t control what we thought we controlled, we don’t see as we ought to see. With wisdom comes humility. Biblical wisdom literature opens us to great paradoxes. While we start with a sense of boundary and control in Torah, we find our honest voice before God in the paradoxes of Ecclesiastes.
Jesus radicalizes each, breaking down our tendency to pit one against the other. By paradox, we learn the impossibility of keeping Torah. This futility leads us to honest self-reflection. In humility, we become transformed human beings. But we find ourselves back at the beginning, in one sense, not rejecting Torah and feeling as if we’ve advanced beyond Torah (as in some antinomian traditions), but as lovers of Torah. Torah becomes our delight (Ps. 119).
During Lent, our eyes are drawn to Jesus, the one who embodies Torah, prophetic criticism, and wisdom. But living like Jesus can be frustrating. Richard Rohr says that the Gospels record 183 questions asked to Jesus, either directly or indirectly. He answers only 3. Wisdom leaves us with unanswered questions. It offers no behavioral recipes, secret Christian formulas, microwavable quick fixes. It offers us Jesus, puzzling to all who knew him – liberal or conservative. Only the humble really got it – women, widows, the poor, the marginalized, the outsider.
Lent invites us to embrace this puzzling uncertainty. It teaches us to pray, not with facts in hand, but with open hands. What we discover, in this journey, is what Jesus knew intimately – that as transformed people, what we know more deeply than anything else is not a fact or formula, but a deep relational truth.
We learn that, like Jesus, we’re the beloved.
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