Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Grocery Carts and Scripture

Nowadays after I lock my car at the grocery store I scan the parking lot for a wayward cart. If one is around I retrieve it and wheel it into the store. For the last few months God has nudged me to do this. I don’t know why. It has a humbling effect on me–it’s not my job, and I feel stupid doing it. But I know better than to ignore that nudge.

There are no verses regarding grocery carts–the scriptures are silent on the subject. I act because it’s Jesus showing me the path I should walk today. In the course of a day there are seldom clear biblical mandates on the decisions we need to make. Of course over time there are some that apply, for example prohibitions against sexual immorality, divorce, and commands to love our neighbors. But when it comes to ordinary stuff: the financial decisions, what church to attend, the right course in disciplining our children we don't get explicit biblical direction.

It’s not through lack of trying. I know I spend time trying to understand the Bible–reading books, talking to people, meditating on scriptural passages. We want clarity, but God usually offers mystery. To cope with this mystery Christians invest large amounts of energy creating summaries of biblically supported truths. We generate creeds, confessions, statements of faith, core beliefs, doctrinal statements, etc. to codify what we believe is important. Typically these are heavily driven by scripture–but ultimately these are human creations–not the inspired word of God.

We look to the scriptures to tell us what is right and wrong, as we should. But do we look too much? No one argues with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." That is clear. But not much else is free from debate. The Bible provides direction for living our lives, but it's an outline, not a spell checker. We want the Bible to be a rulebook, but more often what we need is a conversation with God.

P.S. When I got to the grocery store today, the parking lot was strewn with abandoned carts–at least eight. Was I supposed to roll in one or all of them? God has a sense of humor...


Jeff said...

It's interesting. Those people who act as if there is no room for debate on a whole host of subjects, who act as if the only reasonable response is exactly the ones they have taken... some days they drive me crazy, other days I feel so jealous.
But the truth is that I think God grows us through ambiguity. Requiring an act of faith and some hard work from us in wreslting out the truth, these are things which make us better people.

VanceH said...

Sometimes I think we have to deal with more than just ambiguity as we consider the scriptures.

I like what Peter Enns said in his essay:

" an echo of I Corinthians 1, as God's way of using what appears to be foolish and unwise to bring glory to himself."

Not only do we need to engage our faith and our minds, but our pride as well.

Heidi said...

I think you roll in the carts because you're a good person and you see something that needs to be done.

Still, following those nudges builds patterns of good character - good habits.

One of my own nudges is sometimes to give something away. An example: I gave my favorite ring to a woman in the parking lot of a hospital. We were talking, and I thought "If she only had a little thing to cheer her up.... some little pretty thing to distract her." She didn't look like she had a lot of beauty in her life. This kind of thing happens once in a while.

I don't know what prompted those actions, really. Maybe it's just that I want to be able to heal someone else's pain and I don't know how, so I just hand over the most valuable thing on me at the time. But sometimes I'm small enough to miss the things I gave away. They meant more to me than to them - but suddenly it had seemed so imperative to give them away.

Would that be the same sort of nudge? If so, do you think that my slight regret (_why_ did I DO that?) be something like a sin?

VanceH said...

It sounds like the same sort of nudge to me. Something that Jesus would do.
Regarding the subsequent regret--I think giving away something that meant a lot to you, and to miss it later just validates the worth of the gift. Your action in the moment is the supreme test of your heart.

darin said...

vance. i enjoyed your blog. I'm your brother Shaun's pastor, darin. What you wrote reminded me of something I just read by Dorothee Solle; 'I would like to offer an invitation to theological thinking because I want to communicate something of the joy in doing theology, of the enthusiasm which can come over one... And that brings me to the first difficulty. There is such a thing as minerology, because minerals exist and scientists can become knowledgeable and expert about them. Theology too, is an -ology, derived from the words theos (God) and logos (teaching). but can there be any Logos, any systematic and rational clarification, of God? If theologywere simply a 'theory about God', analogous to ossology (the theory of bones), then it would be an insult to God, blasphemy. the object of theology can only be the relationship between God and human beings... in this light I now want to correct my remark about inviting you to attempt to think about God and say, 'I invite you to love God.'

that is, in my humble opinion, the truest purpose of scripture, not to teach us knowledge as much to teach us about loving God and one another. When those two are our concern, the other questions may not be any simpler to answer, but at least we do not feel so lost when we cannot find a verse to guide us.

VanceH said...

Hi Darin, Thanks for the quote. It really is quite presumptious for us with our grasshopper brains to talk so confidently about God.

darin said...

thanks for your comments on my humble little blog. I think that blogging has a lot of potential for connecting people, and allowing those of like mind to find support and encouragement. theoretically those of un-like mind could challenge each other to grow. That is why I am trying this. Most of what I find on blogs is little more than extended soundbites that add little to the faith dialogue in our culture. So i appreciate your blog, I find it both substantive and 'real;. I look forward to more reflections and am glad to have found another blog that i enjoy looking to for new perspectives and ideas