Something about unresolved chords.
Why did Jesus never seem to give people a straight answer? It seems that he almost always answered in parables.
When people asked him direct questions, attempting to pin something down and get him to say something solid, something concrete, all the answers he gave were abstract. It seems that he usually talked about abstract principles and metaphors rather than applied practices.
Recently in a small discussion group, someone said they didn’t like the quote from Saint Francis Assisi “Preach the gospel and if necessary use words". This person said they “didn’t think it worked, because you have to use words because, if people don’t hear words then how can they be saved.”
I asked, what does that mean "to be saved"? Does that mean putting a hand up and saying a prayer?
The person responded saying that “you have to repent and follow Jesus.” And something along the lines of “you have to hear the gospel to be able to do this".
So they made this very clearly defined definition.
It is black and white.
If you do this one particular thing then you are in. If you don't do this one particular thing then you are out.
I raised two edge cases in order to question whether this black and white distinction was a coherent argument. The edge cases I raised were the example of an aborted foetus and of someone who had never had the gospel preached at them.
A second person in the group validated my second edge case by saying said they'd heard of Muslim people who have had dreams of Jesus and had converted to follow Jesus from these dreams without ever hearing a person preaching. The first person validated my edge case about the unborn foetus by saying that they were happy to trust that God with that child.
At this point we could look at other arguments such as, God being love, or that Jesus’ main message was one of love, but we will leave those arguments for another time.
The point I want to explore is this. The first person made a simple argument. “This is the only way to be saved” then within 5 minutes accepted two examples that directly contradicted the argument. Then after this did not come forward and say that the initial argument was incoherent.
Either the edge case examples are incorrect or the simple rule is incorrect. You cannot have both. To do so is to consciously maintain a state of delusion.
Perhaps if we look to Jesus and his use of parables we can take his example of a non resolved answer.
Maybe we can say that God is love and he will work things out. Maybe we don't have a clearly defined wall between when you are in and when you are out. Maybe we can say that most of the time the simple rule “This is the only way to be saved” is correct, apart from in certain edge cases.
From how I see this situation it is necessary to accept that this rule is not a simple black and white. It is an unresolved chord. A gradient rather than a black and white contrast.
It is an uncomfortable thing, waiting for a chord progression to resolve.
I find it interesting that as humans we have this fascination with walls and hard boundaries. We want to be in or out. We want to have a clear distinction. We struggle with the lack of resolution.
When we hear an unresolved chord on the guitar we want the chord to change, to bring the notes into harmony, into resolution.
We are uncomfortable with the lack of resolution.
There is something uncomfortable about waiting in that place where things are not clear. It's stressful. We don't quite know where we stand.
We can't really put the issue down and we have to keep it in mind.
If it was a clear black or white it will be easy to put it in a box.
Then we can say. “This person is in, that person is out.” “This is true, that is not true." Then it will be easy to resolve it and put it away, and put it out of mind.
On the other hand by leaving it unresolved, it almost is an invitation to keep it in the forefront of your mind.
An invitation to to meditate on it, to to ponder it, to explore it, to find out what this gradient feels like.
Maybe it is not that simple?
What is this here, what is that there?
What is the texture of this gradient?
I think that the most interesting things in life are in these gradients.
Like when watching a sunset how do we know when day has ended and night has begun. Can we pin down the exact moment?
In these in-between places, in the unresolved spaces we don’t quite know if it’s going to resolve happily or sadly.
We don't quite know where exactly it's going to go but I think that it's in exploring this that we are being present in life and present with Jesus.
Are we afraid of looking at the unresolved spaces because we are afraid that Jesus can't resolve them?
Are we not willing to walk with Jesus into these awkward uncomfortable places?
It is in exploring this that we are being present.
It is here that we can't just make quick judgements and move on.
When we look back at Jesus, the people he spoke to they often came to him with rules. Saying “is this in or is this out?” He didn't often give them a straight answer. His answer was often in a parable or an abstract saying which gave a general rule, an unresolved statement which looks like it might resolve one day but it wasn't resolved yet.
I find it interesting that Jesus answered with these unresolved parables.
I think that as a follower of Jesus it is worthwhile to look at not just the lessons that Jesus taught, but also to look at how he taught them.
When a group of people following Jesus come together to discuss things, I find that often we spend a lot of time repeating to each other the lessons that Jesus taught. Perhaps it is also worthwhile looking at how he taught them, and perhaps, just perhaps we can be brave enough to venture into the land of unresolved chords.
I think we will be surprised what we find there.
I know that two thousand years ago people were surprised to find Jesus in unresolved and compromising situations.
Perhaps the same will be true today