Philippians 4:4-9 | Colossians 1:3-14
Reading through some of the epistles again, as part of the E100 series, I’ve been stuck by something that I think I’d not really noticed in the past.
In the early days of my Christian life, I read the epistles avidly, seeking in them for understanding, for explaination, for a sort of intellectually coherent laying out of the Christian faith. I didn’t read the gospels for those things; the gospels were inspirational reading, but for rigorous, consistent, thought-out and joined-up exposisition of the faith, the epistles were the thing. The gospels, if you like, were narrative; the epistles were interpretive. They were theology.
So when I read the epistles, I would hone in on the bits which read like propositional statements; bite sized declarations of theological fact that you could take hold of and use to build the temple of your own understanding. Which meant that I tended to skip over the beginnings and the ends of the letters, sections which tend to be more personal, less theological, more specific to the time and place and particular people and relationships, and less like universal truth. Bits, in fact, which read more like parts of a story than like a didactic text.
If there is one thing that has changed, more than anything else, in the way that I approach understanding the world, it is this: that I have come to distrust nuggets of universal truth, and to believe in stories. I can’t remember who said it to me, but I’ve never forgotten the saying: if you want to know what people are like, you’d do better reading Jane Austen than a psychology textbook.
It’s not that I don’t believe in universal truth. I do. I’m not a relativist. I don’t accept that each person’s truth is good enough for them. It’s more that, outside of the realms of hard science, truth is not something you can take apart and look at in isolated nuggets, factual propositions – not if you want to get it.