Interpreting Spiritual Things To Those Who Are Spiritual

June 13, 2011

1 Corinthians 2:13

The Spirit of God has been associated with Wind and Breath, and I like both of these images very much. The Spirit is Wind in that the Spirit comes upon us from the outside in. We feel the effects of the Spirit like we do the effects of wind. And yet, the Spirit is also Breath in that the Spirit comes from within and among us. And we feel the effects of the Spirit like we do the effects of our own breathing. In and Out. Out and In…

Now that dual-description of the Spirit of God is of course not everything the Bible has to say on the subject. But it’s an important primer to what the apostle Paul wants to teach about the Spirit in First Corinthians, chapter two. Namely, he says in verse 13,
the Spirit interprets—“interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” And, you see, it is none other than the Wind-and-Breath Spirit that does this interpreting; and that means that whenever this spiritual interpretation takes place it happens from the outside in and from the inside out.

For example, a random guy by the name of Adam loves to ski. He skis every chance he gets. He travels to Colorado, to Utah and to the Swiss Alps in order to ski. Adam grew up skiing with his mother who virtually nurtured him on the slopes. But, after his mother has passed away, Adam is skiing at Schweitzer resort in early March and he has this mystical experience. He gets off the lift and is about ready to take on a black diamond set of moguls and it occurs to him that his love for this activity has its source in his parents’ love and his parents love might even be traced even further back… to the love of God. You see, that’s what we mean when we say the Spirit interprets from the outside in. Adam has taken a lifetime to make this connection:
“for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?”

Now I want to take what I just described as happening to Adam a bit further. Suppose, after Adam’s experience on the mountain, he skis back to the lodge and he tries to tell somebody. Suppose he tries to tell Rebecca who works in one of the Schweitzer shops in the village and suppose Rebecca is this woman that Adam has recently slept with. At first, Rebecca might be skeptical. Initially she might respond to Adam by saying, “You’re so full of it… Hey, let’s go out tonight. Have a few drinks.” This reaction, of course, may be discouraging to Adam. But suppose he persists. Suppose he invites Rebecca to go to a chapel service with him and surprise, she goes. And suppose they eventually approach another couple about starting a prayer group. And suppose eventually Adam and Rebecca get married and become missionaries to some of the snowy places where they used to take vacations. You see, this would be an example of the Spirit interpreting things from the inside out.

And just think for a moment about the beauty, the intricate and intimate beauty of these interpretations happening in the lives of individuals and social groups. Think about them multiplying and layering on top of one another generation after generation. Latah Valley, as many of you know, has been started with this beauty in mind. That is, we believe that God is making these connections both with us and without us. And so, one of the reasons I like to emphasize church as dialogue is this: you and I may be one of the few interpretive forums for people to come and say, I have a question.

With this in mind, then, it’s important for all of us to understand that interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual is not easy. In fact, the prelude to every valid interpretation of the Spirit is bewilderment. For evidence of this we need to look no further than Acts, chapter two, when the Spirit blew into Jerusalem and Jewish people from all around the world spoke in foreign languages (not their own) and were then accused of being drunk on wine at 9 o’clock in the morning.

The point here is that the Spirit of God very often will manifest its presence in terms of the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—but the process of developing and maturing these fruit is an interpretive process from the outside in and the inside out.

There’s a good illustration of what I’m getting at here in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, where Huck has a decision to make about the runaway slave, Jim. He has been taught through various interpretations of the Bible that God had intended and sanctioned slavery as a benefit. He has been taught through various interpretations of the Bible that if he doesn’t turn Jim into the authorities that he, Huck Finn, will go to hell. That’s how Huck interprets his relationship and that’s initially what motivates him to write a letter and reveal Jim’s whereabouts. And just when he’s ready to send the letter, he has what I would call a Spirit-moment:
(I) set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.
“Alright then,” says Huck, at a certain bend in the Mississippi river. “Alright then… I’ll go to hell.” And, you see, the irony of that spiritual interpretation is really profound. And it makes me wonder about the things we have to decide about being church in today’s world.

Back in our last congregation, someone approached Sheryl and I and said that we shouldn’t try to interpret the Bible. The Bible speaks for itself, he said, while ironically going on to interpret it himself. “There—you just did it again,” he said. “You’re interpreting. There and there you’re interpreting the plain words of scripture.” And gradually it dawned on me. The Christian faith is so radical and so life affirming it’s frightening for people. The Christian faith, as opposed to the Law of Judaism or to the Koran of Islam, puts the revelation of God in our tentative and sweaty and clumsy hands and, make no mistake, each sentence of the Bible begs us to respond. And when we respond, whamo!

We are interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

There’s no way around it, and there’s no reason for us to look for a way around it.

In fact I would go so far as to say that interpreting spiritual things is our privilege and not our burden at all. Thanks be to God!


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