In that delightful mix called intercultural studies—for me, anthropology, theology and linguistics—I especially enjoy exploring cultural communication styles. Several years ago I was intrigued to discover that prominent among Hebrew communicational values, intentional ambiguity stands out. That explains a lot of the difficulty of some of the biblical passages. It seems that sometimes what is left out of a story is as important as the plot itself.
I remember wondering why God would then choose the Hebrew culture and language as a vehicle of revelation. Wouldn’t it be better to state things plainly, to clear up the mystery, to show us a straight path forward?
But the poet part of me smiled. Intentional ambiguity. Why not?
This Hebrew value reaches into the New Testament, although other languages and cultures also enter the picture. I hear Jesus asking the disciples, “Do you get it yet?” and then explaining the parables. I note scholars down through the ages debating the meanings and interpretations of certain passages. It continues today.
Thank God for the Spirit who reveals truth as we ask and seek.
And thanks be to Jesus who told his disciples that love would be a defining mark of the church (“By this shall all people know you are my disciples….”), not just correct doctrine.
Of course correct doctrine matters, and Jesus also said that it is the truth that sets us free. Naming our theological perspectives is an ongoing task of the church, one that needs the input of many cultures and languages. So we wrestle and wait, listening to each other and to Jesus, the living Word, as he unfolds to us the written word, the Bible.
I wonder sometimes if love is not the link between intentional ambiguity, doctrine and witness. I wonder if the lack of doctrinal clarity we often experience and sharply feel is not the context for the kind of love that shines in the darkness.
Right now we in Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends are wrestling with the profound questions of human sexuality. We are specifically asking what the Word/word is saying about committed same sex relationships. We are discovering among us widely differing perspectives. This diversity is magnified even more in the greater family of Friends.
In our yearly meeting, I note the thread of belief in both the living and the written Word. It would be inaccurate to say we are divided between theological liberals and fundamentalists. We are all people who want to follow Jesus, adhere to the Bible and be light in the world. And this is where it gets interesting.
As I ponder the history of the Christian church, looking specifically at times of controversy, it seems that either of two scenarios is taking place. Sometimes surrounding cultural values dilute the message of truth and tempt the church to liberalism. But other times, it seems that the very Spirit of Christ (the living Word) is prodding us to new revelation, a fresh interpretation of the written word. What is happening now with the issue of human sexuality? That’s my question, and I don’t know.
Intentional ambiguity provides an opportunity for love.
Not all is ambiguous, of course. God’s intentions that we love each other and together seek the voice of Christ, these are clear. This is a time for waiting and listening. It is, as we say in English, the meantime. Let us, by the way we respect each other, make it “kind” time. Let us keep strong our hope in the Spirit of Jesus who leads us into all truth. Let us take the time for that to happen.