Questions: For whom should we pray? Why? What does God want? Why should we trust Him? Why don’t we? Why don’t they? How should we submit? How can we?
“Read More” to pursue answers from First Timothy.
Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence
And fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I would know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.
Huh. So what does it mean to hold onto the faith? Well, apparently it first means to pray: having the faith to recognize that everything comes from God, and acting in accordance with that reality. We are command to pray to God, and pray for people, in all sorts of ways. Plus one special request:
I find this fascinating (not least because of my recent political activism). I wonder how of much of this was to be protected by the government, and how much to be protected from the government! Either way — having been to India — I can appreciate how difficult it is to be good citizens while still being “reverent and honest” when rulers are given over to corruption and violence.
But even when it isn’t convenient, we should still pray for our government to be the best it can be, because:
For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
There he goes, referring to God as “Saviour” again. In fact, this time he expands on that thought:
What does it mean for God to “will” or “desire” something? To be sure, that’s a complex theological topic (e.g. “perfect vs. sovereign” will), but here I’m seeking something more mundane: what is the human correlate of God’s desire, as expressed in that verse?
Crudely put, I see “everyone being saved” — and “knowing truth” — as an outcome that would maximize God’s happiness (or “desire-fulfillment”, if you prefer), and thus something that He considers worthy of investing His effort towards achieving. I say “crude” because it glosses over numerous issues: Will everyone be saved? What could thwart God’s desire? Are there other, equally-strong desires on God’s part? Does “truth” place constraints on who can be saved? Does the concept of “saved” itself imply constraints we can’t imagine?
Those are valid questions, but far too much to hang on this one small verse. So for now, I’m going to stubbornly stick to my tiny little interpretation of this one particular facet of God’s will, and see how far it gets us in this chapter.
To start with, what is the truth he wants us to know, that is intimately tied to our salvation?
This is mind-boggling, on many levels:
- As a physicist I interpret this as asserting a single unifying principle behind all the systems in our experience.
- As a deist I interpret this as implying that this Principle has correlates to human personality (or rather, that human personhood exists due to correspondence with this Principle!).
- As a theist I see it affirming the possibility of interaction (mediation) between this Principle (Deity) and humanity.
- As a Christian, I see this affirming Jesus’ unique role as a two-way mediator between God and man.
Importantly, I do not see this as denying the possibility of other one-way “revelators”, either inside the Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g., Moses) or outside it (e.g., the Buddha). Scandalous as it sounds, I do think God’s Spirit has revealed aspects of His character to various people at various times, to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, accordingly to their ability to comprehend. Yet as a Christian, I take Jesus character (as revealed through the four gospels) as the definitive expression of God’s character, against which all others must be measured.
Why? There are many reasons (e.g., historicity, efficacy, utility), but the bottom line is that Jesus is the only revelation that affirms God’s self-giving nature as the source of our salvation:
Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
This simple fact (or act, if you prefer) makes all the difference in the universe to how we perceive and relate to God. As one tiny example of that, look at what it did to Paul:
That said, I get the uncomfortable feeling I’ve just spent the bulk of my attention on what, for Paul, was mostly a doxological aside; since he immediately returns to his initial subject of prayer:
Wow. Prayer is portrayed as being correlated with holiness (purity), but anti-correlated with wrath (anger) and doubt (disputation).
This hits close to home, as private prayer has always been difficult for me. It could well be because I have not devoted myself to purity, and that I have harbored anger and suspicion in my heart. Though it is perhaps some consolation that my situation is apparently common enough among men (“aner“, not “anthropos“) for Paul to mention it explicitly.
Intriguingly, this would imply that women are susceptible to different temptations than men like me:
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
To be sure, it may be a stereotype to claim that women worry excessively about their appearance — but no more so than claiming that men are given to anger and argument!
What if rather than trying to lay down generic rules of conduct, Paul is merely trying to highlight the temptations that tend to keep each gender from praying? For example:
Is it too far-fetcthed to assume that Paul might have had a valid insight here: that women who have trouble accepting masculine authority may have trouble submitting to divine authority?
And here — going out on a limb, I realize — I read this verse as not so much claiming masculine perfection (ha!), but rather masculine responsibility. That is, Adam’s sin was not that he was deceived, but rather than he followed his wife in her deception.
In other words, Paul is asserting that there is a certain natural order in creation, which if we properly submit to it — instead of serving our own ego — we are freed to pray “with holy hands”, and fulfill God’s commands. Conversely, if we contend against that order, we are actually fighting against God, to our own destruction.
A sobering thought — and an admittedly idiosyncratic interpretation! — but it does seem to fit the context. Including this verse, which even I often find painfully sexist:
What if this was not so much an admonition to keep wives “barefoot and pregnant”, but simply pointing out that motherhood ties a woman into God’s cycle of life, in a way that trumps any misguided attempts to assert her independence of man (and God)? That is, by ultimately submitting to our biological destiny — in a healthy way, not through doubt or fear — might we become better able to submit to God Himself?
Well, maybe. Even I consider my interpretation of these difficult passages something of a stretch. But, I’m okay with thatt. The reality is I don’t understand all of the Bible, any more than I understand all of physics. I simply believe that by submitting to those parts I do understand — that spur me on to humility, justice, love, and truth — I will become a better person, and over time come to understand more.
Especially if I learn how to pray with “holy hands.”
God, I am such a mess. After all these years, I still feel like such a stranger to holiness. Lord, purify my heart — as well as my mind, soul, and strength — that I might lift up holy hands to you. Grant me the knowledge of the truth, the miracle of a mediator in the God-man Jesus Christ, that can save me from the hell of my own devising. I ask this by your grace and mercy, not by any good that I have done, In Jesus Name, Amen.