Thursday, December 23, 2010

The gift of Socrates

Socrates was the gadfly of Athens.  Or at least that is what the Athenians said.

A gadfly is a small little fly on a horse's rear end that is so irritating it can prompt the beast to gallup as a result of its annoyance.  Something so small, so irritating can produce such great power.  That is who Socrates is.

I say 'is' because his ideas still provoke great things from us.  I think God smiled broadly when he considered Socrates.  All those sophists running around with their heads full of self-important ideas and then this old man came on the scene and made idiots out of all of them.

This was Socrates' M.O. (modus operandi, way of operating) - to look innocent in asking a series of questions that eventually brought the person under examination to the complete opposite of what he originally said.  Meno, Credo, Apology, Euthyphro - these aren't hip-hop artists, they are short books that contain the great ways that Socrates would make mince-meat of his opponents in the most humble and disarming way.

If you asked Socrates how he knew so much, Socrates would answer that it was his NOT knowing that was he real gift.  It is this awareness that is God's gift to the world on behalf of one of his children - Socrates.  

You see, when Socrates went to Delphi to ask the oracle there which man was the wisest in all of Athens, the answer was that it was Socrates - not because of his great knowledge, but for his disposition.  At the time there were plenty of people that had claimed to have great wisdom and knowledge (and they charged a hefty sum for learning what they knew).  Real knowledge, however, was not wrapped up in sophistry.  Real knowledge was knowing the limits of their sophistry.

It was the oracle at Delphi (as Plato tells it) that said that Socrates' knowledge was in his disposition rather than his position.  It was the fact that Socrates alone knew that he did not know which made him the wisest.  Whereas others claimed to have knowledge, it was Socrates who humbled himself and claimed that he knew only one thing - that one thing was that he knew nothing.

Now of course this is a foundation rather than a beginning point, but it is a beautiful gift (seldom unwrapped) for the rest of us.  Our faith in Christ starts with the deconstruction of all that we think we know.  In fact, it would be better to deconstruct what we think we know about anything and completely do away with laying the foundation for anything else.  When humans enter into the knowledge department, whatever we build is skewed. 

Instead, we can move closer to God with an increasing awareness of all that our greatest academic moment is when we agree that we know nothing (and to help others see the same in the impressive structures that they have built in place of God).

Because when I agree that I don't know what I think I know, I am free to let God fill me in on what He needs me to know - which usually comes from a relational perspective rather than a foundational perspective.  Leave the impressive structures up to the one who can figure all of that out and allow God to move in and abide in the structures that He has already built.

And of course we know that this is not good enough for the critics . . . but that is okay, because they really know nothing.  If only they could see the gift of Socrates!

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