“There is no lack in these days of captious listeners and questioners; but to find a character desirous of information, and seeking the truth as a remedy for ignorance, is very difficult. Just as in the hunter’s snare, or in the soldier’s ambush, the trick is generally ingeniously concealed, so it is with the inquiries of the majority of the questioners who advance arguments, not so much with the view of getting any good out of them, as in order that, in the event of their failing to elicit answers which chime in with their own desires, they may seem to have fair ground for controversy.” So says Basil of Caesarea (c. 329-379) in the first chapter of his exposition, “On the Spirit.”

What follows are 29 chapters of an interesting although mind-numbing argument about the exact nature of the Holy Spirit. There was at that time a vicious argument raging in Christianity that would eventually give us what became the orthodox trinitarian formula. There would be anathemas, deposed bishops, arrests, prison, exile, and other political intrigue. Not a good look then, and for those disposed against historic Christianity (which describes many American Christians and former Christians) still does not help much.

I am a trinitarian in my thinking, but I am not likely to anathematize those who are not. That is not my job. For my part, I am glad they sorted all that out 1,700 years ago, even if I do not fully grasp the exact nuances of the argument. If you think it is straightforward, you probably haven’t read the documents produced. I think they developed a good answer to the questions of the nature of the Holy Spirit. I also realize this is a specifically Christian issue.

What is not specifically Christian is the truth of Basil’s opening chapter. It is a human condition to accept what others say when they agree with us. We will always have interesting, important, and difficult questions to answer. I wonder sometimes, however, if some of the questions we pose and look to our religious books for answers are even remotely considered in them.

Let me try to explain. When it comes to morality and law (as in “what can I get away with and still be in good standing with ...”), many of our questions would never be asked if we paid attention to the very first questions asked in the Bible. This, by the way, was also true of Israel in the Old Testament and the early church in the New Testament. It was necessary to explain just what was meant because of our hard hearts.

I think there are good questions that should be ever in front of us. These are questions that may or may not have clear answers. And for those that do have clear answers, we may struggle to execute in a loving way. I believe if we could keep a few of these in mind, they would check some of the evil we pour out on each other. They would mitigate our differences and help us seek mutually beneficial solutions.

For it seems to me, and this is for those who choose to take the Bible at least a little seriously, that we should begin with the questions it asks of us. Here are a few examples.

“Why are you angry and why has your face fallen?” is the question God asks of Cain because Cain feels unjustifiably rejected by God. God tells him he can overcome his difficulty, but Cain refused to answer the question. He instead took his anger at God out on his brother. It can be a difficult question to answer today — especially if we are consumers of news. Spend some time alone and quiet when feeling aggravated — “Why are you angry?” Do the work of answering for yourself if you are. You will make more sense when you do speak.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) This question on the lips of a lying murderer has been used to demonstrate our care for each other. That is a good thing. However, the modern equivalent may be more like, “I am not hurting anybody.” Not everyone who says this is a murderer, but if it is ever used as an excuse for questionable behavior it is still preceded by a lie.

“Where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8). The context of this question makes it poignant. An angel says this to Hagar who is running away from a difficult situation not of her making. The recommendation given to Hagar will not work for many in this situation, but the idea of turning around and facing difficulties is still valid.

Our nation should start with these questions — maybe we can still work it out.

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