Shocking. Shocking that people will respond less gently than we would like, or less boldly. That someone would say something we don't like. Shocking that they differ from our perspectives on tertiary theological minutiae. It's shocking when we have to face the reality that our favorite theological or pastoral celebrity is not writing inerrant, inspired books.
Christians have a celebrity problem. We love to lift up people as our great champions, only to watch them crash and burn under the weight of our lofty expectations. This is a depressingly dark trend. How do we navigate these waters? How do we continue to engage in current dialog and be stretched in our understanding, while not elevating human beings into unjustifiable heights?
Ecclesiastes 12:8-14 is a needed corrective in our time.
"The words of the wise are like goads"
A goad is a sharp pointed stick that was used by farmers to keep oxen moving. Goads are used to poke, prod, direct, and move the big beasts. This is the image picked up in Ecclesiastes for the words of the wise. They poke at us, prod us, direct us, and help to move us. Often that means that words of wisdom will make us uncomfortable and force us to consider things we otherwise would not. This is the greatest function of the great wisdom we hear and read. It should act as goads in our thinking and in our lives.
"and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
In contrast, the Word given to us by the One True Shepherd is fixed firmly, like nails. The summation of Ecclesiastes and all the wisdom found within it is found in these few verses, which make it clear that human wisdom has its purpose, but it is limited in its scope and value. The ultimate purpose of the goads is to drive us to cling to that which is eternal, to God's Word. As we read or listen to other voices, we should continually ask the question, "How does this drive me to cling to God's Word and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ?"
"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."
In the end we will all face God. He is the ultimate judge over all of us. We need to be careful to remember that all of our favorite sources of great wisdom are human beings who will also answer to Him, but never to us.
Let's stop with impossible expectations. More is being written and published and propagated than ever before. There are greater tools and opportunities for the gospel to be spread than ever before. Keep things in perspective, though. The words of our favorite thinkers are not inerrant, but their wisdom can serve as goads to us. We need to allow other voices to poke at our opinions and thoughts. We need to allow others to prod us and make us uncomfortable, clinging ultimately to God's Word.
Let's also stop with the caveats. Stop clarifying the reality that the people whom God has used in your life are not perfect. We know. None of us are. Maybe we can praise God for His work through His servants, with the understanding that the only eternal wisdom is found in the Word given by One Shepherd. Maybe we can talk about writers and preachers without leading with our areas of disagreement. Maybe, just maybe, we can even just say that we really like someone and that they have caused our affections for Jesus to be stirred.