Week 3, A World of Meaning

Chapter 3, A World of Meaning

Psalm 145:1-16

Proverbs 8:1-36

John 1:1-17

 From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this text (used with permission) found HERE.

We Make the Road By Walking takes a narrative approach to the Bible, which means it invites biblical stories to unfold and interact in sequence from beginning to middle to end.

However, I didn’t want to wait until Advent to introduce Jesus. So I decided to link the creation stories of Genesis with the new creation story in John’s Gospel. My assumption is that when the writer of John’s Gospel uses the term “logos,” he is not seeking to define Jesus and his message by assumptions inherent in the Greek term - whether as used by Plato or Heraclitus or any other Greek philosopher. Rather, he is presenting Jesus as an alternative logos. The pattern, logic, or meaning of the universe proclaimed by Jesus, in other words, confronts rather than conforms to Greek assumptions, especially the assumption of Heraclitus, that the logos of the universe is “polemos,” or hostility, conflict, and violence.

 

For example, in Fragments 53 and 80 (Thanks to Paul Nuechterlein for this reference), Heraclitus says:

War [or violence] is the father of all and the king of all; and some he has made gods and some men, some bond and some free.... We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife.

 

No, John claims: the “logos” is not strife but life, not war but love, not fighting but friendship, not enslaving but servanthood, not stealing but self-giving.

 

Here’s how Rene Girard describes John’s logos:

The Johannine Logos is foreign to any kind of violence; it is therefore forever expelled, an absent Logos that never has had any direct, determining influence over human cultures. These cultures are based on the Heraclitean Logos, the Logos of expulsion, the Logos of violence, which, if it is not recognized, can provide the foundation of a culture.

The Johannine Logos discloses the truth of violence by having itself expelled. First and foremost, John’s Prologue undoubtedly refers to the Passion. But in a more general way, the misrecognition of the Logos and mankind’s expulsion of it disclose one of the fundamental principles of human society. . . .

This revelation comes from the Logos itself. In Christianity, it is expelled once again by the sacrificial reading, which amounts to a return to the Logos of violence. All the same, the Logos is still in the process of revealing itself; if it tolerates being concealed yet another time, this is to put off for just a short while the fullness of its revelation.

The Logos of love puts up no resistance; it always allows itself to be expelled by the Logos of violence. But its expulsion is revealed in a more and more obvious fashion, and by the same process the Logos of violence is revealed as what can only exist by expelling the true Logos and feeding upon it in one way or another. (Things Hidden, pp. 271, 274)

 

In the end, the chapter presents a choice between four common ways people understand the logic of the universe:

1. Life is a war, a survival-of-the-fittest competition to the death.

2. Life is compliance, a keep-your-head-down-and-do-what-you’re-told story of power, domination, and submission.

3. Life is a machine that runs on cold and objective utility, not meaning or morality.

4. Life is a story that includes conflict, compliance, and mechanism - but has a higher or deeper purpose and meaning rooted in goodness, pregnancy, creativity, and love.

 

My friend Cassidy Dale simplified these four down to two in his book The Knight and the Gardener (available for free online). The knight is the warrior who seeks domination and uses whatever mechanisms he can master to pursue his agenda. The gardener works with a good and fertile world - and faces its inherent challenges - to promote and enjoy aliveness.

 

Obviously, the two stories overlap, interact, and sometimes vie for dominance in the biblical library. But the “good news” is not a call to arms, nor is it a call to compliance, nor is it a call to objectification and mechanization. It is a call to aliveness, creativity, pregnancy, and love.