PAUL'S DECONSTRUCTION?

Updated: May 1


When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (I Corinthians 13:11 ESV).


Have you ever changed your mind about God? Religion? Matters of faith or spirituality?


If so, you’re in good company.


The same was true of virtually every New Testament apostle in the first century church. But perhaps none more than the apostle we know as Paul. Formerly Saul. More about him in a bit.


And then there was Peter. Formerly Simon. Formerly convinced God would forbid his entering a Gentile home of a Roman soldier to eat food outlawed by his own Hebrew Bible.


Formerly.


Or what about Jesus? Is there anyone reading this who imagines Jesus was brought up to believe that such laws from his Hebrew Bible as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” did NOT mean just what they said? So why did he grow up to preach a very different meaning for such laws, such as to turn the other cheek? And love your enemy (quite opposite of what his Bible said to do) per Matthew 7:38-48? And why was Jesus so consistently preaching that the Hebrew Bible verses meant something other than what his fellow Jews believed by their own tradition?


But then there was Paul.


Here's a guy who was strictly trained to understand the Hebrew Bible forward and back. And per that understanding the crucifixion of Jesus was the right call all along. It was doing God a favor per his own upbringing. So strong was the faith of his childhood that he helped round up new followers of that same crucified Jesus hoping to put an end to them, for God’s sake.


What we learn about this same Paul, formerly Saul, is that even after changing his mind's understanding of his Bible and of God in Christ, he still made a few other changes along the way. Where once he viewed the main work of the Holy Spirit as being the Spiritual Gifts used to form the church as Christ's body, he later seemed to think our Spiritual Fruits were of even greater importance for the church. For example, there are gifts such as speaking in tongues. And fruits such as love. Is it possible Paul did some rearranging of priorities when it came to his own faithful understanding of God? Did he do some growing up even as a follower of Jesus? If so, then we have a word for that you may or may not be familiar with: “deconstruction.” Finding new meanings from past events. Or past writings. Or teachings. Leaving behind a belief that there’s only one meaning, or that only the first meaning could or should be right and the rest must all be wrong. Moving on.


When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (I Corinthians 13:11 ESV).


Deconstruction.


Paul did it. People throughout the Bible, Jesus included, did it. It’s what happens to people of faith. And it’s not a bad thing, no matter what some Christians today might be saying or writing.


The late Scott Peck, MD, author of the book, “People of the Lie,” wrote that, from his own perspective as a psychiatrist and also at that time a new Christian, the worst thing any of us can believe is that we must never change our mind or change our faith and belief. The greatest lie we can possibly believe and then behave like is that truth is static, not dynamic. As if there is only one right answer to all questions of faith. Only one right meaning to all writings or teachings of faith. That, it turns out, is the world’s biggest lie of all. Which is why the Bible itself is a book about people who were engaging in deconstruction over the course of their lives, all in search of the ultimate truth about God.


People who are stuck today in what we often call Christian fundamentalism are not to be scorned but pitied. They fear change. They are insecure to the extent that they crave constancy and simplicity and ease. They are addicted to stasis in the sense that they fear losing control, i.e. the illusion of control, if they were to change their minds about matters of faith. Deconstruction frightens them in the same way addicts fear the loss of their craved object of relief. Fundamentalism as a form of conservatism means to remain rigidly stuck in the past. It causes deep psychological anxiety and near panic-level avoidance where changes about faith are concerned.


Paul changed. He deconstructed his faith to figure out the ultimate faith was in love (I Corinthians 13), hence his ability in this letter to the church of Philippi to express his doubt in fear. Because, you see, the earliest form of faith we acquire given the traumas of his world is our faith in fear itself. Our faith in fear then causes us to place our doubt in love. For instance, loving our enemies and doing good to those who despitefully use us would just encourage them to go harder on us next time. It's pretty hard to love the enemy we fear. And it's easier to trust in our enemy-fear than in some enemy-love like Jesus prescribed.


The ultimate deconstruction of faith, for Paul and for ourselves, may well occur as we grow our way out of our childish fears and into the adult love of God, neighbor, self that is able to cast out all fear. Even the fear of our enemy. And, yes, even the fear of those who still believe that desconstruction is somehow God's worst enemy.



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