Here is an exchange between Karen and Don Burford and me about a passage that I quoted in class yesterday. I encourage this kind of dialogue.
Good morning, Larry
Don and I spent a little time yesterday afternoon comparing our Sunday school passage in The Message with The NIV version.
I appreciate Peterson’s more colorful way of describing the fruits of the Spirit but
I’m not sure I understand what He’s is saying in his interpretation of goodness.
He writes “and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people”.
If you’ll be so kind as to tell me what you understand him to say I would appreciate it.
Again I thank you for the time you put into studying and sharing the scriptures with our class.
Hoo-boy! What a good question! That phrase you isolate has given me pause from the start. I should have mentioned that in class when I read through it. Every other bit of description in that passage is helpful to me, but this one almost seems out of place and certainly seems inconsistent with the doctrine of the fall and the “total depravity of man.” In Psalm 16 we read that “as for the saints in the land, they are the noble ones, in whom is all my delight. Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows. Their libations of blood I will not pour out, nor take their names upon my lips.” How do you square that with Peterson’s phrase here? What does he mean by it and should we accept his meaning?
The passage is describing the changes that occur in the life of the faithful believer. The gifts of the spirit. Here in this phrase I think Peterson is talking about a change in perspective. I don’t know that he means to say that we’ll start to think that all people are basically good. But if I think back on my own experience it does seem that walking with the Lord changes one’s perspective on people. We might be a little less paranoid. Outside of Christ, our selfish, human tendency might be to – as Peterson puts it earlier in the same chapter – “depersonalize everyone into a rival.” Thus, although we hold to the notion that humanity is fallen – otherwise why would we even need the kind of conversion that Paul is expounding on here – when we are “new creations” in Christ, and thus aware of our own sin, we might be a little more empathetic; a little less likely to jump to harsh conclusions about people as individuals. We might see them a little more like we see ourselves. We have our own sinful tendencies, but we are always ready to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and ready to forgive ourselves and allow ourselves a new start.
I still think that Peterson should have come up with something better here. And I hope this response is of some help. If you will give me your permission, I’d like to post your letter to me and this response on the class blog. This is the very kind of study and dialogue that I’d like to promote.