Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Spiritual Intellect

All the duties of the Law, and all the beauties of grace, hang upon two commandments: love thy neighbor as thyself, and love Yahweh Elohim with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Ironically, not only the duties and beauties of the law and grace hang on those commandments but we hang on them as well, or should I say we’re hung on them, hung because we perpetually fail to love as the law and grace demand. The only person who ever loved perfectly, Jesus Christ, proved His love by actually hanging upon a rugged tree, the law and grace hanging with Him there in Love.

Daily we fail ethically and emotionally at the duties and beauties of Love; infamously, we fail even worse when we acknowledge that both the law and grace command us to love Yahweh Elohim with all our minds. From both psychological and theological perspectives, “the mind” refers to volition (will), sanction (conscience), and contemplation (intellect).

Although the concept of “mind” as rational intellect is not immediately obvious to the original instance of “love Yahweh Elohim . . . with all thy heart,” but rather implicit to the word leb, usually translated “heart,” nonetheless, leb does comprehend rational intellect and, therefore, inherent to the commandment is what one might call an implicit duty to love God with one’s mind. The LXX translators either did not choose to emphasize this intellectual dimension of love or perhaps overlooked the intellectual aspect of leb, but all three synoptic writers amended the insufficient LXX rendering to include an intellectual responsibility to love God with one’s mind; for instance, both Matthew and Luke add the term dianoia, and Mark even more emphatically employs the term suneseos, “understanding” or “comprehension.” Hence, despite the LXX oversight, both the Masoretic text and the GNT strongly emphasize the importance of loving God with one’s “mind” or “understanding,” viz., spiritual intellect. That begs the question, “How does one love God with the mind or understanding?”

To answer first, to love God with one’s mind, one should use his/her mind. It sounds like a cliché, “use your mind,” but St. Paul instructs that, whatever we do, should be done passionately, and that includes thinking. We might add that serious thinking usually requires some external stimulus to the brain. A really good book, not necessarily an entertaining one, is perhaps the best external source for intellectual stimulation.

Secondly, to love God with all one’s mind includes a high responsibility to sanctify the mind from the vulgar, mundane, and commonplace, and ennoble the mind through aesthetically transcendent contemplation. Of course, most of us do not live in a monastery so that we can devote 18 hours per day to the study of scripture, but rather we find ourselves thrust out into the cruel streets of secular chaos as cosmic orphans; in that sad estate, we must learn to look past the sewage in the streets, through the polluted atmosphere that surrounds us, and find roses among thorns, lilies in the thickets, and rainbows in the thunder. Art, literature, and music, especially of the classical and secular sort, are like beams of light through the darkness that, although they will not take us to heaven, certainly can make us feel (and think) that we are on the way. This duty to transcendence also demands that we learn to turn every conversation heavenward, not that we should aim to quote a Bible verse every time we engage in conversation, but rather that we should endeavor to make every conversation more meaningful, always leading conversants away from discussion of persons and events to interesting ideas and, hopefully, some affirmation of absolute truth. The ability to converse in a meaningful manner is both a science and art, learned by very few, and one that every thinking individual, Christian or otherwise, should endeavor to cultivate within himself.

Of course, the highest ennoblement of the mind derives from meditation upon Holy Scripture, whereby the will is restrained and redirected to absolute good, the conscience enlightened with righteousness, and the intellect charmed and transfigured by contemplating “things above.” This dimension of loving God with one’s mind necessarily demands intensive study of Holy Scripture, the only completely reliable source of our knowledge of the Divine. The study of Holy Scripture augmented and energized by the didactic ministry of God the Holy Spirit, actually reveals to us the person and nature of the Godhead whom, if we know, we shall adore, that is, love. In addition, if we love God, we shall love those made in his image, even if they, like ourselves, are damaged and scarred by the ravages of sin. Again, Jesus Christ is our example, “a friend for sinners.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

The King's Jewels

The King’s Jewels
An Allegory of Love, Loss, and Love
Dedicated to the little children of
The First Baptist Church of Parker, Texas

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, and in a place not so far away, a kindhearted King dwelt in a beautiful, ivory castle high upon a snowcapped mountain peak. Within the exquisite white castle, the King and the royal family lived blissfully, their days filled with delectable sights, sounds, and smells. Majestic peacocks strolled the castle lawn, spreading their iridescent[1] tail feathers like Japanese fans of turquoise[2] and jade.[3] A symphony of pipes and harps and singers echoed through the palace chambers and great halls, charming every ear and cheering every heart. And the sweet aroma of freshly baked vanilla cherry-cakes, the King’s delight, always filled the air.
From atop the ivory castle rose two majestic spires, penetrating the clouds like an elephant’s tusks through cotton candy. Every dawn stained the castle as pink as a possum’s nose, but when the sun rose higher and higher, the castle’s whiteness shone brighter and brighter until, at noon, when the sun was at his zenith,[4] the alabaster[5] castle glistened like a colossal[6] snowflake. From the mountain’s northern slope undulated[7] a vast and placid sea, cerulean[8] and smooth like liquid sapphire. South of the mountain, an emerald forest carpeted the landscape to the far horizon.

One fair and sunny morning, after his breakfast of vanilla cherry-cakes and steaming hot cinnamon cider, the kindly King called his faithful squire, “Saddle the big white, for today I shall ride into the green forest.”

“Yes, your majesty,” said the obedient squire, as he rose to make his way to the King’s stable.

The King had many beautiful horses of different breeds and radiant coats—a golden palomino; a shiny, black Arabian; a dappled mare of ginger and white—but the King’s favorite steed was the white stallion, which he called “Kareese” because of his graceful gait. “Your Majesty,” said the squire, “Kareese is saddled and bridled, awaiting my lord’s boot and spur.”

“Well done, good squire,” the King replied. TaKing the bridle in hand, the King mounted Kareese, his black boot catching the stirrup and lifting him astride the shining stallion. With a gentle nudge of the King’s boot heel, Kareese reared his front legs heavenward and then bolted suddenly toward the forest. Past the flower-laden palace grounds, then clippety-clop across the wooden bridge o’er the crystal moat, the King and Kareese galloped into the verdant[9] forest. “Steady, boy, steady,” said the King to Kareese, tugging the bridle to slow the steed from a gallop to a lope, and then from a lope to a slow and graceful trot. The King delighted in the sounds and sights of the green forest—the symphony of singing birds; the gentle whisper of the wispy wind waving the leaves and branches; the butterflies’ delicate dance; the squirrels’ nervous jerKing and darting; and the hippity-hop, hide-and-seek of frightened cottontails that bounded away at the sound of Kareese’s hoof beats.

After about an hour’s ride, Kareese and the King came upon a sudden opening in the forest, a quiet meadow laced with yellow crocus.[10] In the middle of the meadow, the King espied[11] something he had never seen before, a wooden cabin with a brick chimney that blew grey smoke into the opalescent[12] sky. “Whoa, Kareese!” said the King, as they stopped within the forest at the meadow’s edge. “Let us see what we have here, and whom.” The King observed the little cabin for only a few moments, and then suddenly the squeaky cabin door swung open and a young man stepped outside. The King supposed that the young man must be quite poor because of his run-down cabin, and when the young man emerged from his little shack, the King was then certain of his poverty. The pauper’s chemise[13] was a patchwork of raggedy scraps from several old shirts he had sewn together to make a “new” one. The old shirt remnants, now interlaced as one, wove a hodgepodge of unpredictable color that made the pauper look as if he were a silly clown. His dingy, grey britches were likewise worn and tattered, but at least they were all of one color, except for the dark-blue patches on the knees. As for his hat, neither a vagabond nor a tramp would have worn that old ugly bonnet. The hat’s brown rim, once a perfect circle, now formed a dirty, crooked halo around the pauper’s head, the rats having gnawed and chewed the brim here and there. A dark sweat-stain circled the hatband all around, a sure sign of tiresome days spent toiling in last summer’s heat. The hat’s dome was rumpled and crumpled with a hole right in the middle, just big enough to rob the pauper of summer shade and winter warmth.

The King watched as the poor man fetched his sharp hoe and heavy axe to begin the day’s hard labor in the chilly morning breeze, hoeing the soil and planting his seed in hopes of a harvest of barley and beans in the distant autumn. After tending his garden, the pauper felled[14] a tree with his great axe, and then set about chopping the limbs and trunk into pieces of firewood small enough for his fireplace so that he might warm his hands and feet in the hoarfrost[15] spring. As the King studied the pauper at his heavy chores, the King’s heart stirred with compassion. “Poor man,” said he, “poor man, toiling all day for such a meager life. Poor man, poor man, indeed.” Then the King gently tugged at Kareese’s bridle, turning the stallion’s neck away from the young pauper in the meadow and toward the ivory castle high atop the great mountain by the azure[16] sea.
Soon the King and Kareese galloped through the palace gate to the stable where the squire awaited the King’s return. “Noble squire,” said the King, “Wipe him down and cover him with a warm blanket; then feed him a healthy portion of the best oats in the granary. I shall ride him again tomorrow.” At this word, the King remembered the poor fellow in the crocus[17] meadow, and thought to himself, “My stallion Kareese fares better than the young pauper. Shall a King treat a horse better than a man? How could a good King, a caring King, suffer a loyal subject to shiver and suffer in the shadow of the castle?” Upon this word the King’s tender heart stirred with pity, and thus the compassionate King resolved to return to the pauper’s cabin the next day. Indeed, the King did return the next day, and the day after that, and four more days again to observe the poor pauper.

On the seventh day, dawn’s rosy fingers spread across the heaven as the King and Kareese arrived once again at the lonely cabin in the yellow meadow. Just like every day before, the charcoal chimney-smoke swirled into the sky. Soon the creaky door swung wide and out stepped the poor pauper, ready for another day’s hard labor. At this sight, the King gently nudged Kareese to a fancy trot. At first, the pauper did not notice the King’s approach, but the gentle thud of hoof beats approaching on the grass, and the sudden sound of a strange voice summoned the poor man’s head to see the King astride the sallow[18] steed loping towards him.

“Hail,” said the King. “Knowest thou who I am?”

“Nay, sir, I know thee not,” the pauper replied, “but I see from thy fair carriage and lordly manner that thou must be a nobleman.”

“I am,” said the King, “and more than a nobleman. I am your King.” At this word the pauper dropped his hoe, fell upon his knees, and bowed to the ground before the King.

“My lord,” said he, “forgive thy humble servant. I knew thee not.”

“I forgive thee,” said the King with gentle smile. “Arise, and stand upon thy feet.” The pauper rose but kept his head bowed low in the presence of his King.

“What brings thee here, My King, here to this humble hovel and to such a poor man as I?”

Replied the King, “I have come with something in my hand, something for you.”
“For me, my lord?”

“Yes, for you. Seize the bit while I dismount.” Obeying the King’s command, the pauper’s calloused hand grasped the silver bit in Kareese’s mouth. Dismounting, the King said, “Strap him there,” pointing to a stripling cedar just outside the cabin door. The pauper dutifully obeyed and tied Kareese’s bridle to the little cedar. “Farmer, what is thy name?” asked the King.
“I am Ben Goodson,” said the pauper.

"It is a good name,” replied the King. “Ben Goodson, seven days ago I rode my great white stallion from the mountain castle to this fair meadow. I came upon your cabin, and watched you labor so hard to cultivate your ground and chop your wood. This I did every day until today, the seventh day. I vow you are a faithful man, faithful to his work, and thus faithful to your King. Ben Goodson,” the King continued, “today I bring something in my hand, something for you.” At this word, the King ungloved his hand and reached for a deerskin satchel strung astride Kareese’s saddle. Loosening its leather strands, the King reached inside the purse and drew out something in his clenched fist. Ben wondered to himself, “What can this be, this thing in the King’s hand for me?”

“Ben,” said the King, “This is for you.” As the King’s fist unfolded, a dart of light struck Ben’s eye so brightly that he had to blink and turn away. “Look here,” said the King. Ben looked again and, to his amazement, glittering in the King’s palm was a magnificent blue diamond, reflecting the morning sunlight with rainbow arrows jutting and darting from the diamond’s every facet, cut, and corner. “Ben, this is for you.”

“My King!” Ben exclaimed in disbelief, “this jewel for me!”

“Yes, Ben, for you, from the castle coffers. But, Ben,” the King cautioned, “while you may use this blue diamond to your good, you must remember that the jewel is mine. I loan it to you just for a little while, but it belongs to me, your King. You may share the jewel’s beauty and value with your family and friends, you may use it as you will to prosper, and you may adore its radiant beauty, but you must also remember that, as I now bequeath to you this shining stone, I shall one day take it again unto myself.”

“My lord,” said Ben, “thank you. You have made me a rich man, if only for a day.”
“Remember, Ben,” the King cautioned, “the diamond is yours to use to good purpose, but mine to keep when the palace treasury demands.”

“I will remember,” Ben said. At this word, the King embraced Ben, bid him farewell, and mounted Kareese. Again, the King’s spur nudged the stallion’s flank, and Kareese bolted away from the cabin toward the royal forest. Just before he disappeared into the forest, the King reigned Kareese to a sudden stop, whirling around for one last look at loyal Ben. Kareese reared high, his silver mane rippling in the sunlight, as the King’s elegant hand waved a wide “goodbye” to the faithful pauper, now made rich by the King’s favor. “Farewell, Ben,” shouted the King, “Farewell! Remember, the blue diamond is yours to use, but mine to keep.” A tear came to Ben’s eye as he watched the King and Kareese disappear into the forest. The King’s voice echoed in Ben’s ear, “Farewell! Remember, yours to use, mine to keep.”
From that day forward Ben Goodson was a rich man, rich because of the King’s kindness. The blue diamond secured favor to Ben from everyone he knew, and brought prosperity to everything he did. If Ben needed food or clothing from the grocer or haberdasher,[19] he simply showed the blue diamond, and all his needs were supplied. Ben used the precious stone to purchase more land so that his little farm became a great estate. With the jewel Ben bought tools, stones, and lumber to build himself a fine manor house fit for a lord of the realm. Most importantly, Ben used the diamond to do good to other paupers, to be kind to them as the King had been kind to him, to help them when they needed help, to give to them when they needed something, and to comfort them when they were sad, sick, or lonely. The King’s gracious gift taught Ben how to love: how to love others, how to love the King for his loving-kindness, and even how to love the blue diamond for its beauty and goodness. Because of the blue diamond, everyone who knew Ben Goodson admired him as one so favored by the King. “How kind,” said they, “How benevolent, that the great King would bestow such favor on a poor pauper and make him a rich man by this beautiful blue diamond from the royal treasury, delivered by the King’s own hand.”
In this happy estate Ben lived for a very long time, rejoicing in the King’s favor, and in adoration of the blue diamond. But Ben had forgotten something, something very important. Many years would pass before Ben would remember the King’s words, “yours to use, mine to keep.”

In the thirty-fourth year of Ben’s possession of the blue diamond, Ben’s servant knocked upon the master chamber door and said, “My lord, a messenger awaits outside and asks for you.”
“For me?” Ben replied.
“Yes, my lord. He asks for Ben Goodson.”
Ben rose from his soft leather chair and walked across his fine rug of scarlet wool to the foyer door. Pulling the brass latch and opening the door, Ben gasped at what he saw—six soldiers of the Royal Guard, the King’s choicest men, astride their fearsome chargers, clad in armor full, and the King’s ensign[20] flying above them, a golden lion rising in a crimson field.
“Ben Goodson,” said the Captain of the Guard.

“I am he,” Ben replied.
“Ben Goodson, we are here on a matter pertaining to His Majesty the King.”
“God bless my King,” said Ben “and what is his matter?”
“Ben Goodson, thou hast something that belongs to the King, and he has sent me to require it of thee this day and at once.” At this word Ben’s heart fell, as he remembered the King’s caution, “Yours to use, mine to keep.” Every room in the manor house seemed to echo the King’s words, “Yours to use, mine to keep. Yours to use, mine to keep.” In his mind’s eye Ben looked back upon that blessed day when the King had given him the gift. Ben’s eyes blinked again as he thought of the radiance with which the blue diamond shone when the King unfolded his palm. Ben remembered Kareese’s flowing mane and elegant hooves rearing on the edge of the emerald forest, the King’s hand waving that gracious farewell, and the King’s voice, “Yours to use, mine to keep.” The King’s words had seemed so gentle then, so kind, so compassionate, but now those words were sharp as arrows in Ben’s bleeding heart. “Can it be?” he asked himself, and then turning to the Captain, “Can it be true that the King requires such a difficult thing of me, that I should return the blue diamond?”
The Captain replied, “Ben Goodson, it is difficult only as far as you have forgotten that everything you possess comes from your lord, the King. It is difficult if you did not truly take the King at his word, that what you have is yours to use but his to keep. Now, Ben Goodson, subject of His Majesty, the King, be about the King’s business, and do the thing His Majesty bids you. Fetch the blue diamond, and we shall bring it anon[21] to the King.”
Ben slowly closed the door and walked away, asKing himself again, “Could it be? Yes,” he thought, “it could be,” and then, “No, not ‘it could be,’ but ‘it is.' The King has been true to his word. It was mine to use, but his to keep.”
Though very sad, Ben knew that he must surrender the precious jewel to the King. Walking to his fireplace mantle, Ben reached for the black velvet ring-box in which he kept the blue diamond. Opening the box, Ben looked at his most valued treasure for one last time. ”Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for the happiness you have brought me. Thank you for the love you have taught me. Thank you for the riches you have bought me.” Of course, the blue diamond did not reply except to refract and reflect the firelight in Ben’s tears. “Thank you,” he said once more, and then enclosed the diamond in its dark sarcophagus. Obedient to his King’s command, Ben walked through his house and out the door where the Royal Guard awaited him. “Here,” said Ben, lifting his hand to the Captain and handing him the black box. “Here,” Ben said again, “It was mine to use, but is now the King’s to keep.”
“Is this the blue diamond loaned to you from the King’s own hand?” the Captain asked.
“Yes,” Ben said.
“Well done, loyal subject,” said the Captain. “We must be about the King’s business.” With one jerk of the bridle, the Captain turned his horse around and spurred him twice in the flank. The other cavalrymen followed suit, and Ben watched as the Royal Guard galloped down the lane toward the King’s ivory palace atop the high mountain, waving above them the scarlet ensign with golden lion rising. “Farewell, fair jewel, farewell,” said. Ben. “Thou wert mine for awhile, but thou art the King’s forever.”
Though resigned to the King’s will and submissive to his decree, Ben sorrowed greatly for his loss. The blue diamond had filled Ben’s heart with joy, his mind with sweetness, and his soul with love, but now those graces, like doves in winter, had flown away. In their absence, those darkling ravens that feed upon men’s hearts—sadness, bitterness, and lovelessness—overshadowed Ben’s mind and nestled in his soul. The sun, once golden, burned brazen, every dawn an opaque[22] veil, every sunset a welcomed corridor to shady eve. The silver moon was tarnished, the stars of heaven dim within midnight’s ebony shroud. Ben’s servants and friends wept for his anguish and wondered, “What will become of Ben? The blue diamond is gone, and with it Ben’s happiness.”
“I think he will retreat to his manor house,” said one.
“Oh, no,” said another, “I think he will return to his humble cabin in the meadow.”
And others, “He will disappear” or “He will surely die, for he has lost his heart.”
Even Ben did not know what he would do. He spent his days in sweet memory of what was, and mournful regret of what would be nevermore. Nevermore would he gaze upon the diamond’s beauty, nevermore admire it, nevermore adore it, nevermore hold it in his hand. Ben surveyed everything and everyone around him: “Nothing now, all these possessions, all these persons, nothing to me now, nothing. The jewel made them beautiful and valuable, but now they are dreadful and hollow to me, lost and gone like the precious jewel that once shone her glories upon my world, making everything beautiful, and bringing to me every good thing.”
But Ben was wrong in his sorrow, and errant about his true estate. Yes, the blue diamond had beautified Ben’s world, and had indeed been a source of all good things to Ben. In truth, though, the jewel had been only the temporal and immediate occasion of Ben’s happiness, but the original and ultimate cause of every good thing in Ben’s life, and every hard thing, was the King. This lesson Ben would soon learn, for his teacher was near.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Unbeknownst[23] to Ben, the King’s compassionate eye had never turned away from Ben, the King’s benevolent hand never folded. The wise and kindly King had observed Ben throughout his possession of the blue diamond, observed his joy, his love, his goodness to other paupers, his prosperity, and his adoration of the jewel. But from the beginning the King had purposed to show Ben the jewel’s goodness and then, by taking the jewel from him, to remind Ben of the King’s sovereignty in the matter, and of the King’s favor as the first and final cause of Ben’s happiness. Eventually that moment came, when Ben’s heart had become too fixed on the blue diamond, and not fixed enough upon the King, when the King said to himself, “It is time, time to teach Ben the lesson of the Palace Treasury – ‘yours to use, mine to keep.’” Upon that premise the King sent his Captain with Five to retrieve the diamond from Ben’s possession. Little did Ben know that, as he placed the precious stone in the Captain’s hand, in the distance and just within the forest tree line, the King watched the transaction, watched Ben open the door, watched Ben’s countenance fall at the Captain’s word, watched Ben fetch the jewel, watched Ben surrender his treasure to the Captain, watched the Royal Guardsman gallop away, and watched Ben as he bade farewell to the diamond. Neither did Ben know that, every day since he had surrendered the blue diamond, the King had saddled Kareese early, ridden through the palace grounds, crossed the crystal moat, and traveled through the forest to observe Ben’s every action and listen to his every word. The King knew Ben’s sorrow and despair, knew his heart’s pain and, just like the first time he saw the pauper, the King yet had great compassion upon Ben. But the King was resolute that Ben should learn the lesson: the King, not the fair jewel, was Ben’s ultimate source of everything good in his life and, moreover, the King was the source of everything difficult in Ben’s life for Ben’s own good, even Ben’s surrender of the blue diamond. “Ben must learn to right his affections,” said the wise and kindly King, “to be loyal unto me in all things and at all times, especially in the hardest things and the most difficult times. But how,” the King asked himself, “how shall I know that Ben has learned that lesson of loyalty at all times, and obeisance and obedience to the King in all things?” The King resolved upon a plan.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Noble Squire.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
"Do you remember the old beggar whom we found distressed in the Royal Wood?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, I remember.”
“As I recall, squire, we fed him, nursed him to health, clothed him in new apparel, and sent him on his way with a purseful of coins.”
“That is true, my Lord. Your kindness saved him.”
“Well, then squire, what of his old ragged clothing? What happened to those?”
“My Lord, methinks the beggar’s clothes are still in the laundry.”
“No, not washed, for the maid intends to burn them.”
“Burn them! Hasten, squire! Forbid it now! Fetch the old beggar’s dirty clothes and bring them forthwith to my chamber.”
“At thy word, my King, it shall be done.”
While the dutiful squire sped away to do the King’s bidding and bring the beggar’s rags, the King retired himself to his chamber. There he walked to his mahogany bookcase, and raised his hand to the seventh shelf. From the shelf the King removed a leather-bound book, but it was not a book; it only looked like a book. It was in fact the King’s . . . "
A voice broke the silence, “My Lord?”
“Yes, Squire?”
“My Lord, I have the old beggar’s clothes.”
“One moment,” said the King, as he returned the book that was not a book to its rightful place of honor on the seventh shelf.
“Enter squire, and put the beggar’s dirty clothes on my valet.”
“But my Lord, they are filthy!”
“Yes, but clean to my purpose,” said the King. “Put them there and leave.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“And one more thing, squire, what of the old beggar’s mule? Is it stabled?”
“Not stabled, Sire, but pastured.”
“Pastured near?” asked the King.
“Aye, pastured near, my Lord.”
“Then fetch the mule as well, and tack him with a rope halter but no saddle. And do not question me.”
“Yes, my King.”
At the squire’s departure, the King disrobed himself. Then he did something passing strange for a King, as he would do many things passing strange on this day. He raked a cool piece of coal from the hearth, and rubbed it together in his hands until they were black with soot. Then he raised his hands to his face and scribbled the charcoal on his forehead, his ears, his nose, his cheeks, and his white beard, now mottled with grey coal dust. The King also rubbed his arms until they, too, were dirty, and he muffled his hair so that he looked as if he had neither washed nor combed it for a year.” Finally, he adorned the old beggar’s filthy clothes. Then the King espied himself in his mirror and said, “Beautiful! Perfect! Brilliant!”
A solid rap on the chamber door was followed by a voice, “My lord, the mule is ready with rope halter and no saddle.”
“Perfect!” said the King as he emerged from his royal chamber. Upon sight of the King, the squire startled back in disbelief, drew his sword, and cried, “Halt! Who art thou? Knowest thou not this is His Majesty’s chamber? To your knees, swine, else you’ll feel my steel!”
“The disguised King laughed out loud and said, “Fear not, loyal squire, it is I, your King.”
At the King’s voice the squire collapsed on the oaken floor and sighed, “I drew upon my King. Woe is me!”
The King laughed again and said, “Good Squire, thou drewest because thou lovedst me much, and would lay down thy life for me, but it is I, your King. Worry not. I am not mad but, to the contrary, happy in my state and mission. Take me to the swayback mule. If we encounter anyone in the palace, say nothing. Now, to the mule.”
Recovering his composure, the squire led the King, encountering no one, through the palace to the swayback mule. “I fear he will kick and buck, my Lord.”
“Then he shall know a King’s foot.”
But the mule didn’t buck. He was too old, and too fat from the King’s barley. In fact he was quite gentle at the King’s touch, so the King mounted him with no difficulty.
“Squire, I am on a special mission today, and thus this disguise. See that you tell no one. I shall return ere Venus rises.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Then the King gently spurred the mule, which was stubborn at first, but with a second spur to the flank the mule ambled off to find Ben Goodson. Never did a King look so humble, or so humorous, as this King in beggar’s clothes upon a swayback mule. But the King’s disguise was necessary for the King’s purpose to seek out Ben and to teach him the lesson of the Palace Treasury, “yours to use, mine to keep.” First the King drove the mule to Ben’s manor house, the beautiful estate that Ben owned because of the blue diamond. Outside the manor house door, the King dismounted the mule, walked to the door, and knocked politely. Immediately Ben’s manservant answered, though with some shock at the dirty beggar that stood before him.
“Sir,” said the manservant, “may I help you?” The King, that is, the beggar, replied,
“Indeed, kind sir. I am looKing for one Ben Goodson who, I understand, lives in this manor.”
“And what business do you have with Master Goodson?” asked the manservant, who could not imagine what business a dirty beggar such as this could have with his master.
“I have something for him,” said the beggar-King.
“And what is it that you have for Master Goodson?”
“It is a private matter,” said the beggar-King, pertinent only to him and me.
“Sir,” the manservant said politely, “The master is away and has put me in charge of his affairs. I can receive the thing in his name.”
"Thank you, but no,” replied the beggar-King. “I must speak directly with Ben Goodson. You say that Master Goodson is away? I prithee, tell me where.”
“I cannot tell you, sir, for he does not want to be disturbed. He has suffered a great loss, something most precious to him has been taken from him, and he desires to be alone,” said the manservant.
“Alone?” asked the King, “then he must be at his cabin in the golden meadow.”
“Sir, I cannot say, only that Master Goodson desires to be alone. As I told you, he charged me to attend his affairs, and you can trust me to receive the thing in his name.”
“No,” said the King. “I shall go to him.”
“Sir, leave him undisturbed, I implore you. I spoke of his great loss, and for that I would that you would respect his solitude.”
“Aye,” said the beggar-King. “I know of his great loss, and my purpose is to encourage him despite that loss. I respect your desire to protect your master, but my purpose is higher than your protection warrants. I will be off now. Methinks he dwells in his cabin, and I shall find him there. Thank you for your kindness.”
“Sir, I say again,” said the manservant, “please leave him alone.”
“Thank you,” said the King, walking back to the swayback mule and mounting for a ride to the cabin in the yellow meadow.
“After about another hour’s journey, the King and the mule came upon the yellow meadow where lay Ben’s cabin, but Ben was nowhere to be seen. The King dismounted, walked to the cabin door, and knocked thrice. A voice came from inside, “Who is there?”
The King replied, “It is I, sir, a beggar, seeking for one Ben Goodson.”
“Go away,” said Ben.
“Ben Goodson?” the King inquired.
Within the cabin Ben stirred at the sound of the stranger’s voice, but it was a voice not so strange to Ben. He thought he had heard that voice before, but he could not remember whose voice it was. “Go away,” he said again.
“Ben Goodson,” said the King, “I am a beggar, but I am not here to beg. I am hear to seek Ben Goodson, and to speak to him of the blue diamond.”
When Ben heard the words “blue diamond,” his heart leapt within him. “A beggar at my door,” he wondered, “here to speak with me about the blue diamond? What has a beggar to do with that?” Only one thing could have made Ben rise from his chair to meet a stranger, the mention of the blue diamond. As Ben opened the door, his eyes fell upon the unsightly beggar, ragged and filthy, with the swayback mule tied to a large cedar just outside the door. “I say, man,” Ben inquired, “how and what could you know of the blue diamond?”
The beggar-King replied, “The story of the blue diamond, and of your favor and prosperity by its charms, is known throughout the Kingdom. Known also is your great loss, and your great grief that followed. I am come to speak with you about the jewel, and about your loss.”
“What business is that of yours?” Ben asked.
“Sir,” the beggar-King replied, “you see that I am a poor beggar, and I know that you must think that such business is not mine, but I have heard of your kindness to paupers, that you were once yourself a pauper, so I am come today to learn of your kindness, and of your sorrow. Tell me, how came you to be so kind, and now so sorrowful?”
“My kindness was borrowed,” said Ben, “borrowed from the blue diamond. Any goodness in me derived from the jewel, not from myself. As for sorrow, that is all mine.”
“Sir,” said the beggar-King, “how came you to possess the blue diamond?”
“I think you know the answer to your question, sir. The jewel was a gift from the King.”
“A gift, Ben Goodson? Did the King give you the blue diamond?”
“No,” Ben replied, “the King did not give me the blue diamond, but lent it to me awhile for my good. ‘Yours to use, mine to keep,’ the King said.”
“Indeed,” said the beggar-King, “that is the King’s voice. I know it well. But, pray tell me, Ben Goodson, the wealth you acquired, the happiness you knew, and the compassion you learned, came they from the blue diamond, or from the King himself?”
Ben thought for a moment before he replied. The beggar’s question stirred something within him, something he had forgotten, but something he knew to be true. “Sir,” Ben said, “you have made me pause and think anew upon this matter, and aright as well. ‘Tis true, the blue diamond was a source of my happiness, a surety for my wealth, and a means of my compassion upon other paupers such as I, but in truth it was the King’s goodness that made me happy, the King’s kindness towards me that made me rich, and the King’s own compassion for me that made me have compassion upon others, for it was the King himself who bestowed upon me the blue diamond’s value, beauty, and power.”
“Thou hast spoken truly, Ben Goodson,” said the beggar-King, “Indeed, thou hast spoken truly. ‘Twas the King’s goodness towards you, and his compassion for you, that moved him to lend you the jewel. But now, Ben, I ask you another question, Why, if the King desired to bring you goodness and happiness, if the King so loved you, would he take away from you the very thing whereby he gave you goodness and love?”
“I know not why,” said Ben, “except that the jewel was mine to use, and the King’s to keep."
‘That is true, Ben Goodson, yours to use, and the King’s to keep, and the King has been true to his word. But, Ben, have you forgotten why the King gave you the blue diamond? It was because he desired goodness and happiness for you, and love as well. Do you think, sir, that the King’s heart is changed towards you, that he no longer desires your goodness, no longer hopes for your happiness, and no longer wants you to be a man of compassion?”
“I do not know,” said Ben. “All I know is that the King has broken my heart by taking from me the thing most precious to me.”
“Ben, I assure you that the King desires your happiness.”
“Then, why,” Ben asked, “would he take away the very thing that made me happy.”
“Because,” the beggar-King replied, “you forgot the source of your happiness, the King himself who bestowed upon you that jewel of your joy and affections.”
“Yes,” Ben said, “I had indeed forgotten that the King was the true source of my happiness, his blue diamond the occasion. But may I ask you, how does a beggar like you know such a thing about the King?”
“Because I am your King,” said the beggar.
Ben started for a moment with puzzled shock at the beggar’s statement, “I am your King,” for something seemed to ring true in the beggar’s voice. “Thou, my King?” Ben asked.
“Yes, Ben, I your King. I have worn this disguise to test your heart today, to see if you had learned the lesson that your happiness came from the King’s hand, to see if you had learned the lesson, ‘yours to use, and mine to keep.’ You have spoken well, Ben Goodson, in that you have recognized the blue diamond as the occasion of your happiness, but the King as its cause.”
Though many years had passed since Ben heard the King’s voice or saw his face, Ben discerned that he stood in the presence of his royal master. “Forgive me, my King,” Ben said as he dropped to his knees before the King. At that gesture, the King said, “Ben, arise.”
“Yes, my lord,” Ben replied.
“Ben, because you have learned your lesson well, I have something else for you.”
“My lord, I deserve nothing.”
“Quite true,” said the King, “no man deserves anything, not even a King; truly, we are all paupers and beggars. Only ill favor comes with desert; true favor comes to the undeserving, and I have true favor to bestow upon you this day.” Then the King reached into the old beggar’s coat pocket and retrieved something with his hand. “Ben,” said the King, “Stretch forth your hand.” Obedient to the King, Ben stretched forth his hand. The King extended his hands to Ben’s and dropped in Ben’s palm a beautiful black diamond.
“My King, what is this?” Ben exclaimed.
“It is another jewel,” replied the King, “yours to use, mine to keep.”
“Another jewel, my King?”
“Yes, Ben, another jewel, ‘yours to use, mine to keep,’ a jewel from my benevolent hand to yours, a jewel for your good, and for your happiness.”
“But what of the blue diamond, your majesty? Can I not have it back again, or another exactly like it?”
“The blue diamond, Ben, is now a diamond of the crown, its light forever altered and intensified so that it is now called un beau violet.[24] Even if the blue diamond were untransfigured[25] and still retained its pacific hue,[26] none could compare to it, for each diamond shines with its own unique beauty and splendor, whether blue, white, yellow, or black. Every genuine diamond is irreplaceable, incomparable.”
“This black diamond, sir, has it as great a value as the blue diamond?”
“It has perfect value to you, Ben. When you were a young man, you needed the blue diamond to enrich and satisy your life. Now that you are older, the black diamond is my perfect disposition to you. The black diamond possesses its own matchless qualities. Though the most common of all diamonds, only the finest black diamonds can be cut and faceted to shine with splendor. This is such a rare black diamond, Ben, different from the blue, to be sure, but exceptional within its realm. This black diamond is precisely what you need now and for the rest of your life. The blue diamond shone with its own matchless beauty, brilliantly transparent to the eye. The black diamond shines differently, dark and mysterious, but beautiful as well, and twice valuable: valuable first because of its rarity within its realm, and valuable secondly because, like the blue diamond, this black diamond is the King’s gift to you, precisely cut for your good, exactly faceted for your happiness, and brightly polished for you adoration.
“My King, thou art both good and wise, and this black diamond hath indeed charmed my eye in its own magnificent way. Thou has made me rich again.”
“Yes, Ben, I knew that it would charm thine eye, and thus I brought it especially to you. In fact I fetched it from my own chamber, from the book that is not a book, where I keep my most unique jewels for most unique circumstances.” Now use it to your good, whether in houses or estates, or in kindness and graciousness towards you fellow man, but use it well, Ben. Treasure the black diamond, admire it, adore it, and use it to God’s glory and your good. And Ben, always remember, like the blue diamond, this black diamond is from the King’s own hand, ‘yours to use, mine to keep.’ Someday the black diamond, too, will be transfigured and become un beau noire,[27] a diamond in the crown.”
The King then embraced Ben, and whistled twice. From the forest treeline emerged the squire upon a black Arabian, with the white stallion Kareese in bridle tow. The squire brought the King a vase of water to wash, and a royal suit to clothe himself. Once robed and amount, the King fastened his benevolent eye upon Ben. Ben expected to hear the King say, “Yours to use, mine to keep,” but no such words fell from the King’s lips, for he knew that Ben had learned his lesson. The King had better words for Ben on this, the last time, Ben would see the King, “Farewell, Ben Goodson, the King doth love thee, farewell,” then spurred Kareese toward the ivory palace beyond the emerald forest, high atop the great mountain beside the rolling sapphire sea.

[1] shiny
[2] blue
[3] green
[4] highest
[5] white
[6] giant
[7] rolled
[8] blue
[9] green
[10] flowers
[11] saw
[12] multi-colored
[13] shirt
[14] Chopped down
[15] chilly
[16] blue
[17] Yellow
[18] white
[19] Clothier, weaver
[20] flag
[21] quickly
[22] Impenetrable, so as not to allow light
[23] unknown
[24] Purple or, literally, “the beautiful purple”; this is in fact the case with the world’s most famous blue diamond, the Hope Diamond, which, under special lighting, one can observe a most unusual and definitive purple radiance.
[25] unchanged
[26] Peaceful color
[27] Black, lit. – “the beautiful black"

Monday, November 2, 2009

A White Lie

Everyone knows the phrase; even worse, too many people habitually practice the white lie. Depending upon an individual’s conscience, a white lie may be defined in one of two ways: (1) a “little” lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake, or, ironically, (2) a lie born of moral necessity and ethical compulsion. One often tells the former kind of white lie, seldom the latter.

The former, a white lie as “a ‘little’ lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake,” suffices for what the savage herd means by “white lie.” By that definition, three terms are key: “white,” “rationalized,” and “convenience.” “White” implies relative harmlessness, viz., that in certain circumstances “a ‘little’ lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake” produces less harm than the absolute truth, and so one tells a white lie as “the lesser of two evils,” the other "evil" being truth. For instance, your boss asks, “How are you coming along on that project?”, and you reply, “It’s coming along well,” when the truth is that you have procrastinated, or you have fallen behind schedule, or you haven’t even begun the task and you say to yourself, “I’ll get it done, but to tell my boss the truth would just create more problems so I will tell him/her a ‘white lie’ to avoid further exacerbation of the problem and thus mitigate potentially unpleasant effects of the absolute truth. If I told the truth, that could make things worse, so I will choose ‘the lesser of two evils’ and tell a 'white lie.'” Another example of “a ‘little’ lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake” might occur in a familial setting, when the wife asks the husband about how his job is going, or a parent asks a child how he is doing in that difficult class, and the husband replies thusly, “Everything is fine at work,” when in fact things are going downhill, or the child says, “I’m doing better in the class” when he got a “D” on yesterday’s task. Again, such “white lies” stem from self-interest and pain-avoidance, the lie being less painful than the truth, at least in the mind of the one who tells the white lie.

In such examples, one sees easily the meaning of a white lie “rationalized.” The liar contemplates the potentially adverse effects of a lie versus the truth and then makes a decision to lie because, in his judgment, the lie is less harmful than the truth. Such rationalization of the white lie derives from a compromised ethical construct, an intellectual paradigm of a warped conscience from whence springs errant volitional decisions and actions with moral import. In other words, based upon mere human judgment and without any real moral conviction, compulsion, or justification, the liar superimposes his own deficient value judgment upon a white lie versus the truth and rationalizes that to lie is “better” than to tell the truth. The liar imagines that the white lie harms neither the liar nor the person to whom s/he lies and is in fact a protection of the liar.

By the above examples and exposition, a lie is “white” if it protects a person from the undesirable effects of truth. We reiterate, such a white lie derives merely from a self-centered desire to avoid unpleasantness and inherently rests upon no absolute moral grounds to justify the white lie; the white lie is merely a rationalized self-defense mechanism against painful truth.

We should also note that, the more one tells white lies, the easier they roll off the tongue, and the more habitual they become, increasingly debilitating an already compromised conscience until white lies become an ever darkening hue, ever darkening the heart as well. Not everyone who tells a white lie is a pathological liar, but every pathological liar was first a white liar.

The other kind of white lie derives from moral necessity and ethical compulsion. For example, a family of four has been involved in a terrible automobile accident, the father, mother, and big sister having died in the crash while a six-year-old boy’s life hangs in the balance. He is conscious enough to ask the attending physician, “Where’s my Mommy? Where’s my Daddy? Where’s my sister?”, but in the physician’s judgment, the little boy’s critical condition is so fragile that, to tell him, “Your Mommy, Daddy, and big sister are dead,” might threaten the child to the extent that efforts to save his life might be diminished because of the psycho-somatic trauma of the truth. In such a case, the child’s survival constitutes a higher moral necessity and ethical compulsion to protect his life; moreover, the heroic physician has no egocentric interest in, or self-serving interest from the white lie but rather an altruistic motive for the child’s well-being. Both philosophy and theology defend such a white lie.

In philosophical terms, a philosopher who presupposes absolute morality would defend the noble physician who told a white lie to the suffering child. Soren Kierkegaard would designate that doctor as “a knight of infinite resignation,” viz., the physician found himself dangling upon the horns of a dilemma, caught between two conflicting but unequal moral principles: telling the truth, or telling a lie to protect the child psychologically in hopes of saving his life. When conflicting ethical principles converge upon a thinking individual whose mind is ethically tethered to absolute morality, circumstances demand his will to choose one or the other moral principle above the other. The wise moralist not only sees and feels the dilemma but also discerns and acts upon the correct moral principle, not that he chooses the lesser of two evils, but that he chooses the greater of two goods. Corrie Ten Boon was “a knight of infinite resignation” when she lied to the Gestapo to protect innocent Jews, as was Rahab the Harlot, who indeed lied to the Canaanites when they asked, “Have you seen those two spies?” At that moment, Rahab found herself in a moral dilemma: “Do I tell the truth, or do I protect Joshua and Caleb, good men, from evil men?” Rahab made the right decision, choosing the higher of two moral principles. Indeed, the doctor, Corrie Ten Boon, and Rahab told lies that were truly “white.”

So the next time you are tempted to tell a “white lie,” ask yourself, “Am I telling a ‘white lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake' merely to avoid the painful consequences of truth, or am I truly caught upon the horns of a moral dilemma? Do I see, not inevitable pain and unpleasantness for me because I tell the truth, but do I see two vivid but conflicting moral principles colliding, and do I have the discernment and wisdom to choose the higher and better moral principle and thus become ‘a knight of infinite resignation.'”

Often we find ourselves telling the first kind of white lie, which is not white at all. May God grant us grace, wisdom, discernment, and courage if we ever have to tell the second kind of white lie.