Peterson and Parables

parable of the sower 3

Some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.

Jordan B. Peterson’s talks on The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories have tamed a wild thought that has been taunting me on and off for decades.

One day while I was vacuuming, two unconnected snippets of scripture merged in my mind to form a question.

The snippets: “I speak what I have seen with My Father” and “without a parable He did not speak to them”.

The question: Does Jesus see His Father using parables?

Instantly I began thinking of history, all the times, all the places, all the people, and all the stories that were told and retold, remembered or forgotten.  I wondered if God were using history itself as a perpetual parable for humanity, and in that moment two of my favorite thought streams merged into one.  The first stream is the way God interacts with the many people in the many places that are beyond the boundaries of the biblical narrative.  I often think of God’s dealing with people who are neither Jew nor Christian. It seems obvious to me that He is always interacting directly with every people group, even if they are unaware of His character or deny His existence.  It seems just as obvious that He has always interacted with all people, in all places, at all times.

The second thought stream is the marvelous selectivity of the scripture. It originated as I considered John’s claim that if everything Jesus did were written down, the world could not contain the books that would be written.  Whether or not John uses hyperbole, he made me appreciate that the Bible is a masterpiece of editing.  Whenever I think of about the millennia of human existence and activity, I am still amazed that fewer than 800,000 words are needed to tell us everything we need to know to have a deep and meaningful relationship with the Almighty Creator of the Universe.  If you compare the length of the Bible to the endless volumes of commentaries on the Bible, you will see what I mean. God’s editing skills are truly supernatural:-)

The Lord alone knows how many hours I have expended over the years considering all histories of all peoples as God’s ever-growing collection of parables. I have long been convinced that God uses the stories each people group preserves to give them truth and moral lessons.  That is the essence of a parable.  The day that wild, elusive, taunting thought sprang to life, my perspective of history transformed forever.

Then just four years ago, the power of myth joined my on again off again contemplation of history and parable. I considered creation myths with enough care to write about it in Grammas’ Guide, but subsequent liver surgery distracted me from the series I had envisioned.  Now at last, thanks to Jordan Peterson’s examination of the biblical narrative through a psychological lens, I am once again seeking to understand the mingling flow of history, parable, and myth that makes up so much of our knowledge of the world that was, that is, and is to come.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 part series on the biblical narratives is fascinating and inspiring.  As I listened to him compare Bible stories with the stories of other cultures, my two little thought streams suddenly hit the current of a mental Amazon.  I can’t remember experiencing this level of excitement about the Bible since I first discovered apologetics nearly forty years ago.  It seems to me that Peterson is building a foundation for a stronger line of evidence than any of those we currently have in our apologetic toolbox.

If someone is genuinely seeking the truth and honestly asks the question whether or not there is a God, then the cosmological argument is sufficient evidence for the existence of God, the manuscript evidence is sufficient evidence for the reliability of scripture, and the historical evidence is sufficient for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But that is one very big IF.   We can easily live our lives without studying cosmology, archaeology, or history, and understanding any of those three lines of evidence requires intentional investigation.  Sadly, far too many of our species choose to follow our natural proclivity to dismiss without investigation anything that challenges our biases.

BUT (and it’s one very big but) we can’t escape psychology! Of course few of us will do formal work or research in the field, but day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute we all encounter the subject psychologists study: the human mind and behavior. The problems in our minds and in our relationships bombard us constantly.  Far too many people are far too consumed with the issues of daily living to ever even fleetingly wonder if there is a substantial case to be made for the existence of God, the reliability of scripture, and/or the resurrection of Christ.  But, with rare exceptions, people want solutions to their problems.

Jordan Peterson taught me that understanding the psychological significance of Bible stories will prepare me to share the good news of the kingdom just the way that Jesus did.

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Jordan Peterson: A 21st Century Prophet

JP Clean Your Room

Last September Jordan B. Peterson burst onto the internet stage with three short YouTube videos that he created to understand and articulate his visceral objection to Bill C-16, a proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights code.  He became the instant darling of free speech advocates around the globe.  And since I had already been following some of those advocates, I heard Dr. Peterson interviewed again, and again, and again.

The first time I heard him speak, I was attracted by a brilliant mind expressed through a humble soul. Great intelligence and deep humility are rare in the same person (especially on the internet).  This uncommon combination of qualities may make Jordan B. Peterson the wisest man I have discovered while wandering through cyberspace. Unlike most dynamic speakers who make the rounds on YouTube and podcasts, he does not simply repeat one powerful message over and over again to different audiences.  In every interview, every talk, every conversation he seeks to move closer to truth.  Whenever he talks, he teaches; whenever he teaches he listens to learn.

I often play Dr. Peterson talks while I work around my home.  In this way, I have managed to listen to all his lectures in the 2017 Maps of Meaning and Personality and its Transformations during the past year.  I listened to each of his twelve talks on The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories as they become available from May to August.  And because he does not have a canned speech, delivered repeatedly (and practically verbatim), each time I listen to him, I learn.  His teachable spirit makes every talk his own learning experience, and gives him a continuous source of new things to freely share with his faithful YouTube subscribers and Facebook followers.  And everything he shares is held together with many strong, carefully formed cords of wisdom that he weaves naturally throughout his powerful life message. Now I want to share three of those cords that convince me that Jordan B. Peterson is a prophetic voice for the church in the 21st century.

The first JBP cord of wisdom is expressed succinctly in the “Clean Your Room” meme.  I heard that message in his first interview with Joe Rogan.  After well over two hours of hashing out the events leading up to Peterson’s sudden fame and the rationale behind his opposition to Bill C-16, Rogan asked how people could support him in his bold fight for liberty.  His answer:  sort yourself out; put yourself in order. I realized immediately he was basically saying get the log out of your eye.  Later in another talk I heard him elaborate the same point as he told his audience that you must work at being the best person you can be if you want to help others and contribute to the good of the world as a whole. I can’t pinpoint the message for you, but Jordan Peterson gives the most practical teaching I ever heard on Matthew 7:3-5.   Eventually, I heard Peterson actually use the words of Christ when he told his audience yet again that to change the world, you must fix yourself up first.

The second JBP cord of wisdom is “Always tell the truth.” Perhaps it would be better stated “never lie.” Peterson’s long, intense study of the totalitarian regimes that murdered millions in the 20th century has convinced him that no matter what happens as an immediate consequence of telling the truth, it will not be as bad as the long range consequences of compromising, of going along to get along, of living contrary to what you believe is true.  Peterson acknowledges that we don’t always know the truth. Often the best we can do is just say honestly how things look to us.  There is a concise (and lovely) summary of his thoughts on love, truth, and free speech at the beginning and end of his talk at Linfield College. If you want to meet Jordan Peterson, start there for an introduction to the man and his message.

The third JBP cord of wisdom is the one I value most, and that is his unapologetic admiration of the man Jesus Christ.  Some of my dear brothers and sisters in the faith might recoil if they hear the Son of God called “a meta hero” or “a mythical archetype.”  Jordan B. Peterson will never fit an evangelical or orthodox Christian mold.  And his speech is often seasoned (at times quite heavily) with profanity. But I am delighted that this man with an international audience of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) is talking about Jesus.  I am delighted to know that atheists, agnostics, and secularists are listening intently as Peterson proclaims that the one we know as King of Kings and Lord of Lords is also Hero of Heroes.  I am delighted to know that Jordan B. Peterson is tunneling through centuries of legitimate criticisms of the Church to focus his audience on the light of Christ.

Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself.” Jordan Peterson is lifting up Jesus to audiences around the world, and that is why I believe he is God’s prophetic instrument.