Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Mind That Cuts

The person who constantly sharpens his mind with knowledge, but lives a life apart from God, will eventually turn his mind into a double-edged sword.  With the one side of the sword, he will be slowly putting himself to the slaughter, while with the other, he will be slicing people to pieces with all kinds of absolute human views, sharpened by his unyielding mind.
Elder Paisios

In the quote above, Elder Paisios is discussing the liability of an intelligent mind.  At one point, the Elder says, the born simpleton or fool has the advantage over the intelligent person because, on the Day of Judgement, at least he or she will have an excuse. Intelligent people, on the other hand, if they are not very careful, will find themselves, “Slicing people to pieces with all kinds of absolute human views, sharpened by [their] unyielding mind[s].”

While mine is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I have nevertheless come to discover that a mind that is not humbled by mystery becomes a tyrant, a tyrant slicing this way and that with his or her own absolute human views.  And the more intelligent a person is, the more unyielding his or her un-humbled mind is.  It matters not whether one is a scientist or a theologian: absolute and unyielding human views hurt people.

I have met “atheists” who have encountered the mystery of God in creation and have been humbled by it, even though they cannot name it.  They are those to whom St. Paul refers, those who have come to know the “eternal power and divinity” of the Creator, understanding unseen things through what is seen.  I have also known (and at times been) very devout and well educated religious people who have so jabbed and sliced with their absolute views that they have left nothing but a trail of wounded people in their wake.  

This too is a humbling mystery.  Some of those entrusted with the mysteries of the Kingdom of God drive away the ones seeking to enter it, while some of those who deny the very God of this Kingdom seem to begin to enter it.  I guess it is no different today than it was 2000 years ago.  “The first will be last and the last first,” Jesus said,  “Therefore the harlots and the tax collectors will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before [the religious leaders].”  It’s quite a warning.  When handling the Truth, the how is just as important as the what.  

It is often said by those with a little hard-earned experience in the spiritual life, that knowing what one might say is not enough.  One must also know how and when to say it.  Moreover, one must always be on guard against pride.  “Knowledge puffs up,” St. Paul says, “but love builds up.”  He goes on, “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he aught to know it.”  The arrogance of the unyielding mind is humbled when we are certain that we do not know as we ought to know, that we only see dimly, partially, and that there is always much more going on in a person, in a situation, or even in a chemical process than we know or see or understand--no matter how well our theories explain or predict.

Every personal strength is also a liability.  It is just as destructive to feel without thinking as it is to think without feeling.  We all have aspects of our personality that need to be humbled by the knowledge of God and by the law of love.  A sharp mind, apart from the knowledge of God, instead of being a tool to serve others becomes a weapon that wounds them.

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