Random Blog Clay Feet: December 26, 2007
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Who Supports Who?

Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. (Romans 11:18)

I find this text a bit curious and want to ponder it more to see what it might be trying to teach me. It reminds me a little of the verse that says, “be angry and sin not”. It is maybe one of those instructions that involve acknowledgment that we are going to have negative feelings but it is how we respond to them that is important more than the fact that we experience them.

When I look up the definition of the Greek word for arrogant here I find a description of an attitude of boasting or gloating over someone else's problems while believing myself to be better than they. It even goes as far as rejoicing against them which almost seems to be an oxymoron. But I think most people have a sense of what a boastful, arrogant person looks like and how others feel around them.

In light of this attitude which apparently is all to easy to indulge in, Paul has something to say as an antidote to neutralize the poison that this spirit contains that can infect our heart. The nature of the antidote gives interesting insight into the nature of the poison. He says to remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

First of all, it must be part of the problem that an arrogant person has forgotten something very important or they would not need to be reminded to remember it. It looks like that arrogance and the consciousness of what we need to remember might be mutually exclusive. If I begin to sense that maybe I am suffering from the delusions incurred by this problem of arrogance (and I suspect there is much more than I can see) then I need to take note of Paul's instruction and dwell on the shot of reality that he is offering to bring me closer to living in proper perspective. If I want to be cured of a boastful, arrogant heart then I need to get a right view of my relationships with others and with God.

So what is this antidote to heal me of the dangers of arrogance? Paul says that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. Now this may seem rather logical and a no-brainer when I first read it, but evidently there must be much more here than a simplistic, factual interpretation of these words. I suspect that if I have any spirit of arrogance (which includes fault-finding and negative thinking and criticism which is some of my greatest weaknesses) then a simple left-brain agreement with the facts that a root supports the branches and not vice-versa is not getting to the place inside me that it needs to be to have its intended effect. It is easily a situation where my reasoning mind can believe facts and logic while at the same time my deeper levels of the heart hold very different ideas and opinions that lay hidden far beneath the surface.

So in a way, even my attempt here to unpack this and understand more clearly its deeper meaning may have no effect in my life if the Spirit of God does not take this truth and carry it down into the deep recesses of my heart and memories where the real problems lie. But it may be helpful as a start to at least take the time to look carefully at this warning and allow it exposure time so that its impact can be more permanent. If I don't take to time to think and ponder these things and give the Spirit permission to apply them effectively to my heart, then I am almost guaranteed that they will not be able to have the needed effect on my life and I will have to learn them under more severe circumstances.

Evidently it must be part of my natural, twisted thinking at much deeper levels that somehow this formula is reversed. Otherwise Paul would not have to state the obvious in this case. It must be true that, contrary to logic, I somehow think that in some way or another I am supporting the root – what ever that means and implies. Of course it is always easier to see my problems in other peoples lives, and that may be helpful to the extent that I am willing to look back and discover the same problem in my own heart. So, looking at the analogy of the root-tree-branches that Paul is using here, what does it really mean in my own life that I somehow believe secretly that I support the root?

One thing that immediately comes to my mind is the conviction that keeps coming back to me each time I find myself critical of my church and the short-comings of its members and leaders. I discover to my chagrin that the Spirit convicts me that I am thinking I could do things better, that if given the chance I could make real improvements and be more effective and introduce better ideas that would encourage a more spiritual environment. When I become conscious that this is the nature of my feelings I am usually horrified and ask God to forgive and change me. But these thoughts and feelings are springing up from seeds far beneath the surface that have yet to be exposed and expunged and so they continue to foment these kinds of nonsense in my heart.

What these feelings betray is the basic idea, at the heart level, of what Paul is talking about here. When I feel that God could use me better than the people already in position in His church, then basically I am saying that I could support the trunk as a branch better than the root can. Now, while that sounds crazy and absurd (which it is) it is the very kind of notions that the selfish human heart produces, for the heart is not logical or governed by the formulas of reason that go on in the left brain.

Does that justify the penchant that we have for living life primarily from the left brain because the heart uses such “illogic” and cannot be trusted? No, that solution only produces more problems and does not deal with the real issue which is a need for healing at much deeper levels than just correct answers and formulas. Just because the notions exposed in my deceitful heart conflict with my logical explanations of truth does not mean that I should not live from my heart. It is simply part of the process of healing, of salvation, that God is taking me through. It is the phase of exposure that is necessary so that I can take the next step toward full healing.

And the next step is also found in this passage that I will explore next time.

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