People don’t usually give me books. This is a shame because, when they do, I usually read them. So, with a box of chocolates out of the question this Valentines, I was pleased to see a couple of book shaped presents on the table this morning. One of them was ‘Creation, Power and Truth’ by Tom Wright, subtitled ‘The Gospel in a world of cultural confusion’. I’m sure I will come back to this in future posts but for now I’m going to focus on one word: Gnosticism.
So, what is Gnosticism? The root of this word is the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Gnosticism is the idea that there is a secret knowledge, that, once known will bring wisdom and enlightenment. Inherent in this idea is also that the physical world we live in, including our own bodies, is somehow inferior to the pure life of the intellect. Tom Wright puts this very well:
This leaves you with what the ancient Gnostics were offering: a religion of self-discovery in which one acquires the ‘knowledge’ or gnosis, that one is already a spark of light, and thereby escape from the wicked world of space, time and matter, and enjoy a private and detached spirituality in the present and an escapist heaven hereafter, relating not the wicked creator God, the God of Israel, but to some quite different and higher deity.
I think this is what most people think they want. In our modern age the high priests are often scientists. There is an unspoken idea that people such as Stephen Hawking ‘know the truth’. The real truth is, of course, that most of us know something that other people don’t (and I’m never going to understand modern physics) but it doesn’t make us better or happier or wiser. Jesus in contrast offers us ‘Shalom’. This word is often translated as ‘peace’ which is not wrong but it also means wholeness and health, not just for the individual but for the community and for the world of trees, hills and houses. Which brings me back to our Valentine’s dinner.
Every now and then our Church Hall becomes a ‘Pop up restaurant’. On Saturday night it was transformed by candles and roses. Some members of the congregation were diners, like ourselves and others were waiters or cooks. One family took on the onerous task of creating and serving cocktails (the ‘St Mary’s Sunrise’ was both full of sugar and very alcoholic!). Although we were sitting as a couple our romantic evening was full of other people stopping to talk to us, and we got up and wandered as well. We brought our own wine and then poured a glass for some of the ‘staff’.
There was an air of joyful play acting about the whole evening but, just to put it in context, the same hall had been used at lunchtime to feed homeless and disadvantaged people and earlier for a men’s breakfast. This wasn’t clever or knowing. It certainly wasn’t ‘cool’ but it was real and warm and full of ‘Shalom’.