I typically do not do well with simplicity. In fact, I often times go out of my way to find the complex in even the simplest situations or subjects. Why? It’s a complex answer! I tend to suspect anything that has a whiff of simplicity. My thinking would be something along the lines of, if it is too simple, it is probably not true. Now, my premise may be proven wrong many times and in many ways. However, from my experience, even those things that seem or appear simple, when given more thought or investigation, turn out not to be so.
Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment. I enjoy complexity. I enjoy getting into the complex and breaking it down to understand it; and then, putting it back together. I do believe in the simple in this way. I believe the complex can be broken down to a constituency of simple parts, like atoms; but, the simple do not exist of their own weight; rather, they are pieces of the complex, which gives them their identity and purpose.
I often am asked various questions in regards to the Bible or theology or the like. My background and academic degrees lend themselves to people asking me such questions. It seems I am often asked the more difficult questions. A few weeks ago, a man asked me about one of the more challenging passages in the New Testament. I answered his question in a long, involved way. I wasn’t trying to avoid or dodge the question; just the opposite, I was trying to give a complete, honest, thoughtful answer. After a few minutes of my reply, he interrupted me objecting, You’re not answering my question! I politely disagreed and offered, If you don’t want a hard answer, don’t ask a hard question!
Many times people are not truly looking for answers, they are looking for reassurance of their opinions. For this reason, they are often times unwilling to listen to a complete (admittedly often times complex) answer. Why? It takes too long to come around to the essential part. But, that is akin to starting a novel in the middle chapters. Sure, you will get to the end quicker, but you are sacrificing much in the name of hurry. The longest way around is not always a meandering. Sometimes it is the best, and really, the only way home.
I think many believers wish to grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God’s word; however, many of the same are not willing to put in the hard work to get there. Now, it is not my place to judge. I see myself, as a teacher, in a facilitating role. I liken this depth of faith and God’s word to standing on the beach. Some are satisfied just having their toes in the surf (i.e. God’s word). Others want a bit more, but nothing too radical. These prefer to step out a bit farther and stand in ankle-deep water. Still others, wade farther to knee-deep or thigh deep or waist deep . . . etc. My job, as a teacher, is to help them be where they wish to be.
I do sense this thirst, but again, many times people are not prepared to pay the dues. There are times someone will complain, Why can’t everything be as simple as John 3.16? Of course, I must retort, how simple do you think John 3.16 is?
John 3.16, of course, in some sense of the word is simple. It doesn’t take a PhD to read it and to ascertain some meaning from it. However, if looked at more closely, the complexity of the verse comes to the fore. In fact, I may argue there is no more profound a verse or truth found in all the Scriptures than John 3.16.
For God so loved the world, has to be one of, if not the most, profound statements that has ever been made. Think of the complexity of that truth claim.
John 3.16 is many a thing; I fear simple is not one of them.
But, and here is the rub for many, complexity is not a bad thing. Complexity does not equal hard or difficult. It does however mean it will take a little (or more) effort to get at it. A simple, face-reading won’t do the trick. More is required. More is needed. It will offer up its treasure, but not without sacrifice. In short, to get the prize you will have to put in the work.
This reminds me of two things. One, after finishing my MDiv. degree, I was sitting in the office of my Hebrew professor. We were discussing my plans for continuing my education in the ThM program at another school. I told him I was interested in taking more languages; Akkadian being one of them. I’ll never forget his response. He said, Timothy I think that is a good idea. I will tell you Akkadian is difficult, but not hard. Difficult, but not hard . . . I like it!
The second thing is something I heard just this morning. I was listening to a message on the radio and the preacher touched on this very thing. He commented how we live in a society (including the church) that wants everything NOW! The idea is basically, God, I want you to give me something valuable, something that will enrich my life and my walk with you from your word this morning; but make it snappy!
Yet, many sense the depth that is there. They seek it. They have a desire to wade out into the waters and feel the immersion. However, sometimes complaints are given that I am making things too difficult. I am making things too hard. My argument is simple (or complex!), if you want simple, stay in the dry sand on the beach.
This is how C. S. Lewis put it,
If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly to complain that the something more is not simple. (Mere Christianity, Ch. 2 The Invasion)