The Final Word
Somehow we all yearn for the final word.
My students did; my children do; my church is looking for it. In a time that lacks absolutes; in a culture that suggests that anything goes; in a world that highlights the politically correct and expedient, we long for a clear word—the final word. And yet we seem to stumble and stagger in the fogginess of our everyday life, waiting anxiously to catch the final word.
Fundamentalism of all shades claims to know the final word. The final word provides comfort and shelter and refuge in a messy world in which right seems wrong and wrong sounds right.
While serving as a seminary and university professor, I noticed this longing for the final word in my students. Often we would discuss a difficult biblical text or a challenging ethical or theological question. Together we would think through different options and mentally check out a variety of answers. Without fail, one of my students would ask at the end of the class period: “Dr. Klingbeil, what do you think is the right answer?” Sometimes I would highlight the (in my mind) best solution; yet most of the time I would just smile and say: “For me to know, for you to find yourself.” There are bountiful growth opportunities for those who do the thinking themselves and do not rely on somebody else’s final word.
Jesus electrifies His audience by telling them one of His most divisive parables.
Jesus often faced the demand for the final word. “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” an expert of the law asked Jesus one day (Luke 10:25, KJV). A great question, we may think, requiring a definitive answer; a wonderful witnessing opportunity; an invitation to lay it on thick; a resounding call to say the final word. Jesus saw it for what it was—a cleverly designed test; a carefully planned trap. Lawyers have always been known to ask the ultimate question requiring the final answer.
Instead of offering His opinion, Jesus directed the lawyer to the Torah, the Law, or, in this case more likely, God’s entire revelation of the Old Testament: “What is written in the Law?” He says, and now note the next line: “How do you read it?” (verse 26).
The lawyer’s answer is spot-on. He knew his law. He quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and from Leviticus 19:18. Loving God with everything we’ve got and loving our neighbor as ourselves was a great summary. Jesus seems pleased: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28).
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The lawyer, who had been out to “get” (or, as Luke puts it, “test”) Jesus, feels the need to “justify himself.” The Greek word here is part of the key vocabulary of the New Testament. Really, he felt the need to pronounce himself righteous—that which only God can do. “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29) was his lame attempt to save face.
You know the rest of the story. Jesus electrifies His audience by telling them one of His most divisive parables—about a Samaritan who was actually good!
Jesus unmasks our yearning for the final word as the safe solution. God’s Final Word encouraged His audience to continue to think for themselves, invest themselves in their search, and then live according to their convictions. He knew about the shortcuts we like to take, relying on tradition (or the good ole days), those with Ph.D.s, ordination credentials, proven leadership skills, or even a revered prophet. “In the Scriptures thousands of gems of truth lie hidden from the surface seeker,” writes Ellen White. “The mine of truth is never exhausted. The more you search the Scriptures with humble hearts, the greater will be your interest, and the more you will feel like exclaiming with Paul: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ (Rom. 11:33).”*
As we face a busy year with momentous events on the horizon I pray for humility to truly know God’s Final Word personally. In my own life I hunger for the willingness to allow this living Word to transform my yearning for easy and safe answers into a holy audacity that is willing to step out into the streets and byways of a world still needing to meet God’s Final Word.
* Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1991), p. 86.