My Bible is singing harmonies. Sometimes they’re well-rehearsed and easily recognised; Isaiah 52 and Daniel 7 and Luke 22, telling the story of the Messiah in golden major-key thirds. But sometimes they’re loose and wild, and it takes me a while to hear them.
In the aftermath of a difficult conversation, I found myself returning to the things I’d said. Turning them over like stones in a river, feeling how smoothly they had been worn by long consideration. Checking for cracks of illogic or poor motives. Reminding myself of the reality of my wounds, and the importance of saying these things. I’d said them carefully, certainly – but the point had come where they needed to be said. Still, in the course of the conversation, I’d made a choice to forgive. And I knew from experience that that choice was not going to be helped by rehearsing the conversation, even if the things I said were true and necessary.
I ended up in Exodus, where, as the Israelite nation wanders in a desert, God feeds them for decades at a stretch by dropping manna from heaven. It’s such an odd story. Every morning, they gathered a white, flaky something that was a little like bread. If they gathered too much and kept it overnight, it got smelly and maggoty. Anything they didn’t collect would evaporate in the sun. It seemed to me that God was telling me that going back to the difficult conversation was like collecting too much manna. I didn’t need the things I was picking up, and if I hung onto it all too long, it was likely to turn nasty. So, over the course of a few days, each time I started mentally rehearsing bits of that conversation, I’d remind myself, ‘Leave that on the ground, you don’t need it today.’
There’s a perfectly serviceable bit of New Testament teaching on this, of course. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about ‘taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ But I’ve been around churches for a long time, and to be honest, I come to that passage with baggage. I’ve heard that phrase used as a bludgeon against people struggling with mental illness as if their illness is just an issue of self-control. I’ve heard it used to express discomfort – and even outright hostility – towards expressions of strong emotion or intuition, often with a side-helping of gendered blah. That stuff is not what Paul’s teaching and it doesn’t line up with the sweep of biblical truth, either – but still, here I am, with my baggage.
Those two ideas, though – ‘take captive every thought,’ and ‘leave it on the ground if you don’t need it today,’ – I think they’re singing the same song. There are things in our lives, and in our minds, which aren’t helpful. But the point is not that we screw up our courage and our strength to defeat them. The point is that we pay attention to what God is already doing in our lives. The Israelites didn’t need to collect all the manna they saw; God faithfully kept providing enough, just like He promised. I don’t even need to win a war over my mind; my unruly thoughts, and all that sets itself up against the knowledge of God are already on the losing side. Jesus has already won everything that needs to be won. By His grace, all I’ve got to do is live like that’s already true.
I’m not going to give up good teaching like ‘take captive every thought,’ just because someone has used it carelessly or cruelly. But man, I am thankful for the harmonies. I’m thankful for a Book – for a God – who lets me find my way into the song through the odd, atonal descant of Exodus. And I’m thankful for the reminder – again – that the melody is Jesus, and His justice, and His love.