Thursday, October 25, 2007

Spiritual Giants

I asked my son whether he knew anyone who was a spiritual giant. We have all read about such people - Dietrich Bonhoeffer ministering to his prison guards, Elizabeth Elliot returning to live among the people who killed her husband - but I was less sure that I personally knew anyone fitting that description. I know people who are A-grade solid in their Christian walk, whose actions bespeak a peace/joy/love like a river/fountain/ocean. In fact, I know several.

Yet I am thinking more of the type of person who resembles a mountain rather than a really large person, or if we must keep our giant analogy pure, is 4 meters tall, not 2. Do I know any such? My son thought that perhaps one, a retired president of Asbury College, who might qualify. My wife and I threw out nominations from among the "solids" to each other, not finding any who struck us as qualitatively different from the others.

There are a few possible explanations: people who we know personally have those little quirks and irritations of humanity that disguise their true nature to our judgmental eyes; we may know of a real failing or two that causes us to write them off prematurely. We are probably quite unable to see the giants around us. Also, we may gravitate more to churches which focus on building communities of solid disciples rather than individual giants.

The apostle Peter and King David would be among our early nominations for giantism, yet we know well their faults, and those around them likely knew of even more failings which never got mentioned in the scriptures. Peter and Ana Lucaciu, who smuggled Bibles into Romania, evangelised under communism, and built an orphanage and medical clinic there after they could have remained safely in the US might well be giants if I had X-ray vision, but I have worked with them directly, and know Peter to be disorganized, and Ana to be stubborn and sharp of tongue, so I might well underestimate them. Giants look like the rest of us, perhaps.

I have a suspicion from the scriptures that a tendency toward risk-taking may be necessary. The person who buried the talents in the ground was admonished, not those who put them at risk. (Admittedly, the parable does not tell us what would be said to the person who risked their talents and lost them all.) The prodigal younger brother may be more capable of repentance than the older in the story. In addition to St. Peter and David above, Abraham risked a great sin in becoming a giant, and many of the mountains of righteousness began their careers as valleys.

We shouldn't push this too far, perhaps. Anna, Lois, Timothy, and Ananias seem to fit more into the solid category of spirituality, though they were called to greater adventures. But spiritual giants may be found more among those either/or people who we know. Few among the solid people we identify will actually turn out to be dwarves, but in looking for giants we may get a lot of false-positives.

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