The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity

How is it that ye do not understand?


— St. Mark. 8:21

See how the Lord calls the disciples to their senses. He does not tell them in so many words where they are wrong; he attacks instead the cause in themselves which led to their mistake—a matter always of infinitely more consequence than any mistake itself, for the one is an untruth in the soul, the other a mere dead blunder born of it. The word-connection between their blunder and our Lord’s exhortation is not to be found; the logic of what the Lord said is not on the surface. Often he speaks not to the words but to the thought; here he speaks not even to the thought, but to the whole mode of thinking, to the inward condition of the men.

Our Lord sought to rouse in the disciples a sense of their lack of confidence in God, which was the cause of their blunder as to his meaning. He makes them go over the particulars of the miracles of the loaves, not to refresh their memories—they well enough remembered the marvel—but to make their hearts dwell on them; for they had failed to see their central revelation: the eternal fact of God’s love and care and compassion. They knew the number of men, the number of loaves, but they had forgotten the Love that had so broken the bread that its remnants twenty times outweighed its loaves. Having thus questioned them like children, he turns the light of their thoughts upon themselves, and demands, “How is it that ye do not understand?” Then they did understand. He who trusts can understand; he whose mind is set at ease can discover a reason.

Commentary

The Cause Of Spiritual Stupidity
by Dave Roney

Today, if we think a fellow “stupid” it likely means we think him mentally deficient; MacDonald does not understand it so, but employs the word as it reflects closer its original meaning; from the Latin stupidus, which means “amazed,” or “confounded,” to be “dull minded,” which is to say have the necessary mentality but to use it wrongly; and, as regards thoughts, words, and actions which flow from such a man, to therefore be “foolish.”  He is using the word to mean what the Lord meant when He said “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25)— to be unthinking, to think wrongly, unreasonably, etc.  Know, then, that in our 21st century vernacular, GMD might have titled the Sermon “The Cause of Spiritual Foolishness.”  It would mean the same to him.

These words of our Lord were addressed to the two “foolish” men along the road to Emmaus; they were aware of the events occurred in Jerusalm, from the passage were obviously somewhat familiar with Christ; yet when they spoke of Him they referred to Him as “a prophet mighty in deed and word” rather than Messiah Himself, or to acknowledge Him for what He had mockingly been described, as the very King of the Jews.  And of His death they said as those pining, miserable because the Truth which they hoped for was with them and they did not recognize Him; thus they said “But we had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel.”

 

Note the order of the Lord's words here; first He addresses their thinking and calls them “foolish,” then He addresses the cause of their folly by telling them they are “slow of heart to believe.”— “You are spiritually stupid,” He is saying, “and here is the cause of it!”  How often must He deal with spiritual stupidity?  It is the same problem He had with His own dear and closest disciples, family, and friends.  It is the same problem He had with the Pharisees and scribes, the same with Pilate, the same in every place where He came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and Himself as its King.

Spiritual stupidity is not a condition relegated to those generations to the dust bin of history; it is here with and among us to this day.  Many there are who know Christ, and many of those know Him and His Father wrongly; “Good souls many,” says MacDonald, “will one day be horrified at the things they now believe of God!

Except for our particular theme drawn from a phrase in Mark 10:21 I care not to venture into a wider treatment of the account; let the reader see it in whole from verses 14-21.  Note that this phrase is the final word from our Lord regarding the stupidity at hand.  And since they are His final recorded words, apparently He went no further to explain His meaning to them what the stupidity was and how they should recover themselves from it:

“See how the Lord calls the disciples to their senses.  He does not tell them in so many words where they are wrong; He attacks instead the cause in themselves which led to their mistake—a matter always of infinitely more consequence than any mistake itself, for the one is an untruth in the soul, the other a mere blunder born of it.”

In Christ we find no argumentation, no negotiation for the Truth, nor even in most cases a direct explaination; He simply states His case, sometimes for what is in Him, at others in response to what is in His hearers; we may discover some of what we call the Socratic method, but none of sophistry.  For a Nicodemus, ready to know and be not stupid, He would spend the entire day helping him, but to the Pharisee He would kick the dust from His sandals in leaving, or to a Pilate He would be as a Lamb dumb—He has nothing to say to ears of clay but everything to venture for those who truly seek Him—and this same applies to every man, including His beloved disciples; His piteous cry over the city, “O Jerusalem” He wails; “How oft I would have gathered you to Myself even as a hen does her chicks, but you would not!”—do we not know it was for all the people, and even for the blindness of His disciples? 

You see, to the positive side of His “Whosoever will” is its negative counterpart of “Whosoever won't!” —against the barred door He, being no battering ram, will not surge, no matter that the door is paper thin and rotted throughout—but the tinyest, weakest, feelblest hand taking hold of the latch, He will at once join and help to tear the miserable old thing from its hinges and be away with it so the flood of His light might enter the heart-room.  To be conformed to the image of Christ one must needs be first transformed by the renewal of his mind, to let the same mind which is that of Christ be in him and reign over his ideas. 

These men had witnessed the dual miracles of loaves and fishes wherein about 4000 were fed and again 5000 most recently.  Yet now, in the boat, they were concerned about having enough bread to feed themselves.  Was not the very Bread of Life with them in the boat?  He asks them seven questions in quick succession; “Why are you concerned? Do you not understand? Are your hearts hardened? Are your eyes blind? Are your ears deaf? Do you not remember?” and in view of these questions He asked the final one; “Do you not yet understand?”  And the question to us is why did He thus question them?

“Often He speaks not to the words but to the thought; here He speaks not even to the thought, but to the whole mode of thinking, to the inward condition of the men.

Our Lord sought to rouse in the disciples a sense of the lack of confidene in God, which was the cause of their blunder [i.e. their “spiritual stupidity”] as to His meaning.  He makes them go over the particulars of the miracles of the loaves, not to refresh their memories—they well enough remembered the marvel—but to make their hearts dwell on them; for they had failed to see their central revelation: The eternal fact of God's love and care and compassion.”

Through six hard questions He is speaking as to small children, the questions turning their thoughts investigatively upon their own selves.  He does it out of stern love for them, to help them see the folly, that is to say, the spiritual stupidity of their thinking—and when He has thus set the stage comes His final question, “Do you still not understand?”  I say they still did not understand, but that even so, by degrees, they understood a bit more than when they entered the boat and worried about their next meal.  The more they trusted Him, the better they would understand, and by trust their minds would be put at ease, and they would have the answers to His questions—but the fullness of that trust was yet a far way off and would not come into its fullness until the Lord had been crucified and risen from the dead.  It was then that their inner eyes and ears would be truly opened.  Then they would know what on that day they only perceived in part, then they would trust utterly in God, in Christ, so that with or without bread, in whatsoever state they might find themselves, they could with utter confidence say, as did St. Paul:

“For I am absolutely convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

“How Is It You Do Not Understand” (Mark 8:21)

by Dave Roney

In the 8th of St. Mark our Lord feeds the multitude; it is the second such occasion recorded within two chapters of that Gospel.  In each He uses the bread of poor disciples and little boys, barley loaves, the fodder of Egyptian horses and asses, the crumbly and slightly bitter cakes, staple fare of the poor struggling masses.  Lacking gluten, such bread is fragile; lacking yeast, it does not rise, and if the wild spores should invade it, the barley loaf is worthless, for it will upon the touch be reduced to fragmented morsels and be no loaf.  It is hard for the modern Western mind to understand the nature of this bread, these loaves, which the Lord would break.  They are not such as bread common to us, but very much are like the Lord Who broke them, was Himself shortly to be broken in the hands of the Father, feeding not a multitude but the whole of humanity with His own Self.

“He lifted up the loaves and gave thanks and He broke them.”  We know neither the outspoken words of His thanksgiving nor His inner communication with His Father and ours, only the words that tell us He gave thanks; but I see within the Man what the purest Heart-driven Mind must have been saying; “These fish, and that bread, these are they which speak of Me; it is My body which shall be broken!” 

No man among the inner circle of disciples saw the greater meaning, thinking only of their bellies, did not see the correlation because they would not, had eyes which were yet to be opened, thus saw not the great lesson presented; and certainly none among the multitude gathered there perceived it any better.  They all alike supposed their hunger was a physical one; He knew it to be that of famished souls; they would be content with the good, their daily bread; He would give to them the best, which is the Bread of Life, His own very Self.  But they were not yet ready.  And this kindness of Christ is exemplary of how the God of all Love ever works among His children: Their needs are layered, and the priority they give to them is not His, yet He will not lay upon them His demands first if they are unable to meet them; He asks not of men what is impossible for them to do.  He will give sustenance into their bellies now if that is all they understand; He will give Himself as Sustenance on Golgotha even though they may yet not understand; He will meet their legitimate needs even though they have cart before horse, will by circumstances and in time show them their error and then help them to rectify themselves.  He will give them the lower bread until they hunger and thirst after the righteous Bread of Life.

How is it that you do not understand?” He asks them.  He must ask it, for they of themselves are not able to ask; they are sheep wandering, He is the Shepherd Who must guide them to the green pastures and still waters of heart and mind.  They are then in the boat (vr. 14), a single crumbly barley loaf among them, they now feel the gnaw of empty stomachs and grumble that there is insufficient bread to feed themselves.  Is not He, the Friend and feeder of multitudes of strangers, there with them?  Why are they tempest-tossed when the Master of their turbulent souls is at hand?  By His question, “Our Lord sought to rouse in the disciples a sense of their lack of confidence in God.”  These beloved of our Lord had “failed to see the central revelation” contained in the miracles: “the eternal fact of God's love and care and compassion.”  His question opened the portal of their minds, if but a little, to a central fact they had, in the squalor of Self-seeking, forgotten, that it was Love Personified which had broken the bread, using a lower thing to point to the higher, the highest, their very redemption.

There is no parallel verse in the other Gospel accounts which reflects the Lord's question; “How is it that you do not understand,” and St. Mark does not record their answer, if in fact they offered one. MacDonald says that after He turned the light of their thoughts and demands upon themselves “Then they did understand.  He who trusts can understand.”  Yet I do not think they understood very much at that time, if anything at all.  Their continuous bickering about who among themselves would be greatest in the Kingdom, their looking for the Lord to become King by force of arms, their flight from Him at His trial and crucifixion; for these and other reasons I tend to think they understood little of Who and What He Is, much less concerning themselves.  But the seed had been sown in them and would shortly begin to grow, and after His resurrection come to fruition.  For, in time, these poor disciples would become very much like their Master, and turn the world of their day on its head.  Truly they who desired lowly bread and fishes would become fishers of men and share abroad the Bread broken for them; as He, they would feed the hungry that Divine Food which satisfies eternally the heart-hungering of all peoples everywhere.  When they had learned the truth of Truth, then they would understand...