Key Thought for this session:
“If any outcome of life is acceptable to me, then any path will get me there.”
Because it is so difficult to prove truth about abstract objects like the soul and spirit, stories have often been used to communicate what people believe is true. As we have seen so far in our study of stories, we must rely on the storyteller for THEIR concept of truth. However, some storytellers may believe one thing while another storyteller may believe the opposite. Let’s illustrate this worldview challenge with two stories from two different religious traditions. Each have weathered the centuries and each is believed by many people to convey truth. As you listen to them, I would like you to decide if the intended truths conveyed by each story contradict each other, meaning they cannot both be true because they are competing, or do they present truths that lead to the same outcome and therefore are preferential. Each story describes how a person can be justified or made right or become acceptable.
The first example is a story about how a person becomes righteous through extraordinary personal effort based on wisdom he receives from a spiritual authority. In these stories the authority is a supernatural being possessing wisdom and power. Part of the theme of each story deals with what WE BELIEVE about the role of a supernatural power in making people right and part of the story relates a perceived truth about how humans are justified and obtain the abundant and virtuous life.
Let me tell you each story and then we will discuss them.
Once there was an old successful business man who had 2 grandsons. The oldest grandson had gained the highest level of perfection [or the highest level of abundant and virtuous life] by his moral living. The younger grandson, however, had been cast out because his life was highly flawed by the mistakes he had made. He had offenses against the righteous people of his community. He was depressed because he desired to be considered special and righteous by his community, but had remained a common man because of his offenses. Hearing of this man’s desire to overcome his flawed status and become righteous, a supernatural being, who had all wisdom and insight, prescribed to this young man to do a few rituals and persist in them. First, he was to sit outside the place where the righteous people gathered, face the east, and wipe his head, hands and feet continually with a cloth that the super natural being gave to him. While performing this ritual he was also to continually repeat the phrase “taking off impurities.” Soon the cloth became soiled with the impurities coming out from within the man. Through his authority, the supernatural being then appeared to the man in a vision and said, 'the piece of cloth is not dirty only from the dust of the ground, but from the dust that exists within yourself. In you are the dust of passion, the dust of ill-will, and the dust of ignorance of truth. Only by removing these can you achieve your goal, become righteous, and attain the perfected state of a virtuous life.' The man understood the message and continued meditating. In due time through steadfast effort the young man became perfect, gaining extraordinary knowledge and mental powers. The supernatural being was often found giving an account of this young man’s achievements as an example to other righteous people, reminding them that whoever is diligent and steadfast in his striving will certainly attain perfection.
Let’s compare this popular story that many people in many lands across the years have accepted as truth about living a blessed life, with another ageless story of a woman who found the blessed life, but in a different and seemingly opposite way.
There was a supernatural being who was worshipped by a group of people but not well known and trusted by them. This supernatural being had only one son and he decided to send his son into the world so everyone could see what a kind and generous supernatural being he was. His plan was to use a virgin girl and impregnate her. By using a virgin, the world would know it was his son born by her and he could live among the people as one of them. His son would be common, like the people, but would also possess the virtues of the supernatural so the common people could see what He was really like. Hopefully this would make his subjects adore and trust Him more. So, He selects this virgin of his choice and appears to her in a vision telling her of His plan. The girl was fearful and anxious at first, but felt privileged that she had been chosen for his plan. Her life became very difficult. She was engaged to be married at the time and had to endure the scorn of the world seeing her pregnant and not married. All through her son’s life he was both admired because he had extraordinary qualities of the supernatural being but also despised because his claims to be supernatural irritated, threatened, and angered earthly authorities. Ultimately the woman witnessed the unjust persecution of her son by the earthly authorities, even to the point of them executing her son just because he claimed to be the son of the supernatural being. She lived a life with difficult circumstances, yet she is known even today for the song in her heart about how blessed she was because of her faithfulness to the supernatural being. She is highly honored even today because she was chosen for such a glorious purpose.
She even sang a song about how this gave her an abundant and virtuous life. She was virtuous not because of what she did, but because of what was bestowed on her willfully by the one who could give her blessing. She loved and trusted the supernatural being and so she was made righteous or perfect by receiving supernatural actions made on her behalf, nothing was earned by her own efforts in striving to be justified (or acceptable).