Re-defining Terms pt. 3: Meditation, Narrow vs. Open Minds, Righteousness & More

See part one here and part two here

Meditation and Mindfulness: While the Western world is increasingly adopting Eastern views of meditation as emptying the mind or focusing on a single word, sensation, or object, the Bible demonstrates a strikingly opposite understanding of the word. The minds and hearts of God’s people are to be deeply and continuously occupied with such things as His laws, statutes, character, mighty works, wisdom, and promises. Meditation begins in an actively focused inner life and shapes one’s speech, actions, and entire outer life.

The Greek word most often found translated as “meditate” (in the LXX and NT) is meletaō, with a range of meanings including to bestow careful thought upon, give oneself wholly to, practice, cultivate, care for, be earnest in, study, train, or plot. (The rebellious use their God-given powers of mental focus to meditate on treachery and plot evil deeds.) Other Greek and Hebrew words translated as “meditate” in the Scriptures have similar meanings: to ponder, consider, study, put forth thoughts, even to speak, sing, or complain. A few examples show some of the range of meaning:

  • This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Jos. 1:8)
  • O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97 )
  • Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14)
  • My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Ps. 119:148)
  • On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Ps. 145:5)

Similarly, mindfulness in the Bible has to do with paying attention, remembering, or caring about something. We see the word used in regards to God being concerned for humanity, who in turn are to regard the covenant and the words of the prophets and apostles. It’s also used in the negative when we have forgotten God as our creator, lawgiver, and savior and turned to idols and disobedience. As you might notice, the pattern of people remembering and forgetting God is repeated all throughout the Old and New Testaments (and continues today):

  • Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee” (Deut. 32:18)
  • Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generation” (1 Chron. 16:15)
  • They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt” (Neh 9:17)
  • When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3-4)
  • Thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength” (Is. 17:10)
  • Be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour” (2 Pet 3:2)

The common view of mindfulness in the West today is instead focused on qualities of mind such as awareness, non-judgment, non-reactivity, and equanimity. These can of course be beneficial to a certain extent, and there is some overlap with biblical practices (such as contentment despite circumstances, forbearance, self-control, and not reacting from the flesh, dwelling in worry, or returning evil for evil). However, the underlying philosophies, methods, and fruits are divergent. Biblical mindfulness and meditation are inseparable from God and his laws, while the Eastern forms that have become predominant are grounded in pantheism and polytheism, often bearing fruits of such even when a practice is detached from these religious roots. The universe, spiritual entities, or the mind itself can come to be seen as the ultimate reality or authority. One also might start embracing ideas such as moral relativity, simulation theory, and thoughts shaping matter, rather than deepening in understanding and obedience of our Creator.

Narrow-mindedness: My dictionary defines narrow-mindedness as “not willing to listen to or tolerate other people’s views; prejudiced.” However, it defines the verb form of “narrow” simply as “become or make more limited or restricted in extent or scope” or “become or make less wide.” Becoming a Christian automatically entails narrowing the mind in these ways – we find our acceptance of possible worldviews to be less wide as we reject ideas like pantheism, monism, pluralism, polytheism, and atheism. We restrict our beliefs and commitments to a triune, transcendent, and loving God, and limit our morality to this God’s laws.

The most sobering uses of the word ‘narrow’ in the Bible are by Jesus. He cautions: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy [euruchōros: broad, wide] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard [thlibō: afflicted, pressed upon, persecuted, narrow]that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14). This is followed by a warning about false prophets and keeping the commandments. Jesus likewise says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). Here the attached warning is about claiming to know Him but doing evil deeds rather than God’s will.

Offense: Offending tends to have a connotation of upsetting, insulting, or personally attacking someone, generally with words. It can cause hurt feelings, public debates around political correctness and cancel culture, and policies on bullying and hate speech. Offending might be accidental, but we can also intentionally be combative, going on the offense and causing defensiveness or division.

Offending in the Bible sometimes has elements of the above meaning (such as the preaching of the cross being a cause of repugnance for some), but usually implies a more severe offense. The Greek words skandalizō and skandalon are most often used with the meaning of causing someone to sin, fall, stumble, or stray from the faith. As with the word ‘narrow’ above, we find this word in its most sobering contexts in Jesus’ words: He says to cast away an eye, hand, or foot that offends in order to avoid the whole body entering hell (Mar. 9:43-47), and warns that offending a little one who believes is worse than being tied to a millstone and drowned in the sea (Matt. 18:6).

Jesus says whoever is not offended in Him is blessed (Luk. 7:23), but as prophesied in Isaiah 8:14-15, people are inevitably offended, stumbled and snared when he doesn’t meet their expectations (Matt. 13:57). Believers can also become offended and fall away from the faith due to tribulation or persecution, even coming to betray and hate one another (13:21, 24:10). Jesus’ own apostles were scattered due to offense at his arrest (26:31), though he warned them in advance not to be offended even when the world hates and kills them (John 16:1).

Paul applies the word skandalizō to eating and drinking, urging us to avoid that which might cause a brother to stumble, sin, or participate in idolatry (Rom 14:21, 1 Cor. 8:13). He also uses the Greek term aproskopos to speak of not committing moral offense (and thus keeping a clear conscience), whether toward God, Jews, or Gentiles (Acts 24:16, 1 Cor. 10:32, Phil. 1:10).

Open-mindedness: This seems to be one of the cardinal virtues of post-modernism, but what truly defines open-mindedness? Is it simply questioning or considering every point of view? Or is it bowing down unquestioningly to the prevailing ideas that all views must be accepted, truth is subjective, and morality is relative? Is it embracing pluralism out of a desire to conform to the world’s understanding of love and correct behavior, or conversely, from a fear of being labeled and outcasted?
As I’ve asked elsewhere, does open-mindedness mean that we are obliged to forever keep any and all options on the table, no matter how contradictory? To me, this sounds like an a priori assumption which actually keeps one door completely shut, that of the possibility of progressing toward any kind of particularism, if that’s where the data lead us.1 If we can’t connect the dots of all the information we come across while practicing open-mindedness, never discovering the image hidden in them, then we may simply be trapped in a Schroedinger’s cat type of limbo.

I would suggest that, rather than keeping us well-liked by people of all persuasions, true open-mindedness would include being open to being shamed, misunderstood, or ostracized if we take up ideas which go against the grain. It would even include an openness to losing our former beliefs, identities, values, communities, careers, hobbies, interests, even our very selves. As Jesus warned truth-seekers, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

Philanderer: This one is mainly just amusing to me:The root of the word is the Greek philandros, used in Titus 2:4 regarding teaching women to be “husband-lovers” (loving them with philia, a friendly or brotherly love, which stirs up interesting questions, since men are commanded to love their wives with sacrificial agape). However, the modern day meaning has oddly become the polar opposite: “a man who readily or frequently enters into casual sexual relationships with women; a womanizer.”

Pitiful: In 1 Peter 3:8 (KJV), we are commanded to be pitiful: “be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” The word here means compassionate or tenderhearted and is also declared to be a character trait of God in James 5:11. Similarly, “pitiable” and “to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19, Rev. 3:17) come from the root word eleos meaning “mercy” and might be interpreted as “being in need of mercy.”

While we technically still have these definitions today, “pitiful” seems to have taken on a meaning closer to “pathetic” in popular use. Both words can have similar connotations of suffering and being in need of compassion, but often instead take on an opposite flavor, designating something as worthless, lousy, abysmal, to be looked down upon, or deserving of mockery and ridicule.

When Paul says that believers are to be most pitied of all people if Christ was not resurrected, he is rhetorically demonstrating the strength of his convictions regarding the factuality of this event which revealed the glory, centrality, and power of the crucifixion itself. However, the popular book A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman2 calls this belief in the vey heart of the Gospel pathetic in a derogatory sense: “Do not make the pathetic error of “clinging to the old rugged cross” (52). The crucifixion and resurrection are real historical events through which we have obtained mercy, while Schucman exhibits the very definition of being in need of mercy.3

Righteousness: This word seems to have become irrevocably tainted with associations of self-righteousness, haughtiness, and arrogance. It’s tragic, because righteousness is one of the most fundamental aspects of God’s character and goals of our sanctification. God is purely good, without a trace of evil in his being, with perfect love and justice balanced in his hands in unfathomable paradox. In his relationship with Israel over history, he intended for them to be a contrast nation, to demonstrate his character to the world. Of course, knowing they would fail, as all humans and societies do, he displayed his righteousness through the incarnation, with Jesus Christ living the fullness of the law as a man on earth. In turn, righteousness is a many layered gift given to us in and through Christ. No one is righteous from the flesh, and no one is justified apart from faith in him (Rom. 3:10, 22).

And while I can’t find the term self-righteousness in any Bible translation that I have, the underlying idea is probably the greatest hindrance to accepting the Messiah that we see within its pages. The Pharisees epitomized this when they condemned God himself with their own legal interpretations and traditions of men, rejecting their own need for mercy and deliverance. Relying on our own works and righteousness, as all man-made religions do, deludes us into thinking we can cross the vast gulf from here to God by ourselves. It keeps us from seeing our need for rescue, and that God is the only way to God.

Coming up in part four: Satan and the antichrist, separateness, sheep, sin, submission, tolerance, truth, and worth.

1. It’s this door at which the Truth himself stands and knocks (John 14:6, Rev 3:20) and through which one enters for salvation and to find pasture (John 10:9).

2. Ghost written by an actual ghost – well, a spirit falsely calling itself Jesus Christ. Close enough.

3. I suspect she wouldn’t disagree – she reportedly often said “I hate that damn book” and suffered from depression and rage at the end of her life, cursing the book on her deathbed as the “worst thing that ever happened to her.” Source

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