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Mistaking Shadow for Substance

You might have read the Aesop’s fable about a donkey and his owner who were walking down the road.  They passed a traveler who stopped them and asked if the donkey was for hire.  The owner said, “Yes” and he agreed to have the donkey carry the man to the next village. The traveler climbed up on the donkey and they set off.  The day was hot and about half way, they decided to stop and rest.  The only shade they could find was under the donkey. Both men tried to fit under the donkey but there was not enough room.  “I should be the one to sit under the donkey,” the traveler said.  “I paid for a ride on the donkey.” “No,” said the owner.  “You paid to ride on the donkey, not to sit under the donkey.  The donkey’s shadow belongs to me.”

On and on they argued.  The donkey got tired of listening to their quarrel and wandered off.  When the men finally stopped arguing, they found that the donkey and his shadow were both gone.  Adapted by Jean Warren from an Aesop Fable

The moral of the story is this: We often lose the substance while we fight over shadows. In other words, we fight about unimportant things while important things are lost.

The Substantial versus The Insubstantial

A question we should ask ourselves is, “What am I fighting for”? and “Is what I am fighting for something real or is it a spectral silhouette like the donkey’s shadow?”

We can often fight for rights while ignoring responsibility, exercise doctrinal purity while neglecting the poor, protest violently while ignoring The Golden Rule. We can articulate our case like Cicero before the Republic and miss the “heart of the matter”.

And as Christians, we can bend converts to our doctrinal penchants while not making real disciples who follow Jesus, but instead creating something entirely different (Matthew 23:15).

We can even fancy ourselves “Defenders of the Faith” like The Knights Templars in their striking white mantles contrasted with a red cross, who in their day were among the most skilled fighters in the Crusades.  Some modern-day defenders of the faith can turn a phrase and wield Greek and Hebrew like a Jedi, but the question remains: What are we fighting for? Leonard Sweet said:

 “Christians seem to be more interested in developing a better argument to defend God than in living lives that are more devoted to God. Statements of faith get more attention than consistent lives of faith. Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost, and His solution to the problem of sin was to sacrifice himself. God didn’t send us a symposium; God sent God’s Son”.

 When we lose sight of what the real fight is, we make war on shadows while the real problem walks away and the world witnesses a fractured Church.

Am I fighting for something that does not need defending?

We take seriously this injunction for doctrinal purity given in Jude when he said unequivocally to Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”   (Jude 3).

 But with it, we suggest this element as described by something Charles Spurgeon said:

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” (Charles Spurgeon).

The Bible does not need defending any more than the laws of physics need one more ounce of proof to affirm their validity.

Setting the Lion loose.

I love studying the Bible - the context of a passage, its history, demographics, and its original language. But is it possible to love propositions more than the Word? To love the thrill of putting the eternal truth into a beaker for analysis? There has to be more than this. The more is found in encountering the loving and living God.

I once heard the story from my mentor who passed away a long time ago. A close friend was being trained on how to identify counterfeit currency. They spent many days analyzing every nuance concerning paper money - the quality of paper and printing, every angle-shade effect and sharpness - Although this person never once saw a counterfeit dollar, their focus was on the real thing.

In an article called “How to Know Your Money”,  the United States Secret Service gives pointers as to how to detect counterfeit money. Among the description, one statement stands out: “The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat.”

I believe that if we lift up what is real and substantial, the illusion will be exposed as lifeless and flat. Instead of giving such a high platform to the insubstantial, we magnify the substantial – JESUS.

Although I believe it’s important to point out some of the glaring aberrations in wrong theology in our day, to make that the business is to focus on shadows and not substance.

“Is not My word like a fire in like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29)