Abstract verses Concrete Thinking, Bible Study, Book of Isaiah, Christian Life, Eastern Mindset, Filled to Overflowing, Indwelling Spirit, Isaiah 45:7, Peace, Satisfied by the Holy Spirit, Western Mindset
This has been an interesting week. In last week’s post, I asked questions I didn’t have answers for. I had no idea where the Holy Spirit was going to take me as I began to seek to understand the Peace that comes only from Jesus Christ but I have been taught of Him long enough to know He was going to take me somewhere. As I write this post, I still cannot say I have a complete understanding what peace is but I do understand why I haven’t been satisfied with any of the definitions for peace I have come across.
I subscribe to Jeff A. Benner’s YouTube Channel and so, when I set myself to study the Hebrew word for peace, I checked out some of Mr. Benner’s videos on studying Hebrew. Lecture # 33 is titled “Eastern and Western Thought” and caught my attention because I’ve been thinking so much about the power of my thought life and the necessity for my thoughts to be brought under the rule of Jesus Christ. This video is a short one and I’ll include a link to it at the bottom of this post. It is short but it brought to mind something I hadn’t given thorough consideration.
I think we all understand the Hebrew People of the Old Testament had a very different culture, language, and thought process than we who live in the West. Have any of us sought to acknowledge what that means? I think it’s important to do so. I am deeply grateful for my English Bibles. To be able to sit and read it in my native language is a gift I never take for granted. Such a gift is mine because of many people but I always have William Tyndale in the back of my mind whenever I look at the multiple translations I have on my shelves. He dared to translate the bible into English, was condemned as a heretic, and was burned at the stake. The Bible I hold in my hands is only there because William Tyndale, and others like him, so believed in the importance of it, that they gave their lives. For this reason, I cannot disparage any translation.
That being said, what I have is a translation. The English language comes with culture and a thought process very different from the cultures and thought processes in place when the Old and New Testaments were written. Mr. Benner speaks of two schools of thought: the Greek and the Hebrew. The Greek is equated with abstract thinking and the Hebrew is equated with concrete thinking. What’s the difference? Abstract thinking refers to the process of thinking deeply about some abstract idea and involves emotions such as love, hatred, anger, etc.: thoughts that are not real but a concept of our intelligence. Concrete thinking involves thinking about physical things that can be felt, done, or processed by someone. Is one better than the other? I think that depends on whether we focus on one to the detriment of the other.
Malcolm Smith often utilizes an analogy of reading off a menu as opposed to eating the food the menu points to. While Mr. Smith does not specifically attribute this analogy to abstract v concrete thinking, I think it works.
Imagine you are sitting at the table pictured at the top of this post. Your friends and family are gathered around you. The food has been prepared and set before you. The aromas that wafted from the kitchen as the food was being prepared were indescribable. They whetted your appetite and, now, as you sit at the table with the food before you, your stomach is growling. The Host of the feast rises and begins to describe the food to you. Perhaps the Host uses words like “delight”, “satisfaction”, “savory”, “sweet”, and “aromatic”. All of these words are describing something real-the food is on the table before you-but then suppose the Host sits and everyone around the table begins to describe their favorite dish. They share how it tasted that time they ate it, how wonderful it was, and how the taste would differ from anything on the table. You’re ready to try the food for yourself. All of your salivary glands are in overdrive and you can’t wait to taste what has been described to you, what you can smell, and what you can see on the table before you. But then, everyone around the table sighs and says, “one day”. They sing a song about how great the food was and how great it will be and then leave the table without eating a bite.
The concrete mindset sees the food is there. You can see it and smell it. All you have to do is fill your plate and eat. You do so and the food is just as wonderful as described! You taste the promise contained in the smells. You eat until you cannot possible take another bite and, while doing so, you and the others at the table with you laugh and talk and fellowship. Perhaps one has tried a dish you haven’t tried yet. He or she gushes about how delicious it is and the dish is passed down the table to you. You taste it and find it is as marvelous as described. You pass around your favorite dish and see the delight on your companions faces as they too experience it. Perhaps no one wants to leave the table because the experience is too good and you all sit together enjoying each other’s company. When the company finally does break up, it does so with the promise that you all will get together again and will eat together until you are filled to the brim. Each morsel you taste between that meeting and the next is done so with the idea of sharing it with those who ate at the table with you.
If you’ve stayed with me through that analogy, I hope you can see how abstract and concrete can work together. I think abstract thinking can enhance the enjoyment of concrete thinking. The Hebrew word for peace in my study passage is shalom and Mr. Benner covers it in his Lecture #8 video titles “An Introduction to Word Studies”. He says shalom is not cessation from war but rather means “completeness”. I take that definition to John 14 where Jesus says, “My peace I give unto you.” I look at the Fruit of the Spirit as being “completeness”. I remember Colossians 2:10 where the Apostle Paul declares I have been made complete in Christ. Have been made! Now!
All of this is well and good but if all I do is remember it, it’s just the aromas. Knowing all of this certainly whets my appetite but if I don’t actually eat it, I’m never satisfied. I can look at peace as an abstract concept. I can study it, compare and contrast it with other concepts, and learn all there is to know about peace. This is not how the Hebrew people thought of peace. The peace of God was something concrete with a very real application to their everyday lives. So it is to my life today and I am convinced the only way to move from my enjoying the abstract to having my fill of the concrete is to leave my books and all my studying and allow the Holy Spirit to make everything I have learned real to me. How do I do that?
I admit that as wonderful as it is, my abstract thinking isn’t enough. I acknowledge I’m hungry and want Him to not only show me what peace is but to fill me with it until I overflow. I ask Him to open my eyes that I might recognize the concrete reality of peace and then I rejoice along with the Psalmist because I know “my soul shall be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Psalm 63:5, NI).