Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The joy of youth - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"The word Isaac I also connect with child. Isaac means laughter. He was seen sporting with his wife and helpmeet Rebecca by the prying king. The king, whose name was Abimelech, appears to me to represent a supramundane wisdom contemplating the mystery of sport." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 5)
Her we are presented with another wonderful example of the allegorical bent of the oriental mind. I remind my western readers not to too quickly dismiss Clement's allegorical interpretation of the scriptures as being foreign to our understanding, for our didactic understanding of scriptures would have also been equally foreign to him.

Abraham was the first to meet Abimelech. On his trip to Gerar, Abraham said of Sarah, "She is my sister" (Genesis 20:2) because he "thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife." (Genesis 20:11) Years later, Abraham's son Issac also journeyed into Gerar and he too said of his wife, "'She is my sister,' for he was afraid to say, 'my wife,' thinking, 'the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful.'" (Genesis 26:7) However, one day King Abimelech was looking out the window "and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, 'Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, "She is my sister'?"'" (Genesis 26:8-9) The Hebrew word used here means to "to laugh, to sport, and to play." Clement interprets this scripture as follows.
"They interpret Rebecca to mean endurance. O wise sport, laughter also assisted by endurance, and the king as spectator! The spirit of those that are children in Christ, whose lives are ordered in endurance, rejoice. And this is the divine sport... For what other employment is seemly for a wise and perfect man, than to sport and be glad in the endurance of what is good—and, in the administration of what is good, holding festival with God?" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 5)
We are like Rebecca when, in our endurance, we find rejoicing. When, in our perpetual youth as believers in God, we find divine sport in the things of God. When we are always rejoicing, always sporting, and always holding festival with God. Unfortunately, for some, their life in the kingdom has ceased to be sport and has instead become contest, not contest against sin, but contest against one another. Paul, speaking to those who had taken up contesting over the commands of God, such as, should you eat or should you abstain, said, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17) The Kingdom of God is not found in the debate over what you can and cannot eat, but it is found in the reality it offers to our daily lives, even righteousness, peace, and joy. If the Kingdom of God has ceased to be sport for us, then maybe we have lost our focus and have drifted back towards contests that are of no consequence in the Kingdom.
"That which is signified by the prophet may be interpreted differently,—namely, of our rejoicing for salvation, as Isaac. He also, delivered from death, laughed, sporting and rejoicing with his spouse, who was the type of the Helper of our salvation, the Church, to whom the stable name of endurance is given; for this cause surely, because she alone remains to all generations, rejoicing ever, subsisting as she does by the endurance of us believers, who are the members of Christ. And the witness of those that have endured to the end, and the rejoicing on their account, is the mystic sport, and the salvation accompanied with decorous solace which brings us aid." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 5)
Clement also compares us to Issac in that we rejoice in our salvation; Jesus being our ram caught in the thicket, found to take our place upon the alter. Clement also likens our Issac's relationship with Rebecca with our relationship to the church. For some, the church has become a duty; a weekly obligation to be served not enjoyed. For others, church has become a place to be avoided; a place filled with past hurts and offenses. Still for some the church has become a social place; a substitute community albeit devoid of any real spiritual life. However, God intended the church to be a place of love, care, and rejoicing. A place where we can learn to grow along side of our fellow children of God. Paul put it this way, "But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Corinthians 12:24-26) The church is meant to be a place of "decorous solace" where we can find aid to help and joy to lighten our loads.
"The King, then, who is Christ, beholds from above our laughter, and looking through the window, as the Scripture says, views the thanksgiving, and the blessing, and the rejoicing, and the gladness, and furthermore the endurance which works together with them and their embrace: views His Church, showing only His face, which was wanting to the Church, which is made perfect by her royal Head. And where, then, was the door by which the Lord showed Himself? The flesh by which He was manifested. He is Isaac (for the narrative may be interpreted otherwise), who is a type of the Lord, a child as a son; for he was the son of Abraham, as Christ the Son of God, and a sacrifice as the Lord, but he was not immolated as the Lord." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 5)
Finally, Clement identifies the king as our Lord, who watches over all our salvation and activity, and Issac as Jesus, who really did die for us upon that altar. In this one simple story Clement sees all of salvation and our life in Christ today. The Father watching on, Jesus yielding up His life for our sins, us rejoicing in the youth of our salvation, and the church lending support and fellowship in our daily walks. In all this, the central theme is the joy of youth. May we never loose that joy no matter how long we live and serve our Lord.

David Robison

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