I recently read a book called Theological Reflections: Methods, a wonderful exploration of various ways people in the Christian tradition think and feel their way into wisdom as they place life and faith into conversation. One of the interesting parts, reading excerpts from original sources, was how people use scripture in times of stress or discernment. I already knew that Augustine’s life changed drastically after hearing the child’s voice in the garden calling, “Tolle lege!” Take up and read! He opened to a bible verse that acted as a lightning rod for his determination to live differently, and due to his subsequent theological writings, impacted Christianity is enormous ways. What I did not realize was that this scriptural “casting of lots” was done by two other big names in history. Francis of Assisi prayed and then opened to a scripture text which led him to begin the Franciscans. John Wesley of the Methodists notes in his journal how he opened his bible to specific texts that spoke to his situation, went to a service and heard more pivotal texts and found “his heart strangely warmed.” Wesley’s life changed that night. While some people may inwardly cringe at this seemingly magical use of scripture, the influence of a specific text at a particular time on a person is undeniable, and can drastically influence the course of history.
Using scripture like this is common in the communities in which I have been a member, even alongside an awareness of the contextual nature of the text and a historical critical approach. In my own devotional life, there have been a few pivotal moments where I randomly opened to a particular text and found surprising synchronicity.
Last night, after discovering I had missed a crucial source in my dissertation research, I was incredibly discouraged. While I’m still uncertain how much I will need to change my own proposal, the horrible sinking feeling drove me to prayer and to scripture, and Augustine, Francis, and Wesley were on my mind. I closed my eyes and opened to 2 Corinthians 1, to a passage I had marked a number of times over the years:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
I had already studied this passage before. Consolation in these verses is paraklesis in the Greek and means calling to one’s side, giving aid, advocate, interceding, encouraging. It is also a familiar word, Paraclete is a name for the Holy Spirit. So we have been consoled not just by God, but with God’s presence, and we can, in turn, console others. Whatever happens with my topic, the reality is, I can walk through this, and whatever consolation that I’ve received in the process, I can share. Often, I am my own worst judge when it comes to mistakes, but I believe this passage suggests that God acts as advocate and encourager. God walks alongside and comforts us in trouble, even when we can’t be kind to ourselves. The Paraclete God models walking alongside others and gives strength for us to be an embodiment of God’s consolation for those we love.