This week I was reminded of an old joke. “Two English majors were chatting. “Do you like Kipling?” one asked. “I don’t know I’ve never kippled.” The other replied.”
I was reminded of Kipling as we examined an important word during our study time this week. This important word was the subject of a famous Kipling poem “If”. In this poem the author starts each line with that word. “If you can fill each minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.” “If you can keep your head when those around are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” He ends explaining that “if” all these criteria are met then “You will be a man my son.” As a young boy reading this I was both inspired and disheartened. Kipling set the ideal and in doing so doomed me to a life of falling short. His “If” helped form and deform me!
As we were studying the story of Jesus’ temptations in the Gospel of Matthew we noted that “If” is a small but powerful word. The devil knows this. He used it each time in addressing Jesus. “If you are the Son of God…” This opening sets up a premise that tilts the conversation in a particular direction. If Jesus bought into the misleading premise, if he started from a place of doubt about his identity, then disaster might be the outcome. He refuses to begin the encounter on the ground laid by the adversary, the Liar and Father of Lies!
Adam and Eve were not as keenly aware of the subtlety of this “if” proposition (preposition). They allowed their minds to entertain this “if”.
Many of the martial arts rely on using the opponent’s momentum. If an opponent is caught leaning forward that momentum can be redirected. The much bigger opponent can take a great fall by providing just such momentum! When we entertain the “if” we open ourselves by subtly leaning into an untruth or area of doubt. This can result in our becoming unbalanced and uncertain of our identity. We much more easily tumble. Entertaining the “if” in settled circumstances such as my identity in Christ or the love of God. Put us in a precarious position.
Being open to the “if” in other areas is necessary, though. If we are to grow, if we are to improve, if we are to learn, then we must embrace the “if”. Of course we take the risk of our world or world view being shaken but that is a risk worth taking, especially if we entertain these ifs in company of the Holy Spirit who promises to guide us into truth.
As an Evangelist I believe that helping people entertain some “if” questions is important. Peoples’ questions often allow me to direct their intellectual or emotional momentum toward the God who so loves the World. This takes simple listening, with an ear toward those things that create momentum.
Kipling’s ideal of manhood did not include love. If only he could have included this aspect that would be a poem, my son!