The ancient prophet Isaiah reminded the wayward Israelites of his day to “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” The apostle Paul, echoing it, reminded his readers not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of minds to more clearly discern the will of God. To which he added the practical advice not to think of one’s self more highly than they ought. Every person, each according to their ability, has talents and skills useful to the building up of the community.
Both wrote in difficult times of religious and civil strife beset by internal and external violence that tore at the norms of society people thought were reliably fixed. Both the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, and the nascent Christians of Paul’s were pummeled by other religions, changing social standards, difficult economic conditions, unstable governments, and a desire to remain faithful. But faithful to what?
Jew or Christian, the easiest path was to stick with the tried and true, the social ways and values that felt comfortably established, and call them true, orthodox, the right way to be a Jew or Christian. Those unhappy enough with the old ways might contemptuously toss all aside to seek a new way of living in a new way of being faithful to a new god. A third path gave absent minded lip service to the gods while declaring they were what today is called spiritual but not religious.
They’re all wrong, said Isaiah and Paul. Don’t confuse the social standards you were raised with to the authentic relationship with God into which you have been called. Don’t look to society. Look to the rock from which you were hewn. In Paul’s words, do not be conformed to this world. Understanding what that means has vexed every generation because every generation assumes what they were raised to believe as core social norms must be the rock from which they were hewn. Changing and challenging values cascading about them must, therefore, be the world to which they are not to conform. It isn’t. It’s just society evolving, for good or ill, as it always does.
The rock from which you were hewn is illustrated in the story of Abraham who listened to God when no one else did. Blundering now and then, as all humans do, he lived as peaceably as he could in an alien land, always in a harmonious relationship with God who defined the path he took and the values he held. It was not the path of his parents, nor the path of the dominant culture around him, but the path of living in communion with God.
Paul was a type of Abraham, with the added advantage of God incarnate as his guide. Laying aside the social values of everything he knew to be religiously true and right, he listened, reflected, then followed the path of living in more intimate communion with God, made more fully known to him through Christ Jesus. He experienced what it meant to be transformed by the renewing of his mind to more clearly discern the will of God.
Many of us too easily mistake the accepted norms with which we were raised for faithful orthodoxy, especially if we learned them in church. We too easily attack variance from them as heresy worthy of the stake. We are often too hard of hearing to listen as God speaks anew, creates anew. Some of us leap too eagerly at anything novel thrown our way, too ready to embrace a new claim of godly truth without close examination and reflective discernment.
The rock from which we were hewn is the source of true discernment.
“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.”
“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
They are the keys to the quarry from which we were dug. Measure everything by them. Give nothing higher authority. Try, as best you can, not to twist them to fit your own prejudices.