In October last year, The Wall Street Journal reported an interview with Alan Greenspan about his book, The Map and the Territory. Greenspan commented on a human feature that he had not factored in when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve. Referring to the meltdown of the markets in 2008, he noted that none of the recognized forecasters saw the economic crisis coming. He went on to say that he had not factored in ‘the spells of (human) euphoria and irrational fear.’
The article continued, ‘Studying the results of herd behavior provided him with some surprises. “I was actually flabbergasted,” he says. “It upended my view of how the world works… I wouldn’t have dared write anything like that before,” he says. He concluded that fear has at least three times the effect of euphoria in producing market gyrations. “I wouldn’t have dared write anything like that before,” he says.’
It is not my purpose here to speak about the state of the economy or the financial world. Rather, I want to take up the theme of human nature: the WSJ article raises the subject of the deeper aspects of our human nature usually hidden from others. It opens up questions about who we are and what life is about – that we are much more than the sum of our parts: head, heart, hands, feet, and so on. Significantly, the article shows us that, if we are alert, we will constantly come across opportunities to talk with others about the larger issues of life.
With this in mind consider the words of Paul the Apostle in Colossians 4:6: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Paul’s advice to the Colossians has two parts: life-style and speech. As we noted last week, we are all obliged to act wisely and graciously towards people we live and work with in the wider community. Here, Paul is telling us that we are also obliged to make the most of the opportunities to respond to the questions people ask about matters of faith.
Our English word answer here translates a Greek word that means responding to people who have a genuine interest in finding out more – in this instance, about Christianity. Peter, in his Letter, also speaks of our need to be prepared to ‘answer’, but the word he uses means making a defense, giving a reason, for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
Paul wants us to cultivate conversations that are kind and gracious but seasoned with salt. ‘Salt’ here is a metaphor for the kind of sparkling, interesting, challenging conversation that opens up larger issues and provokes questions about life. Here then is the motivation to look for opportunities to sow a grain of salt that might niggle and stir others to ask us what we believe and why. Some people tell me that when they read newspaper editorials and news, even see movies, they are looking for ways to initiate conversations about faith.
So, Paul urges us to let our life-style – every facet of our life – commend the savior who came as a servant. If we hold a position of responsibility, let’s pray for God’s grace so that no one is able to accuse us of unfairness, exploitation, or harshness. And whoever we are, let’s pray and look for opportunities to answer the questions that others have about life. It may be that we simply tell others our story of faith or invite them to church. If we do this, we can expect to see lives around us being changed. Nothing is more exciting than seeing this happen.