Biblical Quizzes for Really Smart People
Quiz III--Movies II
Quiz VII--X rated
Quiz VIII--X rated
Quiz X- The Numbers
Quiz XXIX (Messiah)
Quiz XXX (Messiah II)
Quiz XXXI (Mess. III)
Quiz XXXII (Mess. IV)
Quiz XL--vivid images
Quiz LIX--weird doct.
Quiz LXV--doctrine II
Bible Quizzes for Smart People LXI
Bill Long 2/26/07
1. "On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them," NRSV. "But I labored more abundantly than they all...," KJV.
Paul, the author of this quotation, had lots of problems, both in the churches he founded and also in his personality. This verse gives us a window into Paul's personality. I understand Paul on this point, I think, because I share some of the same "disease." He emphasized that he worked harder than everyone (who knows if this possibly could be true?) because, in my judgment, he felt a deep sense of inadequacy. He tries to cover this up throughout this writings by stressing the overwhelming importance of the grace of God, but fundamentally he believes that he is an interloper. That is, he is an ektroma, a teratological nightmare, one born outside of time, a sort of abortion. He was not an original disciple of Jesus; he didn't help establish the Jerusalem Church; he wasn't "in on it" from the beginning. Nevertheless, he clawed and fought his way to the top, criticizing others ("those who were reputed to be something added nothing to me..."), and promoting himself.
We are fortunate indeed, however, that he left us a paper trail of his psychological struggles. He knew he really didn't "belong" as a leader of the early church, and so he had to emphasize the grace of God "choosing" him to be in his position. Nevertheless, he goes on and justifies his lofty position as apostle (how that self-designation must have grated upon the sensitiblities of the other disciples!) by his appeal to a special experience of revelation and the fact that he worked harder than everyone else. Whenever someone uses that "I have worked harder"-argument in my world, I tend to discount what they are saying or, at least, to realize that they are trying to give an explanation for their deep feelings of inadequacy.
Moving to My Experience
There is no recent experience in my life which makes me more want to emphasize the same point, and which makes me want to claim "on the contrary, I worked harder than any of them" than my experience in spelling bees. I study words on the average of a few hours a day. I don't just try to memorize the spelling of them, but I try to understand the words "in their context," probing deeply into the nature and world of individual words, so that they may "bless me" (thinking of Jacob's experience with the angel of God). But then, when I am called up on to spell words in spelling bees, I always, without exception, make dumb mistakes. For example, in a spelling bee last night, I misspelled bibelot, because I failed to ask for the derivation (French), which would have easily reminded me of the word. I didn't "see" the word in my mind's eye and therefore I wasn't patient enough with it to really smoke it out.
What is my reaction to repeated failures in the spelling venue? Well, on the one hand, I can commiserate with other spellers who flub words. I know what they mean that they know the words but just didn't have it at hand at the moment. But, on the other hand, it makes me want to go home and just work harder than ever before. For example, I got to bed at 1:00 a.m. this morning, and now it is 6:50 a.m. I can't sleep when I misspell a word. I am not studying words now (because I am writing!), but it makes me want to spend my whole day just working through words. I not only want to master 10 new ones, often a reasonable goal for the day, but to learn 50 or 75. It makes me want to marinate my brain in every new concept I can, slicing to the heart of ideas, massaging the classical roots, learning deeply the loan words from every language that have come into English, memorizing them all, putting them in sentences, using them in my speech, trying to incorporate them into the very marrow of my life, etc. In other words, I don't want to rest until I have made each word my own.
For example, the Scripps people, who do the Kids' Spelling Bee, have published a list of 23,000+ words. Scott Firebaugh, my Indiana friend whose daughter Stacia did very well in the 2005 Bee, told me that this list contains about 85% of the words used in the Bee. That is, in order to get deep into the Bee (probably into the last 20 or so spellers), all you have to do is to learn this list. I spent a day with the list and realized that I could easily "cover" about 60 pages a day (the list is about 1000 pages). I just make "sub-lists," look up the words I don't know, and then try to commit them to memory. Then, I supplement it by studying the Kids' Bee results, by coming up with lists of words (fears, etc.), by studying medical dictionaries, reading various English and foreign-language dictionaries, etc. and massaging my knowledge almost every day. I think I know I need to do this because I fundamentally am not a good speller. Like Paul, I am "bursting in" on the scene late in life. I have a good voice, and project a very good presence, and so it sounds like I know every word when I begin to spell. I patiently sound out words, etc. But, in fact, I make mistakes. I am not so much a speller as a wordsmith. Thus, in order to be a good speller, I not only have to learn the basic words, and all the words in lists, but I have to memorize all the words, as it were, three times. I have to comb every dictionary, study every encyclopedia, be aware of every historical or geographical name, massage my knowledge of a dozen languages, learn new languages, etc. And this is before I even feel comfortable appearing in public. It is as if I have to repeat every word to myself multiple times just so I won't make a dumb mistake with it. In the words of Paul, I need to work harder than any of them. Nothing else will "work" for me.
I wonder if Paul every really felt that he had "made it," i.e., if he could ever really "relax" and accept the grace of God which he says he so much appreciates. I don't believe he could. I believe that until the end of his life he was driven by forces within, forces that were much stronger than the grace of God he said was operative in his life, to write the way he did, to make him act as he did. For, fundamentally, when you are an abortion, you are never born.
So, what can I do with my pitiable showing? Well, it is clear to me, unlike to those who really are spellers, that I can't get a job. I simply have to focus on the basics of learning things, the very building blocks of knowledge, because I don't know anything. I have to go a word at a time, sort of like a blind man groping his way along a dark corridor, hoping that the floor doesn't fall out from under him at any moment. I need to make lists, to repeat words aloud, to understand them in their context, to try to use them, to not sound like a jerk when I use them. When I was in my early 30s, and thought I was going to take the world by storm, I decided I wanted to learn everyone's name. I would memorize business cards, make lists of everyone I met, etc. The "goal," was to make politics "personal," by knowing deep things about everyone so that they would have to "vote" for me. I gave that up after about two years and a defeat in the legislative arena. Now I seem to be doing that with words. Maybe I, too, will give this up in time. But, I try to convince myself, the number of words in the world is finite. I just need patiently to comb them all. They will yield up their meaing to me. But in order to do this, I must work harder than the rest. There goes love. There goes a job. There goes fun. I am as captured by it as Paul was by Christ. At least he had a world-historical figure as his goal...