Parable of the Lost Pearl (Reprise)


I would like to take the Parable of the Lost Pearl, as used by Patriarch Timothy I in 781 AD, and give it a few twists to suggest different theological views. The parable can be seen in the original form in THIS PREVIOUS POST.

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Consider the parable this way…

“Long ago, a royal expedition returned from years at sea. The captain was invited to a great banquet held by the king in honor of the safe, and apparently successful, return of his fleet. The captain as a guest of honor had a special gift to present to the king… a rare and perfect pearl that had no equal in all the world. At the height of the feast it had been determined that the captain would present the king with this perfect pearl.

But there were thieves in the midst of the group. They hatched a plan. Three would snuff the flames that provided light in the room. One would take the pearl from the captain in the darkness and one would spill stones that were similar in size to the pearl on the ground to add to the great confusion. Hopefully, in the confusion, the thieves could escape.

The plan almost worked. The lights went out and the stones were dropped… but the one thief who was to take the pearl misjudged in the dark and only succeeded in knocking the pearl out of the hand of the captain.

In this utter darkness, the captain cries out for everyone to be careful because this priceless pearl is on the ground somewhere. Each reached down to feel around and found a pearl-sized object. Each stood up excited at his or her find. Some hoped to hide it successfully and sneak away, but also didn’t want to be implicated in the theft due to their absence. Some on the other hand wanted to tell others excitedly how they have found the one true pearl… only to discover that others believe that they have that one same pearl.

For a long time the people stood in the room in a stalemate. No one can leave without risking being branded a thief… but no one can completely convince another as to who has the real pearl. They must wait until the light of day.”

This story has more than one potential ending, and the ending one chooses speaks much about one’s worldview.

  1.  Pluralist/Universalist. A view akin to John Hick may end the story with the sun rising to discover that everyone is holding an incomparable pearl.  In this case, the point is that no one has a unique find that others lack. All have the truth.
  2. “Heavy” Post-modernist. If one holds to a Jacques Derrida form of post-modernism, I suppose the story would end with the discovery that no one has a pearl. In fact, there is no pearl… it was a deception of the captain. This would point to the rejection of authority and “real” absolute truth.
  3. Modernist. The ending would drift towards a “whodunit.” One wise person figures out a way to identify who has the true pearl, and, perhaps, who the thieves are. This would perpetuate the belief in a wise authority figure who is able to identify what is really true while everyone else is still in the dark.
  4. Pre-modernist. I am not so sure about this. I suppose that maybe the pearl would reveal itself (or there would be some other miraculous revealing) without waiting for the daylight. This might suggest that the true faith has a self-evident quality that cannot be hidden or confused with fakes (much like in the “Princess and the Pea” where royal blood ultimately reveals itself).
  5. “Light” Post-modernist. In this case, I think the story would stop right where it is. This view does not deny the possibility of that there is a true pearl (absolute objective reality). Rather, there is doubt about the ability of people to be able to identify such reality, discerning it from that which is not real. Therefore, the story ends in a state of doubt. Eventually there may be light to know what is TRUE, but for now, we can only guess and hope.

You will note that as the parable (similar but different to how I told it) was related by Patriarch Timothy I, ends where I ended it. He noted that one could relate the pearl to religious truth. Each person believes he/she is right and others wrong, but until the end of the age, we cannot know for sure. That being said, one may have evidences of having the true faith, much as a person may have reasons to suspect that he/she has the true pearl (weight, size, density, “warmth,” and surface texture, for example). postmodernism

In the story, then, Timothy comes closest to a “light” post-modernist position. We have the inability to be absolutely confident that we hold true beliefs and that others do not. We must accept a certain amount of doubt, meaning that we must maintain a certain amount of faith if we are to hold onto the potential pearl we are holding. However, Timothy goes on to say that one has the possibility of figuring out whether it is likely that one’s beliefs (much like the “pearl” one is holding) is likely to be real or not. As such, he takes a somewhat more positive “modernist” view of the ability to evaluate the one’s subjective perceptions than a typical post-modernist. At the same time, the evaluation is not left to an “expert” but to the individual… this is also more post-modern than modern.

So what? Well, if Patriarch Timothy is expressing Christian faith in 781 AD, there is more in line with a light form of post-modernism. Objective truth/reality exists, but we must accept that we lack the ability to perceive this reality without risk of deception. We however, in line more with modernists, can analyze to see if it is likely that what we believe is true. Still, until God reveals all truth to the light at the end of time, we must live in a state of faith (and doubt).

It is good that Christian faith appears to have much in common with a light version of post-modernism (not rejecting objective or ultimate reality, but questioning our ability to discern such reality). It seems as if relatively few people accept the ‘heavy’ form of post-modernism, although many, without much thought to the justification, seem to accept the implications of that view. If there is considerable common ground with this light version of post-modernism, there should be plenty of room for respectful honest discussions between Christians and this particular worldview.

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