The Choice Maker by Hamid Rafizadeh
Somewhere in Chapter 1
Despite its centrality and apparent simplicity, the first beatitude has always seemed beyond human understanding. The challenge has existed since its first appearance and lies in the Greek words translated literally as “poor in spirit.” What does “poor in spirit” mean? Here is part of the difficulty. This expression is “unique in the entire New Testament and does not appear at all in the early Christian literature or elsewhere in the Greek language.” The singular uniqueness could be one reason why the “poor in spirit” has been interpreted in radically different ways. The Greek words can be translated into English in alternative interpretations. For example, we can see it as real economic poverty or lacking—not having “spirit.”
Consider the lacking—not having “spirit.” What is “spirit”? What is this thing that we lack? The traditional view interprets the key feature of “spirit” as giver of gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healing, etc., all attributes of a “knowledge giver.” All knowledge giving in human life is built on knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing. If one does not seek knowledge and does not engage in knowledge sharing, one would not be capable of knowledge giving. We can see the combination of knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing as “knowledge processing” or more generally as “knowledge management.” This makes the human the “knowledge manager.” As knowledge manager the human has to engage in knowledge seeking, knowledge sharing, knowledge processing, and knowledge giving if one is to exist. So the first divine instruction is basically the question, “Can you see you’re poor as knowledge giver?” This in turn implies, “Can you see you’re poor as knowledge seeker?” and “Can you see you’re poor as knowledge sharer?” as well as “Can you see you’re poor as knowledge processor?”
From my own life experience, none of this comes as a surprise. I am of the opinion that none of this should come as a surprise to any human. We are poor—really poor—in knowledge giving. Instead we are super in delivering bull and pretending to be know-it-alls in every subject. The divine says we would be “happy”—blessed—if we could see ourselves as being bad in “knowledge giving” because that recognition would direct our attention back to knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing so that we would become better knowledge givers.
Where did the “happy” enter the scene in place of the “blessed”? The Greek word translated as “blessed” can also be translated as “happy.” Religion prefers to use the word “blessed” as it places the credit for achievement of happiness on an imaginary “other” that does the blessing. In contrast, the word “happy” makes the human individual the achiever of the happiness through recognizing and addressing the knowledge-giving deficiencies.
In every society on earth, for thousands of years, the starting point of life has always been in “management of brute force” and not in “improving knowledge giving.” Anywhere in the world, before any knowledge giving is done, we are keenly interested in setting up the force-based boundaries around us. This is the first significant difference. The divine suggests we start with recognition of poor knowledge giving—poor knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing—and not with brute force and boundary drawing.
Every human capability—in every job, every interaction, and in every situation—originates in one’s competence and skill in knowledge giving. Every society is founded and maintained by those that share their capabilities with others and are capable of giving knowledge to others. The human societies exist through “sharing of capabilities,” the shared knowledge giving. Every human being should know that fact of life for the simple reason that all goods and services used in daily life are “knowledge-packets,” combinations of human knowledge and earth material originating at shared capabilities. The divine being, however, goes one more step to make us aware that we’re not good at knowledge giving.
Why do we need a divine reminder? Is it because we never see ourselves as “knowledge deficient?” We need to think about this. If we were good, or at least not bad in seeing where we stand in relation to knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing, the divine would not see a need to remind us. But we are reminded. A divine being sees the need to remind us of knowledge-based ways that improve the human societies’ capability sharing. Getting better in capability sharing—getting better in knowledge giving, knowledge seeking, and knowledge sharing—is the only way to advance human well-being and existence.
But none of this sounds familiar or right. Starting with myself, if I am declared a deficient “knowledge giver” I arrive at the inevitable troubling conclusion that I am “knowledge deficient.” I don’t like that. I don’t like being called “knowledge deficient.” Why? I don’t know. This is no different than someone telling me I am terrible at playing tennis. I know I am awful in tennis, but I don’t like being told so. In my experience, no one likes being called “knowledge deficient.” We all come with the mindset that what we already know is “a lot” and if we are missing any knowledge it is minor and only at the edges of what we know. Yet being “poor in knowledge giving” can readily imply “being knowledge deficient.” We must ask what that means. If humans know they are “knowledge deficient” what will they do? If they listen to the divine, check themselves and recognize they are poor in knowledge giving—if they see the correspondence to knowledge deficiency—how should they address their shortcomings?
1 Liviu Barbu, “The ‘poor in spirit’ and our life in Christ: an Eastern Orthodox perspective on Christian discipleship,” Studies in Christian Ethics 22(3) 261–274 (2009).
2 Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Continental Commentary, trans. W. C. Linss, (Fortress Press, 1989), p. 232.
3 Erickson, Millard J, Introducing Christian doctrine, 2nd ed., Arnold Hustad, ed. (Baker Book House, 1992), pp. 262, 266, 270.
4 John R. W. Stott, The message of the Sermon on the Mount (Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), p. 33.