What Is This For?

Basket of Figs, October, 2008

Bud Powell



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My grandfather was a carpenter, and a very good one.  Sometimes, when my father was down on his luck, as they used to say, we lived with my grandparents. 


I loved my grandfather’s shop and the tools he had.  I know that I must have been a nuisance because he built my own little shop in a lean-to shed that was attached to the garage.  I spent many happy and a few productive hours in that little shed, but that is another story.


This story is about my grandpa’s shop.  One day I was trying to put a hole in a piece of wood and was looking for something that I could force through the wood.  Hanging on the wall I saw a tool shaped like an oversized copy of the compasses that we used in art classes in school.  I learned later that it was a fine tool, a carpenter’s compass.  But it seemed to this small boy to be just the thing for me.  I took it down, set one of the metal points against my piece of wood and gave the other end a sharp smack with a hammer.   The compass flew into about three pieces, of course.


I was ashamed and did not tell my grandpa.  Instead, I threw the wreck under the bench and went on to something else.  It is one of the things I still get pangs about when I think of it.   A few days later he came into the house with the ruined compass in his hand.


“Bud,” he said.  “You must learn to use the right tool for the job.  You will never be successful at anything until you learn that.  Unless you use the right tool, you will either break the tool or destroy the work.”  He was a kindly and gentle man, and never spoke harshly to me, but I got the lesson.


As I have thought about it over the years, I realize that there are other lessons.  You cannot know the use of anything unless you know what the thing is.  This is especially true of Scripture: those who do not know it is the word of God will misuse it to the destruction of the church and the denigration of the glory of God in the people.  It is true of man, what the body is and what the mind is. Because the Sadducees did not know the meaning of the law nor the truth about man of God, they could not get ethics right.  Jesus said, “You do err, not knowing the Scripture nor the power of God,” when they asked a stupid question about the resurrection. [Mark 12:18ff] 


Knowledge of Reality Is Necessary for Discernment.  Why would law, judgment, and mercy trump tithing of mint, anise, and cumin?  Wouldn’t it be necessary to know law, judgment, and mercy before you could even answer this question? A man may be uncomfortable eating a gnat.  He might also have discomfort swallowing a camel, but the one should not be compared to the other.  Jesus said that the cure for straining at gnats and swallowing camels is the knowledge of God Himself. 


Every law does not carry the same weight, but how would you know without knowing the reality of things?  How can I possibly know how to treat my wife if I do not know what a wife is and how she differs from all other women to me?  If I don’t know this, how do I behave in the church, the bride of Christ?


Isaiah said that people should know the difference between killing an ox and killing a man; that sacrificing a lamb it not like cutting off a dog’s neck; that offering an oblation is not like offering swine’s blood, and burning incense to God is not like offering a blessing to an idol.  [Isaiah 66:3] 



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