“Simple Complexity”

I read several years ago that the English language had around 600,000 words in it, much more than most other languages. I’m sure that number has increased a lot by now. This is probably due to the fact that it is based on and borrows from several languages. It is extremely flexible and inclusive to other cultures and to innovations. For example, take the verb hold meaning to have or keep in the hand or grasp; set aside; reserve or retain. Now add adverbs or prepositions and the variety and complexity multiplies exponentially. Hold back, (restrain) Hold down, (keep under control) Hold forth, (speak at length) Hold off, (repel, postpone, defer) Hold out, (continue, last, refuse to yield) Hold over, (keep for future use) Hold up, (support, delay, endure, rob) Hold on, (keep going, stop, etc). Each of these are often subject to nuances and circumstances. What started as simple soon graduated to very complex very quickly. Thankfully few people need to use more than a few hundred of these thousands and thousands of words and expressions. However, for some it is a joy and an avocation to research these complexities.

The Scribes, Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law in Jesus’ day were obsessed with formalizing and preserving each jot and tittle (smallest letter and least stroke of a pen) in the Old Testament that they couldn’t “see the forest for the trees.” They gave a tenth of their garden herbs but neglected justice, mercy, faithfulness and the love of God. (Lk 11:42) (Mt 23:23) At times Jesus asked them, “…have you not read the Law?” (Mt 12:3, 5) They were so fixated on trapping Jesus with complex interpretations and traditions that they missed the simple beauty of Jesus’ compassion and healing.

They were perplexed, offended, disdainful, resentful, envious, jealous and murderous that a simple carpenter’s son and some ignorant fishermen would dare to try to teach the multitudes anything without undergoing the long, arduous schooling that they had done. They were willing and able to kill Jesus, Stephen and other saints to protect their understanding of the scriptures (and their egos). (Acts 7:58)

This does not mean that Christians are to simplify every scripture with the dismissive phrase, “It says what it means, and it means what it says.” We are to, “study to show ourselves approved unto God…” (1 Tim 2:15) (Jo 5:39) We must focus that study by fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Heb 12:2) When the world tries to make things complex, he makes it simple.

—Jim Bailey