Have you ever watched a dog chasing his tail? Round and round he goes in dizzying circles that take him nowhere, wasting energy, frustrating his friends, and amusing his foes. The same sort of thing is seen in some debates: round and round the discussion goes, covering the same ground with no starting place, no ending place, no progress. Energy and precious time are wasted, and any onlookers are either frustrated or amused.
There is a sharp difference between the agnostic or unbeliever who is really searching for truth and one who is simply trying to think up new ways of stating the same question, a question that has already been answered but, the answer having been rejected, is posed again and again. The one searching for truth asks questions, seriously considers the answers, and goes on to another question, in the way that a person walking on a winding path through the woods follows the trail markers, choosing the path that will take him to the desired destination.
The other kind of debater is like a dog chasing his tail, making no progress. Miles there are to be covered, miles of fragrant forest with beautiful sights—a sudden break in the woods when mountains come into view, or a fern-filled hollow where violets and mosses are breathtaking. There are warm moments of uphill effort that will leave one panting, but also cool, refreshing moments of stopping to rest and have lunch by a stream. But none of this will be experienced by the tail-chasing atheist or agnostic who refuses to go on the path at all.
It is a joy to see the one who “walks” from one question to another, from one answer to another, discovering the satisfying, logical steps there are to be taken along the path that is unfolding in unexpected beauty. Such a one may slip, stub his toe, or step into a puddle, but he goes on and on, and in time he reaches his destination. Bunyan has wonderfully pictured this in Pilgrim’s Progress.
“Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me; lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.” David cried this in Psalm 28, but it can be the cry of those who are honestly seeking to go from answer to answer, to move along through the Word of God, not bogging down on one verse, chasing their tails in one spot.
God has not been silent. He has not left an unmarked path. It will be possible to say one day, “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Ps. 34:4, 5). Those who are honestly asking questions and listening to the honest answers can look forward to reaching a place where they will look back with wonder, realizing that the intellectual fears and the fear of being “ashamed” to be a Christian were unnecessary, and that they have experienced the reality of the Psalm 34:22—“The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”
There is a path to truth that remains undiscovered by those who persist in mentally chasing their tails. And whoever of us is debating with such a person needs to pray for help in recognizing when it is time to stop the discussion and walk off on the path alone, hoping to help break the cycle. There comes a point when it no longer is kind or helpful to give audience to the endless chase of the tail.
But it is not only the non-Christian who may get stuck on a single point of the Christian faith, or waste time on secondary details, rather than considering the basics and getting on into all the wealth there is to be had in what can be understood. Christians can get into the round-and-round discussion of secondary points of doctrine. Christians can fail to walk the wonderful paths the Lord has prepared. Christians can live a lifetime and never know what it means to experience the opening lines of Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Christians who spend hours and hours arguing over secondary details of doctrine can’t be spending those hours in another walk that leads somewhere, described in Psalm 26:6, 7—“I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD: that I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.” Or consider Psalm 9:1, 2—“I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart: I will shew forth all thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.”
It takes time to pray in a way that is described in Psalm 26 as “compassing” the altar of God. It takes time to publish the results, the answers, with a voice of thanksgiving. It takes time to tell of the wondrous works of God to those with whom we have conversation. When we spend our time going round and round in circles of discussion that are not going anywhere, then during those hours the paths leading somewhere, the prayer that brings results, the telling of God’s wondrous works, are neglected.
We need to learn to say, “We’ve had that conversation” and start off on a walk in fresh, edifying areas. First Thessalonians 5:11 commands us clearly, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” The comfort we are to give each other in conversation is defined in chapter 4; there the second coming of Christ is marvelously described, and then we are told, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Ephesians 4 admonishes us, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart” (vv. 17, 18). We are not to be running in circles that lead nowhere in our thought lives or in our conversations. We who are born again are meant to walk in the light, with our understanding full of light, and our lives and our use of time quite changed. Ephesians 4:23 says, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”
In that same chapter, verse 29 speaks of letting no corrupt communication come forth out of our mouths but rather that which is edifying, so that it will “minister grace” to those who are listening. Our conversation is to be more than not corrupt; it is to be a positive thing that helps growth. “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”: this next verse, verse 30, tells us that not only are we in danger of wasting our own time or hindering other people’s walk; we are also in danger of “grieving the Holy Spirit.”
What am I doing, what are we doing? Chasing our tails, or going somewhere?
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