I received your letter and am heartened by your insight. Your words enlightened a remembrance of Plutarch and the Ship of Theseus. If you remember the paradox, the ship, having returned to port and thus undergoing preservation by the Athenians, through time began to decay and one by one each timber was replaced. The question then arose, at what point did the ship cease to be the Ship of Theseus and become something else? Or was it still the Ship of Theseus? The Christian life, I believe, is something much like this.
Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine, is too often overlooked when we moderns have an advantage of seeing the entirety of Jesus’ life. Subsequent miracles overshadow this seemingly minor miracle performed to satisfy wedding guests in Cana of Galilee. God’s faithful should not overlook the miracle’s meaning and foretelling. Keep in mind the master complimented the bridegroom for saving the best wine for last. The Christian life, if lived seeking Christ first, mimics such a miracle.
For discussion, when in your words we are to refine our contempt as love, we must imagine ourselves the Ship of Theseus. More than an inanimate object possessing good timbers and bad, imagine Theseus a person possessing a soul setting sail toward a destination. The question of who we are and who we become then is central to the question for a good voyage, a good society and good Christians. You were right to diagnose the symptom of settling. But there is also the fatal idea the destination can be reached by force of will.
The Ship of Theseus question offers insight. Every ship has a shipbuilder, and He has an interest in making the ship seaworthy. If there are bad planks, would the Shipbuilder not wish to make His ship better? Does He not wish it to reach its destination? And if all the planks were replaced, is the ship no longer a creation of the Shipbuilder? Is Theseus not a finer ship because of the master Shipbuilder’s hand? The soul of the Shipbuilder and the soul of the ship must remain in communion. How, then, could we ever set sail without the Shipbuilder aboard?
If there is moral decline, beyond settling, I suggest it is because we tried to will ourselves to a mythical perfection without yielding to the Shipbuilder, attempting to replace bad planks without a skilled eye upon the work. Our conversions have been in name only and quite imaginary. Did not our Lord say a tree is known by its own fruit?
I shall, in all my failings, keep the faith as you encouraged, seeking the Shipbuilder’s good hand to replace a rotting timber or two—or more. And by voyage’s end, I pray I will be a better Theseus, a new one made seaworthy for my destination. I pray He will turn my soul into fine wine.
The disciples preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different. – Mark 6:12 MSG