Analysis and Synthesis

It is dangerous to give your pastor a kayak.

Mon­day’s sea breeze encouraged me to paddle due east, prow pointed toward Peniche, Portugal. A couple hundred yards of seaward sailing silenced all sounds save the sibilant slap of surf against my ship’s sides. That, plus the whooshing of whitecaps randomly erupt­ing from and returning to the sea, mimic­king ­the emer­gence­ and disappearance of particle/anti-particle pairs in the quantum void. An opportunity to think.

Our best thoughts often arise after we intensely study something for a season and set it aside. The uncon­scious mind ­takes over, prompting previously­ discon­nected parts to coalesce in an “Aha!” moment. Decades ago a physicist work­ing on light dropped his deliberations on details and went for a walk. Suddenly the big picture of how to produce­ a cohesive beam popped into his mind. The laser was born. “It lased!” he said. His insight and invention have changed our lives.

Good thinking employs both analysis—dissect­ing data so that we discern its details; and synthesis— arranging those details into meaningful wholes. Inven­tion consists perceiving new patterns among established, recognized facts. We first master as many facts as possible, then ­use our imaginations to assemble them into new designs. Analysis and synthesis.

This is true in Bible study. We should not expect to entertain grand visions of God—who he is and what he has willed—before we have assiduously studied signifi­cant swaths of scripture. But devotion to details must not derail us into ditching the Bible’s basic big ideas— “tithing mint, dill, and cummin, and neglecting the weightier provisions: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

Before deciding to paddle home and not on to Peni­che, I had a few good thoughts. Some washed over­board on the way in. Time to go back out and find them.

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