There’s no intrinsic right to be happy.
That’s the basic premise of this piece by C.S. Lewis. Worth the time. And the doodling is pretty impressive to.
Watch and ponder…
There’s no intrinsic right to be happy.
That’s the basic premise of this piece by C.S. Lewis. Worth the time. And the doodling is pretty impressive to.
Watch and ponder…
Rosaria Butterfield, being awesome, as usual.
Hear her explain why we should not accept the idea that there is anything such as sexual identity. “It’s demeaning,” she says. There’s a lot here, and even if you don’t agree with it all, it’s definitely worth six minutes of your online time today.
Last night we took the evening to glean from a story which spans the 17th and 18th chapters of the book of Judges. Here are the notes:
After reading Judges 17 and 18, notice how many, and how deep, the layers of sin are. I count at least 20 instances of something being totally wrong–which leads to a confusing history, many layers deep. And when we say that something in this story is “wrong,” we don’t mean simply by our own judgments. These people had God’s written word, and the Law of Moses to guide their actions. So the things wrong in this story are wrong specifically because they clearly violate actual commands.
Layers of Sin in Judges 17-18
At this point, notice that both people have committed the ultimate crimes you could commit in Israel. But neither of them seems to notice. Even thought their religious feelings seem sincere—we know from the other scriptures it’s totally pagan and not approved by God. They talk about God a lot, but he’s actually nowhere in their thoughts or actions, and we know he’s totally not approving of their actions.
Why is this situation so wrong, and so confusing? The answer is given in 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25. The two halves of the formula here give the author’s explanation for why things are going bad.
Summing it Up: When God’s word is ignored, and his king is absent, everyone starts thinking that it’s ok to do whatever they want. This creates a situation where people’s desires conflict. Since two people who want the same thing can’t both get it, what happens then is that strength and deception rule the day. Whenever people disagree, the one with the bigger army will win the dispute. In addition, people act like God is on their side, and keep talking about him even when they totally ignore him and defy his commands. When all this happens, chaos becomes the dominant state of people’s personal lives. The longer society goes on like this, the more people it hurts, the more lives are wasted and destroyed, and the more clueless people get about everything, especially about what’s wrong and how to fix it.
The point: This is a picture of what it looks like when sin rules. Sin complicates everything. Everything becomes confusing, and it’s hard to tell what’s right anymore.
Monday night, as part of our study, we read in Isaiah chapter 5, where the prophet pronounces a “woe” on those “who call evil good and good evil.” In his commentary on Isaiah, Alec Motyer has a particularly insightful section dealing with this passage (Isaiah 5:18-23). I found the application to our day especially helpful. (The commentary was published in 1993.)
Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, And sin as if with a cart rope; That say, “Let Him make speed and hasten His work, That we may see it; And let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, That we may know it.”
The picture is of a beast harnessed to and dragging a cart with cords of deceit. By holding on to what is false they bind themselves in bondage to sin, and what starts as cords becomes cart ropes, unbreakable bondage. Sin and wickedness when used together point, respectively, to an inner start and to specific instances of sin. The progressive nature of sin (from cords to cart ropes) leads to the arrogance which demands that God prove Himself, the skepticism which doubts that He is active in the world and the blindness which cannot see Him at work.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
In sin’s next stage the moral code is reversed; sin becomes an accepted way of life. This happens in public morality (light and darkness are common to all) and to private morality (bitter and sweet are matters of private taste).
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
Where does it all start? With humankind’s insistence on autonomy. [As they see it,] both the wisdom that provides ruling principles for life and the cleverness (better ‘discernment’) that decides specific issues are their own unaided work.
Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, Who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man!
So what is life like on the basis of unaided human wisdom?
First, success is measured by the degree of self-satisfaction achieved and indulgence enjoyed. Heroes and champions is sarcastic use of terms of military honor, as if to say, ‘See, they have medals for it!’
Secondly, the safeguards of society, here the legal system, succumb to corruption.
All this sounds familiar, no?
Thomas Oden, on why we humans have messed up thoughts apart from God’s wisdom. [My thoughts are indented to the left and italicized.]:
Modern secular piety claims on the simple grounds of creation a natural relation with God unimpeded by sin.
Note: Catch that first sentence. Oden’s point is that the typical person today assumes that, if God exists, we’re all in a positive relationship with him, just because he created us. If we simply exist, God must be cool with us.
All privileges and immunities of unhampered goodness are imagined to be equally distributed as if without reference to any actual history of sin.
In other words, most people tend to think that how we’ve lived and what we’ve done or been doesn’t matter at all to God. Whether or not God has said he’s not cool with something doesn’t concern us. He must just keep feeling really affectionate towards us, cause that’s who he is, right?
The secular imagination posits that if I am basically good and getting ever better, and my self-interested passions are reliable guides, even if there might be a divine Giver or source, such [a God] would not reject me for any conceivable reason. Such is the diluted modern version of the teaching of adoption by nature, not grace.
By “adoption by nature” Oden means the idea that we’re “God’s children,” with the rights of family, just because we’re human.
The resulting fantasy is a God who can’t say no, who draws persons who never lack good intentions toward a Christ without a cross.
Conscience amid modernity has become so seared that we imagine we are welcomed by God while we are doing precisely what God disapproves, and remain determined to continue (Amos 5:23).
Christian teaching assumes the opposite: that the history we share with the first humans has come to a disastrous end – our own sin, tempted in all things. God as caring Abba, a central teaching of classical Christianity, has been diluted by a thinner modern version that denies the history of corrupted freedom and, in the interest of tolerance, romanticizes human innate goodness. This view promotes a distorted vision of the family of God, as if human creation had never actually fallen, so as to remove any need for rebirth from above.
Though modernity clings desperately to the belief that we are by nature children of God, classic Christianity remembers how deeply we are “by the nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). “By nature” implies choice. It is only by the grace of adoption that we become children of God “through faith.”
Adoption into the family of God implies turning completely away from the way that leads to death.
I have in front of me a printout of the full Obergefell v. Hodges decision handed down by the Supreme Court today. I plan on working through it in the next few days. If you’d like to join me, you can download it and print it out here.
Already, as we have come to expect, a few excellent responses to today’s events have been published. In case you haven’t seen them yet, here are a couple links.
Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has a response in the Washington Post entitled “Why the church should neither cave nor panic about the decision on gay marriage.” He writes:
So how should the church respond? First of all, the church should not panic. The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back in that tomb. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is still calling the universe toward his kingdom…
Let’s also recognize that if we’re right about marriage, and I believe we are, many people will be disappointed in getting what they want. Many of our neighbors believe that a redefined concept of marriage will simply expand the institution (and, let’s be honest, many will want it to keep on expanding). This will not do so, because sexual complementarity is not ancillary to marriage. The church must prepare for the refugees from the sexual revolution.
Definitely check out the whole article.
Joe Carter has a quick info piece just in case you’re not up to speed on the details of the decision. He also posted 50 Key Quotes from the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, if you don’t want to comb through the whole thing yourself. In fact, the ERLC’s Archive page has a bunch of great articles like that one.
I’m sure we’ll all read more over the next few days. But I thought it would be good to end with one more quote from Moore’s Washington Post piece. When false things are elevated and lauded, let’s remember the most true things:
This gives the church an opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture.
We should not fear that.
We believe stranger things than that.
We believe a previously dead man is alive, and will show up in the Eastern skies on a horse.
We believe that the gospel can forgive sinners like us and make us sons and daughters. Let’s embrace the sort of freakishness that saves.
We continue with wisdom for picking a career from Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor.
What wisdom, then, would the Bible give us in choosing our work?…
First, if we have the luxury of options, we would want to choose work that we can do well. It should fit our gifts and our capacities. To take up work that we can do well is like cultivating our selves as gardens filled with hidden potential; it is to make the greatest room for the ministry of competence.
Second, because the main purpose of work that benefits others. We have to ask whether our work or organization or industry makes people better or appeals to the worst aspects of their characters. The answer will not always be black and white; in fact, the answer could differ from person to person. In a volume on the Christian approach to vocation, John Bernbaum and Simon Steer presented the case of Debbie, a woman who made a great deal of money working for an interior-decorating company in Aspen, Colorado. The craft of interior design, like architecture or the arts, is a positive way to promote human well-being. But she often found herself using resources in ways that she could not reconcile with pursuing the common good. She left her career to work for a church and later for a U.S. senator. Debbie said, “Not that there was anything dishonest or illegal involved, but I was being paid on a commission basis – thirty percent of the gross profit. One client spent twenty thousand dollars [in the early 1980s] on furnishings for a ten-by-twelve [foot] room. I began to question my motivation for encouraging people to… spend huge sums of money in furniture. So…I decided to leave.” This example is not about the value of interior design profession or the commission form of compensation. Rather, it illustrates the need for everyone to work out in clear personal terms how their work serves the world…
Third if possible, we do not simply wish to benefit our family, benefit the human community, and benefit ourselves – we also want to benefit our field of work itself. In Genesis 1 and 2, we saw that God not only cultivated his creation, but he created more cultivators. Likewise, our goal should not simply be to do work, but to increase the human race’s capacity to cultivate the created world. It is a worthy goal to want to make a contribution to your discipline, if possible; to show a better, deeper, fairer, more skillful, more ennobling way of doing what you do. Dorothy Sayers explores this point in her famous essay “Why Work?” She acknowledges that we should work for “the common good” and “for others” (as we observed in chapter 4), but she doesn’t want us to stop there. She says that the worker must “serve the work”:
The popular catchphrase of today is that it is everybody’s duty to serve the community, but … there is, in fact, a paradox about working to serve the community and it is this: that to aim directly at serving the community is to falsify the work … There are … very good reasons for this:
The moment you [only] think of serving other people, you begin to have a notation that other people owe you something for your pains; you begin to think that you have a claim on the community. You will begin to bargain for reward, to angle for applause, and to harbor a grievance if you are not appreciated. But if your mind is set upon serving the works, then you know you have nothing to look for; the only reward the work can give you is the satisfaction of beholding its perfection. The work takes all and gives nothing but itself; and to serve the work is a labor of pure love.
The only true way of serving the community is to be truly in sympathy with the community, to be oneself part of the community and then to serve the work… It is the work that serves the community; the business of the worker is to serve the work.
Sayer’s point is well taken and not often made or understood. It is possible to imagine you are “serving the community” because what you do is popular – at least for a time. However, you may no longer be serving the community – you may be using it for the way its approval makes you feel. But if you do your work so well that by God’s grace it helps others who can never thank you, or it helps those who come after you to do it better, then you know you are “serving the work,” and truly loving your neighbor.
One of the unique things about the time and place we inhabit is that we are given choice for so many things. Young adults have the particularly odd privilege of being able to choose their career. Think about it—in how many places, for how much of history, has a young person been able to simply choose, from a seemingly unending list, what they want to pursue as their life’s work? The answer is, that’s pretty rare.
And yet, as many of us know first hand, the experience can be pretty overwhelming. It’s like walking up to a dinner buffet a mile long. Where do you even begin?
With this post and the next I’ll post sections from Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. In this passage he provides some practical counsel and helpful perspective about what to think through when you’re choosing a career.
Ecclesiastes says, “A person can do nothing better than to…find satisfaction in their own toil”. One of the reasons so many people find work to be unsatisfying is, ironically, that people today have more power to choose their line of work than did people in the past. Recently David Brooks wrote in the New York Times about an online discussion conducted by a Stanford professor with students and recent graduates about why so many students from the most exclusive universities go into either finance or consulting. Some defended their pathways; others complained that “the smartest people should be fighting poverty, ending disease and serving others, not themselves.” Brooks said that while the discussion was illuminating, he was struck by the unspoken assumptions:
Many of these students seem to have a blinker view of their options. There’s crass but affluent investment banking. There’s the poor but noble nonprofit world. And then there is the world of high-tech start-ups, which magically provides money and coolness simultaneously. But there was little interest in or awareness of the ministry, the military, the academy, government service or the zillion other sectors. Furthermore, few students showed any interest in working for a company that actually makes products…
Community service has become a patch for morality. Many people today have not been given vocabularies to talk about what virtue is, what character consists of, and in which way excellence lies, so they just talk about community service… In whatever field you go into, you will face greed, frustration and failure. You may find your life challenged by depression, alcoholism, infidelity, your own stupidity and self-indulgence… Furthermore … around what ultimate purpose should your life revolve? Are you capable of heroic self-sacrifice or is life just a series of achievement hoops? … You can devote your life to community service and be a total schmuck. You can spend your life on Wall Street and be a hero. Understanding heroism and schmuckdom requires fewer Excel spreadsheets, more Dostoyevsky and the Book of Job.
Brook’s first point is that so many college students do not choose work that actually fits within their limited imagination of how they can boost their own self-image. There were only three high-status kinds of jobs – those that paid well, those that directly worked on society’s needs, and those that had the cool factor. Because there is no longer an operative consensus on the dignity of all work, still less on the idea that in all work we are the hands and fingers of God serving the human community, in their minds they had an extremely limited range of career choices. That means lots of young adults are choosing work that doesn’t fit them, or fields that are too highly competitive for most people to do well in. And this sets many people up for a sense of dissatisfaction or meaninglessness in their work.
Perhaps it is related to the mobility of our urban culture and the resulting disruption of community, but in New York City many young people see the process of career selection more as the choice of an identity marker than a consideration of gifting and passions to contribute to the world. One young man explained, “I chose management consulting because it is filled with sharp people – the kind of people I want to be around.” Another said “I realize that if I stayed in education, I’d be embarrassed when I got to my five year college reunion, so I’m going to law school now.” Where one’s identity in prior generations might come from being the son of so-and-so or living in a particular part of town or being a member of a church or club, today young people are seeking to define themselves by the status of their work.
What wisdom, then, would the Bible give us in choosing our work?…
We’ll continue with Keller’s thoughts in the next post.
I stumbled on this promo for a conference the other day.
Aside from the fact that I hope the conference is helpful, the video contains these three sentences that I think are very profound:
“The Christian Gospel speaks into this confusion with revolutionary clarity. God sovereignly assigns a gender to people created in his image. The powerful grace of Jesus Christ redeems and restores to sanity and our thinking which has been corrupted by sin.”
First, I love the idea of clarity being revolutionary. That’s just interesting. But more importantly, my first though when I heard this was to think of the average person’s reaction, which I would imagine could run something like this:
“Right, but of course, I totally don’t believe that ‘God sovereignly assigns gender’ at all. That’s the whole point. Your statements are meaningless because that’s exactly the issue–I believe no one has the right to ‘assign’ gender. It’s an individual choice. And to say that GOD is doing the assigning is even worse. Now you’re taking your opinions and saying people are disagreeing with God if they disagree with you. That’s just mean. It might be evil.”
I think I would agree with this imaginary commenter in one way–this is the point of the whole thing.
And yet, I don’t think the promoters of this conference did anything wrong by simply, flatly contradicting the culture and everyone who disagrees with them. In other words, this is the essence of Christian witness to the world we live in: we simply state the truth. We understand that the truths we are stating are precisely the things our culture disagrees with. We understand that the ideas which underlie these truths (these foundational truths) are denied just as vigorously. If someone doesn’t think God created humans in any meaningful way to begin with, they certainly won’t think God assigns gender.
And maybe, right here, we Christians can get some clarity as to why we’d continue to keep saying things people disagree with. Maybe we could see that one thing we’re doing for those around us is inviting them to choose–choose the story you want to live in. Choose the story you want to get inside of, define yourself by, interpret the world through, and live out from within.
The world is full of competing, mutually contradictory stories. Are you made by lonely, aloof Allah, from a clot of blood, waiting for the spirit to grab the prophet while commanding him to recite? Are you a chance collection of molecules, coughed up by accident from an impersonal, blind universe, headed toward oblivion while you experience the illusion of consciousness for a few years? Are you a drop from the ocean of the Oversoul, destined to be absorbed back into the Everything? Are you a bag of hormones here to propagate DNA? Are you a mystic being of light who strives to transcend all distinction and boundary on your way to divinity?
See, so many people write off the Christian explanation of the world as absurd (“Who could believe that?”)–but then, let everyone produce their stories. Let’s have them all spoken openly, written systematically, and then lived out consistently. If people have a story that actually describes the whole of our existence, matches our experience, and guides their lives, maybe we’ll listen. But no, what actually happens is that people reject the good news of Christ and then live lives which are inconsistent at best, or consistently wrong at worst.
Which gets us to the real point: we’re not simply preaching that people should pick a story, as if all stories are equal, and it doesn’t matter which one you pick. Only one of these stories can be true, and to truly reject the Christian story, you’ve got to personally appraise and personally reject the historical man Jesus, including his claims, his actions, and most of all his resurrection. So which story you pick is the most important decision a person will ever make.
The strength of speaking about things this way, in terms of “choosing a story” is that it describes what it actually feels like to accept the gospel. It is to hear another narrative which claims to include you, and then to step inside of it and let it become your story. This seems to be exactly what Jesus did with a lot of his parables. He would tell a little story and people would have the choice–does this story include them or not? Would they step inside the story and see things from within its confines? If not, they rejected Jesus as any kind of authority. But then, his life was telling the Big Story, and he was calling all people to acknowledge that it was their story too, and that they were in it, whether they liked it or not. Everything he did was to validate that his story was the story.
And so we continue his work. We know people are living out of other stories. We know their stories are often unexamined. But we preach the Gospel. We invite people to see the power and reality of the True Story. We invite them to finally find their place within what is.
We have found that what is real is better news than any other story that’s ever been told.