Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Control Thyself

Self-control is good. It is one of the things God requires of us (Proverbs 25:28; 2 Peter 1:6; 2 Timothy 3:3). But it can become distorted. We cannot simply follow every impulse that presents itself to us (Colossians 3:8-10; Jude 4, James 1:14,15). And this is something something we need to remind ourselves of in a culture where pursuit of pleasure is fast becoming the central focus of life. But while self-control clearly is a Biblical virtue, it is not the chief or only virtue. However, there are some ethical systems that take self-control as the primary requirement. This can become self-control for the sake of self-control, which is not what God demands (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; Philippians 4:4). This results in a harsh, unfeeling morality, centered on the things we do not do. Rather, the chief Christian virtue is love (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3), which results in putting others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4; Galatians 5:13,14; Romans 12:9-21). Now if we are going put others first, we need to be willing to restrain our own impulses. But it is a restraint with the purpose to leave room for love. Self-control is sort of like bug spray. We need to use it to deal with some of the uglier aspects of our personality, so they do not get out and cause havoc. But if we make the focus of our life looking for more and smaller bugs to spray, we have lost perspective. So we need to have self-control, but we need to keep it in its appropriate place.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Enter the Serpent

How to deal with the evil in the world is a hot potato. And there are no easy answers. But we need to look at the options. We can say that everything is basically good and that evil is something simply superficial. But the presence of some sort of real evil seems one of the most obvious things about the world as we know it. We can say that evil exists, and that this is just the way it is and we should just deal with it. We can even claim that the whole idea of evil is a delusion and that there is nothing really wrong. But then we have to ask, why do we find this idea so abhorrent? If evil is not real, where did we get the idea of evil from? Or we can believe we live in a evil world that will eventually become good. But unless we have a real basis for this, is it anything more that blind faith? And how can we have a basis for it if there is not transcendent good that exists now, despite the evil?

But the idea that makes the most sense to me is the Christian idea, that we live in an originally good world that has gone awry. There is therefore an original standard for good: the character of God (James 1:17; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). But we as human being have chosen evil (Genesis 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22) and have as a result became sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). Further, since we were given a position of authority over the rest of the earth (Genesis 1:26-28: 2:15; Psalms 8:5-8), this results in our pulling it down with us (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:19-23). Now we need to be clear that this does not mean all suffering is in proportion to our sin (Job 1,2; John 9:1,2; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). But it is human sin which, in the beginning, let loose these evils upon us. I know there are problems with this view. There are problems with every view. We can face complicated questions such as, could God not have made it so people would always freely do what is good? But it still is the best answer to the question. It explains why there is an original  standard of good we cannot wholly get rid of. And it explains why we and the world do not live up to that standard. It means there is a God who created the originally good world and who can fix the problem. It explains why we, as Christians, cannot simply condemn everything physical (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:15), but must avoid becoming conformed to the world as it is now (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:2; James 4:4). We are the Resistance; we serve the rightful King in the realm of the usurper (2 Corinthians 4:3,4; Hebrews 2:14,15; 1 John 4:4). And we must have this in perspective to have the world in perspective.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Protection

How far should we go to protect our children? How far can we go?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Government

Government mat be able to change the outward behavior, but only God can change the heart.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Leo the Great

Let us then take the yoke that is not heavy nor irksome, of the Truth that rules us, and let us imitate His humility, to Whose glory we wish to be conformed: He Himself helping us and leading us to His promises, Who, according to His great mercy, is powerful to blot out our sins, and to perfect His gifts in us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Leo the Great, 400-460 AD, Sermon XXIII, On the Feast of the Nativity, III, V (translated by Rev. Charles Lett Feltoe, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XII, p.134)

What is meant by Christ's easy yoke? How does it differ from other approaches to moral living?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Root of Democracy

As C. S. Lewis states, there are two, somewhat contradictory, reasons for believing in democracy. The one is to believe that all people are basically good and deserve a voice in government. The other is to believe that we are all seriously prone to evil, and it is dangerous to give anyone too much power. I would agree with Lewis in endorsing the second answer. But underlying both of these is the idea that on the level of basic moral principles, we are all on an equal footing and should be allowed to make our own decisions. This does not mean there is no place for bringing in an expert to deal with technical questions. But on the basic moral issues, since all of us are morally imperfect, there is safety in making this decision in numbers.

There is more than one source for the democratic mindset. Mine comes from Protestant Christianity. It holds that there are basic moral and theological principles that every person has the obligation to interpret for themselves. It also holds that we are all sinners and need to be held accountable to one another. But one can reach a democratic position from a more humanistic point of view. This will generally adopt the approach that we are basically good and all have a part to play in government. The views that tend to oppose democracy are those with a strong philosophical and moral elitism and contempt for the ordinary person. When we start to hold to the idea that a few people are the authorities on all moral matters, there is little room left for genuine democracy.

This is one of the reasons it can be difficult to export democracy. It involves a specific kind of mindset. It is something a nation needs to embrace voluntarily, and cannot be imposed by force. Therefore, while we should encourage democracy, we should be careful not to assume everyone will automatically adopt it. I also think we may be in danger here in the United States if certain philosophical ideas come to dominate. We cannot choose our basic philosophy based on a preference for a political system. But we do need to realize that ideas have practical consequences.

Now our relation to other nations is similar to that of our individual relationship with our neighbors. We can encourage and instruct them in the right direction. We can act to protect ourselves and others, if someone acts in an aggressive manner. But we have no authority to rule them or act as a policeman in the full sense in relation to their behavior. This is true even if we happen to have bigger weapons. Therefore, while we can promote democracy, we cannot force it on people.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Accepting Imperfection

What can we really expect in terms of community? And what should we settle for? Scripture paints a picture of a harmonious body, where all the parts work together to build each other up (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:11-16). And we are called to a deep unity and sympathy with one another (Philippians 2:1,2; Romans 12:15,16; 15:5-7). But we are sinners, who fall short of that (Romans 7:14; Galatians 5:17; 1 John 1:8-10). And part of real love and unity is bearing with those who are weak (Colossians 3:12-14; Romans 15:1,2; 1 Peter 4:8). What then should we settle for? I believe we should settle for nothing less than the Biblical ideal. But we should be patient with ourselves and others in reaching that ideal. In this way, growth in community is like general spiritual growth. We should see ourselves as people in process, who are on the path but have not reached the final goal (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). For we do not want to become complacent and simply settle for the status quo without ever trying to improve the situation. Nor should we become so impatient that we are critical and destroy the very thing we are trying to produce. It is hard to find the way between these dangers, but we need to attempt to navigate the straits.