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The Bible and Culture


 

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( Overview of Nicea (Iznik), and its beautiful lake, on the shore of which the Council of Nicea was held in 325 A.D.)

            So much ofpop psychology these days is all about encouraging you to ‘accept yourself asyou are’.  The intent was noble enough tocounteract self-destructive feelings, attitudes, behaviors,  but the net effect of such counsel seemsusually to have been to tell already narcissistic self-centered people livingin a ‘me first’ culture it’s o.k. to stay exactly the way they are. This islike saying sick ’em to a pit bull.  Itjust encourages us to not face the reality that we are not all that we ought tobe and various aspects of our behavior, and probably of our beliefs, especiallyabout ourselves, need to change.  What Iwant to discuss in this post is cultivating a healthy and holy discontent withhow we are and what we are, but not who or whose we are.   Lent iscertainly the time to talk about cultivating a sense of holy discontent.  But first let us talk about the positive side of the equation.

 

            The Bibleis emphatic that every person is created in God’s image and as such is a personof sacred worth simply because of how they have been created.  The worth doesn’t come from what isaccomplished after birth, whether little or large, it is inherent to who weare.   Furthermore, from a Christianpoint of view, again, for those who are new creatures in Christ, being renewed inthe image of Christ himself,  we are tosee ourselves as already, because of God’s work in us,  beings of sacred worth.  Again, the worth does not come after the birthfrom doing, but rather from being. We do not cease to be persons of sacredworth just because we do not measure up to some standard in regard to doing orbehaving, we are inherently of such worth.  If you reflect for a moment on the horrors ofthe Holocaust in WWII what supposedly gave Nazis permission to persecute,prosecute and execute Jews is because the propaganda was they were sub-human,beneath the dignity of the master race.  This word just in— the only master race is the one the Master ran toredeem us all.   The human race is the ‘master’ race according to Gen. 1– we were called to fill the earth, subdue it, tend it, care for it, and rule over it gently and in godly fashion. We are mini-creators, and mini-governors modeled after the Creator.  But there is another dimension to all this.

“God so loved the world….” can notbe reduced to God so loved the elect, whether that is an ethnic, racial, ortheological category of truncation.   Ifa person is combating feelings of low self-worth or the like, it is because heor she has believed the Orwellian lie of our culture–“we are all equal, exceptsome are more equal than others”. Or, if they live in a workaholic environment–‘thedoers, especially the successful doers are more equal than the rest”.  Even the American credo of Martin LutherKing, where he longed for people to be judged not on the basis of the color oftheir skin but on the basis of the content of their character, while preferableto racism, does not get to the heart of the matter.  

The heart of the matter is that God createdus in the divine image, pronounced this creation of humans good, and whenChrist came he came to redeem and restore and renew that image in us— whichagain is a work of God in the soul of a human being. It’s not a humanaccomplishment.   Those who considerthemselves self-made ‘men’ or ‘women’ have drunk the narcotic laced Koolaide ofour culture and have believed its great lie. There are no self-made persons— only creatures of God.  Even from a humanistic point of view we allare deeply indebted to and stand on the shoulders of those who have gonebefore, who have taught us, loved, us, helped us, given us opportunity, and soon.  Go read John Donne’s poem about ‘noone is an island…’

But what about this matter of Holydiscontent with what we are and what we have so far done?  Paul puts itsuccinctly in Romans— “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory ofGod”, a glory which we once reflected much more adequately before theFall.   In a culture already prone to beglory grabbers instead of glory givers, how do we become less narcissisticpeople, even as devout Christians?  

First, I would say that we must not listen to the siren voices of poppsychology and the like which encourage us to settle, to be satisfied with theway we are, especially when it comes to our behavior.  On the contrary, we should wake up everymorning realizing we are not all we ought to be. We have not yet arrived. 

St. Paul puts it well— “not that I have alreadyobtained  all this (i.e. perfection, fullmaturity, becoming Christ like, the resurrection etc.) or have already arrivedat my final goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ tookhold of me. Brothers and sisters I do not consider myself yet to have takenhold of it.  But one thing I do.Forgetting what is behind and straining forward towards what is ahead, I presson towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward inChrist Jesus.”  (Phil. 3.12-14).  

Now we have gotten to the nub of thematter.  Paul is talking about doing, adoing which leads to the right end.  Heexpresses his holy discontent not with his circumstances, not with hissituation, not with his mortal frame, not with how God made him, but with the fact that he has not yetarrived where God ultimately wants him to be in his life.  Indeed, none of us have done so, who arestill alive and breathing on terra firma. Paul is not berating himself in a way that either denigrates or denieswhat God has made him to be, or what Christ has already accomplished in him. But a holy discontent forgets what lies in the past and press on with theupward call of doing better, and in the end being all that we were meant to be. We are meant to be a restless peopleuntil we find our final rest in Him, until we reach the goal.  And here is what this means.

We should never be satisfied withsinning, or be tolerant of misbehavior in ourselves. We should be profoundlypeeved with ourselves about such things. We should never be satisfied with giving God less than our best, orbeing satisfied with where we are in life’s journey.  The thing about a journey is its not overuntil it’s over. Otherwise you are either making forward progress, as Pauldescribes or you are not.  And notice howhe stresses that we need the commitment, the will, the effort, and thediscipline to be like an Olympic athlete pressing forward toward the goal,straining every muscle to reach the proper finish line, and receive the crownof victory.

I was watching the Olympics lastnight, in particular watching Lindsey Vonn, and then listening to her talkabout the discipline, and perseverance through pain that allowed her to win thegold medal.  You could say she was adriven person, but she was the first to admit that she was hurdling down a hugeprecipitous mountain slope at 70 some miles an hour and was always an inch awayfrom disaster until she crossed the finish line. The difference between winning and losing was being able to keep it together and not go off course or crash.

Coming down the mountainof life is about staying within the lines and not crashing as much as it is anythingelse.  Its about keeping it together andkeeping on going towards the goal.  Andit took every ounce of effort, determination, training, guts, you name it, toget Lindsey there. She was exhausted at the end, but jubilant. St. Paulwas talking about the same thing.  Thefirst step in setting out on the journey towards the finish line is developinga holy discontent, not with whose you are or who you are in God, but with where you are, what you’ve done thusfar, and where you need to get to in order to receive the divine approbation “welldone good and faithful servant, inherit the prize”. We must weary ourselves in well doing.

 

My grandfather was a remarkableChristian— a good ole Southern Baptist. When I was young and visiting at hishouse in Wilmington N.C. one day I asked him why he was such a straightarrow— always going to church, being the fire chief of the fire department,hand counting ballots for free as a public service, working with charitablecauses for the Shriners.  His reply to mewas memorable— “Hell is too hot, and heaven too sweet to mess around in thislife. God wants my best.”   Now there wasa man who knew where he wanted to go, knew how to get there, and was strainingevery muscle as he pressed on towards the goal.  Even saints need a little holy discontent so they will not rest on theirlaurels, or indeed rest prematurely, or settle for less than full conformity tothe image of Christ.    Think on thesethings.    

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