Loveless Generalizations

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You are bad at most things. We all are. What is something you are absolutely terrible at? Or better yet, what is something terrible that you cannot stop doing? How do you respond to yourself in your failure? It probably depends on your frame of mind. Some days you effusively coddle yourself with emotions, while other days you castigate yourself with proverbial floggings.

I was talking with two of my nieces and my nephew the other day. My nephew Cash is the youngest. His sisters were perpetually lamenting what a bad child he was. His oldest sister Halina was especially frustrated. Some children are probably bad most of the time, but Cash is not one of them. I explained to his sister that he is not a bad child, but simply a child who sometimes behaves badly.

I asked her what was something that she once did badly but now did well. “Swimming,” she answered. I asked her how she became a better swimmer. “My daddy taught me.” And so I asked her if her daddy ever told her what a bad swimmer she was. She explained that he certainly had not but had actually encouraged her along the way, praising her for small improvements. Then I asked her if others referred to her as “Bad Swimmer Halina” back when she did not swim well. Of course they did not. That one particular void of success had not defined her.

So why is it that you expect your brother to behave better when you tell him what a bad child he is all the time?” She began to see my point as well as her young mind could. I was trying to help her to see something that many of us have so much trouble seeing even into adulthood. That is, the human brain likes to generalize because it helps to reconcile our feelings.

It would take a great deal of deep consideration for my niece to understand the many variables leading to her brother’s misbehavior. Among simple human badness would be boredom and a desire for attention, both stemming from his role as a youngest sibling with no brothers. Furthermore, in her momentary frustrations with her little brother, she becomes emotionally too blind to even assert what are his copious redeeming qualities.

She begins with a failure to comprehend her brother’s context and adds to that an emotional filter that prevents her from seeing her brother as anything but the troublemaker he is to her in that moment (or comparable prior moments). In that moment there is that which feels true to her, and her brain, autonomously as it were, creates a typecast generalization of her brother that reconciles that particular reality.

I think we can forgive my niece for not fully having learned this lesson. But what is the excuse for the rest of us?

Love is a discipline that demands immense courage. Love demands courage because it is itself a quest for understanding the nature of its object. My niece absolutely loves to swim, but a swimming pool is deadly if one is not studious regarding its dangers. To master swimming demanded of her a particular humility which undergirded her process of acquiring patient understanding.

She had to not only discover the nature of water, but of gravity, of her own buoyancy, muscular strength, and propensity for experiencing fatigue. In other words, a love of swimming demanded a knowledge of complex relationships amongst body, mind, and matter. It was not enough to keep herself afloat with mere volition. And if such a willpower is possible, it would no doubt demand much more discipline and understanding than doggy paddles or breaststrokes.

This is true of anything we love. Do you love to draw, or sing, or dance, or lift weights, or spin records? What are those things unto which you have subjected yourself? When the endeavor proved itself difficult, was it the discipline that needed adjusting or was it you and your relationship to the discipline?

This is of course true of all relationships. This is why I am nauseated when people seek to humanize their animals. There is something fundamentally grotesque about seeing dogs, genetic wolves, treated like human children. Any good dog trainer will essentially encourage to lead your dog  with the assertive calmness of an alpha wolf. In other words, a good dog trainer will encourage you to patiently pursue an understanding of your pet’s hidden and rudimentary nature.

“A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

Proverbs 12:10 KJV

Furthermore, our love for other human beings demands this steady and humble discipline- this courageous quest to pursue understanding for the benefit of the objects of our love and affection. But this discipline needs not to be one saved for only the people of which we are most fond. This way of thinking ought to become an all-encompassing discipline of the spirit and the mind.

How many of the world’s ailments would be pacified if we sought better understanding of ourselves, of our loved ones, and of all those around us? We are so very quick to dismiss others with blanket generalizations (labeling, name-calling, and so on). We so often do this even to bolster our own conflated sense of self-aggrandizement and piety. But even the densest of us have regard for the plot in which the villain is a multi-dimensional figure. Such stories resonate with us because they are true. Everyone is multi-dimensional. Some are just much more difficult to see beneath the surface.

If we operate with this assumption, that every person originates from a context which is chock-full of complex variables, then we will be much quicker in seeking to understand them. This will create opportunities in which to influence others to become better, but moreover it will drive us to transcending levels of human thought and existence. Love, like all disciplines, shapes us. Like a spindle shapes wood on a lathe.

“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

1 John 4:12-13 NASB

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God’s Politics

 

I am going to tell you who Jesus would vote for.

Previously we discussed how framing every episode of our lives in terms of “What Would Jesus Do” is potentially banal because our roles on earth are very different from that of the incarnate God-Messiah. Christ’s mission was to come to earth and die for sinners. While in the throes of this mission, He provided us ample teachings and set an example by which we ought to live. His Gospel is inherently designed to penetrate individual hearts within their unique circumstances.

Because Jesus is chiefly concerned with the individual and their relationship to God and His Kingdom, He made particularly clear that he was not necessarily concerned with taking a sides in earthly matters. While it might be argued that Christ would not have paid much mind to politics, it is grossly incorrect to say that He is not political. Jesus is a King, and we cannot ask ourselves what Jesus would do without regarding His concern for His Kingdom.

Mankind is morally corrupted and spiritually alienated from God. While this corruption has estranged us from God and His Heavenly Kingdom, it has yoked us to another, more sinister, kingdom. Christ expressed that all of humanity lives their life in service to someone. By default, we are slaves to our corrupted nature and the kingdom of Satan, the adversary of God. Through various dispensations that met their crescendo in the Gospel of Christ, God provided a means by which people could become reunited with Him- to leave the kingdom of darkness and to be rejoined to the kingdom of light.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Christ foretold that He would soon leave earth, and that He would “come again” (John 14). He promised to send His Spirit to comfort His people and guide them into “all truth.” These people, who would be called “Christians,” would become known as His church. They were to be the body of Christ, empowered by His Spirit, going about His work until He returns. After His resurrection, as He ascended into Heaven He implored His followers to go unto all the ends of the earth and to make “disciples of all men.”

The formative years of the church and the last two thousand years of church history have seen Christians responding to that call. Christ, through His people, perpetuates the magnitude and scope of His Kingdom. He will return one day and reap a harvest of believers who will become completely united with Him, free from the predicaments of our corruption in which we live. Christ works in the individual and uses that individual to act on His behalf to strengthen and to draw more into His Kingdom.

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will….”

Ephesians 1:11 NASB (emphasis mine)

Scripture speaks a lot of about election, but it is a very different sort than which we refer to today. To elect essentially means “to choose.” God has foreordained those whom He has elected for His Kingdom. The common means by which He draws the elect into His Kingdom is through Christians obediently fulfilling their call to evangelize. Many find this to be a hard saying. Why is it that God chooses some but does not choose others? As hard as a saying as it may be, we can take heart that God has chosen any of us. We are all deserving of our estrangement, and it is by the mercy of God that any ever find restoration.

The implication of God’s election is that all who are not elect will remain in their sins and be thus condemned. Many who understandably struggle with this notion will speak of people all the world over who have, seemingly unfairly, never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They will then regard the dumb luck of those in the West who are overwhelmed with Christianity.

The first thing to consider here is that Scripture makes very clear that God has made Himself known in nature itself, and “none are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In other words, whether or not someone hears the Gospel, they are fully responsible for their spiritual estate. The second thing to consider is a reframing of sorts. It is no “dumb luck” that Western societies have become such incubators for a flourishing Church and for religious freedom in general. It was God’s providence that provided society to progress unto this point.

Now, there is no doubt that the Church has flourished (sometimes more genuinely) in the presence of oppressive influences and regimes. All the world over, the Church has always been wrought with severe persecution. It persists full-throttle into the present day. The excess we have found in the West has led, in myriad ways, to a complacent and obstinate church. But if we look to the Scriptures we see that even the suffering early church was met with these same components of human influence.

Regardless of the various contexts in which Christianity can thrive, it is critical to observe the ways in which Christianity has the ability to transform society from the inside out. These benefits are advantageous, but they are not the end in itself. The goal of believers ought to be the proliferation, the health, and the growth of the kingdom of God. Every decision that we make should be made in light of the notion that Jesus is the actual King of all of the earth and that He calls us to the service of His actual kingdom.

In terms of our earthly political role, the Christian who lives in a society in which they are allowed to vote ought to consider how their vote would impact the flourishing of the Church. In terms of American politics, which candidate has a tactical advantage at winning an election and is more than likely going to be the candidate who advocates for religious freedoms of Christians? This pertains to what they advocate as policy and, in terms of the presidency, who they are likely to nominate to the Supreme Court. It is in the presence of this freedom that we support the suffering of believers all the world over. If we are not to protect that now, there will come a day when America will suffer the same persecutions of believers throughout the world.

Who would Jesus vote for, if He voted? I truly think it is a silly question. But if I had to answer it, I would say that Jesus would vote for those who would less likely politically hinder the religious liberties of His Church. Of course, God can grow His Kingdom in any way that He sees fit. But if we are to be preoccupied with growing His Kingdom, we ought to be tactfully considering what might help to further that mission.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Pain and Reward

Everything would be easier with a magic wand, or at least a genie. Then again, magic is too complicated. Even if one could remove all the darkness from black magic it’d still be undesirable. It’s too much discipline. Sure there are perks to utilizing spells to mimic your reality, but there are always stipulations and consequences. A genie is easier- ask and you receive. There are stipulations, but there’s nothing in the way of discipline. Discipline is painful. All gain and no pain- it’d literally be magical.

Imagine uploading foreign language or martial arts abilities into your brain, like Neo in the Matrix. Imagine suddenly gaining the ability to shred on the guitar or write a symphony. I once read about a guy who got struck by lightening and suddenly became a musical savant. Even he had to work at it- it just came more easily to him. Imagine that you could suddenly transform your messy house into a clean one, your broken car into a fixed one, your diseased body into a healthy one. Imagine that you could sculpt your muscles and get stronger just by thinking about it. It’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

Most of us are lazy, and we only remain productive because of random bursts of inspiration or motivation. Everything comes and goes in fits and starts. Somehow we manage to be productive. But sometimes it feels like you’re driving uphill with a busted radiator. The car overheats every fifteen minutes, and you have to stop to douse the engine. It’s impossible not to think wishfully sometimes.

But it’s all wrong. The real excitement or joy of an accomplishment or reward is that it was gained through discipline. Discipline is really painful at times. Harrowing life experiences that force you to bail out or become brave are painful. Goals drive us, but processes shape us. Sometimes our goal is to learn a skill or become healthier or more fit. Sometimes our goal is just to make it out in one piece. Whatever the goal may be, the discipline required to remain focused and active toward that goal has a transcendent sort of quality.

So next time you are dreading the hard work you must put in or you are ruing  the emotional distress you’re about to endure, take heart and remember that the process both shapes you and makes your reward truly rewarding. Don’t let laziness make all the hard work seem like a drag. Remember that life is process, and desires [for goals] are put inside us to drive us. Without that, our existence would be pretty unfulfilling and depressing. Be thankful for the pain, because a magic wand would just make it all more difficult.