Thought of the Day 06.02.08

I’m recently reminded of the great importance of a simple principle of Bible interpretation: consider the entire passage. We are tempted to not do this for two reasons: single verses are easier to memorize than entire passages and it’s convenient to find single verses that reinforce our own biases. Here is a well-known example.

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus teaches us, “Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves.” Okay, simple. Never ever judge anyone for anything, right? Well, remember the rule. Read a little more. In verse 6, Jesus also teaches, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw y our pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” This clearly obligates us to judge whether others are swine or dogs in order to obey this command. So how does one resolve this tension?

It’s not my purpose here to answer that. But we clearly cannot interpret verse 1 as meaning never to judge people, and we clearly cannot interpret verse 6 as meaning to go around recklessly judging everyone. Scripture constrains its own interpretation, which is why we were given a complete library of books in it, never just a single verse.

Thought of the Day 05.30.08

There are things in the Bible that make us feel warm and fuzzy, and there are things that can be terrifying. For instance, the Scriptures teach us that God is patient and forgiving, which can give us the impression that we’ll always have tomorrow to do His Will. But there’s another side to God as well, and the story of the Hebrews failing to enter Canaan vividly captures it. After sending the twelve spies to scout the land, they returned with a conflicted report, and the people chose fear over faith by refusing to enter.

As a penalty, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, eating the most boring food you could imagine, and then died without ever seeing the promised land. Now I know the story doesn’t record this, but over time, you’ve got to imagine that people regretted their choice. But it was too late. They had their chance to choose faith, and they blew it, big time.

And every time I’m tempted to think that I’ll just do the right thing tomorrow, I remember that sometimes God requires it today. As the Bible even says, tomorrow is promised to no man.

Thought of the Day 05.29.08

“And by the power vested in me by God and the State of Arizona, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.” These very interesting sentences finish most weddings, at least the ones done in this state. But consider all being said here. People have neither the power to make marriage nor the permission to act as if they are married without the endorsement of a substantial authority.

For many people, the notion that someone must grant them permission to do such things will seem antiquated. Yet these phrases simply acknowledge that such permission does in fact come from God (who makes two persons one flesh) and government (which certifies the union). And even though people often behave as if they don’t need such permission, the fact that they seek official recognition of their status means that something deep inside them knows that they actually do.

And in an age where people have fallen under the delusion that power and authority flow from personal preference, a marriage ceremony might remind us that this is not really the case.

Thought of the Day 05.28.08

This morning over breakfast, I was reading the account of Jesus’s capture in John 18, but I noticed something strange. Verses 10-11 describe Peter cutting off Malchus’s ear and then being rebuked by Jesus for it. But that’s all there was. There was no mention of Jesus healing the ear. In fact, not just John, but Matthew (26:51-56) and Mark (14:47-50) also omit this detail.

Yes, we might still have suspected something else happened since Peter wasn’t arrested for aggravated assault and attempted murder. Yet only Luke confirms this suspicion (22:49-53). So the omission reminds us that God sometimes entices us to solve textual mysteries by looking elsewhere.

Still, to omit such an impressive miracle is amazing, and it reminds us of another important principle of Biblical interpretation: when the Bible omits things, it also usually omits the reason for the omission. And speculation to fill the void begins to look dangerously like adding to the Scripture our own un-inerrant words.

Thought of the Day 05.16.08

In the office here, we have a microwave which everyone uses, and, every few months, it becomes obvious that the it is no longer a safe environment for food. Various burrito explosions, soup boilings-over, and other events only CSI could describe have their cumulative effect, turning the white interior into something significantly less savory. But we all go on using it, carefully covering our food, not out of concern that we’ll add to the mess, but out of concern that the mess will add to us. Yet I’m sure that none of the employees’ microwaves at home ever approach this level of neglect. What’s the difference?

Private ownership: where each suffers the costs, enjoys the benefits, and can decide for himself when those factors justify any maintenance. In contrast, the office microwave belongs to everyone, and thus it belongs to no one. And so it awaits the sacrifice of some generous soul, in this case our traffic manager, who’ll perform the necessary cleaning at disproportionate personal inconvenience.

In a nutshell, that is why I know that capitalism and private ownership of property will always work better than communism, or anything like it.

Thought of the Day 05.15.08

It’s possible that I’m just not cut out to be a teacher. You see, even though I love to educate people, I have a problem. I hate to repeat myself. I know the old motto says that there’s only three keys to good teaching: repetition, repetition, and repetition. But I usually feel embarrassed by repeating myself because I tend to think it indicates that I don’t have anything else to say, so I’m just filling in the space with previous ideas. But this leads to a problem.

See, I generally assume that because I’ve said something, everyone else knows it. So the only things I usually bother to say are things that at least seem new to me. But I was recently reminded that, just because I’ve known something for years, that’s no reason to think that there aren’t millions of people who still don’t know it.

And if I really believe that it’s more important for people to learn than it is for me to impress myself, then I probably need to get over it and start repeating more often. After all, it’s more important for people to learn than it is for me to impress myself.

Thought of the Day 05.14.08

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding people have about love is confusing it with attachment. It is natural, normal, and good to be attached to people, but this is not love. For instance, I am attached to my car, which is why I would suffer if it were stolen, damaged, or destroyed. But I don’t care about my car itself. I only care about what my car means to me.

Yet many of the things people call love are nothing but such attachments to people instead of objects. Love often involves attachment, but the essence of love is putting someone else’s real needs first, whereas what we often call love is merely emotional self-indulgence: the pleasure-addiction of romance, the empathy-worship of sparing a child discipline, or even the grieving over lost companionship when someone moves away.

Pure love can only be shown when serving a person’s real needs will cause us pain, but we still do what is best for them rather than what feels good to us.

Thought of the Day 05.13.08

If you’re like me, you’ve often struggled over whether to give money to a beggar. If I could be sure he would use it well and for real needs, I’d gladly give what I can. But I worry that he’ll squander it or use it for unhealthy desires, and I don’t want to enable him to hurt himself. But, if I’m honest about it, there’s another issue here.

It’s the sense that the money belongs to me and, “If anyone’s going to squander it, well, darn it, it’s going to be me, not some bum on the street.” But just imagine if God used that same sort of standard with me, only giving me gifts and graces He knew I’d use well and not giving me anything I might misuse. “But that money is mine!” I say. Well, aren’t my job and the ability to do it gifts from God? And don’t I pretty regularly beg God to give me more of everything?

I’m not saying that we ought to give to everyone without thinking. But it’s important to recognize how tempting it can be to persuade ourselves that principle and selfishness are conveniently telling us the same thing.

Thought of the Day 05.12.08

When CS Lewis paints his picture of hell not as a scene of horrible brutality but of self-imposed isolation from other people, he’s saying that the opposite of love is indifference, not cruelty. And today I was reminded of the mundane symptoms of such indifference when I stepped in some bubble gum which got smeared on the floor mat of my car.

As I was fuming at the asymmetrical stupidity of people who spit gum anywhere but the trash, I realized that I needed to pray for this person. Whoever he is, he clearly is going to hell. Oh, not because of the gum per se, but because the presence of God’s Spirit inside him would make such unconcern for other people impossible. I know bubble gum is a very small evil in the grand scheme of things, and I’m grateful that God would use me to pray for this person’s salvation.

But we must never forget that the sin of not regarding how our behaviors affect others is at the root of every significant evil one can name. God help us all to do unto the anonymous stranger as we would have them do unto us.

Thought of the Day 05.09.08

I used to drive a 1992 Honda Accord with 300,000 miles on it, and toward the end I had sort of let the car go because I knew we were getting rid of it. Knowing this and also having experienced breakdowns before, I always drove it with a little bit of anxiety, never knowing when it might malfunction suddenly.

Then I bought a much newer Honda, and it works…all the time…just as a car should. Yet, even though I rationally know the new car is great, I still have these lingering doubts from the habit of uncertainty I lived with for so long before. I suppose it’s a lot like what happens when someone is used to waking up every morning never knowing when he might suddenly fall from grace because he has to perform himself into acceptance by God.

Then one day, he realizes that he is accepted because of the sacrifice of Christ and just wakes up feeling secure. Though the anxiety of former legalism may still resurface, the constant reassurance of a car that works properly should quickly dispel it.

Thought of the Day 05.08.08

A listener recently emailed me a bunch of different ideas about theology, but it wasn’t dogmatic or arrogant. Rather, it was more like he was just thinking out loud and trying to connect a lot of dots together. I thought it was neat, and told him so. He said he was glad I didn’t think he was nutty. I assured him that, quite the opposite, I really enjoy this sort of thing.

Some of the most productive ideas come in the demeanor of "I'm thinking about this, but I'm not sure I have it all sewn together properly." Such purposeful playfulness is a very healthy thing, mentally. Just compare the confidence of someone who is willing to put forth half-formed ideas and discuss them with the insecurity of someone who only speaks when he’s got a polished gem to give. It’s the imperfect sharing with peers that usually polishes…and also reveals which ideas aren’t gems at all.

Thinking is like any other endeavor: when you’re more scared of making mistakes and being booed than you are excited at having fun doing it, the process is a labor not a joy. And the result will not be superior.

Thought of the Day 05.07.08

The other night, I took Spencer out with me to watch the Cardinals/Cubs game at a local sandwich shop. I ordered him a hamburger and a water. At one point, he took a drink, put the Styrofoam cup on the table, and said to me, “Here, Daddy, would you like some?” I thought it was so sweet that he was offering it to me like that, especially since sharing isn’t really his strong suit.

So I went to take a drink and discovered nothing but ice in the cup. I looked at him, and he started laughing and said, “I joked you, Daddy. Was that funny?” And I had to admit that it was. But it was also scary that, having just turned four, he had the foresight to plan ahead and execute this practical joke on me. Some might view this as a problem, but I took it as both a sign of intelligence and also an indicator of our bond.

Even though the joke was at my expense, he wanted to share the experience of it with me. Rather than being divisive, it actually brought us together in a special way precisely because it showed that our relationship is secure enough to allow room for joking around.

Thought of the Day 05.06.08

When you think about God’s face, what do you picture? I don’t mean the particulars of whether He has a beard or a large nose or blue eyes or anything like that. I mean His expression. What does He say to you with His face? Perhaps you imagine Him scowling at your sin. Maybe you picture disappointment or frustration or even disgust, and there’s certainly reason to think God is often disgusted at us.

But when I think of God’s face, I usually imagine Him smiling, even laughing out loud at my antics. However, my favorite expression on God’s face is the one I often have on my own…when I’m looking at my boys. They might have broken every rule I have, but when I look into their eyes it reminds me of who they are rather than what they’ve done. And the joy they can see on my face at those times is still only a pale sketch of the vivid emotion in my soul.

This is the look on God’s face that I cherish imagining…a revelation of the joy He feels at our very existence.

Thought of the Day 05.05.08

In a recent study of 475 University of Michigan undergraduates not in committed relationships, 27% of the men and 14% of the women admitted to offering gifts as a way of securing sex, and 5% of the men and 9% of the women admitted to offering sex as a way to secure gifts. The study concluded that the prostitution instinct is hard-wired in humans, just like other animals.

Of course, since even the largest number is only 27%, one might more readily conclude that the real hard-wired disposition is the anti-prostitution one that seeks sex in a more meaningful context, like marriage. But there is a deeper mistake here. The impulse to exchange favors for sex isn’t fundamentally bad. All married persons do this if they’re smart. But there is a vast difference between giving gifts or sex as an expression of love in a committed marriage and giving them as a form of payment.

The offense of prostitution is not the exchange, but that it occurs in a relationship which is nothing more than just an exchange.

Thought of the Day 05.02.08

I’m beginning to suspect that the single greatest moral defect of people in this country is their ignorance of the difference between pleasure and joy. For instance, having sex brings me pleasure, but having children brings me joy. Watching television brings me pleasure, but reading books brings me joy. Eating out by myself brings me pleasure, but buying lunch for someone else brings me joy.

The difference isn’t always easy to define, but generally speaking the person who tries to maximize mere pleasure will end up miserable whereas the person who seeks joy will end up happy. It’s like picking a spouse based on physical beauty. You might get lucky, but the vast majority of the beautiful are not the most marryable, a deviation which becomes painfully obvious over time.

And such inability to tell the difference between beauty on the outside and beauty on the inside isn’t just an illustration of the problem, it’s one of its key features….a defect all parents must actively remedy in their children.