Loss and Gain

Someone recently asked on Facebook, “Why do some people beat others down to get ahead?”

People do this for two reasons: to get an emotional high and because it works. The survival of the fittest in its most animal expression.

These people are not endowed with, or at the least are suppressing, all that is noble and good that causes the human race to be somehow more than an animal.

To beat down others is to exploit weaknesses for self gain. It is also self destructive, in the end. What is left of such persons, when they have obtained the pinnacle to which they aspired, is little more than a shell of their former humanity. What does it profit to gain the whole world but lose ones own soul? A very apt question we should ask in these present days.


The Virtue of Honesty

The greatest virtue of all is love. By it the entire cosmos will be changed. Yet there is another virtue that is prerequisite to love, and in that sense, more essential. That virtue is honesty.

Where there is a dishonest heart, Love is at best a mere sentiment and at worst, hypocrisy.

It is essential to be honest both with our neighbors and especially ourselves. Honesty is not mere recitation of fact. That is what the Greeks called truth. Honesty is more subtle. We speak of brute honesty, but that is not always what the virtue of honesty requires.

Honesty is in covenant with love and they temper one another. To speak honestly is both to love truth and to love ones neighbor. Yet, in point of fact, ones neighbor is more important than simple facts. So when we speak, we must first consider our neighbor. What is best for them? How would we wish to be treated if our positions were reversed? The answer to that question is the honest and loving one. We should not speak to our neighbors harm if he is innocent. Nor should we shrink back from justice when it is needed. But in general dealings, we should temper our words with kindness.

Facts are not always kind. But facts are not the measure of honesty. Honesty has an eye to our neighbor’s good. When we speak ill of them with the intent of casting shadow on them, even if we speak only the facts, we are not being honest. Honesty requires that we speak the facts as they are truly in proper relationship to our neighbor. Any other use of facts constitutes dishonesty.

This is called speaking the truth in love; love being that overarching motivation to seek the good of others even to our own loss.

Suppose a man has lived a life of failure. Whether by his own fault or not, he has arrived at a place where he believes the world would be better without him. The pragmatist will look at this man’s life and be hard pressed to disagree with him. Surely, he will reason, this man has been a blight to society and the world would be better off without him in it. Is the pragmatist correct? Perhaps. But though he is factual, he is not honest. Honesty remembers that every one of us has different gifts, abilities, capabilities, capacity for learning, ability to reason, etc… Further, honesty remembers that an individual does not gain his worth from society, but is intrinsically dignified as a human being. Thus in no way can the honest man assent to the judgment of the pragmatist. That failure of a man can be reformed, or taught, and honesty acknowledges this.

Now, this is a mere example not intended to speak to every possible scenario. I simply wish to illustrate that brute facts do not constitute honesty.

Think before you speak. Speak the truth in love. Be honest with yourself and each other.

Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.


Authority, Freedom, and the Bible

I think it is the enduring and very human quest for certainty in a world that does not readily produce certainty that leads men to subject themselves and others to that which they believe to be of divine origin. Authority is the name of the game, and the West is infatuated with it. The most obvious symptoms are bondage to certain ways of thinking about the Bible, the Church, and God. It seems to me that such bondage rarely if ever produces joy and peace and happiness. Jesus, on the other hand tells us that we ‘shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.” And elsewhere in scripture is the verse, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

I have to ask, where is this liberty and freedom which bring peace and joy among those who claim to have an absolute earthly authority? Is it not obvious that that which characterizes them are rules, regulations and a certain kill-joy attitude? A straw man? Perhaps, but often all too true. Freedom is seen as freedom to be bound by the rules and live by them; to be static; to move through life as a train moves along a track, bound to it and guided by it.

Ones view of authority is, in my opinion, born out of a basic fear of abandonment by God. Either one succumbs to that fear and finds ‘divine’ guidance in concrete forms which are then elevated to infallible status, to be transgressed at ones own peril, or one overcomes that fear, throws away the fig leaves and says, Here I am in all my sinful brokenness, deal with me, God as you will, and I will trust you. One looks to an authority outside of God that supposedly has God’s divine stamp of approval, the other looks to God himself and rests in Him.

I do not think there is any absolute authority in this world and to assert that there is is to snuff out the liberty that belongs to the children of God and ensnare them to bondage. God has written His law on our hearts. We have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and we know right from wrong. It’s part of being human to know these things.

While I love the Bible and believe it is the meta-narrative of Salvation I no longer believe it to be a book intended to tell us right from wrong as if we didn’t already know. It is the story of how God has provided for us in Christ through sinful people who, knowing right and wrong, did both anyway. It is the story of how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. It is a story designed to provoke faith, not guilt. It is a call to trust, not a judgment against us. It is a story of Resurrection and the restoration of all things, not of how bad things really are.