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Posts from the ‘form-of-life’ Category

Teenagers, Anxiety, Work

What has caused the rise in anxiety in teenagers?

The go-to answer for this question is social media. Instagram and Snapchat cause teens to compare themselves to one another. They then feel inferior because their hidden self is worse than everyone else’s performative self. This may be true in general, but I think people who answer the question this way don’t really understand how teens use social media or understand the bigger and worse problem lurking in teenage life in America in 2019.

School starts at, say, 8:00 and lasts until 3:30, for a total of 7.5 hours each day, 37.5 hours a week. But that is the bare minimum. Say you are in a sport: 2 hours of practice each weekday and 5 hours of Saturday are now consumed. Then say you work a part-time job. Teens increasingly need to work part-time jobs in high school in order to brunt the rising cost of college tuition (or trade school tuition, also rising). Even if they only work 10 hours a week, that’s 10 hours, gone. Now assume, and this is an understatement, that they have 2 hours of homework each night. Total everything up and this hypothetical student works 62.5 hours each week.

Compare this 62.5 hours per week with the average American adult work week of 44 hours and you may begin to understand the problem. Then realize that the US has the highest average work hours per week of any post-industrial, developed nation. If American adults are worked thin by their schedule, teens are destroyed.

This is not an exaggeration. My own case was clearly ridiculous – I did all honors and AP classes, was heavily, heavily involved in Student Council, was the leader of multiple other groups, did 3 sports for two of my years, worked a part-time job for two years, competed on the Speech team each year (all day Saturdays for 3 months), I volunteered in my “spare time,” and I was chronically over-involved at church. How I survived is beyond me. I was working 85+ hours most weeks. But the original analysis was not of me. It was of a random, probably slightly under-performing, teenager.

For some reason we do not see student hours like adult hours. We think of students sitting at their desk, in their unfulfilling classes, exhausted, burnt out from listening to absurd lectures all day… and we think this is different from adults sitting in their desk, at their unfulfilling job, exhausted, burnt out from listening to absurd lectures in meetings all day. No. They are the same. And students are even less able than adults to cope with high expectations and the ensuing stress.

American labor unions fought a hard-earned battle for the 40-hour work week, which led to new flourishing of family life and community engagement that had not been seen in America since before the Industrial Revolution. If, in another universe, we could cap student work weeks at 40 hours, what yet-unseen goods could our society gain? New social movements among teens, like a resurgence in the now-mostly-dead teen art culture? Would the emerging population of adults, ten years out, begin to perform better and more healthily at work? How would the next generation of young parents raise their kids, and what values of social participation in family and public life would be fostered in those kids? Speculation aside, I am sure that teen anxiety would no longer be the mammoth problem it is today.

The College Admissions System is the god of this age, and he has come to enter the temple of students’ very lives to desecrate what is most valuable, their time, by offering his sacrifice in them. He will sacrifice their friendships, their family, their schedule, even their mental health, to earn for himself the worship he demands. He knows no limits. He will rip out a teen’s proverbial throat and drink their proverbial blood. Will you, like the Maccabean Revolt of old, kill this god and wage war against his all-consuming, imperialist aims? By committing to a simplified, grace-filled lifestyle, you sign on to declare that the kingdom of this world is passing away with all its desires.

Four highlights from “Getting Simple Right” by Milton Friesen (Comment Magazine)

Loved reading this essay in Comment magazine. You should read it too. It will take about 30 minutes. Link.

On minimalism:

There are many ways for simplicity to become a harmful form of minimalism. Minimalism, characterized as the efficiency- and control-driven expression of modernity, means getting rid of overlap, redundancy, ambiguity, uncertainty, and complications. The impulse is to pare things away until all superfluous elements have been removed. But if you don’t know what is vital and you reduce the living complexity of something, it becomes more fragile. A fragile entity is vulnerable to unexpected disruptions. It turns out to be very difficult to simplify a living thing without doing great harm to what makes it alive. There are strong parallels with human organizations.

On bureaucracy as a mindset:

Size is commonly invoked to explain bureaucracy—that you need to be big to be bureaucratic. Think of a government, or a major corporation. But these dynamics are not about size, per se. If it were, only the big players would face the risk fragility through the wrong kind of simplification. The challenge is that you don’t need to be big to be fragile. A group of any size can—and often does—fall prey to this same way of thinking. More than a hundred years ago Max Weber, in Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, argued that while we may claim that our particular organization, as a social structure, is unique or different because it is a charity or a school, such organizations are actually not that different. He claims that whether we have in mind a church, military unit, or business organization, it is the spirit of the impersonal and the efficient, the bureaucratic, that may pervade them all. Their functional ideal, said Weber, is that they operate “without hatred or passion and hence without affection or enthusiasm.” Bureaucracy is an attitude, a spirit, a sensibility. It was this spirit that Hannah Arendt flagged in her controversial evaluation of Eichmann as a banal civil servant enacting horrors from a bureaucrat’s desk.

On mission statements:

Amid the complexity and challenge of organizational leadership, it is easy to make the fatal mistake of thinking noble statements of mission, purpose, or vision are sufficient to protect you from harmful constraints or peer pressure—that the words somehow are what give you focus. The most natural and powerful state for an organization is realized when your actions and your statements are so integrated that even if it isn’t written down, you and those you lead just live it out. This is, of course, both rare and difficult in our all-to-normal times. Far more common are managed simplifications that use formal methods as a means of selling their legitimacy. Such compromises will inevitably lead to organizational erosion over time. Success can cover that up for a good while, but the mask won’t bear weight for long. Simplicity is not saying your mission statement louder or longer or getting it written in granite on your building. Who cares. If you need a bumper sticker to tell people how great you are, you probably aren’t.

On Monasticism and fruitfulness:

Bosch argues that the monks did not set out to change or preserve Western culture and spirituality per se but in pursuing a clear purpose together over time, by taking on a particular organizational form and ethos, they ended up doing just that. This is not the place for a review of the rich, long, and varied life of monasticism as an organizational form, but this form suggests very important insights. Convents and monasteries practiced a form of organizational simplicity rooted in clarity, purpose, stability, wholeness, correction, fitting of roles, natural cycles of time, and many other dynamics that enriched both their common life and the lives of those around them. This kind of simplicity was a buttress against the various cultural temptations that permeated other organizations and structures around them. They failed and faltered as well, but there is a substantive core that persists even today. The dynamic of simplicity with fruitfulness is an elusive dynamic for organizations even today.

Agamben on Paul and the Law, monastic rule

This is the most succinct I have found Agamben on Paul and the Law. (He wrote a whole book on it, The Time That Remains, but besides that he brings it up often). The second paragraph is what matters here, the rest are given for context, the italics are original but boldface is my emphasis.

highest poverty image

The considerations developed up to now must have rendered obvious the sense in which it is almost impossible to pose the problem of the juridical or nonjuridical nature of the monastic rules without falling into anachronism. Even granting that something like our term juridical has always existed (which is no less dubious), it is certain, in any case, that it means one thing in Roman law, another in the early centuries of Christianity, another still starting from the Carolingian age, and another, finally, in the modern age, when the State begins to assume the monopoly over law. Furthermore, the debates that we have analyzed over the “legal” or “advisory” character of the rules, which seem to approach the terms of our problem, become intelligible only if one does not forget that they are superimposed over the theological problem of the relation between the two diathēkai, the Mosaic law and the New Testament.

In this sense, the problem ceases to be anachronistic only if it is restored to its proper theological context, which is that of the relationship between evangelium and lex (that is, first of all, the Hebraic law). The theory of this relationship was elaborated in the Pauline letters and culminates in the declaration that Christ as messiah is telos nomou, end and fulfillment of the law (Rom. 10:4). Even if in the same letter this radical messianic thesis —and the opposition that it implies between pistis and nomos—is complicated to the point of giving rise to a series of aporias (as in 3:31: “Do we then render the law inoperative by this faith? By no means! On the contrary , we uphold the law”), it is nonetheless certain that the Christian life is no longer “under the law” and cannot in any case be conceived in juridical terms. The Christian, like Paul, is “dead to the law” (nomōi apethanon; Gal. 2:19), and lives in the freedom of the spirit. Even when the Gospel is counterposed to the Mosaic law as a “law of faith” (Rom. 3:27), or later as a nova lex to the vetus, it remains the case that neither its form nor its content are homogeneous to those of the nomos. “The difference between the law and the Gospel,” one reads in Isidore’s Liber differentiarum (chap. 31), “is this: in the law there is the letter, in the Gospel grace . . . the first was given for transgression, the second for justification; the law shows sin to the one who does not know it, grace helps him to avoid it . . . in the law the commandments are observed, in the fullness of the Gospel the promises are consummated.”

It is in this theological context that one must situate the monastic rules. Basil and Pachomius, to whom we owe, so to speak, the archetypes of the rules, are perfectly conscious of the irreducibility of the Christian form of life to the law. Basil, in his treatise on baptism, explicitly confirms the Pauline principle according to which the Christian dies to the law (apothanein tōi nomōi), and as we have seen, Pachomius’s Praecepta atque iudicia opens with the statement that love is the fulfillment of the law (plenitudo legis caritas). The rule, whose model is the Gospel, cannot therefore have the form of law, and it is probable that the very choice of the term regula implied an opposition to the sphere of the legal commandment. It is in this sense that a passage from Tertullian seems to oppose the term rule to the “form of the [Mosaic] law”: “Once the form of the old law was dissolved [veteris legis forma soluta], this is the first rule which the apostles, on the authority of the Holy Spirit, sent out to those who were already beginning to be gathered to their side out of the nations” (Tertullian 3, 12). The nova lex cannot have the form of law, but as regula, it approaches the very form of life, which it guides and orients (regula dicta quod recte ducit, recalls an etymology from Isidore, Etymologiarum 6.16).

The problem of the juridical nature of the monastic rules here finds both its specific context and its proper limits. Certainly the Church will progressively construct a system of norms that will culminate in the twelfth century in the system of canon law that Gratian compiles in his Decretum. But if Christian life doubtless can readily encounter the sphere of law, it is just as certain that the Christian forma vivendi itself—which is what the rule has in view—cannot be exhausted in the observance of a precept, which is to say that it cannot have a legal nature.

 

Agamben, The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life, 45-47.

“The Sacrament of Living” by A.W. Tozer

[An excerpt from A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 121-131. Read the whole book here]

aw tozer photo

One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two area — the sacred and the secular. As these areas are conceived to exist apart from each other and to be morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are compelled by the necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of a unified life.

Our trouble springs from the fact that we who follow Christ inhabit at once two worlds — the spiritual and the natural. As children of Adam we live our lives on earth subject to the limitations of the flesh and the weakness and ills to which human nature is heir. Merely to live among men requires of us years of hard toil and much care and attention to the things of this world. In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit. There we enjoy another and higher kind of life — we are children of God; we posses heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ.

This tens to divide our total life into two departments. We come unconsciously to recognize two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and a firm assurance that they are pleasing to God. These are the sacred acts and they are usually thought to be prayer, Bible reading, hymn singing, church attendance and such other acts as spring directly from faith. They may be known by the fact that they have no direct relation to this world, and would have no meaning whatever except as faith shows us another world, “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Over against these sacred acts are the secular ones. They include all the ordinary activities of life which we share with the sons and daughters of Adam: eating, sleeping, working, looking after the needs of the body and performing our dull and prosaic duties here on earth. These we often do reluctantly and with many misgivings, often apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength. The upshot of this is that we are uneasy most of the time. We go about our common tasks with a feeling of deep frustration, telling ourselves pensively that there’s a better day coming when we shall slough off this earthly shell and be bothered no more with the affairs of this world.

This is the old sacred-secular antithesis. Most Christians are caught in its trap. They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of the two world. They try to walk the tight rope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength is reduced, their outlook confused and their joy taken from them.

I believe this state of affairs to be wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, true enough, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament. Without doubt, a more perfect understanding of Christian truth will deliver us from it.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example, and He knew no divided life. In the Presence of His Father He lived on earth without strain from babyhood to His death on the cross. God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between act and act. “I do always the things that please him,” was His brief summary of His own life as it related to the Father (Jn. 8:29). As He moved among men He was poised and restful. What pressure and suffering He endured grew out of His position as the world’s sin bearer; they were never the result of moral uncertainty or spiritual maladjustment.

Paul’s exhortation to “do all to the glory of God” is more than pious idealism. It is an integral part of the sacred revelation and is to be accepted as the very Word of Truth. It opens before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God. Lest we should be too timid to include everything, Paul mentions specifically eating and drinking. This humble privilege we share with the beasts that perish. If these lowly animal acts can be so performed as to honor God, then it becomes difficult to conceive of one that cannot . . .

Perversion, misuse and abuse of our human powers should give us cause enough to be ashamed. Bodily acts done in sin and contrary to nature can never honor God. Wherever the human will introduces moral evil we have no longer our innocent and harmless powers as God made them; we have instead an abused and twisted thing which can never bring glory to its Creator.

Let us, however, assume that perversion and abuse are not present. Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life, the twin wonders have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament.

If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace, then we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis. By on act of consecration of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that consecration. We need no more to be ashamed of our body — the fleshly servant that carries us through life — than Jesus was of the humble beast upon which He rode into Jerusalem. “The Lord hath need of him” may well apply to our mortal bodies. If Christ dwells in us, we may bear about the Lord of glory as the little beast did of old and give occasion to the multitude to cry, “Hosanna in the highest.”

That we see this truth is not enough. If we would escape from the toils of the sacred-secular dilemma, the truth must “run in our blood” and condition the complexion of our thoughts. We must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly. By meditation upon this truth, by talking it over with God often in our prayers, by recalling it to our minds frequently as we move about among men, a sense of its wondrous meaning will take hold of us. The old painful duality will go down before a restful unity of life. The knowledge that we are all God’s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us.

This is not quite all. Long-held habits do not die easily. It will take intelligent thought and a great deal of reverent prayer to escape completely from the sacred-secular psychology. For instance, ti may be difficult for the average Christian to get hold of the idea that his daily labors can be performed as acts of worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The old antithesis will crop up in the back of his head sometimes to disturb his peace of mind. Nor will that old serpent, the devil, take all this lying down. He will be there in the cab or at the desk, or in the field to find the Christian that he is giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a trifling portion of his time. And unless great care is taken, this will create confusion and bring discouragement and heaviness of heart.

We can meet this successfully only be the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there . . .

In order that I may be understood and not misunderstood I would throw into relief the practical implications of the teaching for which I have been arguing, i.e. the sacramental quality of everyday life. Over against its positive meanings, I should like to point out a few things it does not mean.

It does not mean, for instance, that everything we do is of equal importance with everything else we do or may do. One act of a good man’s life may differ widely from another in importance. Paul’s sewing of tents was not equal to his writing of an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul.

Again, it does not mean that every man is as useful as every other man. Gifts differ in the body of Christ. A Billy Bray is not to be compared with a Luther or a Wesley for sheer usefulness to the church and to the world; but the service of the less gifted brother is as pure as that of the more gifted, and God accepts both with equal pleasure.

The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never-so-simple task, he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

[Prayer]: Lord, I would trust Thee completely; I would be altogether Thine; I would exalt Thee above all. I desire that I may feel no sense of possessing anything outside of Thee. I want constantly to be aware of Thy overshadowing presence and to hear Thy speaking voice. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thoughts may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.” And all this I confidently believe Thou wilt grant me through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen. 

Maturity, a Twostep

In the first step we cut out things that do not belong.
  • Do you domineer conversations? Cut it out.
  • Does your humor make others uncomfortable? Stop it.
  • Did that social faux pas need to happen? Never again.
In the second step we add things that do belong.
  • Can I be more encouraging to others? I should start that.
  • Could my jokes be funnier? Let’s improve them.
  • Would my generosity help people? Time to give.

The twostep of maturity is a complicated dance. As in the real twostep, our feet feel awkward moving in the same direction at the same time. It takes time and experience to learn. But you know what is even more awkward? Moving one foot forward, again and again. Likewise in life it is easy to fall into phases of cut-cut-cut or add-add-add.

two step image

When we keep eliminating things, but do not replace them, we become empty inside. Instead of becoming a fuller, more alive person, we become the hallow shell of the lesser person we once were. Remember that stoic, emotionless guy you met in 8th or 9th grade? That could have been you. It was me. Being in control of your emotions does not mean killing them. The mistake is that to mature is to cut out bad emotions. Sure, do that. But without replacing them with better emotional states, you have not grown.

The same is true of seasons of adding. We can add all kinds of new character traits or habits. But in time we will have accumulated the baggage of old ones that should have died, hard. When I receive harsh criticism that seems out of place for “how mature I am” generally, this is the problem. In total I have grown, but in this one area I have not eliminated the old way.

We dance the awkward step-step-restep until, by their grace, someone comes by to help. They show us how to dance life. By watching them, we see new things to cut, new things to add. This, by the way, is mentorship. Teaching others by example how to grow.

Enter David Hume.

Hume wrote a book in the 1740’s called “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” The book focuses on the limits of what we can know. In the first chapter, he includes a great meditation on what it means to be a human being:

Man is

•a reasonable being, and as such he gets appropriate food and nourishment from the pursuit of knowledge; but so narrow are the limits of human understanding that we can’t hope for any great amount of knowledge or for much security in respect of what we do know. As well as being reasonable, man is

•a sociable being; but he can’t always enjoy—indeed can’t always want—agreeable and amusing company. Man is also

•an active being; and from that disposition of his, as well as from the various necessities of human life, he must put up with being busy at something; but the mind requires some relaxation, and can’t always devote itself to careful work.

Here are three different dimensions to our lives: thinking, socializing, and acting. In each dimension we bump into limits, at some point. We can’t know everything, we can’t always have good company, and we can’t always work. Our minds are finite, and as Hume will argue later, knowledge cannot be certain. (I’ll also add that socializing can drain us of action, and action can drain us of socializing. So those limit each other.)

balance heart and brain

He continues:

It seems, then, that nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable for the human race, and has secretly warned us not to tilt too far in any of these directions and make ourselves incapable of other occupations and entertainments.

‘Indulge your passion for knowledge,’ says nature, ‘but seek knowledge of things that are human and directly relevant to action and society. As for abstruse thought and profound researches, I prohibit them, and if you engage in them I will severely punish you by the brooding melancholy they bring, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception your announced discoveries will meet with when you publish them.

Moderation is not something that we, as Americans, usually care about. If something is good, gimme as much as possible. If something is bad, keep it away. But seeking moderation is still helpful in all kinds of ways.

There is a difference between values and virtues. A value is something that you always want. Joy is a value — if I can have more, I’m taking it. Hope is a value. Peace is a value. Love too. Each of these is, itself, good.

Virtues can be overdone. Patience is a virtue because you should not be patient with everything. We exercise patience when a child throws food; we do not express the same patience with an adult. Courage is also a virtue. You can be too “courageous,” which we call recklessness. Running into battle without a shield is not courageous. It is reckless. So we need to have enough courage, or we are a coward. But not too much courage, or we are reckless.

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets. He says maturity “is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom.” I agree, though for different reasons than Whyte meant. We seeking moderation in life, but our margin for error is thin. A little too much, or a little too little, and failure is inevitable. Maturity is not achievable because moderation is elusive.

An asymptote.

The golden mean.

Knowledge, socializing, acting — Hume says that these are all virtues, not values. We can only want them in moderation, never too little, never too much.

He ends with a summary:

Be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy be still a man.’

Now that is a quote for a philosophy major.

My first take-away from Hume is the obvious one: don’t be a Brain. Have a brain, and use your brain, but do more than that. Feel things, be sociable, create something, and be adventurous. Live a little.

The other, more circuitous take-away is that you must add and subtract to find this balanced life. If you cut-cut-cut out the negative sides of yourself, then on exactly 50% of virtues you will err. Likewise with adding.

We dance the twostep of growing older because in it we grow closer to the balanced life.

What is a Safe Person?

“What will we be looking for in a safe person? Henry Cloud and John Townsend offer three hallmark qualities of a safe person in their book ‘Safe People’:

1. They draw you close to God. Safe people do not try to take the place of God in your life by providing “answers” or solutions. They do not try to be your everything. Safe people understand your dependence upon God and gently draw you in the direction of receiving what you can and must from God directly. They encourage your spiritual development; they’re quick to remind you that God cares, that God is at work, to encourage your full surrender and participation in what it is God might ask of you.

2. Safe people also draw you close to others. This is significant in that a safe friend will not try to isolate you from your other important relationships. Safe people are for your marriage, for your work relationships, for your friendships beyond themselves. When appropriate, they gentle push you towards resolving conflict — not merely allowing you to vent your frustration.

3. And last, safe people draw you close to your true self. This is perhaps one of the most difficult to observe, and most powerful when working right. Many of us live lives of relatively deep deception about who we actually are, both the dark and the light. A true, safe friend can see where you are stuck and also see your potential — and they join the fight for your soul’s freedom from the barriers so that you more closely resemble the person God envisioned when he made you.”

Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Safe People, 1995, 143.

The root of the problem

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. . .The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:9, 13-14

If your doctrine of sin runs deep, your doctrine of God’s grace must run deeper. Someone holding a very superficial view of sin will normally only seek the Savior in a superficial way, to the extent that He solves their sin problem.

Sin is not a behavior, but an orientation. We are “totally depraved” not in the sense that we always do the most sinful possible things… but that everything we do is done in a sinful way. We are tempted to look at ourselves as morally neutral with sin as an addition to our person; the Biblical perspective holds the contrary, that sin is our person, and the filter through which we make all decisions.

Jesus battled this perspective throughout his earthly ministry. Mark 7:14-23 is a good example: “nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them. . .what comes out of a person is what defiles them.” Or also Matthew 23:25-26 “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. . .First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”. In Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a famous moment where he explains murder in this way: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subject to judgment.” He then repeats with adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He concerns himself not just with actions, but with the heart. To Jesus, motives matter.

Paul’s logic in Galatians 5 is the same. The word picture of “fruit of the Spirit” means that if the Spirit indwells you, these different attributes will become evident in time. The same is true of the flesh, with its parallel list in vs. 19-21. Because the logic is not “do these good things, and you will get the Spirit” but rather “those with the Spirit will evidence these good things,” Paul is able to freely say in the same passage that “against such things there is no law.” The OT law only exists to give a portrait of what the sinful orientation creates, not actually a list of things themselves to avoid, as such. (I could go on about similar logic in Romans 14, Acts 10 and Galatians 3).

Now addressing the Hebrews passage at the beginning of this post. The ceremonial laws could not purify at a deep level because they were designed only to address the surface level. They do not change a person’s sin orientation, but instead only put a covering over it so that the person can continue to function within the religious life of the Jewish community. Because it did not change the person on the inside, their sin orientation, their true self, the ceremonial laws beckoned for something better, a more full solution to the problem than rituals or even humans could provide.

That answer is Jesus Christ. His death, symbolized here by his blood, is able to cleanse the deepest recesses of a person and change them from the inside. The death/blood of a heifer could not reach the true root of the human condition. Through Him who brought us from “acts that lead to DEATH” to “serving the LIVING God” (vs. 14), we have received forgiveness, the cleansing of our sin.

Pascal on other-wordly longing

A beautiful though long reading from one of my classes today.
From Blaise Pascal, Pensées.

246 [536-434]

The chief arguments of the sceptics- I pass over the lesser ones- are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, except in so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural intuition is not a convincing proof of their truth; since, having no certainty, apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, or by a wicked demon, or by chance, it is doubtful whether these principles given to us are true, or false, or uncertain, according to our origin. Again, no person is certain, apart from faith, whether he is awake or sleeps, seeing that during sleep we believe that we are awake as firmly as we do when we are awake; we believe that we see space, figure, and motion; we are aware of the passage of time, we measure it; and in fact we act as if we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have on our own admission no idea of truth, whatever we may imagine. As all our intuitions are, then, illusions, who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep?

And who doubts that, if we dreamt in company, and the dreams chanced to agree, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that matters were reversed? In short, as we often dream that we dream, heaping dream upon dream, may it not be that this half of our life, wherein we think ourselves awake, is itself only a dream on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death, during which we have as few principles of truth and good as during natural sleep, these different thoughts which disturb us being perhaps only illusions like the flight of time and the vain fancies of our dreams? These are the chief arguments on one side and the other.

I omit minor ones, such as the sceptical talk against the impressions of custom, education, manners, country and the like. Though these influence the majority of common folk, who dogmatise only on shallow foundations, they are upset by the least breath of the sceptics. We have only to see their books if we are not sufficiently convinced of this, and we shall very quickly become so, perhaps too much.

I notice the only strong point of the dogmatists, namely, that, speaking in good faith and sincerely, we cannot doubt natural principles. Against this the sceptics set up in one word the uncertainty of our origin, which includes that of our nature. The dogmatists have been trying to answer this objection ever since the world began.

So there is open war among men, in which each must take a part and side either with dogmatism or scepticism. For he who thinks to remain neutral is above all a sceptic. This neutrality is the essence of the sect; he who is not against them is essentially for them. In this appears their advantage. They are not for themselves; they are neutral, indifferent, in suspense as to all things, even themselves being no exception.

What, then, shall man do in this state? Shall he doubt everything? Shall he doubt whether he is awake, whether he is being pinched, or whether he is being burned? Shall he doubt whether he doubts? Shall he doubt whether he exists? We cannot go so far as that; and I lay it down as a fact that there never has been a real complete sceptic. Nature sustains our feeble reason and prevents it raving to this extent. Shall he, then, say, on the contrary, that he certainly possesses truth- he who, when pressed ever so little, can show no title to it and is forced to let go his hold?

What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!

Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confutes the sceptics, and reason confutes the dogmatists. What, then, will you become, O men! who try to find out by your natural reason what is your true condition? You cannot avoid one of these sects, nor adhere to one of them. Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Humble yourself, weak reason; be silent, foolish nature; learn that man infinitely transcends man, and learn from your Master your true condition, of which you are ignorant. Hear God. For in fact, if man had never been corrupt, he would enjoy in his innocence both truth and happiness with assurance; and if man had always been corrupt, he would have no idea of truth or bliss. But, wretched as we are, and more so than if there were no greatness in our condition, we have an idea of happiness and can not reach it. We perceive an image of truth and possess only a lie. Incapable of absolute ignorance and of certain knowledge, we have thus been manifestly in a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.

It is, however, an astonishing thing that the mystery furthest removed from our knowledge, namely, that of the transmission of sin, should be a fact without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.

The knot of our condition takes its twists and turns in this abyss, so that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man. Whence it seems that God, willing to render the difficulty of our existence unintelligible to ourselves, has concealed the knot so high, or, better speaking, so low, that we are quite incapable of reaching it; so that it is not by the proud exertions of our reason, but by the simple submissions of reason, that we can truly know ourselves.

These foundations, solidly established on the inviolable authority of religion, make us know that there are two truths of faith equally certain: the one, that man, in the state of creation, or in that of grace, is raised above all nature, made like unto God and sharing in His divinity; the other, that in the state of corruption and sin, he is fallen from this state and made like unto the beasts. These two propositions are equally sound and certain.

Scripture manifestly declares this to us, when it says in some places: Deliciae meae esse cum filiis hominum [ Prov. 8. 31. “And my delights were with the sons of men.”]. Effundam spiritum meum super omnem carnem [Joel 2. 28. “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.”]. Dii estis [ Ps. 82 .6. “Ye are gods.”], etc.; and in other places, Omnis caro faenum [Is. 40. 6. “All flesh is grass.”]. Homo assimilatus est jumentis insipientibus, et similis factus est illis [ Ps. 49. 12,13. “He is like the beasts that perish; this their way is their folly.]. Dixi in corde meo de filiis hominum [ Eccles. 3. 18. “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men.”].

Whence it clearly seems that man by grace is made like unto God, and a partaker in His divinity, and that without grace he is like unto the brute beasts.

247 [853-438]

If man is not made for God, why is he happy only in God? If man is made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

Christ, the τέλος of the Law

Paul writes that Christ is the “end of the law” (NASB) [“τέλος γὰρ νόμου Χριστὸς” (GNT)] (Romans 10:4). This is not a very straightforward phrase, because “τέλος” could mean several different things.

Is Christ the end of the law, as in, the goal of the law? A similar usage to the Westminster confession’s first statement “the chief end of man” meaning the very purpose and direction in which something is supposed to act. In this interpretation the law convicts men of their sin, without providing the solution, because Christ is that solution.

Is Christ the end of the law, as in, the illustrative or thematic culmination of the law? This would be a covenantal, Biblical theology type answer where the various parts of the OT law were retrospectively indicative of various parts of Christ’s atonement. For example the “end” of the priestly class is Christ, the “end” of the ritual sacrifices is Christ, the “end” of ceremonial uncleanliness is Christ, etc.

Is Christ the end of the law, as in, he terminates the law? S Lewis Johnson interprets this to mean that “the old order, the legal age, is done away in Christ, even as a hypothetical means of salvation (no one could be saved by the Law, for all men are sinners, Christ excluded; cf. Gal. 3:10, 11, 12),” and claims that this is likely the force of the text.

If the third interpretation is correct (which it seems to me for those reasons and also from the context of verses 1-4), then doesn’t that directly contradict the other NT statements that the Law will never pass away, that Christ came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and so on? I am thinking in particular of Matthew 5:17-20. Does Paul’s statement on the Law not oppose Christ’s, and if not, how do I understand both of them?

 

From study notes by S Lewis Johnson.

Repost: Augustine: What is Government without Justice?

augustine

[Repost from this link]

St. Augustine states that kingdoms without justice are mere robberies, and robberies are like small kingdoms; but large Empires are piracy writ large (5th C)

 

St. Augustine (354-430), in Book IV of The City of God, relates the story about the pirate who had been seized and brought before Alexander the Great. The cheeky pirate asks Alexander what is the real difference between a pirate and an emperor apart from the scale of action

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

  1. HOW LIKE KINGDOMS WITHOUT JUSTICE ARE TO ROBBERIES.Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

    5. OF THE RUNAWAY GLADIATORS WHOSE POWER BECAME LIKE THAT OF ROYAL DIGNITY.

    I shall not therefore stay to inquire what sort of men Romulus gathered together, seeing he deliberated much about them,—how, being assumed out of that life they led into the fellowship of his city, they might cease to think of the punishment they deserved, the fear of which had driven them to greater villainies; so that henceforth they might be made more peaceable members of society. But this I say, that the Roman empire, which by subduing many nations had already grown great and an object of universal dread, was itself greatly alarmed, and only with much difficulty avoided a disastrous overthrow, because a mere handful of gladiators in Campania, escaping from the games, had recruited a great army, appointed three generals, and most widely and cruelly devastated Italy. Let them say what god aided these men, so that from a small and contemptible band of robbers they attained to a kingdom, feared even by the Romans, who had such great forces and fortresses. Or will they deny that they were divinely aided because they did not last long? As if, indeed, the life of any man whatever lasted long. In that case, too, the gods aid no one to reign, since all individuals quickly die; nor is sovereign power to be reckoned a benefit, because in a little time in every man, and thus in all of them one by one, it vanishes like a vapor. For what does it matter to those who worshipped the gods under Romulus, and are long since dead, that after their death the Roman empire has grown so great, while they plead their causes before the powers beneath? Whether those causes are good or bad, it matters not to the question before us. And this is to be understood of all those who carry with them the heavy burden of their actions, having in the few days of their life swiftly and hurriedly passed over the stage of the imperial office, although the office itself has lasted through long spaces of time, being filled by a constant succession of dying men. If, however, even those benefits which last only for the shortest time are to be ascribed to the aid of the gods, these gladiators were not a little aided, who broke the bonds of their servile condition, fled, escaped, raised a great and most powerful army, obedient to the will and orders of their chiefs and much feared by the Roman majesty, and remaining unsubdued by several Roman generals, seized many places, and, having won very many victories, enjoyed whatever pleasures they wished, and did what their lust suggested, and, until at last they were conquered, which was done with the utmost difficulty, lived sublime and dominant. But let us come to greater matters.

    6. CONCERNING THE COVETOUSNESS OF NINUS, WHO WAS THE FIRST WHO MADE WAR ON HIS NEIGHBORS, THAT HE MIGHT RULE MORE WIDELY.

    Justinus, who wrote Greek or rather foreign history in Latin, and briefly, like Trogus Pompeius whom he followed, begins his work thus: “In the beginning of the affairs of peoples and nations the government was in the hands of kings, who were raised to the height of this majesty not by courting the people, but by the knowledge good men had of their moderation. The people were held bound by no laws; the decisions of the princes were instead of laws. It was the custom to guard rather than to extend the boundaries of the empire; and kingdoms were kept within the bounds of each ruler’s native land. Ninus king of the Assyrians first of all, through new lust of empire, changed the old and, as it were, ancestral custom of nations. He first made war on his neighbors, and wholly subdued as far as to the frontiers of Libya the nations as yet untrained to resist.” And a little after he says: “Ninus established by constant possession the greatness of the authority he had gained. Having mastered his nearest neighbors, he went on to others, strengthened by the accession of forces, and by making each fresh victory the instrument of that which followed, subdued the nations of the whole East.” Now, with whatever fidelity to fact either he or Trogus may in general have written—for that they sometimes told lies is shown by other more trustworthy writers—yet it is agreed among other authors, that the kingdom of the Assyrians was extended far and wide by King Ninus. And it lasted so long, that the Roman empire has not yet attained the same age; for, as those write who have treated of chronological history, this kingdom endured for twelve hundred and forty years from the first year in which Ninus began to reign, until it was transferred to the Medes. But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery