Friday, September 01 2017
The Rekindling of Hope:
Looking for Answers in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey
Dr. Paul R. Shockley
In the wake of loss, pain, and suffering emerging from Hurricane Harvey, thousands of us are looking for answers. We went from the anticipation of a new school year to terrible anxiety, catastrophe, and displacement in a matter of days. While some of us have experienced very little damage, others of us have lost much. Perhaps too much! Thus, our feelings are a mixture of genuine happiness for those who been spared and genuine pain for those who have lost not mere things, but visual memories, family heirlooms, and hard earned possessions. Beyond our ability to control our circumstances, the realization of certain dreams we have worked so hard to achieve have literally been taken from us in a way we could never have anticipated. Then there are some of us who just can’t ever seem to get ahead. What little we have actually gained is now swept away or ruined.
Like the apostle Paul, whose life experiences included being bit by a viper following a terrible shipwreck (Acts 28:3-4), imprisonment, torture, and injustice, exclaimed in Romans 12:15, we “rejoice with those rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
Even before the flooding receded from my own location in SW Houston, looking at the damage from the tornado that I could hear a few nights ago when it came thundering down into our next door neighborhood like a freight train, and receiving news of people who need to be rescued from flooding (with no resources like a boat to help them), I received an unexpected text from a previous student of mine. He is a bright student. Contagious personality. Fun loving.
After introducing himself in the text, I asked him, “How are you?” His first response was, “Well... not too good. I have a couple of theology/philosophy questions and I’m just wondering why does God allowing suffering?”
How does one even begin to answer such a question? I think about Jesus. My mind flashes from one miraculous scene to another. While Jesus' first miracle was turning water into choice wine in John 2 at the wedding of Cana, His greatest miracle involved the raising of Lazarus in John 11. Here my mind paused. I opened the Scriptures. I read and re-read what happened in John 11. Hope is rekindled. Refreshment and restoration became my experience in the very early hours of the morning.
Consider John 11:
Fellow Jewish people already gathered to comfort Mary and Martha in their loss. Jesus had already received word that Lazarus, “the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). By the time Jesus arrives Lazarus had been in the tomb dead for four days. Before Jesus even makes it to the front door, Martha comes out of the house, approaches him, and says, “...if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:21). Later, Mary shares those same sentiments. She says, “Now when Mary came to the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died'"(John 11:32).
If we are brutally honest, then perhaps we too share those feelings. “God, if you were here, you would not have allowed Hurricane Harvey leave a destructive path of filth, loss, suffering, and death. God, you could have prevented the hurricane! You could have turned that hurricane around from the gulf shores affecting no lives, immediately dissipated its power, or even wiped its existence from the face of this earth. But you didn't! God, where are you?”
Those questions are permissible. In fact, they should be asked. In their grief, Jesus did not rebuke Martha and Mary for their statements to Him. Instead, Jesus spoke words of assurance and demonstrated what He could do with loss, suffering and death. I believe Jesus is doing the same for us today. Hope is being rekindled.
The student’s question is not foreign to my own personal plight with pain and suffering. Though every worldview has to deal with the problem of moral and natural evil and suffering, and not all explanations have equal weight or explanatory power, I do remain convinced that God is loving and sovereign over all. Even after Martha and Mary were bold enough to actually say to Jesus that His absence allowed Lazarus to die, Martha goes onto say in the next verse, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask“ (John 11:22). Jesus responds to her words with kindness and authority, “Your brother will rise again.” But what strikes me this time is how Jesus responded to Lazarus’ death. John records:
32 Now when Mary came to the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the people who had come with her weeping, he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed.34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 Thus the people who had come to mourn said, “Look how much he loved him!” Jesus wept. He promises to raise Lazarus from the dead. But even with the miracle of resurrection that is about to occur (John 11:38-44), Jesus wept. Jesus weeps.
While my response to this student is ultimately inadequate, it offers me a peculiar hope, a certain clarity or light against the backdrop of real catastrophe. Perhaps it will help you too. Here you will see I am indebted to the thoughts on the mystery of evil by thinkers like Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, John Lennox, Erwin Lutzer, and Norman Geisler.
Here’s my response to the student:
That's a great question. Here are some things I ponder when I see natural evil and yet firmly believe in God who is good and sovereign:
(1) To even say something is evil, we have to have a moral standard. Thus, the objective moral law argument emerges. So, evil actually affirms God’s existence.
(2) God Himself experienced evil with His Son on the cross for our sins. He faced injustice, hatred, mockery, horrific pain and suffering, and even abandonment. But even here we also see infinite love, grace given freely, redemption made possible, and a unique peace that transcends all affliction and despair.
(3) Jesus took care of the problem of sin at His first coming (John 19:28-30; Ephesians 2:8-9) and when Jesus comes back at His second coming (Revelation 19-20), He will take care of the problem of evil. No more natural evil and suffering (Revelation 21-22). So, I take it that this is the best way to the best world achievable. No one can prove otherwise.
(4) While we don't know why God allowed this hurricane to hit us, we are looking at all of this natural evil and suffering through a "key hole." We don't have the opportunity to see all the ripple effects and how God will tie all this together (Romans 8:28-39). But since we intimately know Him, we can trust Him like a young child can trust his loving Father. Our trust in Him is not an irrational leap of faith. We know who this God is. We know Him. So, we can trust Him. Faith is the reliance upon Him who we have good reasons to believe is true and trustworthy.
(5) Consequently, there are certain incredible values flowing from this catastrophe we are witnessing right now: (a) people from all socio-economic backgrounds, gender, race, etc are helping each other; (b) An adjustment to live for what matters most. While the things we surround ourselves with and perhaps even live for are being swept away, we are seeing ordinary folks like you and me, becoming the "heroes" we should be to our neighbors every day of the year (Mark 12:28-34). Like President George H. W. Bush (41st US president) said in a statement, “...truly inspired by the flotilla of volunteers- Points of light all-who are answering the call to help their neighbors." (c) A reminder that life is vaporous. Thus, let's love each other, committing our wills to the true good of other people (1 John 3:16-17).
(6) One question we should also be asking is, "God, why am I still living?"
While God did not prevent Hurricane Harvey, we are seeing God’s presence as we minister to people, meeting them where they are and taking them where they need to be. People are coming together, sacrificing themselves, surrendering their own comforts, and meeting practical needs. Some of the walls that have divided us (e.g., racial; socio-economic) far too long might be coming down. Real heroes are emerging; narcissism and trivial diversions are also being displaced. Hopefully, our trivialities will be exchanged for a greater love, namely loving people where we live. May that begin with me! In the midst of a horrific catastrophe we are facing today, a better tomorrow is rekindled.
Friday, June 17 2016
WANTED: FULL-TIME HEROES!
PLEASE APPLY IN PERSON
Dr. Paul R. Shockley
17 June 2016 ©
If we understand the power of the arts, we realize that the movies, the music, and the shows we see and hear not only mirror our society, but they also can tell uswhere we are going. The arts possess predictive powers. In the era in which we have been born and raised, with all of this technology, clothing apparel, entertainment venues, and video gaming, one of the over-arching cultural themes we repeatedly encounter has to do with super heroes.
Like never before in the history of human society we have been touched by fictional characters on the silver screen, in our comings and goings, and even in our homes: Batman, Black Widow, Captain America, Daredevil, Ezio Auditore, the Flash, The Green Arrow, Link, Mario, Master Chief, Superman, Wonder Woman, and X-Men.
While we have always loved stories of heroism, as evidenced in the history of literature with characters like Hector of Troy, Beowulf, 47 Ronin, or Bilbo Baggins, heroic stories told today are touching us in new ways because of the incredible technology we have in our possession.
But I also suspect that there is another reason why we find ourselves so attracted to these super heroes with all of their muscles, powers, skills, and tactics; namely, we are looking for someone to believe in! As a society we are looking for hope and for some of us, we are turning to the imagination to find that answer. Reality as it is, is not doing it for us!
Why? We look around and we see violence everywhere. People are dying by the thousands and hatred seems to know no bounds. Injustice keeps finding expression and the hypocrisy among our leaders seem to go unchecked. “Hope! Where are you?” As a society we are looking for hope, for real change, and for some, we are turning to the imagination to find that comforting answer. Why?
II. THE EMERGENCE OF A POST CHRISTIAN SOCIETY
Unlike past generations in human history, we are entering into a post-Christian society. These waters are uncharted! These lands are new! To our detriment, the Christian consensus in our Western culture has been lost. It first happened in Western Europe and now it has happened here in the U.S.
From the ashes of a society that once operated within a Christian mindset (even though many may not have embraced Christianity but operated within the forms of Christianity), our society is now terribly fragmented with persuasive people and their attractive ideas - warring for the hearts and minds of people who will legitimatize gods of their own making. Like Nancy Pearcey pointed out in Finding Truth, they are “absolutizing” some aspect of creation, making it their own “god,” in an effort to live the way they want to live.
But is this liberating? No, it is not, for they are putting themselves in a terrible place and state of intellectual and existential tension. Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, one of my personal heroes, observed in his interaction with thousands of people over the course of his life and ministry:
Non-Christian presuppositions simply do not fit into what God has made, including what man is. This being so, every man is in a place of tension. Man cannot make his own universe and then live in it.
Consequently, when we come to discover that what we believe is not actually true, it can cause us to spiral downward into painful anxiety, depression, and even despondency. These idols did not generate the hope we were looking for. Why? Unlike the Judeo-Christian faith, these worldviews did not possess (a) logical strength, (b) empirical evidences, (c) not able to fill or satisfy the void within, and (d) pull all of life together. (e) These idols did not work. Though we may so terribly wish things were different and might even try and try again with all our resources, our man-made creations are just not (f) viable; they are dead; they are even non-existent. Thus, brokenness, anger, disillusionment, incompleteness, and shame are becoming a widespread experience.
In fact, in this post-Christian society where authentic love is lacking, brokenness in our homes abound, and the pursuit of materialism is valued, anger or apathy is becoming all too common. The tension builds!
Moreover, too many times we have trusted certain leaders, hoping for change, but finding the same thing over and over again: corruption, duplicity, exploitation, greed, manipulation, and the spin. Expedience is chosen over virtue, the sensual and profane over what is most noble, and the maximization of self-interest over and against what is true, good, and beautiful. We seem to no longer care for virtue. We just want an instant fix to our problems regardless of the formation of character.
And if it could not get even worse evil seems to be running amok with thousands of lives divided, displaced, and dead in certain regions of our world. But this shouldn’t surprise us. Like Malcolm Muggeridge, a famous British journalist once stated (1903-1990), “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”
Therefore, people are looking for relief from their tension, pain, and evil. They have shattered expectations generated from worldviews that did not provide adequate final answers.
III. “AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH”
But there is also another new problem that is unforeseen in ages past. As predicted by Neil Postman’s 1985 social commentary, Amusing Ourselves to Death, more and more us are being taken in by the perils of non-sensical entertainment. Taken in by dangerous nonsense, we are losing ourselves in amusement, becoming distracted, diverted, and immobilized intellectually, emotionally, and in spheres of political and social discourse. While thirsting for the trivial, the popular, and the sensational, we have become bored with serious analysis, argument, and reasoned discourse. Thus, we are losing opportunities to make a life-giving difference. We are only able to give our leftovers to what matters most.
But Neil Postman was not the only one to see this trend emerging. Consider, once again, the words of Malcolm Muggeridge:
“It is difficult to resist the conclusion that twentieth century man has decided to abolish himself. Tired of the struggle to be himself, he has created boredom out of his own affluence, impotence out of his own erotomania, and vulnerability out of his own strength. He himself blows the trumpet that brings the walls of his own cities crashing down, until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, having drugged and polluted himself into stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes extinct.”
Not only are people in tension, angry, and looking for an escape, they are also longing for peace, wholeness, and redemption.
All too often in those still moments we look at ourselves in the mirror and ponder the costly mistakes we have made. Regret wells up within us and we ask ourselves, “Is there any real hope for me?” To be honest, we really are looking for change we can believe in! We hunger for peace, wholeness, & redemption. We ask, “Does hope even exist for someone like me? Is forgiveness even possible?” We no longer know who we are or what we have become. We have changed in the most unexpected ways and we do not like what we see. We ask ourselves, “Will we ever be happy?”
Looking for Hope!
One of the greatest desires or deepest longings we inherently possess is hope. The word “hope” expresses the ideas of trust, an expectation of deliverance, restoration, and rest.
We also earnestly seek to know that what we believe in is actually true and, thus, comfort us no matter how fierce our troubles become. We want something that we can believe in that will also give meaning to our lives, especially in view of the ups and downs of this vaporous, vaporous life where everything we know and love can be snatched from us. While we long to make sense of the world and our relationship to it, hope involves the expectation that one day all things will be made right.
Let’s think about hope another way:
- If hope is crushed in view of our personal experiences;
- If disappointments or emptiness accompany the long-term goals we have achieved;
- If physical pleasures are vaporous;
- If Material goods, jobs, relationships, popularity or recognition, wealth, power, or physical beauty did not generate the hope we are looking for;
Then, we are faced with at least two possible conclusions:
First, hope can never be realized; it is impossible. Consequently, we are simply left exhausted or resigned to live for “punctuated moments of happiness” in a random universe that is ultimately meaningless. While we feel this inherent need to hope we suppress this longing stating it is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Or second, hope can be realized but only in God. Therefore, we need to seriously investigate whether there exists a personal & infinite God who can satisfy our deepest longings, needs, and expectations.
Therefore, we are entering into a society that is in deep crisis. But if we will take that crisis on and NOT give into the pitfalls of skepticism, relativism, or worse, apathy, we can help people discover that there are answers that can truly satisfy the intellect, the heart, and emotions in the most dynamic and refreshing ways; hope is possible! While society continually changes, people’s needs do not.
Therefore, I invite you to become the hero the world needs in this age of apathy, pain, and violence. A hero will be one that can honestly point people to real hope given one’s sphere of influence (s). I have discovered as a philosopher and one who has common needs and problems like everyone else, that hope is realized in the God of the Bible.
IV. WANTED: FULL-TIME HEROES:
Three Job Requirements Needed: Be a lover of truth, possess conviction, & be strategic.
You can point people to real hope by being the type of the hero the world needs in your comings and goings of life. Here’s how!
If you want to be the type of hero the world needs the first step is this: be a lover of truth. Don’t merely process information in order to get a grade or seek a promotion to get a higher paying position, be one who loves the pursuit of truth. (1) Be curious! In other words, actively engage your situations and your surroundings. Don’t be a mere spectator, investigate, inquire, and explore the dynamics around you. Moreover, (2) critique the truth-claims people are making. Be open but think critically. Don’t ever allow yourself to be processed. Understand the what, the how, and the why. Always be asking what people mean and how they came to that conclusion. Learning can be very pleasurable. Quoting Malcolm Muggeridge one more time, and applying it here: “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” American philosopher John Dewey also made a similar statement, "The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made." Consequently, if you are a lover of truth, then you will possess a certain attractiveness-for you will be able to give real answers. You will possess certain listening and observation skills that will make you stand out among so many others. You will be able to see what so many others fail to see.
If you want to be the type of hero the world needs, you must not only be a lover of truth, but you must also possess conviction! This is your second step. What I mean is that you need to make sure you possess a worldview whereby you know what you believe, why you believe it, and whether you have rock solid good justification for it!
All too often I come across people whose worldviews have collapsed because they lacked conviction. They believed something because they were told to believe it and never considered why something should be believed. Thus, because their worldviews were built incoherently, when faced with a problem, a painful or pleasurable experience, a persuasive person, or a powerful idea, their worldview fractured if not collapsed. Thus, you need to understand what you believe, why you believe it, and whether you have the greatest justification for it.
Take ownership of what is actually true! Don’t fall guilty to what Blaise Pascal observed, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Not all attractive beliefs are mere illusions. Some of them are fish lures with sharp hooks. They promise much but will end up slaying you!
As a student of philosophy I’ve become convinced that the biblical worldview possesses the greatest explanatory power among ever other worldview. The Judeo-Christian faith not only possesses logical strength, empirical evidences, and fills the void within, but also when followed, it is workable, pulls all of life together, and offers the greatest ethical values, virtues, and duties.
If you want to be the type of hero the world needs, don’t merely be a lover of truth, possess conviction! But don’t merely possess conviction, be strategic: leave a legacy that exemplifies Jesus Christ in all of life! This is your third step.
Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who had an utterly unique entrance into human history, was without evil and sin. Though He never offered a sin sacrifice, He became the substitute sacrifice we needed in order that we might receive eternal life. All we have to do is place our trust in Jesus Christ, believing that He is God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead. Once we receive the gift of eternal life, we have the capability, by His empowerment, to leave a legacy that is worth leaving behind. Here is Jesus Christ, who not only did the greatest and most noble deeds and performed miracles, but He also spoke the greatest words ever spoken, loved the unlovely, and satisfied the incompleteness within. Moreover, by means of the Holy Spirit, He can bring out the best in us when we consistently yield ourselves to Him-not merely out of obligation, but out of delight. Jesus Christ, who overcame our most pervasive and feared enemy, namely, physical death, is the only one who offers true hope!
Therefore, if you have received eternal life in the open arms of faith, then I encourage to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow after Him (Mark 8:34). His priorities are to become your priorities. His values are now yours-all expressed in moment-by-moment living.
What you will discover as you follow hard after Christ is that the Bible speaks to the totality of life: from education to the arts, from politics to philosophy, from parenting to work, from home-life to the environment. In fact, there is to be no dichotomy between a sacred life and secular life. In every area of life He is be worshipped. There are good reasons why. Not only is the Christian life operable in all of these areas of life where you and I are called to represent His interests, diligently obeying His life-abundant truths, but also you will have a holistic life where everything is connected together in a very consistent, coherent, cohesive way. You will be free of worldview tension. Your beliefs will match your lifestyle, your outlook, and your conduct.
But there is another reason why you want exemplify Christ in all of life: Using the words of Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine.”
You will have no regrets in a life that truly honors Christ. You will live for what matters most; people will see Christ through you! He will touch lives through you! And He is beautiful!
In sum, if you want to be the type of hero the world needs, be a lover of truth. But don’t merely be a lover of truth, possess conviction! But don’t merely possess conviction, be strategic: leave a legacy that exemplifies Jesus Christ in all of life.
V. FINAL THOUGHT:
Our world is in crisis and people are looking for heroes! People are looking for hope! Do you want to be the hero the world needs? Then follow hard after Christ! What you will discover, all by means of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the more consistently you follow after Christ, the more you reflect His glory in how you live in the moment-by-moment choices you make, the values you embrace, and even the pleasures you pursue, the more heroic you become. Will you be that daring?
 American philosopher John Dewey acutely observed, “"Art is a mode of prediction not found in charts and statistics, and it insinuates possibilities of human relations not to be found in rule and precept, admonition and administration." John Dewey, Art as Experience, 363
 Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth, 45.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Francis A. Schaeffer: The Trilogy [The God Who is There], 132.
Saturday, November 21 2015
Why am I not Fulfilled? ©
Paul R. Shockley, PhD
21 November 2015
"Man's sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder."
~ Blaise Pascal
One of our greatest human longings is qualitative fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. We long to make our lives count for something great! As kids we dream big and plan diligently. Our parents and friends who love us best hope much! Yet as we grow older some of us are “awakened” to the real fear/possibility that we might become nothing more than a piece of equipment, a part of an impersonal assembly line experiencing monotony, day after day. The best of us will be extracted from us. Our dreams will be grinded out of us in a colorless context and our frustrations will transform into bitterness. Even though a few rewards or “gold carrots” might be thrown our way, our best years are spent and we are too exhausted to pursue this longing. Thus, many of us work painstakingly in order to possess a life of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. We may even forsake other duties, commitments, and responsibilities (e.g., marriage; promises) in order to intimately experience fulfillment.
We look around and so many people seem to be fulfilled. Their dreams appear to be realized. Perhaps their impact is huge, their significance known. Though past defeats, overwhelming obstacles, and personal struggles are detailed in their amazing stories, they are “living the dream.” But why aren’t we? Why does lasting fulfillment seem to continually elude us?
Many of us are not fulfilled. Lasting fulfillment is foreign to our personal experience. Every bit of effort did not bring about the promise of fulfillment we so long to experience. Even when we thought we found lasting meaning, purpose, and fulfillment, perhaps in a particular activity, a certain achievement, possession of a certain property, a seemingly “beautiful” relationship, or in a network of associations, the void or reality of incompleteness re-appears. We try again, again, and again! The “truisms” or “keys” of happiness given to us even by those who love us best are found to be mere empty promises. Our dreams of fulfillment are crushed. Subsequently, some of us have come to the conclusion that lasting fulfillment is forever beyond our reach. Instead, cynicism and unhappiness have found a home within the deep recesses of our soul.
We look in the mirror and all we see are more grey hairs, wrinkles, and weight to compliment our disappointments. Our youth has evaporated. We close our eyes and reflections of missed opportunities flow like images from the silver screen. Regret hits us like waves upon a seawall as we think about certain possibilities on our historical and personal timeline, and for whatever reason, we did not seize them! Perhaps we thought it would be too costly? Fearful? Indecisive? Failure to let go? Too many formidable obstacles? Consequently, feelings of failure resurface.
Others of us took a chance but lost the wager to experience what we thought would bring about lasting fulfillment. We gambled poorly with the deck of cards given to us. When we were presented with certain opportunities, we made the wrong choices. And even with subsequent opportunities, we find ourselves losing “every hand.”
What has happened? Perhaps we are too impatient. Maybe our poor choices are rooted in pride… we must do it our own way; we just can’t heed the wisdom given to us. It could be that we are just too lazy and are looking for the “instant” path, the “quick fix” to completeness, and thus we consistently chose what is most expedient. Maybe, somewhere deep in our psyche we believe we need to punish ourselves because of certain past decisions. Regardless of the reason (s), our emptiness remains while our regret grows.
Of course, many of us have turned to accolades, the “career ladder,” phenomenal experiences, hobbies, travels, and other activities looking for fulfillment but never finding. Even if we have achieved incredible success, valued by many, respected by the “elite,” the accomplished, and the strong, we still feel this nagging void of incompleteness. And I wonder if some of us use the success we have achieved as “tools” to suppress this lack of fulfillment within while others of us cloak the reality of incompleteness with success in an effort to redirect our embarrassment. Keeping the “daily planner” filled with activities, appointments, and endeavors are really great ways to keep us from thinking about the hear-hole within. Like Blaise Pascal once observed, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
While we are to enjoy the good things God has given us such as the deep relationships we forge, the work that has been given to us, the homes we have, and the toys we earn, lasting fulfillment cannot be found in anything that is finite and vaporous. All around us things fall apart or are snatched away from us by time, people, or certain forces beyond our control.
But, as evidenced in millions of men and women who have intimately known and lived out a love-relationship with God over the ages, lasting fulfillment has been found in intimately knowing and walking, hand-in-hand, with the infinite and personal God of the Bible. In Him alone can we find the satisfaction, the fulfillment, and significance we long to intimately and richly experience in this life.
But even here we have to be careful. I’ve observed that so many of us believers are still unfulfilled? Why? While there are numerous factors and reasons for this lack of fulfillment such as developing an appetite for a particular activity or vice that is not only contrary to God and His ways, but is also corrupting our personhood (e.g., dishonesty; gluttony; immorality), a particular two-fold problem stands out to me, namely, neglecting the two greatest commandments in Scripture: Loving God from out of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbors as yourself.
In particular, I submit to you that what we are looking for is not found in observing serene scenes of nature sipping on earl grey tea, the pursuit of personal perfection, beautiful people, the achievements gained, or the power obtained, but in living out the two Greatest Commandments as given to us in Jesus Christ in Mark 12:28-34. Jesus, affirming the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, states that we are to (1) agape love God from out of our deep-seated affections (heart), our conscious thought life (souls), our ability to reason, deliberate, and judge (minds), and our emotional and physical bodily powers (strength), and (2) loving (agape) those who come to into our presence, our sphere of influence, and our associations (neighbors). Best described by Christian scholar J. Budziszewski in Ask Me Anything, to agape love our neighbors is to commit our will to their true good.
Yet, why are so many of us unfulfilled?
On the paths I have tread, I’ve met some really fantastic people who have diligently sought to obey the First Commandment, namely, loving God with every ounce of their lives. They are amazing people! They are diligent in their private devotion to God. They know what it means to consistently, carefully, and reverently study the Scriptures. Their delight found in God through the Scriptures is both amazing and convicting. One could feel the hard callouses on their knees from years of humble prayer. They understand the major doctrines of the Bible and are able to see how major Bible themes relate to one another in the most coherent and dynamic ways. And their personal acts of private and corporate worship unto God, their practice of spiritual disciplines in daily living, and their humble disposition out of the grace they have received demonstrate incredible trust.
Yet, even with all the knowledge they have acquired from diligent study of God’s Word, exegetically, historically, and systematically and the cultivation of a wide array of the spiritual disciplines, they are still incomplete. Something is still missing. Something still nags them. But it is not something I only hear in their authentic moments of confession; it is something I’ve experienced too. What’s the problem?
While we are great in directing our love unto God in private and corporate devotion or worship (vertically), we have not done so well in directing that agape love to the people who come into our sphere of influence (horizontally). We have ignored the cries of others. We have turned ourselves away from the heavy burdens people are carrying. We have refused to give up what has been given to us (e.g., energy, time, and resources) in actions of love because we are afraid it might cost us too dearly. So focused on our personal worship to God, people only experience the silence of God through us. They don’t see God through our presence. They don’t hear from our voices the Scriptures of truth in love and love in truth. They don’t experience God through the relief we can offer in view of the resources and blessings God has given us. We may even see the need, but leave the “responsibility-opportunity-privilege” to others using some excuse like others can do it better than me or that God did not give me a “people person” type of personality. Thus, lasting fulfillment still evades us.
Others have followed the Second Greatest Commandment with incredible enthusiasm (horizontal). They are the first to surrender their privileges, resources, and time. They anticipate, meet, and exceed their neighbor’s practical needs. Their love is ever so practical and ever so genuine. They give till it costs them with no expectation in return. They take in what the most pious might ignore. Their giving is sacrificial; their consistent surrender is greatly admired; their servant-leadership skills are ideal.
Even though these actions of loving one’s neighbors have yielded tremendous results, still, there is this emptiness that evades them too. Why? They are not doing a good job of pro-actively developing affections for God (vertical). They do not consistently meditate on the Scriptures. Their prayer life is quick at best. Their spiritual disciplines unto God are lacking. To be honest, they serve God, but they serve Him out of orthodoxy and not out of fervent, intimate love. This is an all too common experience for many of us. We serve God, but we do not intimately pursue God in a love-relationship. Unhurried time with God is inconsistent if not marginal.
What can we do?
I have discovered as I have watched those who have found lasting fulfillment that when both commandments are actualized in their lives, both vertically and horizontally, in moment-by-moment spirituality, the qualitative experience of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose emerges and will even become more fulfilling as spiritual maturity grows with obedience especially to the “little” choices made in life. Viewing the two Greatest Commandments as two signs of the same coin, the fulfillment we have been looking for is nutritiously experienced when we agape love God and agape love others in a balanced, holistic way. In fact, this relationship is symbiotic. Out of my love for God, I am fueled to love others. Out of my love for others, I am fueled to love God. In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship between two commands whereby the doing of the first command should undergird the second command and the doing of the second, undergirds the first. The desire to make it our ambition to delight and serve God should lead us to love others genuinely, practically, and in a self-surrendering way (1 John 3:16-17). People in my sphere of life are too increase even it if means I decrease-all in the moment-by-moment details of daily living. For the actualization to take place in view of both commands, I am to yield myself to God in the choices I make pursuing what will give God the most glory in my daily experiences. He gives me the strength to do so; self-discipline is insufficient (Galatians 2:20).
Our love for God is to be matched certain characteristics that touch others in the most significant, life-changing ways (horizontal): love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People see Jesus Christ in and through our frail and vaporous lives. As we behold God, we love others. As we love others, people behold God in and through our lives. Obedience to this two-fold command will not only generate a type of fulfillment, meaning, and significance that other ways cannot, but will also lead to a certain maturity that will generate a legacy worth leaving behind.
Consider these words from the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:13-26:
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Where should we start?
Our two-fold obedience to the Greatest Commandment, namely, loving God and loving others, is necessary in order to experience lasting fulfillment, meaning, and purpose; both commands are dynamically related and progressively build upon one another, changing you in the most healthy ways. Those virtuous changes will impact the lives that come into your sphere (s) of contact. But this obedience must first flow out of an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You need to make a decision about Jesus Christ.
When you place your trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and who rose bodily from the dead, you enter into an eternal and intimate union with Jesus Christ. In his classic work, Grace, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, one of the co-founders of Dallas Theological Seminary, puts it this way (pg. 225):
To the Christian, Christ has become, in the divine reckoning, the sphere of his being, and this reckoning contemplates all that the Christian is and all that he does….
A sphere is that which surrounds an object on every side and may even penetrate that object. To be within a sphere is to partake of all that it is and all that it imparts. Thus the bird is in the air and the air is in the bird; the fish is in the water and the water is in the fish; the iron is in the fire and the fire is in the iron. Likewise, in the spiritual realm, Christ is the sphere of the believer’s position. He encompasses, surrounds, encloses, and indwells the believer. The believer is in Christ, and Christ is in the believer. Through the baptism with the Spirit, the Christian has become an organic part of Christ as the branch is a part of the vine, or the member is a part of the body. Being thus conjoined to Christ, the Father sees the saved one only in Christ, or as a living part of His own Son, and loves him as He loves His Son (Eph. 1:6; John 17:23).
Therefore, let us sum up everything by saying that flowing from our union with Jesus Christ, obedience to the two greatest commands is not only possible, but is also necessary if we want to make our lives count for something great. Let us ask God in prayer right now to so work in us that we will not only obey these two related commandments as we walk through the daily grind of life with all of its ups and downs, perils and pleasures, but that we will also practice them in His strength with a larger purpose in mind, namely, to glorify God in all of life (Phil. 2:12-13). If we will do these two things, all as expressions of worship to our glorious God out of gratitude for the grace we have received, a life of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose will be our personal experience, our becoming, and an ultimate reward.
Dr. Paul R. Shockley
21 November 2015
Tuesday, October 27 2015
The Quest for Authentic Love (c)
Paul R. Shockley, Ph.D
25 October 2015
One of the deepest longings we have is to authentically love and truly be loved in return. We strongly desire to have this real need met and will spend an enormous amount of energy, resources, and thought to make it happen. In fact, we will give up most if not all of our goals to see this desire ultimately satisfied.
Along this quest for authentic love, full acceptance, and to be able to love in return, many of us have made some tragic mistakes thinking that we would find love in a particular person or in some activity. Instead, what we discovered was quite the opposite, namely, emptiness, loss, pain, regret, and shame. But even with certain costs that have been extracted from us, I suspect some of us have had glimpses or foretastes of this greatest love we are looking for in different ways and at different times.
As young children many of us have experienced the love of a nurturing parent (s) or parent figure (s). They loved us the best they could given their background, difficulties, knowledge, opportunities, resources, and successes. Notwithstanding, some of us have not been so fortunate for certain "personal baggage," personality conflicts, and bad habits that emerged wreaking havoc on our personhood, our relationships, and opportunities. Perhaps your home, which should have been a haven, became a "war zone." Love and forgiveness seem foreign to your formidable years of growing up. Consequently, those young years, which were so tough, can cause us to even question whether this love we long for is just wishful thinking, an illusion born out of deep-seated pain. But even if the search for love is suspiciously perceived as a way to escape from one's situation or the hauntings of the past, the longing to be truly loved and love in return remains.
Then most of us, I suspect, have dreamed big about the love we would experience in "marital bliss." A day does not go by that we do not think about that special someone who will take our breath away from morning to night and then some. "Here is the person who will accept me as I truly am!" Ah, those heavenly dreams! Even as the honeymoon fades and the “grind of life” becomes all too common with all of its hardships, monotonies, and trials, we affirm marriage is tough but definitely good! Your spouse is not only your lover, but also your best friend. Still, even as good as marriage may be, we discover marital love has not fulfilled our deepest longings of love.
For other couples, our marriages are not fitting the ideals we had developed in our minds. Subsequently, in the wake of shattered expectations, there is pain, the marring and scarring of choices made, and costly words exchanged. We have deep regrets and are resigned to work it out but with the reality that "love is now mixed with grief." Forgiveness is difficult but possible. Others of us have given up on marriage and are in an ongoing quest to find it in another lover, and another...going from relationship to relationship. Then there are some who are ever searching for but never finding that “perfect” mate. Why?
Perhaps we will find this love we are looking for in our children. While we do have this ferocious, unbelievable, and perhaps un-analyzable love for our children, we still hunger for more.
We may even try to find this love in certain activities, hobbies, and projects that care for the afflicted, the disabled, the outcasts, and the troubled. In the longing to love others we find incredible rewards such as true gratitude and the joy of serving. But even here with all of the true and good pleasures experienced, I suspect we long for more. Not even self-love can bring about the love we are looking for given both vaporous and selfishness qualities of our finite human nature.
Could it be this pursuit of this ultimate love cannot be met in anything finite, vaporous, and earthy? Could it be that we were originally created to experience ultimate love in an infinite and personal God? Could it be that all the love we do experience from nurturing patents, marital love, raising children, friends, activities, and special acts of humanitarian service, are all road signs that point us to even a greater love? Said differently, is it possible that these punctuated moments of love in the midst of the daily grind and our frailties serve as a foretaste of what God Himself can alone can ultimately give?
Adapting an insight from C. S. Lewis' "Meditation in a Tool Shed," I've come to thinking of love in two different but related ways, namely, not only (1) to learn to enjoy and treasure the love I do experience in both receiving and giving in my dealings with others [horizontal level], but to also follow or trace that love to the One who is the sum-total of His infinite perfections [vertical level]. When I look at those moments of love in my earthly spheres of living life, and see the beauty, the commitment, the cost, the goodness, the intentions, and the rewards, I am sincerely thankful. But why so restless even here? Why satisfied but not fully satisfied? But when I follow the incredible blessings of love experienced in marriage, children, deep friendships, and acts of love to its ultimate source, the one and only Triune God of the Bible, I am overwhelmed!
Take Calvary, for example. When I reflect upon the horrific crucifixion of Jesus Christ, I see alienation, injustice, mockery, suffering, pain, and death. But I also see the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, who willingly died on the cross for you and me in fulfillment of biblical prophecies like Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Jesus Christ took your place on Calvary so you can be forgiven, reconciled, redeemed, and secure for all eternity as His child. The only condition to receive this unmerited gift of eternal life is to place your trust in Him. But when I follow these rich acts of grace to the Trinity discovering that our infinite and personal God so loved the world that He GAVE His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life, I fall to my knees in humble gratitude!
See, here is God, who loves you and me with an infinite, perfect love, even though He accurately and exhaustively knows all things about everyone of us including our darkest thoughts, our past with all of its compromises, deceptions, failures, acts of rebellions, and our futures with all its brokenness, disappointments, and self-centeredness. God's love cannot change even with all the precarious circumstances we encounter, bad decisions made, or vices that emerge. Here our restlessness finds its "Match-maker." In Him we are fully accepted! In Him we are truly satisfied!
Though in God I experience His perfect love as I walk through a wide range of experiences such as the beautiful, the good, the bad, and the ugly, I find myself yearning for that future day when I will fully be in His presence before His heavenly throne where no distraction, frailties, or physical limitations will keep me from fully worshipping the One who created me, who loves me as I am because of what Christ did for me (regardless of his accurate assessment and absolute knowledge of every aspect of my life), and who also gives me the privilege to call Him "DAD." I am in Christ and Christ is in me!
This unconditional and intimate truth of infinite love is available to you when you place your trust in Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, who died on the cross for sins and who rose bodily from the dead. Tell Him today. Go to Him in prayer and receive this love-gift of salvation in the open arms of faith and experience a love relationship that will last for all eternity.
One final thought...
"We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness." ~ Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 401 (437). I submit the same thought when it is comes to ultimate love. We desire ultimate love and can't find it in ourselves. We seek ultimate love and we see only glimpses of it in the midst of wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring ultimate love and are incapable of generating ultimate love but capable of receiving ultimate love from God who created us.
Wednesday, January 16 2013
HOW TO LOVE OTHERS WITH GREATNESS ©
Dr. Paul R. Shockley, Ph.D
1 John 3:16-17:
While attending Dallas Theological Seminary I became friends with a particular student whose disposition is still a marvel to me. In essence, this fella consistently chooses to be last in any given circumstance in order that others might be qualitatively blessed. It is amazing to watch how he regularly chooses to be last, forfeiting opportunities so that others might receive them, taking the uncomfortable path so that others may be comforted, and giving the very best he had so others might flourish-even if the decision would be costly in terms of energy, resources, and time. This magnanimous lifestyle and habituated pattern of humility not only blesses others where it matters most, but also blesses him, his family, and ministry in the most dynamic ways. People love him because he genuinely loves them with the particular choices he makes to see their longings, dreams, and practical needs fulfilled. Therefore, by enabling others to receive the best he has to offer with what has been giving to him, he lives an adventurous life rarely lived by others. His range of ministry is amazing, his presence meaningful, and his leadership relevant. He is an inspiration to others, whether they are Christians or not.
My friend really understands what it means to live out the precept in 1 John 3:16-17:
16 “Hereby perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But who so possesses this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God dwell in him?”
In essence, agape love, the commitment of the will to the true good of another person, is sacrificial, self-surrendering in the on-going choices one makes (present tense), demonstrated by meeting the practical needs of others, and is ever so genuine.
In contrast, one of the greatest obstacles in truly loving others is a preoccupation of the self. Though we may not be fully and experientially aware of the insidious nature of selfishness and its extensiveness on this side of heaven (Romans 1-3), the desire to come first, to have the most, to receive the best, and to experience all the comforts, the luxuries, and the accolades one can obtain-all for “me, myself, and I,” all too often manifests itself in the “little choices” we make in moment-by-moment living. See, it is an exaltation of the self when we “choose to come first” to the neglect of all other relationships. Thus, this character flaw and mark of spiritual immaturity finds expression when we fail to decrease in order that others may increase in any given circumstance. Said differently, this moral deficiency, which is totally contrary to the character, mission, and ministry of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5-11), is evidenced when we demand to be first, not merely in the big situations of life (e.g., when we manipulate people or situations in order to receive what we want), but also in the moment-by-moment choices in our daily lives. While this moral deficiency to exalt the self has been present since the moment we came into existence because of the impact of original sin (Romans 5:12 cf. Genesis 3), this moral deficiency finds pertinent expression every time believers in Jesus Christ compromise by exalting the self to the neglect of loving others with Christ-like love (Mark 12:28-34).
II. Consider the following reflective questions:
In any given activity do you choose to “come first” even if that means you will forfeit qualitative and enriching opportunities others might be able to receive for their betterment? For example:
Do you demand the best or first seat? Do you eat more than your share? Are you competitive regardless of the activity? Do you get frustrated, judgmental, jealous, or even angry when others experience something that you do not? Do you find yourself competitive, desiring what others have and you do not?
Do your desires and needs come first regardless what this means to others, how it might inhibit others from experiencing something worthwhile, or how costly it might be to others?
Do you take a leadership role that is self-directed in most situations rather than enabling others to succeed because you believe you are more gifted, more intelligent, more skilled, and more capable than those around you? Do you find yourself habitually talking about your own successes, experiences, and dilemmas?
Do you seek to be the center of attention (even if cloaked in false humility) because you believe you can do ____ (e.g., the task) better; you know what to do and how to do it; you are eager to receive accolades; you find a sense of significance and value knowing that everyone is looking at you for the answer (s)?
Would you rather be the decision-maker than enable others to succeed? Do you feel the need or compulsion to control others? Why?
Do you truly invest in the lives of others with your energy, resources or time, or do you simply seek to be with others (non-relational) as you strive for personal gain?
Do you continue to talk about what you want, how you are feeling, what problems you are facing, what you are going to do, what task you are working on, or what opportunities have emerged for you without ever seriously and genuinely asking how the other person (s) is doing?
Do your conversations and activities revolve regularly around what you want, long for, and need without ever truly knowing the dreams and desires others have, and what difficulties others are experiencing? Do your conversations principally revolve around you?
Do you consistently seek to intimately understand who others are, what their love language might be, and how to meet their deepest needs?
Do you manipulate situations in order to receive the greatest gain in certain activities, conversations, experiences, finances, meals, certain, material needs, places, sports, relationships, and travels?
Do you pro-actively seek to anticipate, meet, and exceed the practical needs and earnest God-centered desires of others?
Are you absorbed with the self to the extent that you do not even intimately know and understand the people who regularly are in your sphere of influence or daily living?
Do you honestly listen to what people have to say? Do you ask them sincere, genuine questions or are you more interested in what you have to say?
Are you about entertaining yourself to the responsibilities you have toward others? Are you willing to keep a promise to someone only if it means more fun than other potential activities? Or are you willing to keep a commitment to someone even if that means you will miss out on other invitations that come after you made this particular commitment? So many people will make plans or offer promises only to keep them if something more fun or exciting does not come around. Others will regularly refrain from commitment because they always want to keep their options open for what will maximize the greatest amount of pleasure. Is this you? Are you inconsistent in keeping your promises or do you refuse to commit until the very last moment?
Do you seriously consider the consequences of your actions and how this decision will impact others? How will this decision impact another person’s time, energy, and resources?
III. On the other hand, you are loving others with greatness when you consistently…
Anticipate, meet, and exceed the desires and needs of others.
Find satisfaction in seeing the dreams of others come true.
Decrease an opportunity you could have in order to see others experience the riches of that moment.
Practically put yourself in the “shoes” of another.
Understand another’s life story, their love language, their gift-cluster, their dreams, their struggles, and their longings. You go beyond the superficial in conversation to understanding where people and who they are.
Know what others are experiencing in their daily living.
Recognize a person’s greatest need and seek to meet that need with what God has given you.
Relinquish _______ (e.g., personal time) in order that others might be _______ (e.g. blessed).
Allow others to flourish even if it costs you something (s).
Decrease in any given circumstance in order that others might be qualitatively blessed.
Promote Christ and not “me, myself, and I.”
Jealousy is foreign to your personal experience.
Possess a disdain for fake/false humility; you demand personal authenticity from your own person as well as others.
Consistently seek to be an attentive, good listener. Asking thoughtful and relevant questions is part of your identity.
People in your sphere of influence have your undivided attention.
If we truly want to live out what it means to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ, then we must not only mortify, that is, subdue, deprive, and break the propensity to come first in any given situation in the strength of the Holy Spirit (not one’s own strength) (cf. Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5), but we must also decrease in order that others might increase in the particular choices we make in moment-by-moment living-all to the glory of God. By loving others with this type of ministry (1 John 3:16-17), everyone, including ourselves, will be blessed, and God will be magnified in the choices we make, the values we embrace, the activities we pursue, and the people we love.
IV. How can I better love others with Christ-like love? Consider the following…
Translate the biblical commands of humility, discipleship, and servant-hood into habits of excellence. A habit is to think, feel, desire, and act in such a way that you do not consciously will to do it, you just do it. Therefore, ask God to cultivate in you this particular habit of humility, discipleship, and servant-hood and find ways to practice this activity in the Lord’s strength until it becomes part of your identity (Philippians 4:13). Like Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, identified himself as a slave unto Jesus Christ, we no longer belong to ourselves (Jude 1). When we placed our faith in Jesus Christ, believing that He is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead, we received a new mind to know Him, a new heart to love Him, and a new will to love Him. Thus, our capacity to live out this worshipful lifestyle of humility is not rooted in our old human nature but in yielding to Him in the particular moment we find ourselves. When we align our new nature with God’s will in those particular moments of time, we see Him loving the unlovely through us, meeting the needs of others in powerful ways, and empowering us to come last so that others may be first. In those moments manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). How awesome would it be for us to take those biblical precepts of servant-hood and find ourselves habitually yielding to the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18; Ephesians 5:18) whereby people see Christ, not us (Gal. 2:20)! Moreover, the gospel of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed in the harmony of both proclamation and presence. People will see Jesus as we touch their lives with His presence in and through our lives.
Be observant of your relationships, your surroundings, and your daily choices. In those particular moments take advantage of the opportunity to decrease that others might be blessed. Routinely ask yourself, “What ways can I better love others with the love of Jesus Christ?”
Put to death (mortify) the propensity to exalt the self in conversation and in the particular choices you make in daily choices (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). All too often we find ourselves promoting “me, myself, and I” in the most subtle ways. Interestingly, most often our decision to promote ourselves is due to the pursuit of pleasure or/and personal gain. Ask someone to help hold you accountable and be willing to address this propensity in your life when he or she sees it. The exaltation of the self continually needs to be addressed! We are naturally prone to idolize the self… experience pleasures for the self and pursuing activities that promote the self.
Regularly study the life of Jesus Christ. Watch how he loves the unlovely, comforts the hurting, and gives all away. Be like Christ by following after Him (Mark 8:34-36). He is the greatest example of humility (Philippians 2:5-11).
Minister to those who are in need, who are suffering, and conflicted in the most strategic ways! I have often found that in those types of ministries (when I am obedient), my vision for people enlarges, my passion to see the needs of others increases, and my love for people grows. Perhaps you can ask your local pastor or nearby para-church leader what needs exists and how those needs might be met. But be strategic in every commitment you make. We can be well-meaning in ministering to others, but choose what is strategic in both glorifying to God in action and in outcome. Thus, pour into the lives in the most needed ways that mirror God’s beauty. In other words, give where it matters most! And be willing to go outside of your comfort zone! The road may not be easy, but the blessings are manifold!
Actively mentor others. Mentoring others often stretches you in the most amazing ways as a servant of Jesus Christ. But mentoring must involve pouring out in day-to-day living, not merely having a meeting over lunch or coffee once, twice, three, or even four times a month.
Ask God to scrutinize your life, to give you a grievous burden for those who are in need, and to cultivate opportunities to decrease that others may increase. If things are not right with you and the Lord, confess your sins (1 John 1:9). Turn away from the idolatry of the self. You may have to confess your sins of self-exaltation multiple times a day. Allow God access into those areas where you keep the doors closed and locked. You need to be altogether His in how you live, what you embrace, who you are, and the particular choices you make.
Develop the intuitive insight to consistently recognize the practical needs of others and seek to meet those needs with the resources God has given you. But do not merely give what is marginally beneficial; offer your very best resources to them!
In particular choices or situations you find yourself, be proactive in choosing what is uncomfortable in order that others might experience the ministry of Jesus Christ through you. Strive to take the difficult road, not the easy road, in any given situation where others are struggling, hurting, or in need.
Do not be afraid to take the difficult road… even if it is unclear to you what it will all mean or what will happen. As you trust God with your circumstances, resources, and time, He will lead you and you will experience inward rest and outward victory no matter what comes your way. Said differently, trust God with your circumstances is a timeless truth throughout Scripture. Though you may not know what will happen, He does. God is both sovereign and good!
Strive to make people in your sphere of influence first in your life. Do not seek to actively promote yourself but promote the welfare of others. Continually ask how you might better meet their needs, draw them closer to God, and building them up to become all that they are designed. Show Christ to them!
Realize that the use of technology while in the company of others distracts us from making people first in our lives, intentional or not. My son, Spencer, calls it the “Macbook treatment.” Attention is divided. Perhaps due to such things as the pursuit of pleasure, the habituated need to have additional stimulation, or need to always be entertained, so many people are listening to music via earphones, texting, surfing the internet, or watching some show or video to the neglect of the people that presently surround them. So, these avenues, while good in other circumstances, actually become roadblocks from qualitatively investing in the lives of others. To even ask a question or make a statement by the other party might become difficult because he or she knows that you have to adjust the volume, take off the earpiece, or finish the text. Thus, many people, I suspect, will not approach you, bridge a particular subject with you, or even ask for your help because you seem to be preoccupied with others matters. You are basically saying, non-verbally, at least, “I do not want to be disturbed!” Thus, the use of technology can become a non-verbal wall and a substantive diversion that keeps you from genuinely loving others in thoughtful conversation and understanding their existential and felt needs. In fact, when we do such activities in the presence of others, we miss out in opportunities to minister, to build each other up, learn and grow in relationships. If these technological walls become part of our daily activities, then our range of friendships and observations regarding the needs of others become rather small. Insensitivity emerges in relationships when technology is used because they become distractions.
Allow your home to be a haven of ministry, a place people can come and be physically, emotionally, and spiritually refreshed. Open your home!!!
Always be mindful that the time, energy, and resources God gives you are on loan from Him. All things, including our very lives, ultimately belong to Him. Said differently, hold onto things loosely; they are blessings God has given you to give to others. Enjoy them, but when see a need and you have the livelihood to meet that need with the blessings God has given you, you are loving God because you are ministering to those He loves (1 John). He has met your deepest needs. Will you not allow Him to use you to meet the needs that around you?
IV. In Conclusion:
Underpinning all of these brief but important applications, are four virtues (good habits) that must be carefully and deliberately crafted or inculcated in one’s disposition: prudence, patience, tenacity, and willingness to change. Prudence must become a habit of excellence in your life. Prudence is learning how to appropriately do something the right way with the right timing. You must learn how to reason an activity through… have foresight, and weigh the consequences; be judicious. Always ask yourself, “God, what will bring you the most glory?” Then commit yourself to doing it His way in His timing. Trust Him to bring about the circumstances in His perfect timing. Second, you must develop the virtue of patience. Do not complain, become annoyed, lose your temper, etc. because things are not or do not go your way. It is not about you but about trusting God; you be faithful to what is set before you and trust the consequences to God. Third, be tenacious. Be strong in the Lord’s strength! Do not easily give up! Even when you fail or when things become difficult, you must remain faithful. And lastly, be willing to change by following the Lord through life’s wide array of problems and pleasures. The vices of pride, stubbornness, and the mourning of change can often lead to our undoing, missing out in receiving God’s best because of our unwillingness to serve God on His terms. Once again, God is good and sovereign. So, we can trust Him as we experience adversity, change, and difficulties. We were not originally made for this fallen world (Genesis 3). Greater things lay ahead (Revelation 21-22). But what He does ask from us while we have air to breathe is the privilege to allow Him to use us in ways He deems best. Therefore, may we abandon ourselves to Him by loving others with Christ-like love in moment-by-moment living.
The price of loving others with greatness is the surrender of the self. Will you be that daring?
Saturday, December 15 2012
LOOKING FOR HOPE IN PERILOUS TIMES ©
Dr. Paul R. Shockley
15 December 2012
“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” ~ Blaise Pascal
“Hope” is such a beautiful word. It does not sound all that beautiful when one pronounces the word “hope.” Hope is a simple one syllable word with no memorable sound. Yet the word “hope” gives comfort to those who are hurting. Hope generates dreams, fosters anticipation, and breeds possibilities. Like G. K. Chesterton once stated: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.”
But when we consider our individuality against the backdrop of the universe we come to discover that we are merely a speck of dust. As we peer out into cosmos some of us have come to share a sentiment once made by 17th century Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal, namely, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” While the universe is indeed expansive, it is also brutal, inhospitable to the nature we see around us.
Even though the universe is harsh, we see the most amazing calculations that take our breath away. We are able to empirically observe multifarious evidences that a fine tuning of the universe has taken place, naturally leading us to conclude that God created all of these things in order to create and sustain organic life in general, and human life in particular. The location and rotation of Earth, the gravitational forces, the speed of light, the earth’s axial tilt, the thickness of earth’s crust, and even lightning discharge, all reflect the mind of an Intelligent Designer. As Aristotle once observed in his critique of Empedocles, philosophical naturalism leaves too much to chance. All the design we see around us leads us to conclude that philosophical naturalism not only suffers the fallacy of reductionism, but also lacks explanatory power, coherence, and a holistic morality that adequately addresses both “being” (disposition of intellectual and moral excellence) and “doing” (what are we obligated to do?).
Coupled with a yearning for spiritual completeness whereby our existential needs will be met, many of us have discovered through a relationship with the God of the Bible a certain satisfaction and an overriding confidence that we are eternally loved, safe, and secure. Because of God we have significance and value (Romans 8). Hope is enflamed, an ultimate purpose for our lives is given, a consummate destiny is being forged, and our greatest desires will be satisfied.
Yet, we admit that see death and destruction all around us. Because evil is the corruption of something good, violence strikes the young and the old. Reckless hate emerges in the most unlikely places (kindergarten class in Connecticut). From the enslavement of children to the horrors of racism, from forced prostitution to domestic abuse, we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste suffering all around us. People go hungry. Death camps are built and over six million Jews are exterminated. Millions and millions of lives wiped out for selfish political gain. Even with all of our historical lessons from both the good and the bad, the exponential developments made in technology, science, and medicine, we still cannot seem to conquer this propensity to create conflict, division, pain, and tragedy.
But interestingly, the affirmation of evil actually assumes the existence of God. C. S. Lewis came to discover this profound truth as expressed in his phenomenal work, Mere Christianity (pg. 45):
[As an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?
Thus, following an observation I heard Dr. Ravi Zacharias once state in a presentation he gave concerning evil and suffering, evil affirms goodness for it there is evil, then there is also good. If there is goodness, then there must be an objective moral law. If there is an objective moral law, then there is a transcendent Moral Law Giver. But if there is no moral law giver, then there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, then there is no good. If there is no good, then there is no evil. Stated differently, apart from a Christian worldview, how can we actually and adequately explain horrific evil? How can we even explain altruistic acts of benevolence if naturalism is correct? How can we even account for the evil within ourselves?
Yet, if God does exist, and it is plainly evident to those whose faculties are working properly, then why do so many of us find ourselves in situations where hope translates into mere wishful thinking? Indeed, the weight of our afflictions, problems, troubles, and vices can smother out the coals where hope used to burn bright.
For example, perhaps your marriage is not where it is supposed to be and you have come to the conclusion that recovery is not possible. You are estranged from a loved one (s) and it seems like it is beyond repair. Your life-long dreams are crushed by certain choices and you think it is impossible to put the pieces back together again. You look back at your life and it seems wasted. Your best years are spent and you have come to that conclusion that it is too late. You wish you had made wise decision. But alas, it is what it is. The optimist you once had has been replaced with melancholy. Your happiness has turned to sadness. You have been hurt. The pain you carry has found pertinent expression. The question becomes, will your pain morph into bitterness or will decompose into apathy?
Are you suffocating? Do you feel caught in a web of mundane, routine living? You get up, you work, and you go to bed. You used to dream big, but those dreams have dissipated into thin air. You ask yourself repeatedly, “Is this all that there is?” You hope there is more to life but each day is like the day before. Your past, present, and future is all a blur. No experience is memorable, no striking moments where joy finds expression, whereby delight is awakened and beauty is touched.
Do you feel pillaged? Oppressed? Has violence find expression in your life? Do you feel like you are a victim of unfortunate circumstances that lie outside of your control? You see the oppression everywhere. Pain and death walk around you; all is dark.
Are you suffering with guilt? You are carrying this burden of regret and if you are honest, you know that you pain you caused others, the injury you did to yourself has not only changed those who love you the most, but they have been costly to your own. You look at yourself in the mirror and you see the marring and scarring of your own choices. How you wish you made different choices and now you live with this great burden. The mere talk of forgiveness is an empty promise. Hope of freedom from this pain seems futile.
Have all the changes that occur around you and in you displace the hope you once carried. Has anticipation of better days been taken away from you?
How can we make sense of it all?
I invite you to candidly explore the Christian with an open mind and go where the evidence leads. I believe you will discover that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can best handle these contrarieties, offering the greatest amount of explanatory power, empirical adequacy, and existential relevance. I came to the realization that this worldview is not only viable, workable, and qualitatively enriches lives and communities when consistently followed, but is also morally and aesthetically poignant, powerful, and striking, offering lasting fulfillment, joy, and satisfaction.
I have come to the understanding that the Christian faith is not viable because one chooses to believe, it is viable because it is true, rooted in actual history as expressed in the person, work, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is so amazing about the God of the Bible is that this Jesus, who is God, and who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, suffered with us. He is not a God who is far off, having no specific concern for you and me. No, upon the cross of Calvary whereby Jesus substituted Himself so that we might have the possibility of eternal life in fulfillment of biblical passages as evidenced in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, we discover that on the cross the greatest themes that we long for converge: unselfish love, unquenchable hope, ultimate meaning, destiny, and eternal purpose. Even though Jesus’ death was brought about by the hands of those who embraced injustice, violence, and cruelty, values emerge that have brought and continue to bring healing to those who broken, comfort to those who are in pain, and freedom to those who are enslaved to destructive appetites and fleshly tendencies. Our uniqueness as expressed in the way God has made each of us finds wholeness.
Thus, the and only Triune God of this universe is also the same God who offers hope while you have air to breathe. He takes all these contrarieties and brings harmony to them on the cross. The only condition for salvation, regardless of your past mistakes and failures, is trust alone in Christ alone. Therefore, I invite you to place your trust in Jesus Christ, who is God and died on the cross for your sins and rose bodily from the dead. Will you do that today? Let him heal your pain, bring wholeness to your brokenness, exchange your emptiness for joy, and generate coherence for your mind. Your angst will be removed, your quest will be realized, and His peace will govern your life no matter how turbulent or perilous your situation becomes.
Tuesday, November 13 2012
“The Aesthetic Value of Nature in Everyday Living.” ©
Paul R. Shockley, Ph.D.
14 November 2012
As I interact with students in both secular and sacred spheres of academia I come across young people who are longing for relief. Their lives seem incoherent, out of place, and ultimately unintelligible. Even some who proclaim Jesus Christ as their Savior have confessed to me that they feel like they are “lost in obscurity.” As one student recently said to me, “I feel like I am living in a dream. Doc, this isn’t fun. I need help. Can you help me?”
The problem: lost in obscurity. As I probe their lives, trying to discover the root cause (s)or web-like issues in which they are entangled, I have discovered that one critical problem many of them struggle with is a disconnection with reality as it is. In other words, they are “metaphysically lost” [my term]. See, the situational setting in which these young people have been raised lacked rich exposure to nature. I am broadly defining “nature” as the physical world, natural phenomena, living things, and the processes that control them independent of our human will (e.g., ecological forces). Their place of habitation is the virtual world, the digital sphere. Victim to the pleasures and plight of the digital age, they live inside their dwelling places with the command center of technology at their fingertips. Fun, knowledge, conversations, and relationships take place with a screen in front of them in the comfort of their home, their school, and their vehicles. Unlike previous generations, they do not have memories of playing war games in the woods, long hours turning over limbs and rocks to see what lies underneath, swimming in a nearby pond or lake, or building tree houses or forts with their childhood friends. They have not experienced the blessing of spending hours lying on the grass, watching the birds and clouds above as they use their imagination and dream big. Gazing upon the myriads of stars above is a rarity. Because of poor exposure to working hard outside, they lack contact with dirt; their hands are smooth; their fingernails are ever clean. From their perspective, nature is not in their midst. Instead, nature is found at a zoo, a farm outside of the community, a state park, a national forest. Coupled with business, parental demands for success, and indoor activities, young people lack qualitative experiences with the "outside world."
First exposure to this problem. I was first exposed to this growing phenomenon when I attended an L’Abri conference many years ago at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. A staff worker reported that unlike Francis Schaeffer’s years of ministry in Switzerland, they are discovering that before they can minister to those who are “metaphysically lost,” they have to put them to work outside. While they are cultivating the ground with their hands for the very first time, nature is cultivating them, sanding down virtual barriers they have been placed all around them in this "sensate" age. As a result of qualitative exposure to physical nature, these prisoners in "Plato’s cave" begin to break from their virtual chains and come to discover an intelligible world beyond shadowy images and imaginary beliefs.
What is needed? We need to recover the continuity of aesthetics with the normal processes of living life. This recovery is perhaps more important than ever before because of the powerful impact the digital age is having on young people. We have to realize that the metaphysical obscurity these younger generations are experiencing could very well be because they have not had enough qualitative exposure or physical contact with nature. It is amazing how God uses general revelation to reach people where they are and take them where they need to be. For example, the design and beauty of God's creation or certain raw forces of nature such as an earthquake can dredge up certain divine truths people want to suppress (Romans 1; God's existence). I suspect that this phenomenon is only growing worse in our Western culture as our comforts and our technologies continue to advance and our face-to-face interactions with each other in this physical world decrease.
Presupposing that God is the Creator of nature (a clear Creator-creature distinction), people are able to not only look at nature as “art” but are also able to follow the design, the movements, and functions of nature to God himself (a posteriori; going from "design" to the Author of the Design). Thus, when we isolate nature from the daily life of a community by relegating it to a state park, putting it on a pedestal, or allowing nature to achieve some status apart from everyday life, we build walls that divide and deprive us of aesthetic experiences that point us to God. But these virtual barriers also generate within existential disconnections, distortions, emptiness, and even exhaustion. Thus, nature not only provides a context for rich aesthetic experiences to occur in everyday life (understanding aesthetic experience to be a facet of common grace), especially in a world filled with loss, pain, and tragedy because of depravity (Genesis 3), but nature also serves as an aesthetic witness to God Himself (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1). From my perspective I think of nature as God’s art just as we are His handiwork (Psalm 139). I am defining an aesthetic experience as a heightened process of continuity that is intense, memorable, involving active participation, perception and appreciation. Because non-aesthetic activities are so common, when we encounter an aesthetic event or moment, all too often we categorize the aesthetic experience outside of our normative activities. Interestingly, we can become so accustomed to the non-aesthetic that we will even look to the sensational and the exaggerated for relief. Moreover, using Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer's categories of "lower story/upper story" in his critique of modern philosophy, we may find ourselves valuing experiences with nature divorced from the facts about nature.
Therefore, when we isolate nature from everyday life, three sets of aesthetic problems emerge: (II) the problem of origin and use, (III) the problem of enrichment and poverty, and (IV) the problem of division and emptiness. In sum, the greater the isolation of nature from human experience the larger the need to fill it. As a result, not only do we miss out on opportunities to have aesthetic experiences in daily living that both enrich our lives in and ultimately point us to God in daily living, but we also develop an appetite for the cheap and vulgar (artificial & counterfeit). So, I will examine these three sets of problems and (V) conclude with some brief recommendations.
Three clarifications needed. But before we examine our first problem, namely, the problem of origin and use, let me offer three clarifications:
Clarification regarding the phrase, “dynamic interplay.” First, I seek to bring awareness to the dynamic interplay that exists between our environment and us. I take it that since we are in nature and nature is in us, or better yet, we are part of nature since we are an aspect of God’s creation, a dynamic interplay exists for we feed on the environment and our environment feeds on us. Consider these two examples: We affect our environment and our environment affects us in the context of filthy living. If we surround ourselves with trash, we become trashy. Or our connection to our environment may be likened to the relationship between an unborn baby and mother. The baby’s health affects the mother and the mother’s health affects the baby. Thus, a symbiotic relationship exists between our environment and us. Though we are not determined by our surroundings, there is no doubt that we influence our environment just as our environment influences us.
Clarification on the value of preserving nature. Because of this dynamic interplay, the problem is not with parks, nature reserves, and master plan communities where natural landscaping finds pertinent expression. I recognize both the need and value of preserving nature and its various ecological systems. In fact, I am very appreciative of private charities, private landowners, government institutions, and research centers that protect these places. But when we think of nature outside of the community, elevate nature on pedestal, or support opportunities whereby "nature" achieves some status apart from everyday life, we construct barriers that limit aesthetic experiences with nature that can take place in the ordinary daily life of the organized community.
Clarification on the relationship between nature and ordinary living. The witness of God’s handiwork of creation is powerful (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1). Nature can passionately be used by God to open eyes, stir affections, slow down business, foster possibilities of personal inquiry and introspection, and be sources of meaning. Nature possesses aesthetic qualities in abundance. In order to visit nature, see wildlife, and experience the phenomena of the natural physical world, if we are led to believe that we have to travel outside the community to experience these aesthetic riches, especially in urban settings, we miss out on the beauty and wonder God has created which give evidence of His existence, His creativity, and His genius in our daily lives. May we encourage our community in a biblical balanced away (e.g., do not blur the Creator-creation distinction), to support opportunities for physical nature to thrive within the commonplaces of life, where God’s art may be dynamically experienced and shared by all in the details of ordinary living. Thus, in people’s daily lives, in the comings and goings of work, home, study, and play, people are able to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell nature; the witness of God's creation is at work.
My aesthetic theological concern is twofold: (1) The marginalization or isolation of nature from ordinary living and (2) the lack of awareness by the evangelical community of the dynamic relationship and apologetic/aesthetic values of physical nature in the daily lives of the organized community. Like Schaeffer demonstrated in Pollution and the Death of Man, we Christians need to have a significant presence in the community offering biblical truth in an appropriate way regarding nature as an evangelistic witness and as responsible stewards.
Now having addressed these three preliminary issues, our inquiry will now turn to the isolation of nature from everyday life by probing the problems of origin and use, enrichment and poverty, and division and need. All three sets of problems are interrelated. So we will examine these concerns like we might assess a multifaceted diamond. Afterwards, I will make some brief suggestions how we might bring about greater continuity between people in the life of the organized community and nature as God’s art.
II. Problem of Origin and Use:
The isolation of nature from ordinary living is tragic because nature possesses a quality of activity. Nature pulsates with and magnifies life, creativity, movement, color, intricate form, intelligence, purpose, relationships, communication, habituations, reproduction, power, tragedy, stability, instability, and even death itself. For example, when we watch a butterfly break out of it cocoon our attention is arrested. Aesthetic qualities abound in view of the colors, movements, and instinctual desires we observe. Thus, when we fail to recognize the fact that all of nature, including us, was created by our Creator and that humanity was placed within the context of physical nature and all of these aesthetic activities and images, I am fearful that we marginalize the aesthetic experiences we can have between nature and day-to-day living. God created Adam and Eve in the context of physical nature. Since God did not choose a different context to plant the creation of humanity, we commit the fallacy of selective emphasis when nature is isolated from daily living. While God created nature from where we ultimately draw our nourishment, clothing, shelter, and medicine, it is reasonable to infer that physical nature is also a magnificent source for aesthetic experiences that not only enrich our lives, but also move us to contemplate the ultimate Artist of it all. For example, the beauty we see around us and the aesthetic experiences we experience can lead us to seriously ponder God's existence. Consider these four examples:
1. Beauty implies a mind of beauty.
2. There is objective beauty.
3. Therefore, there is an objective Mind of Beauty.
1. It appears to human beings that normative (transcultural) aesthetic experiences occur.
2. The best explanation for aesthetic normative experiences (transcultural) is that it is grounded in God.
3. Therefore, God exists.
1. There must be objective beauty.
2. Objective beauty is beyond individual persons and beyond humanity as a whole.
3. Objective beauty must come from an objective Mind of beauty.
4. Therefore, there must be a beautiful, personal Mind behind objective beauty.
1. Beauty is a rational enterprise.
2. Beauty would not be a rational enterprise if there were no aesthetic "order" in the world (e.g., unity, intensity, and complexity).
3. Only the existence of God traditionally conceived could support the hypothesis that there is an aesthetic order in the world.
4. Therefore, there is a God.
Nature affects the quality of our lives. If physical nature is expressed in ordinary living, then the quality of activity (both positively and negatively), the images, and the scenes of beauty and ugliness become a storehouse of memories, places of inspiration, and catalysts to stir our imagination, our intellect, our creativity, our human condition, and longings for eternal life with God.
Nature is a continual embodiment of meaning. Because of the transactional activities we enjoy with nature and recoil from, new meaningful experiences and relationships are made. Nature continually inspires new realizations individually and collectively. Nature, in both its beauty and horror, arouses us to make new inquiries, discover new connections, and create things that will benefit others.
Nature also dredges up the existential struggles of our soul with all of its beauty, its fragility, and its brutality. The precarious aspects of nature, for example, cause us to question our significance, our meaning, our purpose. Thus, nature with all of its constructions, patterns, and movements mark an experiential way of human envisioning, visualizing, imagining, contemplating, and soul-searching. The decay and death we observe in nature also moves us in powerful ways to consider our finitude and our frailties. Like Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) once wrote, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me." Nature reminds us that at any moment that what he hold dear may be taken from us. But the changes we witness outside of us and within us create deep and earnest longings for permanence. Since Adam rebellion in Genesis 3, the beautiful and the horrific go hand-in-hand. Experiences such as witnessing the birth of a baby produce unspeakable joy while the death of a loved one generates unspeakable sorrow. The taint of sin is everywhere. The suffering and wickedness that abounds in nature not only stirs the angst within, but it also generates, at least for some, a deep longing or yearning for something more, namely, a place and state where permanent joy and peace may be found and where redemption from sin will be realized.
This bi-relationship between nature and us is “pregnant” with new and open possibilities, developments, processes, relationships, questions, and introspection. Potentialities unfold and we change as we encounter, engage, and absorb these images, movements, and scenes within a spatio-temporal context. Stated differently, the dynamic transactional interplays between ourselves and the stable and precarious, unstable aspects of nature not only feed the human genius, but also bring to surface the ultimate questions of life such as, “Who are we?” “What are we?” “Where did we come from?” Unlike art-products that evoke these existential questions and ultimate issues, nature is invasive and is ultimately beyond our control (e.g., hurricanes). We can walk away from certain art pieces, music, and images that dredge up the larger questions of our human condition and the answers we willfully suppress, but we cannot with nature.
The power of dredging up of these issues and the natural facilitators that point us to God is not merely the material, efficient, formal, and final causes we observe in nature, but are also found when our experiences with nature become emotionally charged, both negatively and positively. Moments like these can come about suddenly as when we turn a bend and are immediately introduced to a display of trees arrayed in fall colors or when a large cloud gives way to the sun and rays of light strike the water teeming with life, revealing a kaleidoscope of colors and reflections that are overwhelming. These experiences can be intense, are memorialized, and are set apart from the mundane moments in daily living. Experiences such of these do not have to be only found outside of the community in parks and nature reserves, but can also be found in greater abundance in daily living when we look out our window, step into our garden, or walk through our neighborhood. But these experiences can also be emotionally charged negatively when we observe a tragic misstep when young life is crushed or when forces of nature destroy what we cherish as individuals and as a community.
As stated earlier, we also have to recognize that nature itself is invasive. While virtual shells within our indoor living distort our contact with the world and generate obscurity within, natural calamities have been used to wake many of us up from our virtual stupor. But in the most startling way, destruction, pain, and tragedy often bring us together, putting us into contact with the actual world in ways we have previously ignored. While some of us may not be able to respond to the deprivation and loss that the forces of nature can bring about, others of us do and are the better for it. Altruism and benevolence find expression and relationships with long-time neighbors are made. Adversity can move us in the most dramatic and beneficial ways whereas false pleasures, for example, immobilize us from making our lives count for something great personally and collectively. False pleasures are desires, inclinations, or preferences that are contrary to God's person and purposes.
III. The Problem of Enrichment and Poverty:
When we marginalize nature from the daily life of an organized community, enriching opportunities of its apologetic witness, aesthetic experiences, and delightful perceptions are diminished both personally and collectively. In fact, the problem of isolation of nature from daily living, affects the moral, the creative, and human qualities and conditions of civilization itself. This will involve examining aesthetic experiences and the aesthetic functionality of nature.
Isolation of nature from common life deprives people of potential aesthetic experiences in at least two compounding ways. First, isolation diminishes opportunities to have aesthetic experiences in ways that stir our mind, inflame affections, spark our imagination, and dredge up our existential longings. And second, isolation impoverishes the community as a whole because members of the community are not able to share and celebrate these experiences with one another in daily activities. Not only are we impoverished because we are not only impacted by the abounding presence, activities, and movements of physical nature, but also because of nature’s practical ability to serve and inspire creativity, experimentation, and intelligence.
Since we are affected by our surroundings, physical nature provides a context that does not inspire us to feast on the “cheap and the vulgar.” Rather, physical nature motivates us to enjoy, produce, and replicate in art forms what empirically observe. But when there is a general loss of civic consciousness of physical nature in all of its aesthetic signs, we miss out on the creative impact nature has upon us and its ability to point us to the God of Beauty, the God of the Bible. I am fearful that where this occurs, the greater the possibility for people to turn to theories of art, language, and arbitrary authorities that are divorced from sound metaphysics and epistemology. Even our own kids, who go from screen to screen and game to game, inundated with interactions all day long within walls, vehicles, and buildings, are extremely deprived of possibilities, enrichment, and interactions with the power of nature as God’s art. Interestingly, when we encounter a small piece of nature in the midst of business, mundane living, and closed settings, our hearts melt, our attention to it can easily become exaggerated, and longings for more are stirred. The excitement can be infectious.
In contrast, when physical nature connects with common life a sense of unity, a bond is constituted in the daily lives of the community where sources of meaning are embodied, significance is attached, and creativity finds new expressions in people as the drama of the physical unfolds, moves, changes, dies, and reappears. Wildlife finds a haven. Lives are enriched. Because of the wide array of colors and designs, the stable and precarious aspects of nature, and the beauty and brutal force of nature with all of its abilities are able to penetrate the deepest aspects of individuality as well as collectively over time and space and in spite of change. Stated differently, physical nature is able to impact the young and the old, the uneducated and educated, the tribal and the most sophisticated. Unlike certain art-products, aesthetic qualities of nature such as color, design, and purpose do not rob the best parts from us or lead us to moral degeneracy. Rather, a single flower, the sound of a bird, the grace of a swan can bring about a moment of serenity to a troubled soul, woo a romantic heart, or usher in delight to a rather uneventful day. Even an encounter with decay and death in nature can bring about the best in us, leading us to make beneficial contribution and investments in the lives of others. Tragedies that result from forces of nature can cause us even the worst of us to respond in the most heroic ways. Therefore, we should promote nature as art because God’s creation is able to enrich the community in the most dynamic and benevolent ways. But the value of recognizing the aesthetic interplays between physical nature and our humanity becomes even more pressing and difficult because of the next and last interrelated problem associated with the isolation of nature from common life, namely, the problem of division and emptiness.
IV. The Problem of Division and Emptiness:
These two problems are grouped together because separating physical nature from everyday life engenders “class division,” “elitism,” and “aesthetic hunger” among the life of the organized community. By “division” I am referring to class distinctions that are promoted when physical nature is detached from common living. Nature loses its significance among us in everyday living because we perceive and describe nature, especially in urban settings, as only being found in places like state parks, nature reserves, and land owned by wealthy people. Some of us might even say consider opportunities to be with nature a luxury for the wealthy because time, opportunity, and the possession of certain resources (e.g., own a RV). But here's the concern: the seclusion of nature from common life leaves an existential vacuum whereby we are likely to seek satisfaction from art-products that are qualitatively anemic and detrimental to community and ourselves. Stated differently, the isolation of nature promotes aesthetic anemia, “emptiness,” or “aesthetic hunger.” Like enduring art-products (e.g., Michelangelo's David), when nature is isolated from the life of the organized community, we develop a hunger that translates into pursuing art-products that are both crude and of poor quality. We find the emptiness to be multifaceted. Consider the following five consequences of nature isolation.
A “superior cultural” mindset can be cultivated when certain spaces of physical nature are set apart and invested, owned, and privately owned. Once again, this false perception is that physical nature is not part of common life but belongs only to those who possess a “superior cultural status.” While this posture may not be specifically directed to people, it is directed toward their interests. Thus, isolating nature from common life can promote aesthetic segregation among the lower socio-economic classes of society.
Nature can be perceived as being reduced to a museum as specimens of nature are collected and exhibited. Thus, when aspects of nature set apart for private viewing or payment by the public is required, nature is isolated from the daily comings and goings of viewing.
When nature is isolated from common life, artists too are affected. Since nature is not related to the collective needs of the community, art that depicts nature within the community can be marginalized or venerated (e.g., placed on a pedestal that blurs the Creator/creation distinction; an endorsement of metaphysical naturalism). As a result, individuality apart from the community emerges. They reflect this consequence by creating art-products that champions “self-expression,” “independence,” and “obscurity.” Thus, nature and all of its apologetic and aesthetic qualities are either displaced or blurred into something that is reflective of the human condition (e.g., a celebration of the profane, sensually indulgent, and morally wicked).
The isolation of art from its origin and use creates a gap between ordinary and aesthetic experience, a confusion of aesthetic values and perception. By relocating nature outside of the ordinary lives of the community, philosophies about nature find pertinent expression and development apart from the common life. Nature is put on a pedestal and can even be given “God-like” qualities. These radical and false ideas generate idolatrous worship (Romans 1), philosophical monism, and unbiblical notions of mysticism.
Division is directly linked to aesthetic hunger. When nature as art is unavailable to the community at large, hunger grows and is likely to see fulfillment in that which is poor and profane. Because we are part of and affected by our environment, aesthetic conditions worsen. This leads us to the idea of “emptiness.” I suspect that the greater the isolation of nature as art from human experience, the larger the need to fill it because we were originally created in the context of physical nature. Sensibly, we can conclude that we are likely to pursue that which cheap and vulgar, artificial and counterfeit.
Nature as God’s art is able to break through all sorts of barriers that divide people. The testimony of nature is a universal form of language (general revelation) from God to humanity. This seems obvious given cross-cultural appreciation for nature. Friendship and affections find completion in both the appreciation and stewardship of nature. Moreover, certain aspects of nature draw attention and are even demanded in certain social gatherings and celebrations.
Nature can be a catalyst to bring people together, promote sacred spaces (e.g., the beauty found at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem), bring restoration to those who are lost in metaphysical obscurity, and be a source of all sorts of incidents and significant scenes of life. The union between people becomes a reward and a hallmark, testifying to the power of nature which God has created.
Nature can also become a prompt of the establishment of that particular union and prod us to promote and pursue future unions. Nature as God’s art can tie the past and future together as evidenced in the recognition of certain places and events.
Lastly, nature as God’s art has the ability to affect and infect the collective life of the community. This occurs because of the interpenetrating relationship between people and their environment. Power of nature can intensely affect our emotions, conjure ideas in our minds, dredge up to the surface what we are trying to suppress, prod our wills to greater awareness of ourselves and our relationship to our God, and bring about punctuated moments of aesthetic pleasure in a world already filled with depravity and decay because of the destructive nature of sin (Genesis 3).
Therefore, when people come across your sphere of influence, people who are confused and disconnected, perhaps it is because nature is foreign to them in their daily experience given the digital sphere in which they live.
Help them reconnect with reality as it is by having them experience nature.
Ensure your family understands the value of nature as God intended it to be understood since so many environmentalists blur, ignore, or marginalize the Creator-creature distinction, promoting an unbiblical worldview (e.g., animism; atheism; pantheism; pantheism). Expose them to the natural beauty of God's creation. Help them to understand why there is decay and death in nature (Genesis 3). Teach them from God's Word that God cares for His creation and that we are to be good stewards of the privilege He has given us (Genesis 1-2). Instruct them about God's future plans when He brings about a new heavens and a near earth (Revelation, chapters 21-22).
As a servant leader in your community, anticipate and promote opportunities and programs that will bring greater interaction with physical nature in your daily living. But if a group blurs the Creator-creation distinction by claiming such false ideas that nature is God or that the particulars of nature are indwelt by spiritual beings, or pursues an agenda that lies outside the contours of biblical orthodoxy (as evidenced by some of today's environmental movement), offer alternatives within your sphere of influence. For example, in my first pastorate in Sugar Land, Texas, a group of us charted a Boy Scout troop that primarily targeted the home school community. We now have over 100 boys and young men involved in the scouting program.
Help those to whom you minister, not to only look at nature, but also to follow it along to the God of the Bible.
In sum, support activities that will bring about nature within the community with a larger project in mind, namely, to see people encounter nature as reflective of God’s art. Allow the powerful witness of nature as art to play its role in testifying to God’s existence as we seek to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by proclamation and personal presence.
Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008).
Brown, Harold O. J. The Sensate Culture: Western Civilization Between Chaos and Transformation (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996).
Dewey, John. Art as Experience (New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 1935, 2005).
Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. (New York: W. W. Norton & Community, 1979).
Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1995).
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Second edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1996).
Pappas, Gregory Fernando. John Dewey's Ethics: Democracy as Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008).
Pearcey, Nancy. Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010).
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. 20th anniversary edition (New York: Penguin Press, 1985, 2005).
_____. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 5 volumes, Second edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 1985).
Shockley, Paul R. “Bridging the Culture Gap: How John Dewey’s Aesthetics May Benefit the Local Church” (Dissertation: Texas A&M University, 2010).
Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007).
Twenge, Jean. Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled-and More Miserable than Ever Before (New York: Free Press, 2007).
Thursday, July 19 2012
WE BECOME WHAT WE BEHOLD: THE SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE & VALUE IN AN IMAGE-DRIVEN AGE
By Paul R. Shockley, Ph.D © 17 July 2012
In this digital age we are surrounded by imagery. But sadly, much of the imagery does not correspond to how things actually are. Thus, in an effort to embrace an identity that is provocative and popular, but consumer-centered and imaginary, many of us strive to become what is impossible in order to find fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. But because these efforts are in vain, the emptiness within them remains. So, we will explore what this means and how Jesus Christ can meet our deepest needs for significance and value.
Problem 1: The Saturation of “Distorted Perfect” Imagery in our Western Culture:
In our society we see visual images of physical beauty everywhere. We open the internet, unfold a paper, turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, look up at a billboard, or enter into a clothing store, and we see images of beautiful people who seem to have it all together physically. Cut, defined, and augmented in the right places; unblemished, tanned, and smooth; bright eyes, lustrous hair, and perfect lips; tall, skinny, and proportionally curved. These images surround us as we go about living our lives tackling the difficult, facing the mundane, and hoping for relief from the daily grind of responsibilities. There is hardly a place we can go where these images do not bombard us.
Our culture idolizes beauty. To be sure, this is not a recent trend. Our human civilization has always prized physical beauty. From Joseph in Egypt to Queen Cleopatra; from Aphrodite to Helen of Troy; From European Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Marilyn Monroe; From fictional characters like Wonder Woman and Emma Frost to certain Anime characters such as Light Yagami from Death Note, Pegasus from Yu-Gi-Oh, Howl the Wizard from Howl’s Moving Castle, and video game characters like Ezio Auditore, Master Chief, Zelda, and Laura Croft-people love to be associated with physical beauty. This is so evident with our culture’s fascination with “Brangelina.”
When you are with a beautiful or handsome person, you will often find others watching her or him, carefully soaking in all the details. Even though naturally beautiful or strikingly handsome people may tell you that their natural appearance has brought on a certain mass of troubles, trials, and temptations that other people do not have to experience, some of us long to trade places with them-regardless. We say to ourselves, “It can’t be that bad!”
But what do you do with images that are “distortedly perfected” and do not correspond to how things actually are? Do you honestly think people look that perfect? So many young girls gaze at these magazine pictures and become so “entranced” and “captured” by what they see that they strive to become what is not real. Or let me put it this way: Have you ever found yourself trying to identify with a particular image or identity and are eventually crushed when those “false” expectations do not materialize?
Have you ever wondered why those expectations were not fulfilled? Could it be that those images are distortions of the way things actually are? Have you ever been misled by an image? Did you feel betrayed? Was it dishonest?
But often associated, combined, and connected to these images of beautiful people are objects of success. From shampoo to sports-cars we are bombarded with the notion that accomplishments, happiness, popularity, and success are found in these two relationships: physical beauty and materialism. What I mean by materialism is “things, things, and things.” Thus, we buy, hoping we will “look” successful even if we have come to the conclusion that we will “never” be successful.
So, what does this bombardment by all of these beautiful images of success do to us? These images foster within ourselves a discontentment about who we are-no matter if we are financially poor, living on paycheck-to-paycheck, or are even financially successful.
See, these images suggest that we are not right; there is something wrong with us! We look in the mirror after a day barraged with visual images and the discontentment we have with ourselves re-emerges to the forefront of our minds. Our cheekbones aren’t high enough, our nose is too large, our eyes too small, our body frame not symmetrically balanced and proportioned, our teeth aren’t right, our hair is thinning out, and this thing called fat seems to collect in unwanted places.
But as we continue to watch the late night infomercials with all of its secret tips to conquer our bags, sags, and drags, follow the activities of celebrities, and see and hear about “who is who” and “who has what,” some of us feel motivated within to alter, change, or even forsake our purposes, values, and become someone else altogether. Like cinema, these images tinker inside our brain; they steal upon us at the oddest times and change not only how we look at the world, but also “how we move, live, and have our becoming.” In essence, they foster in us to change who we are, what we do, and what we love. See, marketing-type images that are brushed, cleansed from impurities, and augmented, are designed to foster certain affections, redirect certain pursuits, and cultivate certain passions. As you indulge the invitations, you do change, but perhaps in ways you never anticipated.
For some of us we find ourselves buying particular products believing that it holds the potential promise that we can become someone better or perhaps someone else altogether-even though there is no real connection between the person of beauty and the product he or she represents. Just because a beautiful actress like Jennifer Aniston or a superstar like Hugh Jackman endorses a product does not mean that you will look like that person if you purchase it (and enough of it!). There is more to our humanity than mere physical appearance.
Moreover, because of such vices as peer pressure, pride, jealousy, ambitions, and certain insecurities, we will even cast an image of ourselves to others in ways that do not actually correspond to reality. Using social utilities like Facebook we project ourselves to others in some of the most dishonest ways in order to gain “street cred,” legitimacy, and popularity points. We edit or modify our “pics” and use certain hip words to describe our “coolness” and protect our “interests.” Yet the irony is that we demand authenticity from others while we suppress and perhaps even ignore what is actually true about ourselves.
Certain images influence our behavior, infect the way we look at the world, and inflame certain tendencies within for economic gain. In fact, images can improve social standing among others, help protect certain establishments, and even be used to solidify or redirect the moral structures, direction, and vision of our society. But the imagery we create and the imagery that we “spin” can be dishonest, duplicitous, and oppressive when we frame them in such a way that they manipulate our insecurities, misrepresent who we are, and indulge our appetites. Moreover, when we encounter this kind of imagery, three particular problems can arise.
First, certain imagery can actually harmful to our well-being (e.g., pornography). How? Images can be used to express falsehoods about important matters such as reality, moral behavior, dignity, and what it means to be human. Confusion, misunderstandings, neglect, manipulation, and addictions emerge. For example, removing every flaw and augmenting or enhancing certain features of a human body on a picture can generate certain unwarranted insecurities among the young and the old. They compare themselves to such images and come to the conclusion that they will never measure up while never seriously realizing that these images are distortions of reality.
Second, images can be harmful in the attitudes and dispositions that they cultivate (e.g., how we look at and treat others). This is evidenced for example in many of the Nazi posters before and during World War II fostering such horrific evils as anti-Semitism.
And third, imagery can inflame the “darker side” of our person, hindering the development of a character of excellence, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, and foster addictions that not only destroys our innocence, but also brings conflict, misery, and pain to those who love us best. This is evidenced, for example, when one is captured by the wicked vice of pornography.
But if the problem of being showered by distorted perfect imagery in our Western culture is not enough, we also have another serious problem at work. This problem directly feeds into the power images have over us.
II. Problem 2: The Emptiness Within: The Search for Significance and Value:
Many of us long to be loved, to be accepted, to be valued, to have purpose, significance, and a destiny worthwhile! We realize that there is a void within, an incompleteness that runs deep. We move from relationship to relationship, home to home, friend to friend, hobby to hobby, job to job, school to school, looking but never finding true and lasting fulfillment. Some of us have actually given up on our marriages and promising careers because this discontentment seems to plague every footstep. Others of us turn to alcohol, drugs, gluttony, and licentiousness only to discover that these sinful addictions have robbed the best parts of us and hurt the people we love the most.
Let me put it this way: There is something deeper going on here than being bombarded by images! Yet the images feed into something greater that is going on within the deepest parts of our personhood. Things are not right within and we know it! We can see it, hear it, feel it, and taste it. We earnestly desire contentment, peace, and satisfaction. We long to be loved and accepted. We want our lives to have meaning, purpose, significance, and value. We hunger for meaning. We yearn for hope.
We realize that we are empty and have come to the popular conclusion from the constant images that we see, that if we can become what we see in these images, achieve a perfect body, or become an object of physical desire, then we will know what it means to be complete, to be fulfilled, and practically live worry free. I am only a six-pack away from fulfillment! So, the crunches continue and continue and continue...
Moreover, some of us have it in our mind that if we can look like a celebrity, then all of our material desires will also be met. As depicted in many popular movies like Pretty Woman, we day dream of a good-looking and financially successful person swooping down and giving us all the desires of our heart. But even with the dream of rescue from our lack of permanent fulfillment, a dream is a dream. Even if the dream does come true, many of us sadly come to the realization that the grass is not greener-even on the other side of the community. As a result, the emptiness within reemerges and we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is? Is this the best life I can achieve?”
You have heard the stories. You perhaps have even talked to those who seem to have it all. They are strikingly beautiful. They have the power, they have the material goods, and they have all that our society deems successful. Yet, they cry within, hoping if not begging for deliverance from the angst.
This theme of discontentment is powerfully expressed in a hit song that received universal acclaim by U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”:
Consider a portion of the lyrics from this song:
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in the fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire
I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was one empty night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
III. Probing the Two-Fold Problem: Distorted Perfected Imagery & Existential Emptiness:
U2 poignantly expresses what many of us are experiencing and have experienced for many, many years. Combining both the images that affect us and the already emptiness within, let us now probe this two-fold problem like one examines a multifaceted diamond. In other words, let us carefully look at this problem from thirteen different but related ways.
First, are you content? Are you satisfied with the way you are designed to be? Or do you seek to reflect or even absorb the identity of others? Why do you dress the way you do? While I think dressing fashionably is fine, what I am asking is why do you dress stylishly? Is there a lack of contentment within? Are you trying to be someone that you are not? If your circumstances were to never change, would you intimately know contentment?
Second, are you looking for hope? You look at yourself in the mirror, you ponder the costly mistakes you have made, and regret wells up within and you ask yourself, “Is there really any real hope for me?” To be honest, you really are looking for change you can believe in! You are looking for peace, wholeness, and redemption. You ask yourself, “Does hope even exist for someone like me?”
Third, are you unhappy about who you are and what you have become? Perhaps you were raised in a dysfunctional home where the people who were responsible over you repeatedly said, “I love you but I don’t like you.” Or perhaps you are unhappy about how you have turned out given the all the negative repercussions from the poor choices you or others in your life have made. You have been changed in the most unexpected ways and you do not like what you see. You ask yourself, “Will I ever be happy?”
Fourth, you, like the rest of us, long to be loved by others. But have you come to the conclusion that if you look like the images that are prized by society, then people will finally cherish, love, and respect you? Will this type of love really satisfy your deepest longings to be loved? Is not our society fickle? Consider how fast our culture turns on celebrities when they make a mistake or are no longer receiving the spotlight. Do you hunger for a love that always has your best interest at heart? “Will somebody ever love me for who I am?”
Fifth, do you seek to become like the images you see in order to show others that you can look like that or even better! Are you exhausted or disillusioned from such pursuits? Sadly, are you truly aware that you are often competing with images that do not correspond to reality but have actually been altered by computer graphic imagery (CGI)? “Do you realize you are competing with that which is not actually real?”
Sixth, do you believe you have never been truly valued for who you are? Ignored and perhaps mocked by others, do you find yourself chronically alone? So, accepting that notion that there is something significantly wrong with you, do you try to become someone or something else instead of flourishing the way God made you? Do you ever pretend you are someone else? Do you wish you were someone else? “Do you feel alone?”
Seventh, for some of you who have been cut off from the fast pace of our society, were you raised to think you were okay? But ever since you stepped out into the large world, barraged by all this imagery, has your understanding of who you are began to erode? Do you find yourself questioning who you are? Do you feel like all that you once understood about yourself and your relation to this world is lost in obscurity; it was all a dream, a naivety? “Do you no longer know who you are?”
Eighth, many people despise who they are once they see what others possess. Instead of having feelings of sympathy, they resent what others are and what they possess. If you are not careful, resentment generates bitterness. Do you struggle with jealousy? Do you dislike yourself? Has bitterness found expression in your life?
Ninth, some of us possess a disposition of a follower. We naturally follow what others exclaim… even marketing schemes… thinking that is this way we are to live; we know no better. Thus, mindless about who we are, we just go along, and do whatever the herd is doing. Have you ever thought about the relationship between yourself and the images that might be shaping your life? What do your surroundings say about you? “Do you find yourself following but never asking?”
Tenth, does it bother you to see anyone else receiving more attention than you? Do you find yourself projecting an image to others that always puts the attention back on you? Why do you have need to call attention to yourself? What does this say about your life and the emptiness you have within yourself?
Eleventh, some of us long for power in order to fill the void within. We desire to lead the herd in our sphere of influence. You don’t just merely want to be cool, you also seek power. Thus, if you look like some of the images you see, people will not only listen to you; they will follow you. You will be the alpha-male you have always dreamed! Why do you have self-deify yourself? Are you trying to fill the void within with the power to control and manipulate others?
Twelfth, realizing how far you are from what is beautiful, hip, and cool, have you come to the realization that the gap between who we are and the images you see is too big to cross. So, you sink into a “woe- is-me” syndrome. Are you depressed about who you are? Do you even think real change is possible?
And lastly, do you strive to achieve contentment by improving your physical appearance? With every successful change or improvement on your looks, do you want others to know? Why do you think you show yourself off? So, do you wear the tight-fighting shirts, curl up the jeans, and jump to the floor and do a massive amount of pushups and crunches before you go out to conquer the night? Always primping and looking into every mirror, do you feed off of the words of affirmation you receive? Do you find yourself comparing yourself with those who are less than what you are? Are you prideful? Do you realize that pride is often rooted in terrible insecurity? Are you afraid to let others know who you really are?
I take it that these images bombard, aggravate, and inflames the void, the emptiness, and the longing that we have for lasting completeness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Even if we were to not live in an image-driven society, I am confident that the emptiness we have within would continue, though our pursuit of it might not be so sensual. In times past people thought contentment would be found in such activities as a bloody conquest, a life of seafaring adventure, or worshiping pagan gods with lacerations, self-denials, or blood sacrifices.
We have people who believe they are ugly and have come to the conclusion that they will never become beautiful as the images that surround them. The gap is too wide for them to achieve beauty, and thus, significance and value. They look at these images, which many of them do not actually correspond to reality since they have been digitally enhanced, and conclude that they will never arrive. Discontentment reigns supreme; emptiness remains.
We also have people who attempt to bridge the gap of who they are with what they do in order to achieve value and significance. Still contentment evades them even with every step of success they achieve.
We have beautiful people who seem to have it all together in the world’s eyes. Yet, if brutally honest, many of them cry out for lasting fulfillment. So many beautiful people are unfulfilled. So many beautiful people are used by others-people are feeding off of them like vampires for selfish gain.
IV. Why do we become what we behold?
Image-driven society, with all of its unspoken visuals, has been and is shaping our understanding of what success really means. How is this possible? I submit to you that there is a bilateral relationship between our environment and us. We feed on our environment while our environment feeds on us like an unborn baby is affected by the health of the mother while at the same time the baby affects the health of the mother. Thus, because many of us, especially young people, are surrounded by these types of images, bombarded with them on a daily basis, our purposes, pursuits, and values are being shaped. Why? Typically it is for economic exploitation. For some it is not merely economic exploitation; it is also because there are people who create these images, seeing themselves as agents of cultural change. So, they seek to shape your life in order for you to pursue what they want you to pursue or become something they want you to become.
So, we absorb, perhaps unaware, and for some, especially young girls and boys, unintentionally, these images to the extent that they shape our very identities. Let me put it this way, no one is immune to one’s surroundings. Whatever surrounds you will affect you. You live in a filthy home. You will be affected by filth. If you are bombarded with images of beautiful people distorted by computer graphic imagery, your purposes, pursuits, and values are not merely stimulated to change, but new ones are to be embraced. I suspect many of the movers and shakers of society think of us as “useful idiots.”
V. What is the Answer to this two-fold Problem?
But even within this bilateral relationship between us and our environment a choice can be made, an alternative can be given, and hope can be rekindled to find that which will bring completion, fulfillment, and satisfaction within the deepest reaches of our person.
Said differently, I would like to invite you to explore your own moments of joy and seriously question the source of your deepest longings.
During the past two hundred years or so we have been told to interpret these longings as nothing more than primitive, tribal emotions or psychological wishes.
But I submit to you that this view lacks explanatory power. Dr. Louis Markos, an outstanding scholar at Houston Baptist University, puts this problem this way: “But why and how could unconscious nature produce in us a conscious desire for something that transcends the natural world?”
Rather, as St. Augustine discovered many years ago as recorded in is biography, Confessions, I contend that God created us to be in intimate fellowship with Him. The void within is a spiritual problem that demands a spiritual answer. This view possesses existential relevance because when we turn to knowing God as the solution, we discover by experience and by His Word a fullness that surpasses but does not contradict our understanding.
C. S. Lewis originally described these longings for God as an argument by desire:
Just as the fact that we experience thirst, food, and physical intimacy is proof that we are creatures for whom the drinking of water, eating food, and having physical intimacy is natural, so the fact that we desire an object that our natural realm cannot offer implies the existence of a supernatural realm.
This desire does not guarantee that we will achieve this other realm, but it does claim that we are creatures who are capable of achieving it. In fact, I agree with C. S. Lewis and Dr. Markos that we are designed to spend eternity with God.
The offer to fill this reality of spiritual incompleteness is not rooted in an activity. It is not filled with conditions. No demands need to be made to qualify in order for the void to be permanently filled within. The void is not filled by doing but by knowing the right Person. I submit to you that Person is no other than Jesus Christ, who is God, who died on the cross for your sins and rose bodily from the dead. Scripture presents Him as that Redeemer. It is in His person and His works where significance and value is found. Since He is the Son of God, the image of the invisible God, we do not have to become something in order to be accepted. Jesus accepts us as we are. We do not have to achieve something in order be fulfilled. Instead, Jesus achieved something for us on the cross and offers it to us freely. Jesus not only accepts us for who we are, but offers us a joy, a peace, and fulfillment that is God-centered, not man centered, not-marketing centered, and not-peer pressure centered. Jesus will not exploit you. Instead Jesus offers you a peace that surpasses understanding and the only condition for such peace is trust and trust alone in Him for salvation by believing that He is God who died on the cross for your sins and rose bodily from the dead. God who knows every mistake you have ever made and will make, fully and accurately aware of every sin you have ever committed, stands to offer you the gift of eternal life. He will free you from yourself. He will liberate you from bondage to this world. He will emancipate you with a love that is so intense that it will surpass anything you have ever experienced in this life. Jesus stands to offer significance and value apart from every frailty, every appetite, and every propensity you have.
One zealot in the New Testament, Saul, who once opposed Christ and all that He stood for as evidenced in his murder of Christian, experienced the joy, the fullness, that peace that flooded His soul. Saul became the Apostle Paul. Out of gratitude for the undeserved favor he received, he concludes in Philippians that to live is Christ; to die is gain. With Him, He will preserve you. With Him you will experience the goodness you have longed to intimately know. God the Father will delight in you!
But this is not something just found in the New Testament in his prayer to the God of the Bible. Listen to the words of David found in Psalm 16:11, a psalm that mirrors the promise of the Messiah who will take the sins of the world upon Himself in Isaiah 52:13-53:12: You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. ~ Psalm 16:11
Thus, when you place your trust in Christ, you do not have to strive to become something to calm the storms of emptiness within. He fills the void with His presence. It is a joy that conquers all.
In the same song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” Bono sings:
I believe when the Kingdom comes
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running.
You broke the bonds
You loosened the chains
You carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it
Bono sings about how no earthly desire will ever completely fill the void within. But God has demonstrated his love with grace through the sacrifice of Christ who carried the cross. The bonds are broken. The chains are loosened. So, God broke what has tied us to this world and liberated us to eternal life. The only condition for this type of satisfaction is faith alone in Christ alone.
But how do we know that Jesus is God-who can fill the void within? For a person like myself, I will not readily embrace a truth-claim unless it is rational, empirically justifiable, existentially relevant, possesses explanatory power, and coheres with what I already know to be true. So, prove to me that this Jesus is God! In an effort to address this question, please consider the following two questions:
First, for the sake of argument, what expectations would you have if God became a man? I offer nine of them to you:
Have an utterly unique entrance into human history.
Be without evil and sin.
Use supernatural powers to do great and noble deeds.
Live perfectly than any human who has ever lived.
Speak the greatest words ever spoken.
Have an enduring and universal influence.
Satisfy the spiritual hunger in humanity
Overcome humanity’s most pervasive and feared enemy-physical death.
Remove Sin and Evil itself.
And second, what determines when an event may be termed “historical”? When are we justified in concluding that something actually occurred in history? Are there ways to confirm or validate that we have arrived at a sufficient amount of evidence to declare something to have actually happened. How can these conclusions be known with any degree of assurance or certainty? I contend that history is the knowledge of the past based upon testimony.
What are the tools used by historians? To be sure there is not unanimous agreement (e.g., revisionists…people for example who rewrite history for various reasons, e.g., The European Holocaust never happened). Nevertheless, here are some standard tools that have been used by those who take seriously the science and art of historical methodology (historiography). In fact, we are going to build a case from the historical nature of Christian events based upon what we call a “minimal facts” approach. The “minimal facts” are facts that either are accepted or recognized by critics or facts that would be ridiculous for critics to deny.
Essentially there are four distinguishable aspects of historical evidence historians typically use to learn about past events: (1) apparent memories, (2) the testimony of others (either oral or written (e.g., eyewitnesses, primary and secondary documents), (3) physical traces left behind that may point to the event in question (e.g., archeology), and (4) the application of scientific principles or the application of critical interaction.
The historian gathers data from these above sources and then applies an array of criteria to help him or her to ascertain what actually occurred in the past (to be sure, certain criteria is considered more valuable than others):
Early evidence principle: Early evidence is needed for a case to be well-established.
Eyewitness principle: Eyewitnesses of that event is preferred (“best relevant evidence” or “the rule of immediacy.”).
Multiple independent sources significantly strengthen the case.
Details are enhanced by the principle of embarrassment, surprise, or negative reports whereby the writer (who has a friendly vested interested) makes painful remarks concerning an event, person, and/or himself/herself.
Antagonistic principle: Person or party recognizes the event or person investigated.
Historical coherence principle: The event coheres with other attested historical events, events, persons, and situational setting.
Scrutinization principle: Finally, the explanation proposed is scrutinized in order to see if the explanation sheds light on other known phenomena or investigated claims.
Coupled with this criteria to examine historical data, the minimal approach places importance upon, first and most of all, remarkably or extraordinarily well-attested documents on several distinct grounds and, second, whether the material is classified as historical by the majority of critical scholars.
Following David Hume, we could also apply his thoughtful questions of historical inquiry:
Do the witnesses contradict each other?
Are there a sufficient number of witnesses?
Were the witnesses truthful?
Were they non-prejudicial?
If you follow these sensible maxims and apply them to the historicity of Jesus Christ in view of all the ancient Jewish, Roman, Christian, and other Gentile literature that are available for examination, you should come to the reasonable and empirically justified conclusion that not only did Jesus Christ exist as an actual person in real history, but He also demonstrated that He was the God-man, the Messiah predicted in Hebrew Scripture (e.g., Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Micah 5:2) by His words, miracles, and circumstances. Using these principles we are able to affirm that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-7). In fact, I would go so far as to say that a strong defense for the person and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is very well substantiated by the minimal historical facts method alone. Said differently, we are able to defend the historicity of Jesus Christ by appealing to remarkable and well-attested documents from multiple, independent sources that are both friendly and antagonistic.
Since it is outside of the scope of this article to present all these ancient evidences, I invite you to read historian’s Gary R. Habermas, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus: Historical Records of His Death and Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1984). In this book he presents a number of excerpts from ancient documents in a very irenic manner.
Therefore, by using criteria for historical accuracy that is recognized by leading historians for any historical account, we not only have a historical basis to refute the philosophical hypothesis of naturalism, but we are also able to provide powerful evidences for the person and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Here’s the bottom line. Only God Himself fully satisfies our deepest longings. That statement should make us yearn for God even more. The reason why is simple. God originally designed us to be in fellowship with Him (Genesis 1-2). So, like the U2 song suggests, no earthly pleasure will ever satisfy you. Rather, earthly pleasures hold you in bondage. Sure, false pleasures may offer you solutions and offer temporary relief and release, but they were never designed to fulfill what you were originally designed to be, that is, to be in intimate fellowship with the God of the universe. You cannot fill an immaterial, spiritual void with a material object or physical activity that is not designed to last.
Even as a believer in Jesus Christ, when you are not in intimate fellowship with God, you will experience conviction, unrest, and dissatisfaction until you return to Him with confession (1 John 1:9) and repentance (Revelation 2-3). Once you intimacy with God is restored, your joy will be full.
If nothing except God fully satisfies, then what about all other things such as relationships, family, church, vocation, studies, jobs, dreams, etc. are they worthless? No, they are not necessarily worthless if they are good, honorable, and noble to God and before others (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Philippians 4:8). But what they do is point us, if not sharpen our focus on one specific truth: ultimate satisfaction is only found in the God of the Bible.
The satisfaction we experience now knowing Christ will only become more rapturous when we are fully in His presence without the capacity to sin. After coming to Christ and experiencing His fullness we develop a new longing. This fresh longing expresses itself with exclamations like "I want more of you, God!" Like being separated from those who love you the most, you earnestly desire to be in God's precious presence. So, as the years go by both intimately walking with our beloved Savior and experiencing the frailties and troubles of this depraved and dying world, our yearnings for heaven become more and more intense. So, while we tread on this earth in our unredeemed bodies, the satisfaction we experience now as believers who intimately know Jesus Christ is only a foretaste of what we will experience before Him in His heavenly presence (Revelation 21-22). Only then will our yearnings be complete when we reach our heavenly home and are before the One who sits on His glorious throne (Revelation 4-5).
Therefore, while you cannot eliminate the bombardment of unwarranted and harmful imagery you face, you can come to grips with the biblical truth that your completion, fulfillment, and satisfaction is exclusively found in Christ alone by faith alone. God can empower you to give up the desire, which is an exercise in futility, to strive to embrace an identity that is provocative and popular, but altogether consumer-centered and imaginary. In fact, God invites you to experience His best if you will center your attention upon Him who is utterly beautiful and realistically perfect; the God of the Bible has committed Himself to your true good. The only condition to experience His very best in the "now" and for all eternity is to place your trust in Him for salvation.
Monday, May 28 2012
WHAT MAKES UP THE GOOD LIFE?
Paul R. Shockley, PhD
© 28 May 2012
Some time or another many of us have seriously asked ourselves, “What is the meaning (importance/significance) to my life?” “Does my life have any ultimate purpose or goal?” “What truly is morally valuable?” Combined with the reality of the brevity and fragility of life, especially in view of seeing so many people we know and love be snatched from us by the claws of death, we wonder what steps can be taken in order to achieve a satisfying, purposed, and meaningful life. Death could knock at our door any moment. Our pulse quickens and anxiety builds as we search for the answer to the ultimate question of identity, purpose, and significance, namely, “What makes up the good life?”
The dedication to this question is quite revealing when one turns to the extent of answers disclosed in films, music, novels, and TV shows. Why? Our longing to know what makes up the good life is part and parcel of what it means to be human. To be sure, great stories are developed by the pursuit of these questions and the answers given. We watch the choices characters make and the repercussions that follow personally and/or collectively. Tragedy, success, destruction, and altruism find colorful and creative expressions as expressed in films like Citizen Kane, Amadeus, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, and Avengers, and TV shows like Heroes. Just a cursory glance given to the philosophical notion of what makes up the good life in entertainment, we have a wide array of competitive and conflicting ideas:
What makes up the good life?
1. Achieve financial success so you can reach as state whereby you do nothing.
2. Freedom from all demands and expectations.
3. Be surrounded by the biggest and greatest material goods.
4. Be the object of physical desire.
5. Maximization of self-interests.
6. Party it up.
7. A life whereby pleasure is maximized and pain is minimalized.
8. Be recognized as a hero.
9. Receive accolades from your community for making the world a better place (e.g., Nobel Peace Prize).
10. The ability to control and manipulate others.
11. Complete freedom from consumerism and social conformity (herd mentality).
12. The stripping of all self-desires whereby perfect peace is achieved.
13. Communion with “nature.”
14. Freedom from hard work.
16. A life of valor.
17. A simple life.
18. Financial success and security.
19. Physical fitness.
20. Academic accomplishments that affect or mold the way others look or discuss a particular notion.
21. Shape domestic/foreign policy nationally and/or internationally.
23. Inventions that impact the way people live, move, and have their becoming.
25. Contributed to the “tipping point” of a particular idea, item, or movement in contemporary culture.
26. Choice-worthy purposes
27. Consistent state of feeling good
28. Live a life of love and compassion.
29. Leave this world with personal peace.
30. Live courageously in an absurd world.
31. Live life to the fullest.
32. A state of happiness.
33. Being true to yourself.
34. Appreciating ever moment of living life.
35. Live fast and hard instead of “fading away.”
36. Biological reproduction and eugenic success.
37. Life of contemplation.
38. Military Conquest.
39. Moral purity.
40. Unashamed Devotion to a Higher Power.
41. The stoic acceptance of “Fate.”
42. Rebellion or conformity to the arbitrary will and whims of the gods.
43. Meaning in life is relative to personal preference, dependent upon one’s mental state, and the capability to access a certain set of external goods.
44. Meaning in life is generated to the extent that one is able to love something.
45. Survival of the fittest.
46. The ability to perfect ourselves with the use of biotechnology, genetic engineering, advancing technologies, and the assimilation of knowledge.
47. Embracing what the community cherishes or upholds as the good life… it is what is agreed upon collectively by the particular community.
48. Being true to yourself. The more true to yourself, the more fulfilled you will be. The less true you are to yourself, the less fulfilled you will be.
49. Being absorbed in some activity or experience like employment, public service, raising children, and loving your spouse.
50. “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness.” ~ Susan Wolf.
51. Fight! Love! Live!
Philosophically, this question of what makes like meaningful, significant, or importance has been answered in various ways.
Many agree with Aristotle that the good life is dynamically related to human functioning whereby “eudaimonia” (human flourishing) may be achieved. Thus, the habitual mastery of intellectual and moral virtues, a certain set of external goods, mimicking one who possesses the good life, and always choosing a path of moderation between excess and deficiency in any given situation are required. But a one problem with this view that even if you achieve "eudaimonia" you can lose it "all" with one misstep. Furthermore, this view of the good life leaves you hostage to luck for you must be born in the right family, receive the right education, live in the right community, and possess the right set of resources.
Some are attracted to Plato who believed that the good life is achieved when one’s appetites, emotions, and reasoning flourish together in their respective states with reason controlling the others. From this aggregation virtues like justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom emerge. Likewise, this type of ethical living is tied to the community whereby the artisans/workers, warriors, and philosopher-kings flourish in their respective states with the philosopher-kings ruling. When this threefold caste system flourishes, serving the whole community, these same virtues emerge. But is this enough?
For Kant, the good life is one whereby one’s life adheres to the supreme moral principle of morality, namely, the threefold Categorical Imperative (which is, roughly speaking, a secularized version of the golden rule): “Act in conformity to that maxim and that maxim only, that you can will at the same time a universal law.” In other words, this type of meaningful life is one whereby personal preferences are exchanged with adherence to logical duties that are universally impartial. Moreover, the Categorical Imperative emphasizes the inherent value of human life, fairness, and equality. Our desires or preferences are constrained by the logical will of all. But is this approach this really possible in a self-serving world where depravity is natural, decadence is attractive, and virtues are ignored? Does this view focus on rules to the neglect of being? What if our desires our in conflict with duties? Does the focus on rules also ignore or even displace the existential aspects of our personhood?
Others embrace the nihilistic mindset that there is no purpose to life; life has no meaning for we are accidental products of nature that emerged from chance, matter, and time. While nihilists believe there is no “designed” purpose in this atheistic universe, some contend that by adopting a “life project” personal meaning, situated purpose, and significance may find expression-even though there is no ultimate purpose in this absurd and meaningless universe. Can one really be in the position to claim a universal negative?
Still, others may claim we should not even ask the question, “What is the good life?” This notion of lasting contentment, joy, and satisfaction is intelligible. In fact, to even think there is prescribed purpose to our lives is to fall victim to categories of thinking we inherited from both Greek and Judeo-Christian worldviews. Instead, meaning is found in liberation from all constraints, categories, and other authority structures imposed on us. Be free to be what you want to be! But is this view really coherent given all that we know about life? Do we not long for security?
Some assert the good life is much more complicated than what we previously thought. Instead of some singular overarching prescriptive purpose to our lives, our purposes are complex and dynamically associated with the biological, familial, social, and environmental. Thus, our purposes are shaped, molded, and expressed in different ways and in different contexts. Thus, our purposes change as we change and as our culture changes. Does this view still commit the fallacy of reductionism by not considering the immaterial or spiritual realm of reality?
Others may claim that the good life is found in the beneficial mastery of our circumstances. We inquire into the specific situation itself (since we are in experience and not outside of it) and attempt to use various tools at our disposal to generate practical benefits that will help us achieve our dreams personally and collectively. Thus, the good life is found when we achieve certain benefits or rewards in a given situation. The "nectar" is found in how we engage our circumstances recognizing that experience itself oscillates between moments of stability and instability. Does this view also commit the fallacy of reductionism by not neglecting the immaterial or spiritual realm of reality?
Lastly, all throughout history many have concluded the opposite view. Our position in this universe is one of ultimate design and transcendent purpose. But the question becomes, who designed this plan? What is the nature of this type of Designer? Related, what role, if any, does free will play in the decisions and the destinies that we are called to fulfill?
All of these explanations point to the obvious conclusion that people are passionate about what makes up the good life. Moreover, answers given are related to other ultimate questions like:
What is true?
What is ultimately real?
What is good and evil?
What is right from wrong?
What happens following death?
But as you read the above views, you must realize that not all explanations are created equal. In fact, it would be incoherent and illogical to claim that all the above answers are all equally valid. Therefore, how can we adjudicate which answer is best? While some of the above answers may be connected, the question is what view makes the most sense given “who we are” and “what we already know to be true” in the world in which we live.
Personally, I use a seven-fold criterion to examine truth-claims- whether philosophically or theologically. I have discovered that this type of approach is most enlightening, enriching, and meaningful given the contexts in which I move, act, and grow. This combinational checklist is extrapolated from the insights of philosophers like William H. Halverson, Winfried Corduan, and Ravi Zacharias.
First, the answer given must be logically coherent, that is, it must be free of internal logical inconsistencies. Thus, the truth-claim must harmonize with what I already know to be true.
Second, a truth-claim must be empirically adequate, that is, it must have evidential value. See, a fact is something that actually exists; it has objective reality; it is a provable concept. For example, the hunger for transcendence is empirically evident among the world’s adherence to religious worship (e.g., the amount of and adherence to religion).
Third, the truth-claim must be existentially relevant, that is, the truth-claim must be germane, pertinent, and relatable. In other words, this truth-claim must have an important, evident bearing on the matter at hand.
Fourth, the truth-claim must be workable. If something works, then it is true. Though there are problems with this as the sole criterion, itself, e.g., a lie may be workable, the bottom line is that if something is true, then it works. To be sure, one does not have to embrace a consequential form of ethics or become a pragmatist in order to consider, discover, or observe what consequences a truth-claim may generate. In fact, one of the benefits of recorded history is that we have over 2,000 years of ideas and their consequences upon humanity and biological and sociological environment and the trajectories they generate. We do not live in a vacuum. Thus, I believe it is helpful to consider what can be and what is generated by truth-claims.
Fifth, and related to the third criterion, relevance, and fourth criterion, workability, the truth-claim must be able to be lived out; it must be viable. If some idea or worldview cannot be lived out, then it is not worthwhile. Though this criterion of viability is a negative test, it is worth using. The question becomes, can one live out this truth-claim? If not, then it is suspect and perhaps valueless. See, the test of viability helps clarify our values, pursuits, and plans.
Sixth, does this truth-claim possess explanatory power in the area of comprehensiveness? Is this truth-claim weighty or substantive? Does this worldview pull all of life together? Does this truth-claim shed light on other known inquiries, claims, insights or discoveries?
And seventh, does this truth-claim or worldview possess an aesthetic and moral quality that meaningfully improves or degrades that which good, honorable, and noble? Does it generate virtue or vice, contribute or degenerate one’s wellbeing and the good of the community? Does it satisfy, conform to, and enrich our conscience? Or is it counter-intuitive, extracting the best parts of our personhood.
In sum, when I apply this seven-fold criterion, namely, the criteria of (1) internal coherence, (2) empirical adequacy, (3) existential relevance, (4) workability, (5) viability, (6) comprehensiveness, and (7) aesthetic and moral quality, to answers given, such as what makes the good life, I have come to the realization that I am better able to discover and discern that which is true and false among all the competing truth-claims that exist in our world today.
Therefore, what makes up the good life?
When I apply the combinational test to the answer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever," I have come to the incredible adn beautiful discovery that this answer not only meets my seven-fold criterion, but it also exceeds my expectations. Let's explore this further.
First, this answer internally coheres with what I already know to be true about the nature of God as powerfully expressed in the historical reality of the person, words, and works of Jesus Christ. Jesus demonstrated what it looks like to glorify God and enjoy Him. Moreover, Jesus’ words internally agree about what I know about the frailty and depravity of humanity. His use of first principle of logic is unmistakable and His use of the correspondence view of truth is clear.
Additionally, this answer also internally coheres what I know about God from general revelation as reflected in physical beginning of the universe (Cosmological argument), the empirical design, order, and complexity that is evident in our universe and in our biological systems (Teleological argument; apparent design; irreducible complexity; anthropic principle), the unity and diversity in biological life-forms, the reality of abstract, non-physical realities like mathematics and the first principles of logic, the inherent search for redemption from sin and immortality (Religious Need Argument), the beauty that surrounds us (the argument from beauty), the reason for moral and nature evil and suffering in the world (the problem of evil actually firms the existence of God), moral values, duties, virtues, and accountability (Moral Law argument and its ontological foundations), the occurrence of miracles (e.g., configuration miracles which do not necessarily violate the laws of nature), and the nature of our human conscience (Divine, natural Law). Thus, taken all these things together, we have good reasons to believe God has an overriding purpose for our lives.
Second, this answer given to what makes up the good life, namely, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, is empirically evident when one examines the historical truths regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus is not what He claimed to be, then one needs to question how one may know anything else historically. Moreover, when one examines the extent of ancient manuscript evidence and compare them together, archeological evidences, and the actual precise fulfillment of Bible prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Micah 5:2), one has good reasons to believe that the truth claim, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever has empirical weightiness.
But we also have the testimony of those who committed themselves to living out this answer in the moment-by-moment choices of life. The more closely people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, A. W. Tozer, Lewis S. Chafer, and John F. Walvoord followed this truth, their lives flourished, experienced fulfillment, and generated a legacy that is still impacting lives in the most positive ways. Those Christians who did not live out this maxim actually hurt others-and at times in the most horrific ways.
Third, this answer by the Westminster Shorter Catechism also possesses existential relevance. The more Christians adhere to this answer, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, the more satisfying life is -no matter how difficult life becomes. This life of abiding joy also spills out and qualitatively ministers to the afflicted, hurting, and troubled. Others cannot help but be inspired when such contentment, joy, and peace are seen in the difficulties of living life. People can feel this hope when the practical needs of others are met. People see this lifestyle of loving God as reflected in a life of intellectual and moral excellence. But people also can witness to the power from such a relationship when contrasted to a life of depravation, decay, and darkness. Moreover, the joy that follows from such a dynamic intimacy is but a foretaste of what one will experience when this physical life is over and believers are in the presence of God Himself.
Fourth, glorifying God and enjoying Him is also workable. The more one follows this truth, the greater God becomes in how one perceives, moves, and develops. As a result of living this maxim out, one's life becomes sweet - no matter how bleak or painful the circumstances seem. Purpose, significance, and value become paramount as one becomes God’s committed disciple, blooming and flourishing where He plants His people according to His good providence.
In contrast, when one does not follow this truth, self-inflicted loneliness, pain, regret, exhaustion, and tragedy become commonplace. If one stays on this path where self-interest reigns supreme, bitterness will take root and rob the best parts of one’s personhood. But when one seeks to glorify God and enjoy Him in the daily decisions one makes, one is able to experience the delight of His presence in the "now." God’s presence becomes inimitable, His enablement evident, and His love unmistakable. With this type of love relationship, one is able to touch the lives of others in the most life-changing ways (e.g., loving the un-lovely, helping the hurting, meeting practical needs with the blessings God has bestowed, and stemming the tide of social injustice).
Fifth, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever is also viable. This mindset not only agrees with what we already know to be true, but it also reaches down and meets the deepest of our needs, satisfies our deepest longings, and fills the void with a peace that surpasses all understanding. When Christians consistently follow this truth, their lives are changed qualitatively, bringing forgiveness where wrongs were committed and healing where wounds existed. But this mindset also fills the mind and heart with wonder and delight as the believer perceives all that His Hands have made; all of life has value. So, one's surroundings is not taken lightly or taken advantage of.
But the viability of this explanation is also seen in how it answers questions about our origins, identity, meaning, destiny, and hope. Because God made us, we know our origins. We know what we are and who we are. We understand why we are here and how we should live. We understand what’s gone with the world and what we can be done to the fix the problems of this world. Thus, this answer, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, not only touches the core of what it means to be human, but it also gives direction, meaning, and purpose to who and what we are, what we are called to do, and where we are going.
Related to above, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, also possesses explanatory power, for it pulls together the value and importance of living life to the fullest for the glory of God, the importance and need to obey the precepts of the Bible, and living for what matters most while we have air to breathe. Coupled with our understanding of the brevity and frailty of life, glorifying God helps us to understand the purpose, nature, and role of material goods, the existence of hope in the midst of trials and tragedies, and the nature of personal relationships. Moreover, this maxim sheds light on goodness, virtues, duties, and even acts of altruism, explains why evil is evil, why people of all gender, race, and age have inherent value, and why life itself is to be cherished. But this truth also helps explains the direction of history as it moves forward to its purposed end - all within God's providence.
And seventh, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, possesses aesthetic and moral value for this type of purpose, significance, and meaning reflects the beauty of our perfect God in the decisions we make, the pleasures we pursue, and the values we embrace. The more we reflect God’s beauty in how we live, the more beautiful and morally meaningful life becomes. Following this maxim upholds what is honorable, noble, true, and trustworthy, enriches society, and ennobles virtues like justice, courage, self-control, and wisdom.
In conclusion, I submit to you from personal experience that the more I have yielded myself to God, following this maxim, the more fulfilled my life has become. Even though hardships come my way, I am not alone. Sometimes He delivers me from these obstacles and other times He holds my hand I was walk through them. But given the frailty of life, and recognizing that for all eternity I will be in His presence, those of us who strive to make it our ambition to be pleasing to Him have not only discovered lasting contentment, meaning, and purpose, but we have also experienced an overflow that touches lives in the most extraordinary way.
So, if you are looking for lasting contentment, joy, peace, and satisfaction, I invite you to seriously consider the person and work of Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus Christ' sacrifice on your behalf, your past, present, and future sins have been forgiven. Thus, when you place your faith in Him for salvation, eternal fellowship, undeserved favor, total forgiveness, and an unmistakable and incomparable joy and peace becomes yours. And all of this is possible when you place your faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, believing that He is God, who died on the cross for your sins and rose bodily from the dead.
Sunday, May 20 2012
“Doc. You can tell me… did you have a happy childhood?” and
59 other excuses I will not accept when it comes to plagiarism ©
By Paul R. Shockley, PhD
20 May 2012
Plagiarism, which is derived from the Latin verb, “to kidnap,” is stealing another’s intellectual property and claiming it as one’s own - whether intentional or unintentional.
Therefore, in anticipation of excuses I may receive from future students who violate school policy when it comes to committing plagiarism, here is a list of sixty excuses I will readily dismiss as illegitimate. But please feel free to offer additional excuses so I can update this list.
60. It is your fault, not mine, professor!
59. I will lose my scholarship if I don’t make a good grade in your class.
58. I don’t care if this paper is on the internet or not! I did not commit plagiarism!
57. Why do you think you feel this need to inform me that I have plagiarized? What does that say about you, professor?
56. I bet you are a Republican, aren’t you, professor?
55. In my country plagiarism is acceptable.
54. My paper was due at the same time I had other projects due.
53. This is not about plagiarism. Let’s be honest…this is about racism.
52. You don’t understand. It is against my religion to express individuality. See, I’m trying to eliminate the “self” in an effort to achieve a state of nirvana. So, what you term as plagiarism, I term as an expression of my religion.
51. My girlfriend broke up with me.
50. I’ve not done anything different than what I’ve done before.
49. You need to face reality… we all plagiarize!
48. Sir, haven’t you ever made an innocent mistake?
47. Come on, Doc… doesn’t God’s grace cover it all?
46. How was I to know plagiarism is wrong!
45. Sir, I do not remember you talking about plagiarism in class.
44. My spouse wrote this paper; I didn’t.
43. Say again…what’s a bibliography?
42. Why are you trying to keep me from serving the Lord?
41. My parents will kill me if I don’t make an A in this class.
40. Oh, that is what a quotation mark is used for; I didn’t know.
39. Professor, I’m under a lot of spiritual warfare right now.
38. Dude! That website took advantage of me! They assured me that the papers I purchase guarantee me an A.
37. I couldn’t help it; I took too many classes this semester.
36. Don’t you want me to succeed, professor?
35. Be honest, Doc! Just like there is no original word, there is no original thought! So, what is plagiarism, really?
34. Oh, I see! Professor, I didn’t understand what you meant by plagiarism when you talked about it on first day of class. You were talking above my pay grade. Next time, you need to put the cookies on the lower shelf!
33. I thought you were describing the followers of Pelagius.
32. Because I am trying to get into law school, I have to make a 4.0 this semester.
31. Show me in the Bible where it expressly states that plagiarism is wrong! If the word “plagiarism” is not in the Bible, then plagiarism is permissible.
30. I’m trying to tell you, professor… it was a computer virus; I didn’t do it.
29. Admit it! You are just jealous of me!
28. Come on, Professor, relax… dude…take it easy… go with the flow… chill. You need to smoke some pot, man!
27. Oh my goodness! How did that get in there!
26. You mean I should not use Wikipedia?
25. I paid for my tuition… that gives me the freedom to do what I want.
24. If you report this case of plagiarism to the Dean of Students, then I will make sure you receive a bad faculty review on every website known to mankind.
23. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that claiming someone else’s material as my own was wrong.
22. Who are you to say plagiarism is wrong?
21. I was confused. I was led to believe that a footnote was a certain shoe brand musicians wear.
20. There’s nothing wrong with plagiarism because everyone is doing it.
19. I thought it was okay because my other professors didn’t say anything about plagiarism when it came to my other papers.
18. Professor, come on… you know I have a learning disability!
17. I didn’t think no one cared what I did.
16. You must not like me.
15. Look, my other professor gave me an A+ for this same exact paper! Why can’t you?
14. I do not know how that author got a hold of my paper! I’m going to sue him because that is not right to use my work in his book without my expressed permission!
13. Are you trying to oppress me, professor?
12. Since there are no moral absolutes, plagiarism can’t be wrong.
11. If you just made the assignments more difficult then I would have not been forced to plagiarize! Plagiarism was just too easy.
10. I am a victim of unfortunate circumstances.
9. You can’t accuse me of plagiarism! I didn’t write this paper!
8. My other professors said it is okay to cheat.
7. I thought a block quote had to deal with real estate.
6. Professor, there is more to being human than following university rules.
5. Prof! You know I’m on Xanax!
4. Okay. I will confess something to you that only my doctor and my immediate family know…. I have multiple personalities. Emily did it; it was not me!
3. Professor. I’m so sorry. English is not my first language.
2. Sir, I think you need a vacation!
1. Doc. You can tell me… did you have a happy childhood?