“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Tag Archives: Sin
In order for Psalm 23 to mean anything to someone they must be thinking Biblically. When our thinking becomes skewed, Psalm 23 makes no sense. The following is an attempt to show how the history of Western thought would have translated Psalm 23.
The Lord is my Shepherd…
(Early Church and revived in the Reformation)
God created the universe and man. By making man and woman in His image He gave them meaning. As creator, He determined what is right and wrong and it is society’s responsibility to live within those bounds. That is the universal base. There is a foundation for law, rights and freedom. God, as understood through the Bible, is the final authority.
But suppose I do not want to be completely under God. I would like some ‘freedom’ to think for myself. What will be my new universal principle?
The Lord is my Shepherd, but I help him guide me.
(Medieval times largely influenced by Aquinas who leaned heavily on the secular thought of Aristotle.)
Why restrict ourselves to only what God has to say? The Bible is lowered and man is raised higher. The Bible becomes a guideline that can be veered from and the church is raised to become its equal. Salvation is by grace but begins to increasingly include the works of man because man is viewed as capable of doing it. Secular thinking starts to trump the Biblical base and distorts truth. People start believing and acting independent of the final authority.
I am my shepherd.
(Humanism comes to fruition in Renaissance and is maintained through the modern era.)
Man is autonomous and independent of any supernatural force outside of himself. Absolutes are impossible to define because there is nothing to give them and therefore man is unsure of how to live. Optimistically, thinkers set out to find the way. Truth begins with man, not God. There is no final authority over man so man seeks how to guide himself.
I am left with the difficult question of what the purpose of life is and how I (and others) are to live. I trust my mind will lead me to the right answers.
Sheep are my shepherd.
(Beginning with Voltaire, the enlightenment awakens the god of reason and ultimately leads to man being seen as part of a closed system, where he is no longer outside of nature but is merely a part of it.)
Reason falters as it repeatedly runs into unacceptable conclusions. Opinions seem to be legion, but really there are only a few truly novel thoughts…but no one seems to know what to trust so I look for something outside of man, some natural principle that guides the world. I look to nature and find it both cruel and non-cruel. I believe I am only a small part of it, just a mass of atoms. I become nothing more than a cog in the machine.
Everything is my shepherd.
(Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard struggle to leave room for man amidst determinism and its other varied forms, trying to find meaning by looking at freedom from restraint, history, emotion and what is ‘natural’ (Romanticism). They are left with only rhetoric and the conclusion that reason leads only to pessimism.)
Now I must let go of reason because it leads me only to a pessimistic outlook. Reason tells me that without a god I am only part of the machine of the universe, devoid of meaning. I can say those words but I can not live by them. History has exhausted its ideas and come up wanting. If one begins with man, nothing gives meaning. My ‘innards’ tell me that there must be a purpose somewhere in all of this. But where is it?
So I let go of reason and let the unreasonable give me meaning. My experiences will hopefully be powerful enough to give me a sense of fulfillment. (Embrace of Hinduism or Buddhism for some in the Western world may enter here, under the pursuit of experience.) My personal goals of peace and affluence will guide my decisions. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. Each act is based on circumstances and is thus arbitrary to the person and the situation. What is right will be determined by what I want the goal to be and there is nothing to tell me that my goal is wrong. What is must be what is right. My pleasures rule.
Nothing is my shepherd.
(Existential philosophy abandons reason and leaps “upstairs” to find meaning and value without reason. Nietzsche declares that not only is God dead, but also all (he) supported, mainly meaning. His conclusions (I believe) likely led him to his insanity-not venereal disease.)
Without a universal base tying everything together with meaning I am only a part of this machine, devoid of purpose or direction. Nothing leads me anywhere. I can’t help but become apathetic. To keep from despairing I create schemes to keep my mind away from the impossible questions. In place of meaning I take up causes, like ending world poverty, or cleaning up the food system, or keeping the earth from getting too warm, or shaving a 1/2 minute off of my 8 minute mile. I exist and if you push me to tell you why I won’t know what to say.
All is bankrupt. Without a shepherd outside of myself my mind tells me I am no more than matter. Nature, experience and pleasure can not infuse me with any type of meaning or tell me what to value. Without an ultimate universal base society is left to the chaos of hedonism (pleasure rules) or the tyranny of authoritarianism by the élite to maintain peace. I have lost my freedom. I have lost my meaning. I have lost my bearings. I am empty.
I need my Psalm 23 shepherd back.
(Please note: this post leans heavily on the work of Francis A. Schaeffer in “How Should We Then Live?” This is my current understanding of the progression of Western thought. If you are looking for a resource to reference, I suggest you go back to the inspiration behind this post.)
My sister was arrested this week for two felonies. All week I have grappled with how I am going to approach the very difficult phone call I need to make to her.
I thought quite a bit about the stupidity of her actions and the evil behind them. Of course, you know where that led my Christian heart, right back to my own. I can’t cast a stone, in the past I’ve done similar things and was lucky enough not to have been caught. Which made me start wondering if I really got away with it. Of course God knows my sin, I didn’t get away with it in that sense. I have confessed the old and try to keep a short account of the new, repented of the whole lot, and I am fully convinced I am forgiven. Condemnation for it is removed from me because of the sacrifice of Christ and my sin is removed from me as far as the East is from the West. Because of my repentant faith in Him, I am unquestionably forgiven.
My sister’s arrest was in the news. Her alleged wrong doing is common knowledge if you happen to live where she does. My dirty laundry never made it to the papers or the local TV news. So in that sense, did I get away with it? Will it never be brought up again? Will I get through eternity without anyone but God and I seeing the real me? Read the rest of this entry »
There are travesties mankind has wrestled with throughout every age, problems that seem to defy solution. With optimism buoyed by ignorance, pride and zeal, each generation swings at the venomous beasts that previous generations battled before. With every novel approach the problems laugh, and stay entrenched in the newly forming history of today. The stubborn problems seem incapable of being remedied though the answer seems so close at hand, so sensible, so obvious if we would just do it. If men’s hearts would change, there would be no war, there would be no poverty, there would be no injustice. But alas, no one has yet figured out how to do that. How does one change the heart of the other guy?
We can start teaching children younger, we can put some in counseling. We can make treaties and rules, penalize stricter, use social pressure, prevent the problem and deal with it decisively when it shows up. We can pray. We can hope. Have rallies, conventions and think tanks convene. We can pay for the meal for the folks behind us at McDonald’s. Sometimes minor victories are won but the war throughout history is always lost.
We are tempted to say it is only ‘some men’ that cause the worst woes in the world. The loony’s, those seized with senseless greed, the evil ones, THOSE people….if everyone would just see the world as we do, if they would be as we are, we could at last live in peace without grief over the injustices that swirl around the globe. If other people would only act as we do….yet even those humbled by the cross must measure this in their lives, how much do I think others would be better if they were like me?
At some point, it dawns on us, and if it doesn’t it should, that the world is indeed, just as we are. It does not need to become more like me, it already is.
Morality is not a matter of extent. Greed is still greed whether it is big or small. A lie is a lie irregardless of its magnitude. Stealing a small thing is no different from pilfering Wall Street. Selfishness is selfishness. Hate is hate. Envy is envy. Pride is pride. Lust is lust.
Do I think I will be judged by how much or how many others I hurt, or by the evil found in me? Oh, my soul! You are not exempt! My sins are wonderfully covered but I will still give an account, most assuredly everything done in the dark will be brought into the light, forgiven or not. Do not think because Christ has taken upon your penalty that there will be no revealing. I am not condemned, mercy of mercies, but I will be revealed. There is no progressing in the Christian walk until one fully understands self and recoils. Without it there is no hope for humility, and without humility, I may not stand before God.
If one wants to grow in their faith, they must first take time to understand themselves. When you understand yourself aright, you will no longer be mystified by the horrors you see around you but rather by the good you do see. If we try to progress without this step, we will be tempted with every work to think that the good somehow springs from ourselves, and inwardly praise our high constitution and ridicule the foul state of others. My friends, take the time to know thyself.
That was what I overheard this last week but not in those exact words. The actual words sounded much more admirable, couched in lightheartedness with lots of spiritual talk inserted between the lines. “I’m giving up something that has been bothering me,” is closer to what I actually heard.
This encounter launched me into questioning why many Christians participate in Lent. Ideally, it should be a time of deeper contemplation about God and more focused prayer. Most say that this is what they plan on doing, but for many, life and old habits make it hard for them to execute and they merely pull off the external. As a result, I think many focus on the giving up of a thing as some sort of offering of their devotion, hoping that the mere act of doing so will draw them closer to God.
I’m not practicing Lent this time around as I just finished a fast from three things that have been a part of my life every day (mostly) for the last three years. As a result, Lent this year seemed anti-climactic to me, so I’m skipping it.
Despite passing on the tradition this year, I found myself unsettled by the typical practice of Lent, sparked by that person’s comments. The thought that Christians are offering up sin as a spiritual sacrifice, bothered me.
The top 100 things people give up for Lent based on Twitter feeds can be summarized in these five:
1. Food-specifically sweets, chocolate and soda
2. Drink-Alcohol in its many varied forms
3. Screens-Twitter, Facebook and TV
It seems a bit sacrilegious to me that we offer up for Lent what is essentially all of our failed New Year’s Eve resolutions. Still, sin hasn’t yet entered the picture.
More distressing, I noticed a tendency among some to commit to fast from things they were inwardly convicted of.
Granted, the things we pick to give up for Lent are usually not blatant sins like pride, vanity, envy or the like. We usually zero in on those ‘gray’ areas that have been bothering our consciences. Things that are otherwise benign activities that we have managed to corrupt with our motives or practice. We pick stuff we want to wean ourselves away from because we can’t in good conscience continue in it, thus it is not done in faith. In essence, it is sin to us.
Not everyone I know picks something they are convicted about. Many just pick something that would be hard because they love it and yet, are not enslaved to it. Only the individual can honestly assess that.
Is it wrong to pick a sin as the object of what we abstain from in the name of fasting? I’ll let you pray about that and come to your own conclusions concerning yourself. There is nothing in the Scriptures that would point one way or another that I know of, so this is left to your conscience.
Yet, I need to remind myself, that the point of Lent (or fasting in general) is not self-improvement.
Observe Lent with prayer and fasting but choose what you fast from wisely. If you use the season to jump-start your obedience, nothing lost; you’ll probably benefit more than someone who picked something meaningless to abstain from. Just be careful how you posture yourself during the fast. It is not a sacrifice, nor some holy denial, it is something you needed to do anyways.
I was a first base coach for kickball last fall. It was cold. Really cold. My fingers were numb and to be honest, I was not very interested in being there. I wanted to leave and get started on my long list of chores waiting for me at home.
You know how you hear things sometimes even when you aren’t really there, when you are not truly listening? I was staring at homeplate thinking about what I was going to do for supper yet I overheard the boy playing first shouting. He was ecstatic. “This is awesome! We are winning by 19!
A huff came up out of my soul. Is he going to gloat?
He didn’t. In fact he proceeded to say something amazing. It was the best thing I heard or thought of all that week.
With just as much enthusiasm he continued, Read the rest of this entry »