Friday, February 24, 2012

Not for Wealth and Not for Pleasure

Profound truths can be found in unusual places. In his 1975 book The Dictionary of Misinformation--the sort of thing usually shelved with the trivia--Tom Burnam notes under "Predestination" that "a belief in predestination is among the noblest of doctrines. For it places the emphasis not on goodness as a lever to ensure some future paradise, but as valuable for its own sake. To live the good life without regard to what's in it for you comes close to the ultimate in altruism."

Few are noble enough to be that altruistic--even on the material plane. We resist with all our might any evidence against the idea that God owes us some earthly paradise for being good. At the extreme is the "health and wealth gospel," which believes that adequate piety ensures freedom from any real problems. If you've met up with a health-and-wealth preacher during any of the low moments of life, you know something of how Job must have felt when his friends were badgering him to agree he deserved his hardships.

It's not that God doesn't want to give us the best. It's just that we fail to appreciate that the Best is God Himself, and all else is immaterial. Even Christians can fall prey to the idea that it's better to have fun for a while before surrendering completely to God's will--as though the best happiness and God's will were compatible only in Heaven. More "what's in it for me" thinking.

What's in it for us is the sort of joy that could never be found in wealth and pleasure alone--starting not in the afterlife but anytime we're willing to take it. But since God is the essence of such joy, setting human terms for it is more than selfish.

It's literally impossible.

Not for wealth and not for pleasure,
Not for ease as our reward,
Not for any earthly treasure,
Do we serve our holy Lord:
He Who came and walked among us,
For our sake He suffered all,
Set aside all Heaven's glories
To redeem us from the Fall.

For our sake He lived as nothing:
For Him, will we do the same?
For our sake He cruelly suffered;
For Him, will we bear all shame?
He gave all for us, so, likewise,
May we give our all for Him:
He has greater gifts than riches,
And will fill us to the brim!

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Know Not What the Future Holds

Do you check the weather forecast every morning? And watch the long-range forecast with a nervous eye if you're planning a Saturday outing?

Do you pay serious attention to what climatologists, sociologists, eschatologists, and other futurologists say we can expect in the next decade? 

What would you give for infallible knowledge of the right place to be at the right time?

Human craving to know the future is near-universal--and sometimes dangerous. One man left a good marriage for one that proved miserable because an astrologer had told him he was destined to meet his true soul mate after his first marriage. A woman came to her pastor in hysterics, begging for help with a compulsion to commit suicide on what a fortuneteller had predicted would be the last day her life was any use. 

One sometimes wonders if Christian fascination with predicting the imminent end of the world is any better. Some people read the Bible like the prophecies of Nostradamus, searching for every possible parallel between what the text says and what happens in the real world, then announcing that this will surely happen next. The many failed prophecies in that regard can't be doing God's reputation much good.

Even in Christian dress, the desire to know the future is closely tied to the craving to control the future, to "be like God." Which is probably why the Bible has nothing good to say about fortunetelling and divination--and why Jesus said no one can know the time of the end, a quote that many sincere Christians go through extreme semantic contortions to explain away. We want the comfort of being certain that our earthly struggles will end soon, preferably before they have a chance to get extreme. We want to be assured in no uncertain terms that we will not only go to Heaven, but have a pretty good time along the way. We don't want to admit that God alone knows what will happen--and rarely sees fit to give us much detail. We don't want to let go, concentrate on whatever work He has for us at the moment, and let Him take care of the future.

How much more content we would be if we left the worry and responsibility to Him!

What years of coming future hold,
I have no eyes to see:
But He Who holds those coming years
Is also holding me.

With God to watch my every step,
I have no use for fear:
I’ll walk with joy the path of faith,
And trust that He is near.