Showing posts with label Humility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Humility. Show all posts

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Praying Threats Against Evil Men

This week, I saw evil, clear and real and personal—the kind of evil that enrages, that enflames the kind of deep and violent anger that I rarely experience for any reason. I learned of circumstances that touched a friend's life, and wrath burned in me.

I have never experienced anything quite like it.

Of course, I have been angry many times in my life—but nearly all of those were times I was angry on my behalf, or even selfishly angry on the behalf of those I was close to. Rarely, I have been angry because of injustices or people's apathy toward the things of God—but even those, I am afraid, were tainted by self-righteousness: that sort of smug pride in how I cared more or was doing more than they were. This was different. There was nothing about me in it—simply fury that someone could do such a thing, especially to someone so deeply vulnerable and helpless to resist.

For the first time, I think I glimpsed a little bit of the fiery, righteous anger of God at sin and injustice and evil. He hates it. Time and again the Scriptures affirm that God abominates injustice, abuse of the poor and weak, and those who take advantage of those with no defense. He is incensed by murder and rape and torture and every unnecessary violence of this world.

Driving home, yesterday, I was praying for God to show His grace in this circumstance. All week, I have thought about what that prayer means. The God we serve, after all, is,

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.

That's a wonderful and terrible passage, the foundation of all God's subsequent revelation of himself. It calls us to stand in awe: he is slow to anger; he overflows with steadfast love and faithfulness; he is merciful and gracious; he forgives iniquity and transgression and sin but he does not clear the guilty; the sins of the fathers have deep consequences in their families.1

God's great mercy on display here is sobering. You see, the way my wrath remained unrighteous and unlike God's, at least initially: it was not tempered by loving kindness and mercy. I simply wanted God to strike dead the man who did this evil. Now, in part, that is a righteous desire: it reflects just how deep God's anger burns against those who sin—all those who sin, more on that in a moment—and how fierce his judgment against evil is and will be. Nevertheless, there is more to God than his righteous anger.

The same who God who pulled me out of my sins and opened my eyes to the light of his glory and goodness when I was six or seven can save this man from his sins and open his eyes to the light of the glory of God. Had I committed smaller evils? Yes, of course: I was a child. But I was a sinner, through and through. I was selfish, self-righteous, angry, and prideful, to name but a few of my many faults. God is still saving me from those sins and more besides; they may no longer have dominion over me, but I certainly run back to them frequently enough that you'd think they and not God were my true heart's desire.

All of that to say: God's mercy to me is no more deserved than it would be toward this man who has done this great, wrath-enflaming evil. God's anger does burn hot against this man, far hotter than my anger burned even at its hottest. His anger is a searing, destroying flame that punishes evil violently and completely. Lest anyone complain: that is a good thing. Think how outraged we would be if a human judge sentenced a convicted serial rapist to a stern talking-to and a few weeks of community service! The abortion of justice is a terrible thing—not something we really want in God. Our tendency in the other direction is ultimately because we don't want to acknowledge that his justice necessarily includes all of our sins—not just Hitler's or Dahmer's.2 No, God's anger is a good thing, as is his judgment against sin, precisely because it is fierce and terrifying.

But God's mercy is a good thing, too—and here, too, we run off into the weeds, because we think his mercy should only be offered to those above a certain moral level. In other words, we think we deserved God's mercy by being better people than the Stalins or Ted Bundys of the world. We are wrong, and praise be to the God who makes no such distinctions in his offer of grace. All of us are undeserving wretches, saved only by grace of God in the death of Christ, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Not one of us has a better claim on the forbearance and loving kindness of God than this evil man does, because every one of us is evil. We have no grounds for self-righteousness; our rightly angry prayers in circumstances like this must always be tempered by the unmerited favor God poured out on us in all our wretchedness.

So yes, we can and should pray for God to do justice against evil, but we must also pray that in his mercy God would redeem those who do evil. Over the course of the week, my prayers about this unquestionably evil man became, "Oh God, restrain him from evil. Save him, send to him to jail, or strike him dead: let him do no more evil. In your mercy, please draw him to you and redeem him, restoring the many relationships he has destroyed. But protect those he has hurt, and never let him harm them again." It is not a perfect prayer, but it is the best I can do at summing up the tensions that run so deep here. It is a prayer for mercy and salvation, but also a prayer for justice, and above all a prayer that evil would be ended—in whatever way God chooses.

How would you pray here?


1For some helpful discussion of the hard parts of this passage, see John Piper's sermon, The Lord, a God Merciful and Gracious [transcript available]. He concludes: "[God] simply lets the effects of the fathers' sins take their natural course, infecting and corrupting the hearts of the children. For parents who love their children this is one of the most sobering texts in all the Bible."

2Note that I have in view here not those who object at a deeply thought through philosophical level their opposition to hell, etc.—though they are still wrong—but the general population's outlook on hell, which essentially reduces down to, "But that would make God mean!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Real Reason I Write

Self-exaltation is, I think, the single most common sin in the world. Idolatry is the root of every other sin, and self is far and away the most common target of worship directed away from God. Modern America's particular brand of this sin is our obsession with fame. This particular brand of idolatry has seeped into many corners of the church, as well as culture at large. We live in an age that glorifies people with big personalities and bigger followings; quiet faithfulness is not terribly interesting or laudable from the eyes of most American Christians.

Men like John Piper or Matt Chandler (to name but two of the more popular preachers for the Reformed crowd) find themselves the center of attention, emulated and even adulated by crowds of young Christian believers. Evangelicals in general see big churches (and correspondingly, popular preachers) as the ultimate measure of success. Popularity is the barometer of God's blessing.

This view is deeply contrary to the gospel, which points us again and again back to God's greatness and worthiness to be worshipped—and which highlights how our self-worship destroys so much. To be perfectly fair to men like Piper and Chandler, they handle all the fame well, doing their very best to point all the glory back to God. Yet as Piper himself has acknowledged in a very public way, fame can be poisonous. It puts the attention on us instead of God; faithfully and consistently turning that attention toward God is difficult enough when it is only external—but our deceitful, wicked hearts are harder still to turn toward him, especially when the praises of man sound strongly (and sweetly).

Blogging, interestingly, fits right in this same vein. A friend of mine, Wes Martin, noted recently that the lure of fame has a particularly insidious temptation for those of us devoted to sharing Christ-exalting truth on our blogs. On the one hand, our goal is to edify other believers, stirring them up to follow Jesus more faithfully and wisely. On the other, popularity is always tempting us. Sometimes it is the overt and obvious temptation to write something provocative just to get more hits, or not write something controversial to avoid offending others. At other times, though, it is the quiet sin of pride at advancing the kingdom of God—and being known for it. We want the kingdom to advance, but we want it to advance through us, with our name being known and honored for the part we played.

As I have passed 5 years of blogging, and am quickly closing in on the end of this 25-day-long experiment—as I near a year of work on Pillar on the Rock—I am deeply, intensely aware of this struggle in my own heart. Over the course of the last year in particular, since I actually began tracking the traffic to my sites, I have wrestled with the question of why I care whether I have many readers. (And I do. I care a lot sometimes.) I have to constantly ask whether my desire to see these sites grow, especially Pillar, is rooted in selfishness or in the love of God. Sometimes, to my shame, it has been the desire to feed my ego, not to see others edified and my Savior glorified.

I want this blog to grow. I want Pillar to reach a wider audience. In large part, those desires really are because I believe the things I write about are important—and of course, I believe the things I'm saying about these topics are accurate. (Here, too, is a temptation toward arrogance and ego-stroking: do I write simply because I think I am the only voice saying these things, or because I overvalue my own wisdom? The same temptations rear their ugly head.) In part, however, I recognize that I write because I want people to like what I have to say, and accordingly think well of me. I want my wisdom extolled. I want my words to be widely appreciated.

In short, I am guiltiest of all: I use posts that allegedly make much of God—sometimes posts that really do make much of God—to make much of myself. The real goal is Chris-glory, not God-glory, however much the words on the page may run the opposite direction. My heart is wicked and prideful. In myself, I twist even the things of God to my own ends.

With Paul, I am left saying,

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)

Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus: he will deliver me from this body of sin. Amen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Head-Knowledge and Humility

Over the course of the last week, I've had several conversations about humility. It's always an interesting topic for me, as pride is probably the area I struggle most. Today, I had a couple realizations that were humbling—and a neat analogy to help fit it all together.

I try to work out fairly regularly. It's important for staying healthy—I have a desk job, so if I don't work out, my body will deteriorate. My employer provides access to a nice gym nearby (five minutes from the building I work in), so I have no excuse not to exercise, and lots of reason to. After all, my body is a good thing, a gift from God that He calls "very good." I need to take care of it. Given that, I make a twice-weekly pilgrimage to the gym, where I buckle down for some running and weight training. (I also add in Ultimate a few times a week—but that's fun, so it requires a good deal less discipline.)

I have been working out at least twice a week almost every week since May—the longest stretch I have ever gone since I stopped training for football in high school. (Yes, readers who have been with me a much briefer time, I played high school football—not very well, but I played.) I enjoy the fact that I'm substantially slimmer, more toned, and—dare I say it?—even a little bit well-muscled in a few places. Or at least, I like to think I'm well-muscled in a few places. Alas for that idea, I go the gym twice a week—where I am surrounded by people who work out far more frequently, and who have been at it for far longer, than me.

It is humbling, to say the least, when despite your best efforts, you're constantly surrounded by people who are simply bigger, faster, and stronger than you are. (That, in fact, is a very nice summary of my high school football career.)

When it comes to head knowledge, I probably have a better grasp on the essentials of effective conditioning than many people my age—including some in the gym with me, and yes, including some of the guys who are in substantially better shape. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, though: I can be as chock full of good information about how to run faster and build more muscle mass; if I never actually run or lift, I won't get better.

The same is true, in many ways, of our Christian walk. On the one hand, I have a good deal more theological knowledge than many of my peers—and for that matter, than many people who have been walking with God much longer than me. However, that knowledge does not itself make me a better Christian. It doesn't automatically make me closer to God. It doesn't somehow transform me into a super-Christian just by dint of having it. No, despite the fact that I know more than many other Christians, I have a lot to learn from them. The Christian walk, like exercise, progresses not merely by knowledge but by practice. We grow closer to God (and thus, more like Him) by walking with Him, not treating Him as merely the subject of academic study.

Don't get me wrong: that knowledge helps. Understanding the mechanics of the human body and having good form help me train more effectively—but the knowledge is effective only when applied. So too, theology is incredibly helpful, but only when it is put to practice in our lives. Knowing in the abstract that I am saved through faith by grace alone is good—but do I live like it, or do I rely on my own abilities to carry me through? Knowing that men are to lead their wives sacrificially is essential—but do I actually lead, especially in ways that are costly to me? So it goes. I can have all my theological ducks lined up in a neat little row, but if I'm not practicing the knowledge, it doesn't matter.

That's why you can meet people who know very little theology and are nonetheless seriously Godly—they've walked faithfully with the tools they do have. Just as one can get a long ways athletically just by working hard, even without the best tools and knowledge, we can grow very close to God indeed simply by walking with Him. After all, sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, not our own abilities. That doesn't diminish the importance of theology: the more we know God truly, the better we are able to walk with Him faithfully. Getting our theology right is important; there is nothing more important than knowing the living God as He really is. We need to know Him as well as we possibly can, and that means having good theology—but it means having good theology that we live out.

If we're not living it out, we're just getting flabby as we sit on a couch reading about exercise techniques.

All of that brings me back to the original point of the post: humility. Just because I have more theological training than others—indeed, even if I am more theologically accurate than them—doesn't mean I do not have a great deal to learn from them. People who have been walking with God 20 years may have less head-knowledge than I do, but if they're applying what they do have better (and let's be honest: they've been doing this 20 years, so they almost certainly are), then I have something to learn from them.

Taking that a step further: seeing as everyone grows differently and struggles differently, every believer I meet understands something about God better than I do. If I am teachable enough, I will learn from them. If not, I'll miss out because of my own pride—pride, no less, in something that does not itself produce righteousness, however necessary an ingredient it may be.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

10 Minute Drill

It's late. I had (a very productive) worship practice tonight, got back late, edited PJ's article for Pillar (going up on Friday), finished editing and scheduled my own article for Pillar (a review of Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something, going up tomorrow). That, combined with a simultaneous conversation with my younger sister on the telephone, pretty much maxed out my abilities for the evening. But here we are, because I'm committed: a blog post every day in October. The 31st should be #501.

A few of the things I've been batting around in my head today:

  • The difficulty of the transition into adulthood, relationally speaking. As many challenges as there are in growing up, I think the single most difficult (at least in our culture) is the readjustment in relationship with parents. I can say that both from observation—that is, watching many of my friends deal with the tensions there—and, sadly, experience, in that I muffed a lot of that transition along the way. There is a natural yearning for independence and the respect that comes with adulthood—but the way we go about seeking those things is often quite backwards. For me, it certainly was: demands to be treated like an adult are, well... childish. And thus, counterproductive.

    The challenge, it seems to me, is to learn how to honor one's parents even when disagreeing with them—how to seek their counsel even if you don't always take it, how to respect their opinions even when you think they're wrong, how to demonstrate to them and everyone else that they are a blessing from God. The transition is hard on their end, too: they have to learn how to treat us like adults, when our whole lives their job was to keep us safe and guide us in the right direction, in large part by making the right decisions for us. It can be a very rocky patch. Hopefully I will remember that in 20-ish years when Jaimie and I walk through it with our own children (God willing).

  • The simple beauty of the gospel is a marvelous thing. I've been listening to an audio book version of Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?—it's a fantastic book, and you should go buy it immediately—and I have repeatedly been impressed by how marvelous the Gospel itself is. This is a theme I plan to return to at length, perhaps tomorrow, because it is also something that hit me hard in my Bible study today, as I looked at just how imperfect David was: a marvelous foreshadowing he may have been, but in the end he just left Israel (and just leaves us, reading along) hungry for the real deal, the true Messianic King to come.

And that is all I have time for tonight. Not amazing, but not terrible, for 10 minutes. Sleep well, all. I'll be back tomorrow, with pithier thoughts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Xanga Posts and Maturity

In yesterday's post, I referenced my first blogging efforts—and in order to link to them, went and found said earliest entries. They provide both a certain amount of humor, because I really was a typical freshman in many ways: big eyes at everything going on in college, overly dramatic responses to the events of my days, and overwhelmed by amounts of homework that would later seem trivial. Not to mention: I took myself far too seriously. (I wonder if, reading this entry five years from now, I will think the same of myself now?)

There is opportunity for serious reflection, as well, though. On the one hand, I am very much the same person I was then in terms of personality. I am still interested in a wide variety of things, I am still deeply passionate about the things of God, and I can still get very riled up about issues I care about. On the other hand, I am very different than I was five years ago (as not only my old blog entries but also everyone who knows me can attest). To all of you who knew me then: thank you for tolerating my many idiosyncrasies, follies, and rough edges, and for loving me despite them. I am who I am today in large part because of the ways God used you in my life in the intervening years.

It is sobering to realize how mature I thought myself at the time, in comparison to how immature I really was. Again, I wonder: will I think the same of myself now when I look back in five years? The answer, I am afraid, is probably.

Having a record of the past, of who we were and how we thought in the past, can be incredibly instructive—and incredibly humbling. If I grow was much in the next five years as I did in the past five (and God willing, I will), I will unquestionably look back on many of the things I say and do now with regret or embarrassment. I will be able to recognize then foibles and sins that now do not even register on my radar. If nothing else, the number of posts I had to smile at in chagrin as I read yesterday should remind me not to be overly confident in the things I am thinking and writing today. They, too, are subject to the revision and correction of the Holy Spirit, and so while I hold my views confidently, I should also hold them humbly.

That sort of humble confidence seems to be one of the areas many Christians struggle. We tend on the one hand toward confidence in our own wisdom, unbridled by humility, and on the other to think humility means holding our views so loosely they could be shaken free by a gust of Oklahoma wind. (Okay, bad example; Oklahoma winds can be downright tornadic. You take my meaning.) We should hold our views with confidence when we have taken the time to carefully orient ourselves to what Scripture says, but with the humility to admit that just as we have changed our minds before, we may do so again. We are not infallible. At the least, quick perusal of those early posts and some of my later views on things will certainly serve to highlight my changing views over time.

This sort of confident humility allows us to speak boldly and courageously in a gracious, gentle way. One of my greatest weaknesses is a tendency to communicate my views passionately but not courteously. Even when I think my tone is expressing mere intensity, it can often be mistaken for anger, anger at people, anger even at the people I am addressing. Clearly, I have a great deal more growing to do. In this, as in all things, I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies us—because 23 years of life have taught me just how futile self-improvement is.


Sometimes I may indulge in a bit of meta-discussion of the post. It should prove insightful. Today, for example, you'll get to see everything I wrote before I came up with anything meaningful to say.

Day 2 of blogging every day this month. Day 2 isn't hard. Day 24 probably will be. [Ed. note: given the below, that's an amusing opening.]

I had about three post ideas today, independent of the suggestions offered in response to my last post (which were good ones). Unfortunately, I lost all but one of them—a problem I have had before, and that I have even still failed to find a good solution to. Calling myself isn't an option, because I can't call my own phone number without it going directly to checking voicemail. Leaving myself notes is impossible in many cases because many of my best ideas come when I am driving. Perhaps I can start coming up with mnemonics. Thoughts?

Thanks to the time I spent writing the previous paragraph, my brain was able to retrieve another of the ideas. So now I will write about that. And stop talking about writing about it. Alas, now I am writing about writing it. And the circle continues. Metacognition, and meta-function in general, are topics I plan to tackle in a fair amount of depth. Just... not today.