Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Importance of Being Practiced

How often do you think about death? It is one of those things that no one likes to think about and everyone must face. For ages, people have tried to cheat it, out run it, avoid it, but no one can. Out of the billions of people that have lived on this world, only two that we know of have every left this life without dying--Enoch and Elijah. I think that we fear death because it is unknown. For those who do not believe in God it is the end of everything. For those who are Christians and have confidence that they will be taken to heaven, death is still the end of everything they have ever known and a translation into an existence that they cannot even imagine. Whatever your opinion of death, it defines a person. It draws the last stroke in the outline of your life, and encounters with it often cause you to examine yourself. How many people have been changed by near death experiences? So, death is very important, whether we like to think about it or not, which brings me to today's quote. From Michel de Montaigne, 16th Century essayist:

"But for dying, which is the greatest task we have to perform, practice cannot help us."

In his estimation, death is not just something that happens to us, it is something we do. We are active participants in our own death, and therefore have some responsibility. Is Montaigne right in saying that we cannot practice for our death? Death is something we only have the opportunity to do once (except in the case of someone like Lazarus). While we can't rehearse for death, we can certainly prepare for it, and I think that is almost as helpful. Death must not be a morbid obssession, but if we never give it a passing thought, it will take us by surprise. None of us knows how long we have. We can make some informed predictions, but it's like predicting the weather. Our lives are contingent on so many factors that no one can measure every one accurately all the time.

How does someone prepare for something they do not understand? First, you have to realize that death is just a passage, from one kind of existence to another. Know where you are going after that passage. Christ died on the cross as more than just an example of sacrifice or as the picture of perfect humanity. He died because all of mankind was running headlong into hell, unable to save themselves, unable to make themselves righteous. We all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Christ, through His death and resurrection, and by our faith in what He did, restores that righteousness, so that we can have fellowship with God. For this we were created. All those who have trusted Christ are going to heaven when they die--guaranteed. That is the first preparation.

Second, we ought to live as if each moment is our last on earth. If you knew that you only had a day to live, what would you do? How would you treat your family? How would you relate to God? This is a risky way to live, because all but one of our moments won't be our last on earth. But isn't it more risky to never do anything with your life because you felt you had all the time in the world?

In the end I think Montaigne's basic assumption is wrong. We can practice for dying by living.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Necessity's Children (Part Two)

Earlier this week, I brought up a quote from essayist Annie Dillard on necessity from "Living Like Weasels":

"The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at last ignobly in its talons."

The first half of the quote observes that we automatically hate necessity. I discussed the truth of this in Part One, which you can read below. The second half of the quote seems less obvious to me. Dillard claims that though we try all our lives to escape what is necessary, we ultimately cannot. In her estimation, we are slaves, essentially, victims of a sharp-eyed predator. But, before we can determine whether it is possible to escape necessity, or even whether it is something worth escaping, we have to define what it is.

There are as many opinions about what people need to do as there are people do what is necessary. On one end of the spectrum is a legalistic system like orthodox Judaism or Islam, where it is deemed necessary to govern everything that people eat and wear. Others believe that even their own life is not necessary if they choose to do away with it. Too, there is a distinction between what people need to do and what they ought to do. From purely earthly perspective, I need to eat and I ought to help the poor. From a biblical perspective, though, necessity and duty should be the same. Christians know that all mankind was created with a purpose. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy him forever." It is necessary, then, that we glorify God. It is also necessary that we enjoy Him. We have been created for this, which is an amazing testimony to the grace of God. He wants us to find joy in Him. Joy is not just a byproduct or a fringe benefit, but something that is built into us. Sadly, because of the fall, most people do not do what is necessary. They neither honor God nor enjoy Him. People die every day having done what was necessary to keep themselves alive physically, but not what was necessary for spiritual life. In this sense they escaped what Dillard calls necessity's "talons," but not for anything better.

Without Christ we are fugitives, but we are not victims. We flee from our first and best purpose, blind and independent. For those who continue in this course, what happens is necessary, because it is just, but it is an awful tragedy. We would rather everyone embrace necessity now than find out what it is afterward. Still, in this sense, Dillard's quote rings very true. Those who have escaped necessity in life cannot escape it in death or at the end of the age. As Philippians 2:10-11 says, "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."      

Monday, March 19, 2012


Hi everyone. You might notice that the blog looks a little different now. Some people were commenting that the font and color scheme made the posts hard to read. I hope this is better. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Necessity's Children (Part One)

A well-known proverb tells us that "necessity is the mother of invention." There surely is some truth to that. Necessity has resulted in breakthroughs as useful as electic light and as controversial as the atomic bomb. Children's songs have turned on the idea. Those who grew up on Schoolhouse Rock are familiar with "Mother Necessity." But what about necessity's other children? Invention is not an only child. It's brother and sisters do not make great splashes on the pages of world history or win Nobel Prizes for inventors and scientists, but they don't sit idly by and twiddle their thumbs either. They silently influence our everday lives, whether we realize it or not. Consider this quote from Annie Dillard's essay "Living Like Weasels":

"The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons."

We need not get hung up on the fact that she is comparing herself to a weasel. In this context it could be any animal. Man is the only creature on earth that does not live by necessity and instinct. We have the freedom to choose to spend money on a movie though we know that we will need it for gas at the end of the week. We are able to fast, though our stomachs tell us to eat. We will even spend evenings watching meaningless television instead of doing the work that hangs over our heads. It may be work that we enjoy. It may cost us dearly to not do the work, but we would raher avoid it. Why? Dillard addresses this. She tells us that we instinctively hate necessity. The person who said "familiarity breeds contempt" should also have said "necessity breeds contempt." It is so true. This is necessity's second child.

Dillard's quote is insightful, but only half complete. We are told that we hate necessity and that we cannot escape it in the end, but we do not learn why. What makes us unlike the weasel? Why do we avoid things simply because we have to do them? Dillard was familiar with Christian teaching, but she was not one herself. Did she know that the Bible has an answer for her unasked question? I believe that contempt for necessity is two halves of a coin. Part of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. First of all, we are people of choice, because God is a God of choice. He did not have to create the world. He did so, because it was His good pleasure to make something beautiful, to express His nature in creativity. We are made in God's image, and so we love to do things that are expressions of ourselves, not merely because we have to.

At the same time, we are fallen beings, instinctively rebelling against anything that is godly. This is primarily why we hate necessity. We are commanded to follow God; this is something we need to do to fulfill our purpose in life. But, we would rather have our own way. As Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost said, it is "better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven." We would rather be independent, even if it means our own demise, than have anyone dictate our actions.

Necessity need not breed contempt. Freedom to follow God and do it joyfully is found in Christ, as we thank Him for enduring the punishment for sins on our behalf. We regain a little taste of what Adam and Eve had in the garden, when necessity and choice were one and the same.

Come back soon! My next post will discuss whether or not we can ultimately escape necessity, as Dillard claims.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Shamrock for Your Thoughts?

"An Englishman thinks seated; a Frenchman, standing; an American, pacing; an Irishman, afterward."
Something from Austin O'Malley for a St. Patrick's Day smile. I don't have much time tonight, but I want to mention something that happened the other day. I repeated this quote to my mom, thinking she'd laugh. She didn't, and instead looked at me quizzically. She asked me what it meant, what it said about the English, French, and Americans and their nature/culture. I didn't have much of an answer. She probed deeper, and I fumbled through a response. "Allison," she said, "did you even think about this quote before you said it?" I had to answer no. "Then you must be Irish," she said.

I certainly am, and proud of it.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about this quote, though. What do you think it says about the English, French, and Americans? Why do they think seated, standing, or pacing?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Christian and His Liberty

What is it to be an American? Living the dream? Freedom of speech and religion? The ability to choose leaders? Our rights are so often something we take for granted. I know I do. Even as Christians we are caught up in the battle for our "American rights." We defend the right to pray in school, invoking the 1st Amendment. We fight to be able to preach in public squares or share the gospel without hindrance. These are good things, but the fight for what is right must not devolve into the fight for our "rights;" we must not lose sight of the fact that in God's eyes we have no rights. This brings me to today's quote:

"The Ten Commandments is the Christian's Bill of Rights. They protect everyone but yourself."

Rick Holland was at Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA) at the time, and I heard him say this during a sermon several years ago. Isn't it interesting? The Christian is supposed to live life as if everyone else in the world has rights except themselves. If we are to truly follow Paul's words and "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3), then living without personal rights is the logical conclusion. In a perfect world, this would work beautifully, but in our fallen world it is almost counterintuitive. We are to deny our own rights while everyone else has been commanded to affirm them. We are to affirm everyone else's rights while they have all been commanded to deny them.

I'll admit that this is so much easier said than done. We have to look out for other's interests, and at the same time not expect that anyone will return the favor. I fail at this every day. I would rather life be fair, or at least my version of fair. I would rather have my way. But, even God isn't fair. He is gracious and saves scores of sinners from the hell that they deserve. No one on this earth deserves grace or selflessness, but if the perfect God can be merciful, then He is not being unreasonable by asking us to tell the truth, even to those who have lied to us, or to refrain from coveting, even toward those who have yearned for our possessions. This is what it means to live up to our Bill of Rights.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reality and Relativism

I think I'll start this blog with a quote I heard just today. Albert Mohler came and spoke in chapel at The Master's College this morning. He said that he saw it as a new challenge, preaching to a room full of students ready to leave for Spring break. ;) What followed was an excellent sermon out of John 6, when Jesus tells the multitude that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. Out of all of it, one thing he said stood out to me:

"The secular world thinks 'truth' is just a compliment you can pay to an idea."

Isn't that so true, but I had never thought of it that way. In a postmodern world, truth is not a separate entity. It does not stand apart, and it is not immutable. It is as fluid as culture, as the mood we wake up with on a given day. How does one live in a world like that? Honestly. How hopeless would it be to never know if there is a God, to never be sure of what you believe? In a relative universe, no one is ever wrong, but those who believe it pay a high price for that "security." If you are never wrong, then you can never be right, either.

In reality no one lives like that. Even a Postmodernist doesn't wake up in the morning and wonder if they will step out of bed and hit the ceiling instead of the floor. They trust that gravity will still keep them glued to their carpet, inside their slippers, like it has every morning before. No one fears that they will suddenly become allergic to oxygen. Everything will go on as it has gone on, and people will continue to trust the basic laws of the universe. We are wired that way. Relativistic thinking, though it has invaded top universities, is anti-intellectual. It's dearest belief is self-defeating. If all truth is relative, then isn't that statement (that all truth is relative) relative also? In the end we are left running in circles through a morass after something that never existed in the first place. "Truth" is not a compliment you can pay to an idea. As Jesus said, "Your [God's] word is truth" (John 17:17). The world will groan and crumble away; this is the only foundation we have to hold on to.

Beginning the Journey

What is the purpose of this blog? I'm sitting here, staring at the screen, asking myself that question. I came up with the idea while looking through the notebook that I always keep with me. It's full of scattered quotations and thoughts--clever things that people have said, interesting situations, what I would like to remember. There really is a lot to be said for keeping a quote book, especially when you're young. One of my professors is fond of saying that an undergrad doesn't have an original thought in them. In two months I won't be an undergad anymore, but I hope to never stop learning, gathering quotes and thoughts and bits of wisdom from those who've gone before, who know so much more about this fascinating world than I do.

That is the purpose of this blog: from my quote book to yours. Here, I will share thoughts and sayings that have struck me or affected my life. Some will make you laugh or think or wonder. Sometimes I'll talk about them, sometimes I won't. What I most hope is that you'll find this journey as enjoyable as I have.