Saturday, August 31, 2013

Nothing is wasted

I believe that nothing is wasted.

I believe that there is not a moment in my life that will not ultimately be gathered up by my good Lord Jesus and made part of a whole.  I believe that every minute of every day - the good times, the bad times, and the thoroughly mundane times - will be collected up by him.  Like a mosaic, he will arrange the broken fragments of life, light and dark, large piece and small, and one day I will stand before him and see myself as he sees me.  And in that day I will know - what it was all about.  I will be able to look at that mosaic and say 'so that is who I am!  I never knew myself before'.  And the glory of it will be that in every detail of that mosaic I will see not only myself but him.

I believe that there is not a single life that is wasted, but all of us are contributing something unique to the wider tapestry of God's story.  I believe that everyone - yes, even the wicked - is contributing to that great artwork which we call history, and which God calls redemption.  Each of us, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, will show the glory of Christ.

I believe it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


One of the things that I found stimulating and challenging in reading Metaxas' Bonhoeffer was the sense of clear direction.  In Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we are presented with a man who knew what he ought to be doing, and as a rule did exactly that.  It may just be a trick of the biographer - after all, in writing a story, even a life story, one inevitably seeks out a thread that runs through, something that ties everything together - but it seems to me that there is enough in the original sources to justify the perception that Bonhoeffer's life was directed.  I can think of very few Christians of my acquaintance who show that with any clarity, and I can't help but wonder why it is that most of us (including myself) seem to be flummoxed by the question of what we ought to do with our lives.

Is it, perhaps, that we are not listening?  Bonhoeffer had deep pietistic tendencies, and was devoted to daily meditation on Scripture and prayer.  He took Scripture seriously as the address of God to him in the here and now, and not just a collection of past revelations.  Might there be a lack in our devotional practices?

Is it, perhaps, that we are not thinking?  Bonhoeffer analysed his own situation in the light of the gospel, and was very much aware of the needs of the hour.  Despite his pietistic leanings, he certainly did not retreat into individualistic piety, but sought the good of the society in which he lived.  He had an uncommon intellectual ability, of course, and an insight to which few could aspire.  But still, I wonder if we might not be thinking clearly.

Is it, perhaps, that we are unbelieving?  In the final analysis, Bonhoeffer did what he believed to be right.  He pursued his calling.  Only knowing that God directs ours steps (and trusting that he forgives our missteps) can make anyone free to do this.  From what I know of my own heart, I fear that sometimes we do not know what we ought to do simply because we do not trust God with our lives.

If anyone has any answers, I'd love to hear them.  How can we serve the purposes of God in our generation?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ethics and Aesthetics, Addendum

A few things off the back of yesterday's post.

First, here is a useful discussion (which I found after I had posted) applying this sort of concept to a concrete example.  I haven't looked into the background of it all, but the key thing for me is the awkward way in which aesthetic repugnance and moral repugnance can be confused, and the importance of clarity.

Secondly, it occurs to me that I should have said that we will rarely (never?) encounter pure ugliness in the ethical realm.  This is not because there is some inherent good in everyone which shines through even the darkest deeds; rather, it is because evil cannot overcome God's grace in creation and redemption.  Even where I have to make a negative ethical judgement on the basis of God's command, and train my aesthetic sense to a corresponding distaste, there will be something good, something praiseworthy, something beautiful.  Even when it is only the fact that God can and will weave even the most evil things into his overall story.

Thirdly, it would be useful to clarify that a disciplined aesthetic can be a great servant of ethical judgement.  It is easier to say 'no' to a wrong which I also see as ugly.  It is easier to detect evil when not only my ethical judgement but also my taste is attuned to good.

Fourthly, and more practically, I probably need to watch less TV, or perhaps just consume less popular culture in general.  It is hard to discipline myself to feel rightly in the realm of sexual ethics, for example, when I have just spent half an hour chuckling at the sexual antics of some character in a sitcom.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ethics and Aesthetics

It seems pretty clear that ethics and aesthetics are linked.  Our views of what is good and what is beautiful are necessarily intertwined (just as they are both deeply connected to our views of what is true).  Just a couple of thoughts on regulating the connection:

1.  We must not let aesthetics lead ethics.  Of course, it is still fairly trendy in some circles to say that ethical judgements boil down in the end to just 'I like/don't like this'.  This cannot be true of Christian ethics.  When we say that something is morally wrong, we mean that it is objectively disordered, or - to get right to the heart of the issue - that it is disobedient to God's command.  Since this is a huge thing to say, we need to pretty careful about saying it.  In particular, I worry that sometimes our ethical judgements are too close to being judgements about taste.  'I am personally and culturally disposed to find this behaviour repulsive' is not the same as 'this is disobedient to God's command', and we need to be careful to ensure that we are not confusing the two.

2.  We must train aesthetics to follow ethics.  If truth, goodness, and beauty are genuinely connected - if they are all facets of God's one reality - then what is true and good is also beautiful, and I need to train myself to see it that way.  On the flipside, if sin is really sin as the Bible describes it, then it is also ugly, and I need to train myself to view it as such.  What I notice in myself is that I easily see the sins to which others are prone as ugly, whilst the transgressions which I tend toward are, in my mind, sometimes even beautiful.  Since I am not capable, ultimately, of disconnecting what God has connected - ethics and aesthetics - this inevitably means that I see the sins of others as ethically worse than my own, which is clearly not a helpful or a true viewpoint.  I need to train myself to loath my own sin, not only as wrong but also as ugly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revelation and Ethics

Barth is famous, or infamous, for holding what is sometimes called a 'dynamic' doctrine of revelation.  That is to say, rather than locating revelation in one place, and consequently identifying it with the text of Scripture, Barth sees revelation as an event.  To be sure, Scripture is the authoritative medium through which revelation occurs, but for Barth revelation is not something that can be pinned down to the pages of the Bible.  Revelation is always personal disclosure, one person revealing themselves to another.  Consequently, it is always something that happens; an event, not an object.

As an aside, there is a whole ontology at work here; it is not just an oddity of Barth's doctrine of Scripture.  Being and doing are closely related in Barth's thinking, correctly in my view.

I do understand why this makes some people uncomfortable.  It boils down to the question which I have been asked more than once, with varying degrees of suspicion: is the Bible the word of God or not?  The only answer I can give is a very definite yes, qualified at once by a clear no.  Is this the place where I must seek God?  Is this the place in which he has promised to reveal himself?  Yes, it is.  But I cannot possess revelation; I can only await it, and - in faith - expect it.  There is a serious insecurity here, met only by the security of God's promise.

When it comes to ethics, the problem seems more acute.  Here, too, everything is dynamic.  Ethics is not a matter of possessing God's commands and working out what to do with them.  God's command is always a personal command to me in the here and now.  It is not for me to apply; it is for me to obey.

This summer I read Metaxas' excellent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which really ought to be required reading alongside his theology. Bonhoeffer's own Ethics makes so much more sense when read within the context of his life.  For him, ethics was absolutely that: hearing God's word and living in response.  Hearing and obeying.  Within his own Lutheran context, he was accused of legalism, but it was his ethics which led him into conspiracy to kill Hitler.  The word of God, he was convinced, demanded it.

And here is a huge risk.  Only a firm belief in justification by faith will prevent me from being paralysed in the face of God's command.  What if I have misheard, or misapplied?  Well, God is good, and will make good even out of my mistakes.  The important thing is to listen and do, and trust his promise to guide.