1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
2 And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
The Bible begins the story of Moses all the way at his conception! It might seem excessive for the record to provide such basic details, but I am personally quite pleased that this information was included. I feel that these details about Moses’s parents illustrate the hope inherent in every new birth. Though the hardships for Moses’s mother and father were immense, they still conducted themselves after the manner of love and hope: joining together in marriage, having a sexual union, and conceiving a new life. We often see such things as trifling because they are common, but every new birth is a miracle, with immense potential for good, and we should all be in awe of that. Moses’s parents would not themselves be the ones to free captive Israel, but just by living after the manner of love and intimacy they became the vessels that ushered in the one who would liberate their nation.
This refutes a concept that I find detestable in today’s society. Too often we hear the pessimistic view that people should not bring children into such a broken and pain-ridden world. What a depressing perspective, and one that ignores the virtually limitless potential force for good that children can be. Perhaps our world has severe problems, but these are only be made worse by humanity cutting short its future. Refusing to bring children into the world is to completely surrender, to say there could never be a solution in future generations, and to choose a miserable extinction rather than allow for potential change.
I’ve talked about the awkward, self-filtering way I tend to approach “hot topic” issues in my day-to-day interactions and how I believe this stems from the vicious manner these issues are debated online. No one wants to be their most forthcoming when they are afraid of explosive anger, personal attacks, or even death threats! However, I have also acknowledged that this probably isn’t an accurate expectation to have of those I associate with on a daily basis. Just as I know that I can still value their friendship even if they have different perspectives then me, I should be able to trust that they can feel the same towards me.
Signals of Prejudice)
However, even if we manage to separate our expectations of the real world from the virtual, we still need to learn how to speak in a way that fosters positive communication. There are certain terms which I have noticed are likely to set people with the opposite opinions immediately on edge. They are things that signify to the other person that you are prejudiced against them, and that is sure to make their interaction with you that much less sincere and constructive.
So, for example, if you are more liberal, and you start throwing out “phobic” terms, such as “transphobe” or “homophobe,” then you are immediately downgrading the conversation. These terms are almost always applied incorrectly. “Phobic” is a suffix that means a person has an irrational, panic-stricken fear of something. There might very well be people who have a panicked reaction when in the presence of a homosexual or transgender person, but I think we all know that this is virtually never the case when this term is applied. It is a stamp put on anyone who is disagrees with liberal movements for any reason at all.
On the other side, some of the more conservative voices have started overusing the term “groomer.” This, of course, is a term that accuses another person of intentionally sexualizing minors so that they may become victims of abuse. This is an extremely serious claim, and it ought to be wielded with an equally serious mindset. Sadly, as with the “phobic” terms being applied to those on the right, “groomer” is starting to be thrown against everyone who happens to have a liberal attitude.
If you use either of these terms thoughtlessly, you are signaling to the other side that you have a reductive view of other people. You are telling them that you will lump anyone that feels differently with you into the most extreme and sinister categories so that you may dismiss them without any real consideration. And maybe that’s not what you meant to communicate at all. Maybe you were just imitating the vernacular that you’ve been taught without realizing how it is likely to be received. If this the case, then you ought to take some time to consider whether you are subconsciously discounting the other person without even hearing what it is they are trying to say. Frankly, we all do this to some extent, so there isn’t any shame in realizing that we have made this mistake and then correcting ourselves.
Though, on the other hand, perhaps you really do mean to categorize the entire side as pure evil. Perhaps you think that anyone who is on the other side of the aisle is not merely confused or misguided. Perhaps you don’t think they have any good points to share, or that they are trying to gain attention for an issue you might have overlooked. Perhaps you genuinely believe that they are all monsters that only seek to harm our society, and that they are past reclamation, and thus you have no intention of having a civil discourse with them. But if you’ve taken the time to read this series of posts to this point, I imagine that that is not the case for you. If you care at all about the trouble we have in communication, like I do, then that would suggest that you hope it could get better. And if you hope it could get better, then that would mean that there are good people on both sides who can approach these heavy conversations with decency and composure if we just start to foster that sort of attitude.
I certainly think that this is the case. And if it isn’t, then the world is much worse off than I realized and horrible things are inevitable!
Whenever we look at the root of our negative behaviors, we will most often find some form of stress lurking there. Powerful negative feelings fester inside of us and tend to come out sideways. But not all stress is the same. Some stress is inevitable and unchangeable, such as having a disability or a chronic disease, while other stress seems like it could be removed, whether by a change of environment or character. These changeable sources of stress are the subject for this series.
Two Kinds of Agitation)
Failing finances, becoming overweight, and having a messy house, these are all things that agitate us just by living with them, and then they agitate us again because we feel like we could resolve them if we just worked harder or smarter. Knowing that we could deal with these, but that we’re not, makes us feel guilty, ashamed, and weak. Our failure leads directly into our shame, and our shame leads directly into our negative behaviors.
I have certainly had my fair share of this sort of shameful stress. In fact, the three examples I just gave are all ones that are currently active in my own life. I have watched as the bank account became lower and lower, and the number on the scale became higher and higher, and the messes spread further and further. Each has brought its individual anxiety, and then each has been compounded with the embarrassment and shame of having ever letting things get into such a situation. Worst of all, I then indulge in unhealthy excesses to medicate this pain, and that excess further aggravates these very same problem areas.
The Fear of Destruction)
The key issue of these stresses is that they put in us the fear of our own destruction. Maybe there is still a little money in my bank account, but if it is trending negative, the eventual conclusion can only be financial ruin. And maybe I’m still able to get up and do what I want, but if my weight keeps trending upward the eventual conclusion can only be disease and a premature death. And maybe there are still some clean refuges in the house, but if the messes keep spreading the eventual conclusion can only be an entirely uninhabitable household. To see the train chugging towards a wreck and then discover that the brakes don’t work is enough to make anyone feel hopeless. They’re not ruined yet, but the crash is inevitable.
Under the shadow of inevitable ruin is a terrible place for one to take up residence. Is it any wonder we keep taking a vacation from here, even if only briefly, to the fantasy land of our indulgences? Of course, the fact that these indulgences only make the problem worse leads us to seek another vacation just as soon as we glimpse our home of harsh realities. We know that we’re not dealing with the problem, but it’s already gotten so heavy that it seems we couldn’t ever have the strength to lift all of it.
But let us take a step back to consider the facts that we have just uncovered. It is the recognition that our path leads to destruction that creates a constant sense of dread is un. It is the way a man’s life is trending that distresses him most, far more than the state he is actually in. So often we get caught up in trying to change our entire state, when really we ought to be focusing on simply changing our trend.
A man that is seventy pounds overweight longs to shed all of it, but his most pronounced anguish actually comes just from seeing that his weight is a mere 0.1 pounds higher today than it was yesterday. Being seventy pounds overweight is bad, but even more terrible is knowing that seventy pounds will look like a happy place compared to where he is going!
Shifting the Trend)
And in this realization we find our salvation! For which is the more manageable task, to get out of those seventy extra pounds, or to change the daily trend of 0.1 pounds plus to 0.1 pounds negative? Obviously shifting the trend down by 0.2 pounds per day is far more within reach than to suddenly melt away dozens and dozens of pounds!
And once again, I am saying all of this from my own experience. I am myself seventy pounds overweight, and 1,200 dollars in debt, and with six large messes spread throughout the house. And up until about a month ago I was inching further and further in the wrong direction in all of those areas and was miserable because of it. During this last month, though, I have started making small changes, so that I am now inching in the right direction in all of those areas. And at the end of that month, I am still overweight, and still in debt, and still have a messy house…but I am enormously happy! Why? Because the future is not inevitable destruction anymore, it is assured salvation! I have changed my trend and I am going the right way, and this is the peace I always wanted.
Charles Dickens probably summed it up best in his novel, David Copperfield (slightly paraphrased to a more familiar monetary format):
Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19.96, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20.06, result misery.
In my last post I examined the reason why the addict doesn’t dare admit his secret shame, which is that doing so might jeopardize all the things he feels he cannot lose. His family, his job, his church, maybe even his ability to live outside of prison, he cannot stand to give up any of these things, and so he will accept a pretend life instead.
The addict tells himself that he doesn’t need to choose between confession and living a cursed life, he assures himself that he will overcome this behavior on his own. No one will need to know about it, and he’ll still figure it out. But year after year passes and he still hasn’t made the change, and through all the years his conscience keeps bringing to his mind that he really must confess.
So, which is he to listen to? The calculating, rationalizing brain that assures him healthy living is nothing more than mind over matter? Or the aching, broken heart that insists that somehow, someway, confession is the only road to healing?
Well, if he is content to have his life continue just the same as it has always been, then he can continue to listen to the same rationalizations that he always has, but if he ever wants to have a different outcome than every time before, then he must be willing to take a step that he has never dared before. At some point he has to make the leap from his head to his heart. He must accept the possibility of losing all the things he holds most dear as the price for his salvation.
To the soul that is on the cusp of throwing in with the heart and making confession, may I offer two reassurances. The first is that the things you fear most may not actually occur. Our nature is to think up absolute worst-case scenarios, to assume that every turn that can go wrong will go wrong. Negative outcomes that seem a certainty, in truth are usually only possibilities.
Of course, I cannot promise you that every worst fear in your head won’t come true. Even if the most severe repercussions have only a small likelihood of coming true, one should accept that it might still be possible. That being said, I can tell you that I still have never met the addict who had things go even remotely as bad as they had anticipated. Certainly, there have been choppy waters and losses, but never the total capsizing that most of us envision.
The other reassurance is that even if the losses are dire, even if every bad thing in your imagination did come true, there will be interwoven with it a peaceful contentment that you probably have not accounted for. You will have a peaceful contentment that soothes every loss and pain so that they are never as terrible as you had imagined.
That contentment comes from the fact that now, for the first time in who knows how many years, you are your real self again. I cannot overstate just how much of a relief you feel when you bring forward the truth and are finally back to being your own self. You feel a way that you had forgotten you could feel like. It is like getting out of a bath and putting on fresh clothes. You feel warm and comfortable and clean and safe. You feel reassured that whatever comes, it will be alright, because you have you again, and that more than makes up for whatever else you have no longer.
I promise you that you will find greater joy being yourself in a miserable place than to be a fraud in comfortable surroundings.
And this is not all. The very things you fear to lose by telling the truth you probably don’t even have anymore, anyway. I will examine that concept more in my next post, but for now I’ll simply say that you truly have little to nothing to actually lose, but you do have everything to gain. See what the analyzing, calculating mind makes of that arithmetic!
Over these past few days I have considered the roles of faith, hope, and charity. Specifically I have considered how each of them is integral to being invested in this world, rather than stepping aside and letting it fall to ruin.
These three qualities are definitely linked to one another. We must first have hope in God and His purposes. We must have hope that He is able to reclaim our own soul from ruin, and then we can foster hope in His ability to reclaim the souls of our brothers and sisters as well. With that spark of hope we can then act in faith, investing in our communities and nations, trying to bring some good into them, even when we’re not sure how we will succeed. And integral to all this work is to have genuine charity for those we work with. We need to have an unconditional love, even for those who do not give us a reason to love them.
And it is important to note that none of these qualities can be taken for granted. It might be tempting for us to say “well I’m a Christian, of course I live with charity,” when in reality this is not a given. I called myself a “christian” for many years, and all the while had a hopeless outlook on my own soul. Having no hope, I was incapable of investing faith to care for myself. And as I was unable to give those kindnesses to myself, I certainly didn’t have the capacity for charity for my fellow-man. Having the label of a “baptized christian” meant absolutely nothing about me. It certainly did not mean that I was actually a Christian.
Possessing these qualities does not come cheaply. Perhaps some of us are more naturally inclined to one of them or the other, but I think it is fair to say that all of us have a great deal of work ahead if we mean to achieve all three. None of us are born a full and complete Christian, we have to work our way into it.
I also want to emphasize that if there are any of us who are giddy for the destruction of the wicked, then they we do not possess charity and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who wish the world was better but are not willing to do the work to help it be so, then we do not possess faith and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who have just given up on the world, then we do not possess hope and are not true Christians. Faith, hope, and charity are not things a Christian should have, they are things that a Christian must have, or they are not a true Christian.
And I do not mean any condemnation by that. I used to be devoid of these qualities as well. I was not a true Christian, but I was able to become one, and so can anyone else. In fact, even true Christians must continue striving to become ever more so.
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
He that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope There have been times when I have proselyted the gospel from a sense of duty only. I did it because it was what I was supposed to do, with very little sincerity behind it. I did not expect to make any real impact in the lives of others, which resulted in a passionless effort, which resulted in a self-fulfilling failure. You can plow all you want on rock, but you’re never going to raise a great crop on it. And you can proselyte in pessimism, but your ministry will never flourish. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then you might as well not do it. For the work alone is insufficient, what matters is whether the heart lies in it. If ever we want to reap the fruit of hope, we need to do our work in hope as well. Not begrudgingly and not half-heartedly, but sincerely and with all our hearts.
That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man And if we cannot plow in hope and cannot thresh in hope, then the problem lies within us, not the work. If we reach into ourselves and find only pessimistic, half-hearted efforts to offer, then we need to pause and ask ourselves what is wrong with us. Before we can do our duty to our fellow man we’ve got to sort ourselves out first. Only when we’re right inside will there be good things that can come out of us and be shared with others.
And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God. This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not The exact sins of Nineveh are not detailed in the account of Jonah, but evidently they were of such significance that God was prepared to destroy the entire city! When we consider the example of other cities that received such a divine retribution, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, then it seems safe to say that the wickedness in Nineveh must have been extremely pronounced! Yet for as fallen as the people might have been, it turns out that they were not beyond reclamation. After all, why send a prophet to them, even with a message of doom, unless there yet remained some hope that that doom might be averted? From this story I learn to look at the sort of people I might consider to be a lost cause, and I realize that they are actually far from it! Truly there are places of deep evil today, and I am sure there are individuals who are ripe for destruction, but these are most definitely the minority. By and large, people are still basically good, still within the reach of hope. There are many who are waylaid, but that are the same sort that Jesus vouched for with the words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And instead of trying to push these confused souls towards their destruction, we should be inviting them back to the fold.
I have always meant for these studies to be based around universal and timeless questions, rather than obsess over whatever the latest social controversy is. But of course I am a member of this world and I cannot help but feel affected by the great, rolling movements that disturb it.
And in all these passing tumults I have often seen a repeated theme of discord. I have an overwhelming sense of sides unwilling to work together, of a world falling apart, and of an impending fallout looming ahead. And as one man in a sea of billions I feel helpless to turn that tide. Even the scriptures foretell of our world falling to ruin before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
When I consider thoughts like these I find it very difficult to invest in what appears to be a losing battle. What would be the point? Shouldn’t I just take care of myself and let the world fall away?
But that doesn’t feel right to my heart either. Despair has never been one of the virtues championed by the gospel! With this study I want to examine how we can remain optimistic in a world falling away. What exactly is our duty to society as it becomes increasingly disinterested with our mission? How did the early disciples remain motivated in the face of apostasy and martyrdom? What can we do to increase our sense of hope, and what is that hope founded in?
In the meantime I’d love to hear about your own experiences dealing with cynicism. Have you ever lost faith in humanity, but then found it restored? Or are you even now struggling to keep your “perfect brightness of hope” alive? What have you asked in prayer and done in your actions to help with this matter?