Dissonance and Discernment

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“Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. …The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue.”

 

~G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross.

 

Looking back at pictures of myself from high school, my teenage students are baffled that I wore my hair as I did on purpose.  Needless to say, my late 80s, early 90s coiffure has not aged well.  But at the time, I thought I looked great.  Many fashion trends have suffered the same fate.  Trendiness, by definition, does not take the long view.  

 

Ideas are much more significant than the cut of one’s blue jeans or the length of one’s hair, but they are often imprisoned by the pressure of the moment.  In culture, there is an almost constant demand to fashion our thought-lives and interactions with others by the direction society winds are blowing.  

 

But what if there was a way to anchor our hearts and minds in something real?  What if there was a way to compassionately navigate the constantly changing waters of what is socially acceptable?  

 

Consider the words of the author of the letter to the Hebrews in the first Century:

 

“God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

 

Hebrews 6:17-19 – New Living Translation

 

The writer’s use of the word “unchangeable” is particularly useful and pertinent here.  The One who stands beyond the ebb and flow of history has spoken into our world.  He does not change His mind.  He is not bound by anything.  His compass is true and unaffected by the pull of gravity and the minds of men.  We can think and speak and act in the light of His thoughts and speech and action with “great confidence”.  The God of creation entered into His creation in the Person of His Son.  It is a moment in history that imbues every other moment of history with color and purpose and hope.  

 

We can navigate the turbulent waters of any culture in the knowledge that there is a way to interact with our neighbors that is unbound by forces we cannot control.  We can speak into the insanity of fashionable ideas with the confidence that there is a source that is uncontrolled by them, and us.  We can sing in the key of permanent virtue because there is Someone who has sung perfectly before us.  All we need to do is listen and listen well.

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C.S. Lewis – On Forgiveness

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C. S. Lewis writes about the problem of forgiveness:

. . . you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.

As regards my own sin it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought.

But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper Collins, 2001; Originally published 1949), 181-183 (paragraphing mine).

Capon – It was very good

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“The world exists, not for what it means but for what it is. The purpose of mushrooms is to be mushrooms, wine is in order to wine: Things are precious before they are contributory. It is a false piety that walks through creation looking only for lessons which can be applied somewhere else. To be sure, God remains the greatest good; but, for all that, the world is still good in itself. Indeed, since He does not need it, its whole reason for being must lie in its own goodness; He has no use for it, only delight.”

… Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013), The Supper of the Lamb, New York: Doubleday, 1969, p. 86

Swinburne – Suffering in the world

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“If God made a world without suffering, it would be a world in which humans had little responsibility for each other and for other creatures. Seeing that that alternative is not obviously better than the present world led me to see something about goodness—that there is more to it than tingles of pleasure—and about God—that his goodness is shown in the freedom and responsibility he gives to his creatures.”

… Richard G. Swinburne (b. 1934), Philosophers Who Believe, Kelly James Clark, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993, p. 200

Bonhoeffer – The bearer of the Word

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“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”

… Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Life Together [1954], tr. Daniel W. Bloesch & James H. Burtness, Fortress Press, 2004, p. 23

Dallas Willard – A conversational relationship with God

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“Our union with God—his presence with us, in which our aloneness is banished and the meaning and full purpose of human existence is realized—consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are each consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and colaborer in the affairs of the kingdom of the heavens.”

… Dallas Willard (1935-2013), Hearing God, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p. 56