Posted by: dacalu | 2 February 2009

A Thing of Value

Christians do not see the world as others see it. We have our own peculiar way of looking at things, or perhaps I should say we have Christ’s peculiar way of looking at things. More than a question of philosophy, this has to do with the question of reality. What underlies reality? What pieces can be moved on the game board and what counters tell us how far along we’ve come. Some post-modernists will say that there is not single underlying reality—no privileged perspective for viewing the world. As a Christian, I must disagree. We are committed to a certain picture of the world and we are committed to certain values, though I daresay they are not the popular dogmas called “Christian values” and “Family values.” Both of those concepts have to do with worldly categories of husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, state and citizens. All of these can be wonderful things, but Christ—in my opinion—calls us to give up those sorts of values in favor of another system, a more fundamental system. For all his love of the Jewish tradition, Jesus denies the “family values” of his day.


“For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother;” Matthew 10:35


“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;” Matthew 10:35


“And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’” Mark 3:33


“‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26


I think Jesus had a great love for his biological family, but he did so because they were his neighbors and friends. The true Christian values will be those that orient humans in love to all, those that cause us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And so the truly Christian values will be a way of seeing the world that makes important the very gifts God gives to us—one another.


And so I return the three things I’ve talked about in the past weeks: souls, God, and love. Our system of faith must be built on these foundations or else nothing that is to come will make sense. There are many alternatives—idolatrous ways of looking at the world; they attempt to make other things of fundamental importance. We may be most familiar with idolatry proper, the placing of created things in place of God. So I will start there.


Christians believe that God is real, fundamentally real in a way that no other thing is. All things were created by God and have their being only because God is and God creates. To put anything else in that place represents a profoundly disordered view of the world. [The theological jargon for this is to say that God exists necessarily while all other things exist contingently—contingent upon the will of God.]


This is not the only sin against reality, though. We can also fall down by denying the existence of souls or of love, or by putting things in their place. Think carefully about what the markers are in your life? What things have the most impact on your decisions? The most frequent trap I fall into is judging the world in terms of safety. What will give me the most comfortable future? What will strengthen my position or pad my bank account? What can I do that will put me right with God? But all of these things have to do with the future.


“‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:4


“Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14


Security is a mist that vanishes. The true wealth, that which neither rusts nor tarnishes comes in denominations of souls and love (the first in the image of God and the latter in imitation of God). Christians value these things in the moment.


When I say that Christians hold fast to three irreducibly simple things, I mean that all our philosophy stems from looking at the world through these eyes. If you start with money (as Marx did) or happiness (as Jeremy Bentham) or matter (as modern materialists) or even sin and redemption, you will miss the point. I cannot say this strongly enough. Only by starting with God, soul, and love, can Christianity make sense.



I Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.







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