(juicy, tasty, not well-done…)
-In some relationships (ministry and parenting come especially to mind), we sometimes do too much for others because we overestimate the significance of our role. Rather than finding room in life to trust God, we agonize over our decisions in a way that tips over from a pursuit of holy responsibility into opinionated and over-analyzed self-importance. We think people need us when they need God. Or we lay on others the burden of our investment rather than the liberating weight of God’s grace. What we do for and with people should be viewed as a sharing rather than an investment. Grace is not ours to create, give or expect returns on. Don’t talk to people to show that you care about them, but because you do. Don’t give your children opportunities in life so they can make something of themselves but because life is a splendid creation.
-Why do we always, always, always want single people to get married and married people to have children? Obviously, both are God’s good creation and, at times, incredibly glorious. But, in this world, they are also some of the biggest cans of worms you can open. I mean, even in a marriage as blessed as I consider myself to have experienced, the deep happiness often comes by way of much deep struggle.
And I’m not even touching the much harder issues of abuse and unhappy marriages. And raising kids? They are better than worms, but at some moments not by much. It’s a telling fact that for a good portion of your child-rearing career there will be monkeys more well-behaved and communicative than your child. And, again, I’m not even mentioning the heartache of an estranged child or the pressures of a childhood disease or disability. It’s great, but it’s hard. And so back to the original question—why again do we push and shove people into these things with prodding and teasing, knowing full well the difficulty and knowing perhaps very little of their readiness or God’s will for them? The negative answer would be that misery loves company, but I think there’s more going on here. In short, we love a good story. And a large part of the drama and tension that God built into the story of our world centers on relationships. Will God abandon his creatures? Will His creatures recognize his love for them? Will God leave His Son hanging on the cross? Will the Son go back to the Father? Will the Son come again for his brothers and sisters? He made his image into male and female, two beings built to find each other. The eye of the hurricane of all this love and reciprocity is the Trinity and our common-grace-glimpse of it is in the will-he/won’t-she tension of romance and its ensuing explosion of life. We’re suckers for a good story and we want a happy ending. On the flip side, given the curse-battered condition of this drama (in pain you will bring forth children and your desire shall be for your husband and he will rule over you), we should perhaps rein in a little on the teasing and shameless questioning, finding a time to mourn and a time to dance. It’s good, but it’s hard.
-In other news, I’m so humbled and grateful that God has been answering my son’s prayers. Clive was having a series of nightmares and so we started praying to God that He would give him some relief. And each night we have prayed God has been gracious. And my son has noticed—so much so that one night when I wasn’t home to pray with him and he woke in the middle of the night with a nightmare, he ran straight to my bedside and demanded that we pray for help. And last night he wanted me to pray that God would help him to “dream about all the lego sets in the world.” I was a little hesitant on this one and explained that God might want to help him dream about something else good, but we would give it a go anyway. And this morning he reported with a sleepy grin some pretty cool new lego sets he had dreamed up. God is good.=)
-Our brains are built to synthesize. We’re the imagers of the One who starts our whole story with categories and we’re born looking for neat, tidy ones to stuff everything in life into. My youngest, though barely talking, is already testing his theories, pointing to circles to ask if they’re balls and cows to ask if they’re horses. Sometimes these early attempts can be embarrassing like when your child labels people “bad” or gets the categories confused (true story: I bore the title of “other daddy” for a while). I’m reading How We Decide right now and in the chapter entitled “The Brain Is an Argument,” he compares the decisions of our brains to that of a board where the members may disagree and even contentiously debate, but the decision is presented as unanimous. Often the only way we can make any decisions in such a complex world is by ignoring some of the pertinent information. The subjects were both Republicans and Democrats and both heard contradictory statements by both candidates and were asked to rate them on a 1-4 scale of contradiction from mild to strong. Every single time their party allegiance predicted the contradiction rating. In other words, if they were Republican they found Kerry’s statements strongly contradictory and Bush’s mildly so; if they were Democrats the opposite. MRI brain imaging used on the people hearing facts contradicting their political position shows them using their prefrontal cortex (largely responsible for rational thought) not to analyze the facts but to suppress negative emotions when the contradictions were heard. And we intentionally filter out what we don’t want to hear. He also tells of an experiment where consistent churchgoers and atheists were asked to listen to a tape of an atheist attacking Christianity. The trick was that the tape had a lot of static, but the sound quality could be improved with just a push of the button. The result? Atheists busy pushing buttons and Christians listening to a bunch of nothing. Same thing with smokers and a speech on lung cancer. Now a lot of this is common sense (who enjoys listening to someone they disagree with?) but here’s what interesting: that our brain tries to substitute emotion for fact in order to synthesize. So the points at which we feel most emotional, most passionate or even confident might be exactly where there’s an inconsistency that our brain’s trying to patch up for us. Another experiment with political pundits found that when they made the most confident predictions was when they were mostly likely to be wrong. Now there’s an argument against cable news (said my happily agreeing brain who already hates the stuff…) In those moments, our rational abilities become enslaved to our emotions and get busy working to find some kind of justification for the logical gap we just encountered. Our rationality, in effect, becomes a liability in our search for the truth rather than an asset. Lehrer says this: “It feels good to be certain. Confidence is comforting… It’s not easy to make up your mind when your mind consists of so many competing parts. This is why being sure about something can be such a relief… Being certain means that you aren’t worried about being wrong.” This reminded me of something I had read by D. A. Carson a long time ago—I can’t quote it exactly but it was to the effect that many Christians confuse certainty with truth. Or even intentionally opt for it. We’d rather feel “not wrong” sometimes than know God more—now that’s sad. Lehrer’s advice on fighting this default brain setting is to “encourage some inner dissonance. We must force ourselves to think about the information we don’t want to think about, to pay attention to the data that disturbs our entrenched beliefs. When we start censoring our minds, turning off those brain areas that contradict our assumptions, we end up ignoring relevant evidence.” And to follow the example of Abraham Lincoln, who intentionally “filled his cabinet with rival politicians who had extremely different ideologies… his ability to tolerate dissent was an enormous asset.” In Biblical language I think this is largely related to pride and our tendency to substitute the Creator with the creature, whether it be ourselves or comfort or approval of peers. (Remember the “being certain means you aren’t worried about being wrong” quote? Straight pride there.) Or maybe just intellectual exhaustion—the Bible is not an easy book to understand. And it reminds me of the wisdom Scriptures, especially Ecclesiastes, which had a high tolerance for dissonance—based on the realization that truth is a Person and an infinite and mysterious One at that. Ultimately we have to be ok with not having all the answers because only He does and He’s not handing them all out yet. I have a hunch there’s a lot of surprise endings in store.
-The mercy of death. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand rand take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. In the car the other day, Clive asked why we didn’t know where the garden of Eden was and David and I fell on this as the answer. It’s bad enough to live in this world beset by sin in every way, but to do so with no reprieve in sight is certainly worse. Life gives time for faith and death gives way for resurrection. All of us have days that we can’t wait to end, where bedtime is more than welcome. As I’ve said before, “this day just needs to die.” Sometimes more time seems to be only more opportunity for sin. And, in faithless moments, this is the appeal of suicide—to reach out and take for oneself the mirage of blessing like Eve. To bring the end in sight and make a choice that ends all choices. Only His hand, though, can unravel the cords we bind ourselves in and our self-designed “blessing” only binds more as anyone who’s experienced the aftermath of a suicide can tell. Only from His hands comes true rest and while 70 or 80 years might seem long, it is infinitesimally small to Him and to the eternity we’ll share with Him, free from the knowledge of good and evil.
Absent from flesh, O blissful thought
What joy this moment brings
Freed from the blame my sin has brought
From pain and death and its sting.
I go where God and glory shine,
To one eternal day
This failing body I now resign
For the angels point my way.