Is Science Superior to Art? (Is That Why Kuyper Wants Theology to be ‘Science’?)

It’s easy to bemoan the fall of Theology, from being the ‘Queen of Sciences’ to merely being a subsection of the Religious Studies department (if it has a place at universities at all). For example, R. C. Sproul laments, “in the classical curriculum, theology is the queen of the sciences and all other disciplines are her handmaidens. In the modern curriculum man is king and the former queen is relegated to a peripheral status of insignificance.”*

Now, why lament this? Is it because ‘science,’ as we conceive of it today, is so distinguished that we want to associate theology with it, and more than that, assert theology’s dominance over it?

No one should assert theology as the queen of science because they want to rescue theology from falling into the realm of ‘art.’ ‘Science’ is not superior to ‘art.’ It is of a fundamentally different character. Theology falls into the realm of science (according to the older, more full definition of science–science as ‘knowledge orderly arranged’) not because science is superior, but because of the character of theology.

Obviously, Kuyper has a quote on this: (Yep, still reading his Principles of Sacred Theology):

The theologians who, depressed by the small measure of respect cherished at present by public opinion for theological study, seeks favor with public opinion by loudly proclaiming that what he studies is science too, forfeits thereby his right to the honourable name of theologian.

Suppose it were demonstrated that Theology is no science, but that, like the study of music, it is called to enrich our spiritual life, and the consciousness of that life, in an entirely different way, what would this detract from its importance? Does Mozart rank lower than Edison, because he did not work enchantments, like Edison, with the data of the exact sciences?

The oft-repeated attempt to exclude Theology from the company of the science, and to coordinate it, as something mystical, rather like the world of sounds, was in itself entirely praiseworthy, and has commanded more respect from public opinion in general than the scholastic distinctions. If thus it should be shown that Theology has no place in the organism of science, it would not lower it in the least, even as, on the other hand, Theology would gain no merit whatever from the fact (if it be proved) that it has its rank among the sciences.

In no case may Theology begin with renouncing its own self-respect. And those theologians who are evidently guilty of this, and who, being more or less ashamed of Theology, have tried, by borrowing the scientific brevet, to put it forth in new forms, have been punished for their cowardice. For the non-theological science has compelled them to cut out the heart of Theology, and to transform it into a department of study which shall fit into the framework of naturalistic science.

Hence we definitely declare that our defense of the scientific character of Theology has nothing in common with this questionable effort. No Calvinist takes part in the renunciation of our character as theologians. And now to the point.

Oh, Kuyper! Wasn’t that already your point? 😀

In other words, we can bemoan the demotion of theology to a lowly sub-discipline in academia, but not because it has been categorized under the heading of “the arts.” The heading is not the problem. Arts are not less important.

For Kuyper theology is science because science is the study of order, and the very character of theology is knowledge of an orderly God. That’s it. Art uses materials–words, clay, paint, etc–to generate something new. This is legitimate and absolutely wonderful, and human beings were created to do this. But the character of this art is incredibly different from the character of theology. In theology you study what’s already there.

I love how theology gains no rank in Kuyper’s thought from being either art or science. Neither art nor science has to prove its own worth, nor do they grant more value to theology by including theology under its umbrella. No, theology has its own self-respect.

So we have the freedom to just let theology be what it is. And the freedom to respect both art and science, without elevating the contributions of Mozart over Edison, or Edison over Mozart, as if that was the controversy that really mattered.

 

*The Heart of Reformed Theology, by R.C. Sproul

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Kuyper Encounters Difficulties – Subjectivity Weighs In…

Principles of Sacred Theology continues to fascinate me, despite the reality of heavy schoolwork weighing in.

In my last post I explained the amazing claim that Abraham Kuyper made about theology–that out of the chaos of theological knowledge, order could be found. A unified order. In fact, it is the responsibility of people to find this order, and to work out this framework to rest theological knowledge in.

The obvious objection to any claim that a study of theology would discover an objective system rising up is–well, if an objective system of theology is so obvious, why on earth do we have thousands of competing systems of theology? Hasn’t practically every church, and every era of history, come up with their own opinion on how it all ‘works’?

Now, I half-expected Kuyper to just skate over this difficulty. The system shows itself to anyone who just looks at the chaos of knowledge systematically enough, he might have said. But no. He faces it head on. He treats his study of theology with thoroughness. And as a reader, I follow him half-expecting to fall into gaping theoretical holes in his thought, and discover he has seen the holes before me and wants to build guardrails around them.

Having read too many popular theological works, the peace of mind of being guided by an experienced hand is too reassuring for me to be able to put it into words.

Kuyper grants that thousands of streams of theologies exist. He grants that subjectivity so underlies all of our ideas of what we’re actually studying that any communal One Theology is impossible.

But does this subjectivity completely remove any hope for discerning any objective truth? That is what he explores next.

Now, for any postmodern thinkers out there who believe the twentieth century was, in fact, the first one to take seriously the perils of subjectivity–well, Kuyper certainly knows what effect subjectivity has on his work:

“Every theologian, therefore, knows that neither he himself, nor the stream of history in which he moves, are able to make an all-sided and complete exhibition of the object of his investigation.”

Ah, so subjectivity does exist then? The context of the writer’s history may actually impact his work–impact any hope of finding a ‘neutral’ theology?

Kuyper then, astonishingly, goes on to describe his viewpoint. I say astonishingly because I’ve always assumed laying out one’s viewpoint was a recent development, stemming from postmodernism. To talk about one’s perspective is important because one takes for granted that one’s perspective does, in fact, affect one’s work. However, Kuyper also lays out his individual perspective right there for the reader to see, long before academics insisted it was a requirement to do so.*

What does this mean, then? Has Kuyper given up on objectivity in the study of theology altogether? No, rather, he lays it out because he wants to argue this background is exactly what leads him to discovering order in theology. What he really means is that he’s separating objectivity from neutrality.

He’s not going to try sum up every theological opinion under the sun, because to do so he would inevitably be bringing his own opinion to his summary. He’s not going to dig around in every theological system to find fundamental truths common to all of them, because whatever he came up with would not, in fact, be a common system but rather ANOTHER system (his own system), ready to continue to compete endlessly with the others. No. He believes an objective order exists, but it not to be found by remaining neutral.

So he lays out his viewpoint. And he’s not neutral about how it leads to truth.

He unapologetically believes his viewpoint–Reformed Theology–has, as one of its inherent strengths, the ability to frame theology in such a way that it can be studied systematically and ‘scientifically’:

“[Kuyper’s declaration of his viewpoint] intends to make it clearly known, that he himself cannot stand indifferently to his personal faith, and to his consequent confession concerning the object of Theology, and therefore does not hesitate to state it as his conviction that the Reformed Theology with respect to this has grasped the truth most firmly.”

Now, I know enough about Kuyper to know a little about what he’s getting at (and which I’ll need to read the rest of the book to understand more fully)–what Kuyper will argue for is the necessity of first starting from a starting point of faith when studying theology, and secondly, starting from the Scriptures as the fundamental principle for studying theology. In this quote, he is declaring that he is unapologetic about his Reformed viewpoint because he knows the Reformed viewpoint values learning about theology in faith from Scripture. And he is convinced that starting with faith and learning from scripture is the only way to find the order that must exist in the chaos of theological knowledge.

Now, there may be quibbles about these two points he makes. I still have to read more, so I’ll leave them lie there for now.

Anyway, Kuyper talks about his subjective background because he believes that this system is the one that possesses the values that will lead to objective order. Ah, maybe there’s something in that. Maybe if we believe in the existence of objective truth (out there somewhere–in our humanness incredibly difficult to find and articulate), we could also believe in the existence of an objective viewpoint. And while it might be right to say an objective viewpoint can never be achieved by a human, there may in fact be a sliding scale of ‘better’ viewpoints in contrast to ‘worse’ ones.

This sounds incredibly audacious–to line up viewpoints according to how objective they are. How would they be judged? But maybe this is an idea to wrestle with for a while.

 

Appendix: Kuyper himself on how he ended up with Reformed Theology as his viewpoint:

“The author does not hesitate to say frankly that in the writing of this work he occupies the Calvinistic view-point… He is no Calvinist by birth. Having received his training in a conservative-supernaturalistic spirit, he broke with faith in every form when a student at Leyden, and then cast himself into the arms of the barest radicalism. At a later period, perceiving the poverty of this radicalism, and shivering with the chilling atmosphere which it created in his heart, he felt attracted first to Determinism, and then to the warmth of the Vermittelungs-theologie. But if this warmed his heart, it provided no rest for his thought. In this Vermittelungs-theologie there is no stability of starting-point, no unity of principle, and no harmonious life-interpretation on which a world-view, based on coherent principles,
can be erected. In this state of mind and of heart he came in contact with those descendants of the ancient Calvinists, who in the Netherlands still honor the traditions of the fathers; and it astonished him to find among these simple people a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight, in fact a world-view based on principles which needed but a scientific treatment and interpretation to give them a place of equal significance over against the dominant views of the age.”

 

 

*This assumption is based on my education–I don’t mind seeing evidence to the contrary if there’s any.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bringing Order to Chaos–Can Human Achieve Actual True Knowledge?

You may’ve expected my next post to continue with Augustine, and I certainly would like to get back to Augustine, but since I currently am attending seminary to sort out the tangle of thoughts in my head about theology, I may blog about several different Christian classics first, before getting back to dear Augustine.

Now consider theology–would you consider it crazy, or maybe presumptuous, to argue there are basic underlying principles of the subject that naturally appear if you investigate it enough?

It’s utterly outdated to talk like that in the modern world. After all, are there not thousands of denominations, each with their own strongly held beliefs that they argue are deeply rooted in the Bible? How can anyone argue for any principles of theology at all? Are we not all groping in the dark, all equally as likely to be correct about some things and wrong about others, and all equally without hope of putting our beliefs into any kind of concrete order?

Ah, this is why it is so refreshing to read a book that says no, no, no. There is not chaos, only order, and it is the mission of humanity to seek it out. This is what Abraham Kuyper argues in his classic Principles of Sacred Theology, written in 1898.*

Now, the date gives a strong clue about the reason for his confidence. He belonged to the modernist era, when academics in general believed they could categorize all of human knowledge, and one day we’d achieve a full knowledge of our world. As the world revealed itself to be more and more complex, more and more people fell away from this idea. And as the disputes about the fundamental nature of reality multiplied, many people came to the conclusion that we cannot really ever know… And thus postmodernism entered the picture.

However, back to Kuyper, who was writing with confidence before postmodernism was born. He is the very exemplar of C.S. Lewis’s charge to read old books, because where can you find such confidence in humanity’s ability to gather knowledge, except in someone untainted by our atmosphere of postmodernist thought? There’s no explanations for why relativism doesn’t work. He doesn’t even consider anyone would argue for relativism. He just gets right to the point.

And his point is–humans should assume order is present in creation. If you accept a theology that states all creation is created by an orderly God, it naturally follows that we can find our way through the chaos of knowledge that lies before us. More than that, it is part of our goal as humans to bring order to chaos. Anything which first presents itself to us as chaos will possess an underlying order upon inspection.

Now, this still sounds kind of crazy, so I’ll let him expand on this thought:

“Here we merely state that in our bringing about of Encyclopedic order in the chaotic treasure of our knowledge, we are governed in two respects by a compulsory order which is separable from our thinking. First, because the treasure of knowledge which we obtain by our thinking does not originate first by our thinking, but exists before we think; and, on the other hand, because the knowledge to be arranged in order stands in relation to a world of phenomena which is independent of our thought…. Thus our human spirit is not to invent a certain order for our knowledge, but to seek out and to indicate the order which is already there.”

Astounding. As someone deeply bathed in postmodern thinking (which I truly do not regret, by the way), this is mind-blowing to hear. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. It turns my brain around down an avenue of thinking I could have never entered otherwise. What if I did accept that we can bring a system to our knowledge? How would it change everything?

Because I have to admit, order does arises from nature, consistently. Not always the order we expect–when science discovers the planets rotating around the sun, for instance, or the crazy calculations involved in the theory of relativity (yet it can be described with equations, for some reason). Having our own previous fixed ideas about the order we should find does interfere with our ability to see what is already there, but even the craziness of what we discover fits into a framework. We can categorize knowledge of creation. We can quibbled about the interference of our subjectivity, our human bias, and its effect on categorization of knowledge, but to dismiss any scrap of information humans have ever arranged as a pretense of order is to give up on attaining knowledge entirely.

In other words, while postmodernism is incredibly useful to critique systems of knowledge, it is really only useful for tearing down, and not offering any solutions to replace what it has destroyed.

Then it occurred to me how chaotic our modern knowledge is–how Wikipedia is a maze compared to the encyclopedias of old, and how the internet (perhaps our greatest repository of human knowledge) is a sprawling mass of contradictory streams of information. Our guide through this mess is usually Google, but Google cannot be conceived as bringing true order to our chaos. We’ve allowed our enthusiasm for gathering knowledge to result in a sprawl we know how to wade into, but not how to organize it.

I’m not arguing we should return to the days of printed encyclopedias, which were out-of-date the day they hit the store shelves. However, as humanity, we should start the discussion about the nature of knowledge. We should consider bringing order to it. We reinvented how we stored knowledge, so maybe we can reinvent a new way to lay it all out. We might draw out connections between different disciplines that we gloss over right now. We might have ideas about what should be done, and start acting instead of just reacting the first search result on our screen.

Anyway. Just a thought.

 

*Note: In case you’ve never heard of Abraham Kuyper, or Principles of Sacred Theology, and do not believe it to be a classic–as far as I know, it is more well-known in European systematic theology studies, rather than North American ones, and originally was written in Dutch. Hope that helps! It’s fully available online here.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Shocked by Augustine’s Confessions

Lately I’ve had the leisure to do some more quality reading, as I’ve been laid up with an injury, and I’ve found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked—not by any of his confessions (so far), but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But anyway…

The best thing about the first few chapters (and I’ve only read the first few chapters so far) is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (Why does a good God allow evil? etc.) and then answer it, Augustine just poses questions. Each chapter is just a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God.

I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two—for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time?

The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of most of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert.

And it was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims.  Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the church after him should follow, even though the church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of The Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers.

The second really cool thing about The Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the things they love.

I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day.

I’ve only just started The Confessions, so I might have a few different thoughts once I’ve gotten farther in I’m only on Book I, Chapter 7, so I’m sure you could easily catch up with me before I come up with anything more to say.

If someone had wanted me to read The Confessions before now (and I don’t get the feeling anyone really did, as it was rarely on recommended reading lists), they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should’ve said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar.

And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them:

“Let [people] ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Out of the Silent Planet a Christian Classic?

Is Out of the Silent Planet a Christian classic? Its author, C.S. Lewis is certainly well-known as a popular Christian writer, but his ‘Space Trilogy’—of which Out of the Silent Planet is the first—is not mentioned as often as The Chronicles of Narnia, or even several of his nonfiction works. Is the book neglected because its quality is considered inferior to The Chronicles? Is its message too dated? Or do some of its messages, despite being delivered by a Christian author, make Christians uncomfortable?

Or perhaps it’s mere happenstance that this work is not as well-known?

I already reviewed Out of the Silent Planet on my main blog, harmamaesmit.com. But as I want to give this section of my web presence a stronger emphasis on the Christian writings out there, I thought I’d address a few of my thoughts on the Christian messages in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet here. If you’re interested in the original review, you can read it here.

So, it is too challenging, too dated, or inferior quality? Let’s dive in and look.

Too Challenging?

How often do Christian authors tackle concepts like what ‘sinless’ creation might be like, what a pre-fall society might be like, or what might be the religious beliefs of alien peoples? No, if you briefly glance through the racks of Christian fiction today, you’ll find a lot of thoughts on the ‘moment of conversion,’ and how people get to that point in their lives. You might possibly see stories addressing how Christians live through difficult circumstances. You’ll see a lot of focus on romantic relationships, and a brief treatment of how Christianity views such relationships. But deep theological concepts, presented fictionally? No, not very common.

Of course, to present ‘sinless’ creatures is incredibly risky. Any author is, of course, sinful—so likely anything anyone writes would be skewed and inaccurate in some way. However, does this mean there is no point to be made about sinlessness, or pre-fall creation? It’s a challenge for only the best writers to take on, but Out of the Silent Planet proves that such an experiment can teach us something. It can reveal our own arrogance and sense of superiority in a surprising and powerful way.

I sincerely hope this not the main reason this book is overlooked. If so, it points to a towering problem in the modern world of Christian fiction in general—an unwillingness to tackle big idea and work out ALL of our faith with fear and trembling.

Too Dated? Its Critique of Modernism and Why This is Still Relevant

The second reason might be that its strongest theme springs from the context of the time period it was written in, almost to the point that it is ‘a product of its time.’ The theme—that cold, objective scientific study cannot describe the full joy, beauty and thrill of creation, and can even lead to outright blindness to joy, beauty and thrills if it’s too strictly adhered to—is critiquing modernism. It’s directly addressing the modernist idea that science would discover everything about the world and solve all of humanity’s problems. This impulse is still around today, but it was even stronger in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were very optimistic about the benefits solid objective study would bring humanity. But society today in general is more cynical and more postmodernist, and it’s no wonder, seeing how some scientific products (the atom bomb, for example) were not all clearly benefits to humanity.

In other words, to argue against modernist optimism hardly seems necessary, as our culture whole-heartedly agrees with cynicism.

C.S. Lewis ably critiques extreme forms of modernism here without anticipating the ways this philosophy would morph into postmodernism. It doesn’t even begin to consider the postmodernist idea that you may see space as cold and empty, whereas I may see it as full of light and life, and each of these observations depends strongly on the perspective we ourselves come from. I am not saying that C.S. Lewis should have anticipated the next challenge to the Christian worldview, only that in reading Out of the Silent Planet today, the worldview he argues against may come off as quaint and not a threat.

And really, a story arguing against the dangers of a specific philosophy can come across as less universal than a story illustrating the message of salvation (like The Chronicles), especially as many readers may not know much about specific philosophies in the first place. So perhaps it truly is a bit dated?

I’d argue, in fact, that it is important in order to understand what a threat these sorts of ideas were, and to bolster our own worldviews by working through these ideas because—well, many people who believe in modernism are still around, and the heirs of the ideas themselves still influence our society’s thoughts. How often do you hear the media advocating colonizing other planets? Saving humanity by moving away from our mess and starting over elsewhere? We still talk about these things!

Lewis’s unique contribution is to point out that we can’t just see the rest of the universe as ‘ours’ to take over as we wish. Nowadays it’s very fashionable to point out that when Europeans took that approach to other continents, they absolutely disregarded whatever existed there before their arrival as irrelevant, nonexistent (‘we discovered a country that already had people on it so it clearly must’ve been discovered before we arrived!’). It’s quite fashionable to rightly judge this colonialist attitude—other lands did not exist merely for Europeans to exploit. But when it comes to space, we all seem to turn into colonialists again.

Now, we don’t usually consider the rest of the universe as inhabited, so maybe that’s why we’re more comfortable with this idea. In Out of the Silent Planet, the other planets are inhabited, and worse, are free of all the evil and destruction that comes naturally to humanity. So in a fantasy of this sort, it’s easy to demonstrate the harm of human expansionist ideas.

But the book is more than that. It’s not aiming at expansionism alone, but beyond that to the shortcomings of the human heart—our own greed and our own tendency to view ourselves as first and most superior. Even our ‘good’ protagonist is shocked to discover not only that the other planet are inhabited, but that they’re not inhabited by monsters but by creatures who might, in fact, be superior to himself. The book provides a necessary corrective, not just to a time-bound philosophy (modernism), but also to a timeless human temptation—to think of ourselves as the centre of the universe.

Inferior Quality?

I’m not going to spend much time on this topic. It is absolutely not inferior quality to The Chronicles. To discuss the quality of the story in-depth would stray too far from my main focus on its Christian themes, but I’ll just say its lack of recognition probably stems from it being published before The Chronicles, and being aimed more at adults and therefore overlooked.

 

In Conclusion – We Need More Fiction on the Classics Lists! Could This Be One?

So my answer to the question I raised in the title is—yes, I think it should be. But thinking a work should be a classic does not make it so. I think it’s the sort of story to give someone thinking through the philosophies the story addresses.

But to be fair, there really isn’t a definitive list of Christian classics. If you search it, you get great lists of nonfiction but very little fiction, especially modern Christian fiction. So that’s one new aim of this blog—to look at fiction classics as well as nonfiction ones. Not to draw up a definitive list, but present possible candidates. And here is my first suggestion!

 

Related Book Reviews of Out of the Silent Planet:

While writing this post I discovered there were not a lot of people writing about the Space Trilogy, so I thought I’d link to a few good reviews I came across here.

The Silent Planet of C.S. Lewis – why this book counts as good classic sci-fi despite having angels in it.

The Cosmic Trilogy 1: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis – a deeper review of the books as a whole.

Out of the Silent Planet – a comparison with Gulliver’s Travels that I didn’t notice myself.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Feeling Unfulfilled?

It’s been a while since I posted here! I’ve certainly posted more on my ‘Stories and Stuff’ blog, but since I recently had a short article published in the Edmonton Journal, I thought I should update ‘Somente a Deus’ with a link to it. This article comes from a time when I was thinking through what it meant to feel fulfilled in your Christian life, and whether complete fulfilment is ever truly felt by anyone. You know, because we all know in theory true fulfillment can only come through a relationship with God, but so often we don’t really feel fulfilled in practice. Anyway, here’s a short excerpt:

“How often do you meet someone who wouldn’t change a thing about their life? Very rarely will you meet someone who claims that their life is perfect – that they are completely satisfied with how things are going. And that’s pretty universal for each of us.

When we look inside we see there is something each of us desperately wants: to be looked up to by other people, to be loved by someone special, to have a purpose in life, to make lots of money. There’s always something not quite right with the way our lives are right now.

We might have strong relationships, but those relationships may not be quite as upbuilding, romantic or supportive as they could be. We might have a good job, but we hardly feel we’re making the world a better place by doing it, or that we’re really doing anything worthwhile.

Some of our longings are the result of being flawed humans, of course. Our inability to be satisfied with what God gives us is not a good thing. On the other hand, some of our longings point to the reality that the way the world is now is not how God intended it to be…”

 

The full article can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

We Might Be Camels

For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:25)

Camel, by Aloys Zötl {PD}

Camel, by Aloys Zötl {PD}

Who do we think Jesus is talking about here? Our minds immediately go to fabulously wealthy people like Warren Buffet – or maybe Bill Gates. Do we ever stop and think that maybe Jesus is talking straight to us?

We like to think of ourselves as just your average Joes – not exactly rich, but not poor either. We probably don’t own a Ferrari, or blow thousands of dollars on expensive champagne in one weekend. Really, when we look at everyone around us, we’re pretty normal. Just middle class.

The fact that our society around us is so amazingly rich blinds us to the fact that we’re amazingly rich. For example, here I am, a university student, getting an education that only a small percentage of the world has the opportunity to obtain. Why should I be born into a situation where university, though still expensive and a lot of work, is within my grasp, whereas for most people it is beyond their wildest dreams?

Maybe you’re not in university. But think, exactly what is considered poor in North America? It may be a struggle for many to get by, but some of our poor are still richer than the rest of the world. Add in the social safety nets we have in North America, such as welfare, unemployment insurance, etc., and we have a situation richer than a good majority of the world – or even a good majority of history.

Yes, of history. We have riches beyond what even some kings in history could’ve imagined. Access to gigabytes upon gigabytes of information, far beyond what even the great library at Alexandria used to hold. The ability to travel almost anywhere in the world in a few hours, maybe days. The ability to treat multitudes of illnesses people used to die young from. An increase in lifespan to eighty, ninety or even a hundred years. We may not be loaded down with gold, jewels and furs, but our ancestors never dreamed of computers or ipods.

And we live in peace. In Canada, where I’m from, we have security we take far too much for granted. Have you ever considered what an amazing thing this is? Coming out of a century that produced two world wars and multitudes of other ones, it is amazing to live in a society that is not up-heaved by revolution, torn apart by civil war, or invaded by another country. To have a stable government (though flawed) that does uphold a certain amount of justice, keeping people’s worst impulses somewhat under control. Why should we be granted peace and stability at all?

To illustrate with an example, the city I live in (Edmonton) had a scare two years ago because our murder rate rose to forty-two murders in the year. There are cities in the world that see that many murders in a weekend. Compare this to the riots in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in 2010, where the government had to send in the army to deal with the drug cartels, who were attacking civilians. Or riots in Syria, where the government itself slaughters its own citizens. Look at us. Safety and security is not something easily visible, and is not often thought about. But we are blessed.

Here, we should stop a moment and think about what riches actually are. Material things are very nice and all, but what are true riches? The Word of God, of course. How truly blessed we are! Everywhere in our society there is access to the Bible – Bibles, Bible studies, churches – the Word of God is raining down around us. It can fill every aspect of our lives, if we let it. Yet it’s easier to complain while dragging ourselves to Bible study, or find an excuse to stay home from church. We can send back the finest feast of delicacies, because we know there will always be more food tomorrow. We can take our riches for granted.

What are to think, then, about Jesus’ words about the camel? Look at our world around us. Is there a possibility our enjoyments, our freedom, our society buffers us from the necessity of having to rely on God? Not that we shouldn’t accept these! I am in no way promoting we all immediately sell our possessions and go live among the poor. But we can’t be blind to how our own comfort interferes with our ability serve the Lord, who has given the great gift of all – salvation – to us.

We are insulated from a certain kind of desperation, a dependence that comes from having nowhere else to turn. We’ve never been asked to give up everything, so we don’t think about what we’re hanging onto.

Is this reason for despair? Not at all. Those who heard these words of Jesus looked at each other and asked, “Then who can be saved?” But reading a little farther in Luke’s gospel, we come across the story of Zacchaeus – a man who was specifically pointed out by Luke as rich, but who Jesus describes as saved. God can do anything, even save a rich man. Even allow that camel to go through the eye of a needle.

And for us, whom Luke might’ve described as rich as well if he had met us, it is an opportunity to open our eyes to how great God’s love is. Let our riches not be a barrier between us and God, but rather be an opportunity to do good and help others, and to show others exactly how much God has done for us.

 

 

Harma-Mae Smit is a contributor to the infinite stream of information that gets poured into the web each day – yes, a blogger and a writer. She blogs regularly at harmamaesmit.com and amrahpublishinghouse.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘It’s Not A Waste’ on Powertochange.com

‘It’s Not a Waste’ was recently published on Powertochange.com! Check out the excerpt below, or the full article here.

Have you ever hit a dead end and discovered whatever career or job or schooling you pursued wasn’t for you? Maybe you’re just not cut out for engineering (or nursing, or teaching).  As you attempt to switch directions and you look back over the last year (or two, or three) of your life is one question haunts you. Was it all a waste? I have been there and I can tell you this: It’s not a waste. Let me tell you what happened to me.

I went into nursing straight out of high school and spent three years in it before I could face the fact it wasn’t the career for me. I’d spent three years slaving to pass each course and there I was left with nothing. I had no degree, no career, and was facing at least another three years in school if I wanted to do another program. I felt like I was starting back at square one. What had been the point of these years if it had all ended up in nothing? …”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized