Sunday, May 26, 2019

Wrestling with the idea of God's law as a means of providence

A few years back I found myself in need of physical therapy. As the therapist told me that following these instructions would build strength and endurance, I had no expectation that she was going to reward me with strength and endurance if only I did my exercises well enough. In that kind of situation, it's clearly the act of exercising itself that brings the strength and endurance. 

I once read an author who suggested that among the ways that divine providence works, one was similar to how physical therapy works: that in keeping God's law we find ourselves in a situation where every such action strengthens ourselves, our relationships, our families, and our communities. Every such action nurtures the world around us, and provides good stewardship for all in our care. It is a method for prosperity -- not in some magical way, not in some sense of obligating God, not in some foolproof formulaic way or legal contractual way -- but in the sense that every action that supports a goal should tend to draw closer to it. And the more people who work willingly towards that goal with their eyes open, the more widespread the benefits become in ever-widening circles: in a close-knit family, a safe and supportive community, and beyond into nation and to the world at large. 

I would not suggest -- and have not heard it suggested -- that the whole of providence consists of the natural consequences of sticking with God's commands. But I do find the idea interesting, and worth considering, that the law is intrinsically a blessing meant to prosper those who walk in its ways -- and our neighbors. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Good Shepherd Sunday: Where do we find the lost and hurting?

I get it: everyone is hurting, or has been, or will be; everyone has felt lost, or will feel that at some point. But if Christ's love moves us to help, there are places we can look for people who would be glad for a friendly voice now. Despite how much time can be lost on social media, our society is badly under-connected -- I'd go so far as to say dangerously under-connected -- in a human sense.

Thinking of "Good Shepherd" Sunday on the Christian calendar, for a moment I'd like to look at the fact of being lost: usually it also mean being alone. Separated. No companionship. These days so many people turn to TV for company, and people may have more imaginary friends than real-life friends (for example, characters in TV shows). It can mask the isolation for a time, or numb it -- but it can't satisfy.

There is value in real-life human connection, an art to the kind of hospitality that creates fellowship. I found myself wondering where to look for people who may feel lost. At first I concentrated on the highest-risk places: hospitals, half-way houses, shelters, and so on. Still, the art of connection begins at home. May I build connections with my current circle of friends and family, my neighbors, and the pew-mates at church.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day!

Best wishes for Mother's Day to all the mothers out there, with compassion for those walking difficult or complicated roads.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

The Roots of Peace

Peace is part of the path of God, an inseparable part of what it means to be a Christian:
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
  • Seek peace, and pursue it (Psalm 34:14)
  • Pursue peace with all (Hebrews 12:14)
  • As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18)

On a technicality, we may say there is peace in the absence of immediate violence -- but that is a shallow peace, a thin and brittle peace. That peace depends on things outside ourselves.

A deeper peace takes hold inside ourselves when we have been cleared of the seeds that become violence: I do not feel at peace when there is animosity or fear or resentment or bitterness inside me. A deeper peace still has been cultivated with understanding, friendship, with compassion and with common cause. Even in the midst of outward trouble, through faith in God, we receive "the peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7). All the inner peace of God is still available in the midst of outer trouble: "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have trouble: but take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) This inner peace is not of an act of will or a product of determination that depends on my own effort. This peace comes from knowing I rest on solid ground.

To be an instrument of peace, first I must be filled with peace, but it need not be my own.