Ink- The Great Cure for All Human Ills?

“Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.” C.S. Lewis

Perhaps this is an overstatement on Lewis’ part, but I think we all need to be writing, some of the time. Many of you already know this intuitively, writing things down is like a therapeutic exercise that brings peace and clarity. This post is for the reader who struggles to see the value of journaling, even if only periodically.

Power of Words

Journaling? Me? 

Maybe journaling is suitable for only certain types of morose and bookish types, but I don’t think so. Here are three ways I think pen and paper can aid us:

Journaling can assist us in cataloging our thinking and holding ourselves accountable

Journaling periodically can help us keep tabs on a variety items. Whether it’s monitoring our progress (or lack thereof) in an endeavor or tracking the development in our thinking on a topic, journaling can be a tool that helps us build the discipline of accountability into our own lives.

Journaling can promote introspection and… quiet. 

On a simple level, being able to tolerate quiet is a necessary skill for human flourishing. As Matthew Crawford said: “Just as air makes respiration possible, silence, in this broader sense, is what makes it possible to think.” While it’s true that we’re all skilled multi-taskers in this age of the smartphone, how can we practice our thinking and praying without being intentional about seeking solitude and silence? Praying and thinking are activities that require practice and that can be aided by our periodic discipline of writing and journaling.

Journaling can bring clarity to our thinking

When we speak about ideas or events, we normally give ourselves the benefit of the doubt that we understand what we’re talking about. Then there’s those awkward moments when we’re asked to clarify what we mean. Or when we’re asked to explain a position fairly fundamental to our thinking and we respond like any sentient being would: “Well, I… Um…”

Writing can aid us here. When we approach a blank piece of paper, we must begin to write something in order to begin thinking. How will I vote? Remodel my home? Interpret this section of Romans? Why did I enjoy this book so much? We can say that we know how to explain this decision or describe that experience. Tell that to a blank sheet of paper. Pen and paper force you to tackle those awkward moments now, rather than later.

When we bring up writing/journaling, loads of other topics come to mind- diaries, list-making, etc. Has writing aided you in any of the areas discussed in this post? Feel free to share your story or contribute additional thoughts not included in this post. Journal skeptics- let me know how it goes!

God is in the Shop

This is a guest post by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. This post is reprinted with the gracious permission of the author. 

Where pragmatism rules, morality is based on selfish expediency. Such can be the shadowy side of public commerce – places where many of God’s people invest their days. Does God care about your work? A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight (Prov. 11:1). God’s interest is in your real, daily, practical life.

Apprenticeship

God is in the shop as well as in the church.

We err when we think of the church building as the “house of God,” for that implies that the building houses the presence of God. Therefore it is there that we must be holy. From this perspective we have no real sense of how God “applies” to our work place. Two biblical truths (among many) shatter this paradigm. First, “heaven of heavens cannot contain You, how much less this temple.” Second, “…your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you… therefore glorify God in your body.” Assuming your body is at work, you glorify God not so much by singing hymns as by honest business – “a just weight is His delight.”

God’s people we are called to conduct that clearly reflects Him – “conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ,” and “a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” Your dealings with others, personal and public, are to be built upon a foundation of integrity constructed with the building blocks of the mind of Christ (others more important than yourself) fastened with the mortar of the ambition to please Him. Commercial dishonesty is unloving, greedy and deceitful – it is contrary to God’s character and purpose.

Your public transactions have implications in five arenas: 1) Theological – they reflect your view of God; 2) Legal – they reflect your commitment to the precepts of God’s Word and the law of the land; 3) Social – they reflect your resolve to participate in building a community of trust; 4) Exemplary – they reflect your dedication to being the salt and light of the world, an ambassador of the King; 5) Spiritual – they reflect the true condition of the inner man regardless of what may be declared on the outside.

Indifference to principle (God’s character and purpose) in the common transactions of the work day makes it impossible to be truly Christ-like in anything or on any day. If principle, on the other hand, is the basis of all your transactions, then what you do is done “unto the Lord, and not unto men.”

A Shortcut Worth Skipping

Back when I knew everything

IMG_20150808_131737086_HDRI vividly recall sitting one morning in a class called ‘Biblical Interpretation’. On the particular day I have in mind, I was especially excited about beginning a semester of Bible College, as we called it. I was listening attentively as the teacher carefully walked us through the syllabus for the course. As it turns out, the final assignment was to be a research paper entitled: Why I am a Premillennialist. If you’re not entirely familiar with the term ‘premillennialist’, no worries, this post isn’t really about that as much as it is about the ways in which we think and evaluate ideas. You see, sitting in that classroom, I had no grounds for saying why I held to such a position. I was just out of high school, and at that point in my early Christian walk I hadn’t read through the entire Old Testament (only one of my many problems, but that’s a pretty big handicap if you’re studying issues like premillennialism). Also, if this wasn’t a position that I was informed enough to offer an opinion on, how was I to conduct research with the knowledge of what my opinion was going to be in advance? I began to think that this paper was not designed to equip me to critique and evaluate, but to reinforce assumptions that I was supposed to possess.

A problem we’re all familiar with

This example may seem unique, but I think we do this more often than we would like to admit. How many times have we been trying to get someone to share a political position, agree on a theological doctrine, persuade someone of the best place to buy groceries, or help someone to understand why your diet is best- all as though these were self-evidently (matter-of-fact) right positions? We hear this sort of angle all the time: Republicans don’t care about women’s health, Democrats are all really socialists, Walmart is THE place to shop, and carbs are evil. Whatever merit these propositions may have, they can’t be treated as self-evident. Evidence needs to be put forward in support of these claims.

For all the good intentions of the paper that I was assigned, the fundamental problem was that I was asked to assume something that I needed to demonstrate through rigorous research. This is not to say that there are not matters which we do not, as it were, hold to a priori. It is safe (in most circles) to assume that we exist, that numbers are real, that the laws of logic are reliable, etc. But we do serious damage to our capacity to learn if we treat all controversial matters of life as axiomatic.

Unargued propositions = opinion

When addressing a gathering of pacifists, C.S. Lewis pointed to this very idea of someone affirming as self-evident what everyone sees as controversial. “A mere unargued conviction is in place only when we are dealing with the axiomatic.”[1] Lewis continues to respond initially to a possible, though unlikely position for pacifism:

-that of the man who claims to know on the grounds of intuition that all killing of human beings is in all circumstances an absolute evil. With the man who reaches the same result by reasoning or authority, I can argue. Of the man who claims not reach it but to start there, we can only say that he can have no such intuition as he claims. He is mistaking an opinion, or more likely, a passion, for an intuition. Of course, it would be rude to say this to him. To him we can only say that if he is not a moral idiot, then unfortunately the rest of the human race, including its best and wisest, are, and that argument across such a chasm is impossible.[2]

Now, in fairness to the professor who assigned the paper, if I merely restated the proposition, “Premillenialism is true because that’s obviously what the Bible teaches,” my paper would have received an ‘F’. I was required to provide well grounded arguments. However, the point Lewis made about knowing something intuitively applies here because the position of the paper was decided before the argumentation and evidence was considered.

To wrap up, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we think through issues like these. In your experience, do we prematurely commit to positions on all sorts of issues that we haven’t thought through properly? If so, what’s the big deal? If you’d like to receive updates to this blog, simply select the ‘Follow’ button below.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1949), page 71.

[2] Ibid.

Virtue and the Question of Your Hypocrisy

In my last post I dealt with the question of whether it made biblical sense to say that sanctification required moral effort. The suggestion that Aristotle made that “we become just by doing just actions”[1] was echoed by Lewis when he wrote that by “putting on Christ,” we were, in effect, “dressing up as a son of God in order that you may become a real son.”[2]

So, if one is said to possess character by doing virtuous actions, does the idea of doing an action without the inward inclination imply hypocrisy? Take as an example that you are wrongly maligned at work. Everything inside you urges you to be defensive and snarky. Are you rightly considered just when you hold your tongue and respond politely?

Putting Romanticism in its proper place

N.T. Wright, in his book, After You Believe, deals with this question as well as the broader question of how Christianity reformulates and eclipses the Aristotelean virtue tradition. For issue of hypocrisy, Wright argues that we’re being tripped up by what he calls “the old romantic fallacy.” He says:

“Let us name and shame, as being totally inadequate, the idea that if something is done spontaneously it carries an automatic validation, whereas if something is done through obeying orders, or after careful reflection, or despite enormous amounts of pressure of various kinds to do something else, it is somehow less valuable, or even ‘hypocritical’ because you weren’t really ‘being true to yourself’”.[3]

As he goes on to say later, genuine artistic inspiration requires perspiration. So to say that working on your temper makes you a bit hypocritical because it didn’t come naturally, would be akin to criticizing Lewis for having to write and rewrite his work for the purpose of honing and sharpening it!

Tell em, Paul!

At the great risk of oversimplifying what Paul has said on this subject, we cannot overemphasize the importance that the renewing of our minds plays into this daily habit-forming transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world,” he explains, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[4] This line of thinking runs through much of Paul’s writing. Remember from Romans 1 that mankind has incurred God’s judgment because “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”[5] Paul saw that the Christian heart and mind must be renewed by the daily, patient working and walking with the Spirit in light of how God has revealed Himself in Scripture.

[1] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. Roger Crisp (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 23

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1960), 166

[3] N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 55

[4] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002) Romans 12:2. See also Eph. 4:13-16; Phil. 1:9-11.

[5] Ibid. Romans 1:21 See also, Eph. 4:17-19.