Growing up, I had two close friends: one came from a devout, Christian family, and the other came from a devout, atheist family. One family went to church Sunday mornings and prayer meetings Wednesday night. The other played golf on Sundays and watched TV on Wednesdays.
Apart from Sundays and Wednesdays (and perhaps personal prayer times), the lives of my friends’ parents looked identical. Both taught fidelity in marriage, neither would have cheated on their income taxes, both valued self-effacement over self-importance, and when neighbors were sick, both brought over casseroles and mowed their lawns.
Despite huge theological differences, both sets of parents taught similar approaches to humility, kindness, hard work, and civil service. Both sets of parents looked identical.
Most people today—parents and kids—also look the same. Most sleep together before marriage, chase self-esteem over self-giving, and most desperately seek to build a legacy by making a name for themselves in career or family. Whether Christian, agnostic, or atheist.
Temptations in sexuality, self-naming, and greed were just as compelling fifty years ago as they are today. And people gave in before just like today. Why, however, are they considered acceptable today when they were considered temptations a generation ago?
My university degree was in Intellectual History. It studies not what happened in the past as much as why it happened. That is, Intellectual History is the study of the hidden (usually unconscious) beliefs of a culture; for it is those buried beliefs that that determine our behavior.
For example: Why did you get angry at your wife today when she asked you to take out the trash? You didn’t blow up a month ago. Maybe you were tired, but last month you were exhausted and kept silent. This time, however, you pitied yourself. Your mind obsessed with, “Why does ‘this’ always happen to me? Why doesn’t anyone have my back?” And you blew up.
The what in your life was weariness and an untimely chore, but the why of your behavior was the unconscious belief that you must protect yourself for no one else will.
Every society has the same what’s of just and unjust systems, longing for significance, commitments of love, and temptations to greed, sex and power. So, why do we accept sexual “freedom,” exploding executive pay, and a self-glorifying need to build legacies?
What’s, Why’s, and Therefore’s
God’s people play a spiritual version of the daisy game: “He loves me, he loves me not.” We re-experience the up and down cycle of trust in God followed by a deep reluctance to wait on him.
When God seems distant, or his answers take too long, we opt for the world’s instant solutions. Like a worm on a hook, the prospect of an immediate meal undermines our spiritual wisdom:
- When Moses tarried on the mountain, Israel insisted on a god they could see.
- When Israel tired of divinely selected judges, they demanded, “Appoint for us a king … like all the nations.”
- When the troubles in this life overwhelm us, we grasp for self-love, self-esteem, self-naming, and the prosperity gospel.
After Babylon sacked Jerusalem, a psalmist lamented, “O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.”
Only it is us—you and me—who opened the door and welcomed in the invaders. We open the door whenever we look for quick answers, shortcuts to long journeys, and immediate gratification. God simply asks us to wait on him and his timing. He waits on us to wait for him.
The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and he exalts himself to show mercy to you … blessed are all those who wait for him. And though the Lord gave you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will hide himself no more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Is. 30:18 and 20)
We look for quickie remedies to adverse troubles, while God says all we need is him.
Sam, there are times when a post of yours just blows me away. This is one of them–incisive and spot on. I’m sharing this one.
Samuel C. Williamson
Thanks Bob. I’m in the middle of a season of thinking how the world has influenced me in ways I never thought of. I’m calling it Cultural Creep.
Very poignant for me this morning! So so good! What a fantastic reminder of the missed opportunities when we run ahead of what God has in store for us.
Samuel C. Williamson
I’m an idiot. I dislike running (though I like biking) and yet I keep trying to run ahead of God.
Well said. And, Amen!!
Plus … wow, I never knew there was such a thing to study (and get a degree in!) as Intellectual History. If I had been inclined to higher education (and that was NOT the case as I was not a happy student but instead was chomping at the bit to get into the workplace, and that was back in the dark ages when college was not presented as your only choice after high school, but I digress), this would have been a perfect course of study for me. It fits my “armchair interest” in both history and psychology. That is probably one more reason why I connect so well with your writing.
Samuel C. Williamson
Hi Joanne, kindred spirits! (But don’t let me mislead you; when I say I “studied” Intellectual History, I don’t mean to say I studied real hard 🙂 ).
But I did love the topic and idea, and I’m sure you would have.
Cheryl A Williams
Waiting on God to …do what? I guess we need to make sure we KNOW the next step is His vs ours. Wanting to take the shortcut can be impatience with God…or it can be my own indolence in not wanting to undertake work that grows me beyond my limits, or start work that will take ‘toooo loooong!’ Both are temptations, right?
Cheryl A Williams
So thinking about this more this a.m… my disconnect was that you were talking about what are our goals – and you were calling out the human goals of driving our own self-naming, sexuality & greed – the needs under which can be legitimate and to be filled by God if he wills at his timing. Maybe? My thought (I’m a project manager) is if you know the task given you, the impetus has to be on you to get the information needed and run with it, vs waiting. My experience colored my thoughts and reading, but you make great points about what used to be a temptation is now considered acceptable or even desirable behavior, and certainly, depending on the stated goal and how clear the assignment is and who is capable of making it happen really, waiting may be the right thing to do. (As a project manager however, I’d prefer someone who stormed my desk, meetings, or email box demanding clarification though, putting the impetus on me for the next response.)
Samuel C. Williamson
I love your thoughts and I love your challenge. You raise the dilemma of faith and works; we rest in Him yet faith without works is dead.
In general terms, the question is: what do we rest in? Do we rest in our ability and work, or do we rest in Him? Someone once said, “In the world we rest from our work but in the Kingdom, we work from our rest.”
It’s too easy to either do nothing (telling ourselves we are waiting on God) or we do everything, saying, “It’s up to me to make this happen.” God says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborer works in vain.” That means we work, yes, but our trust is that God will make things happen; and oftentimes, it is God himself living and working in us that does it.
Thanks again for your very wonderful challenging thoughts!
“what do we rest in? Do we rest in our ability and work, or do we rest in Him? Someone once said, “In the world we rest from our work but in the Kingdom, we work from our rest.””
I admit being confused, almost startled, when I read this. I guess until I enter the conversation with my specific life and approach in mind, all the sermons about rest in the world don’t really sink in. (External processor.)
Wow that word Wait again! Such a hard word to practice!!
Beliefs of the Heart
Sam this is spot-on, profound and well-articated. It is tragic that we Christians have strayed to believing only a penumbra of what the Gospel teaches. Thank you.
It is similar to what we are learning through a church- wide small group experoence called “Rooted”.
I’ll definitely pass this on.