Jordan Peterson and the Psychology of Redemption

Psychology of God Belief

In his excellent talk on the psychology of redemption in Christianity, Dr. Jordan Peterson explains how the Christian vision of God creates balance in the people’s minds. It does do by allowing for them to pursue an ideal without treating their own personal interpretations or reductions of that ideal as absolute in themselves. How? Because God is beyond our understanding, except as the highest possible good.

A New Testament Theological Take

What Peterson’s take might mean for the Christian is that our vision of God provides an ideal to pursue. But what idea? Primarily, it is that of the virtue revealed in Jesus and his teachings. Secondly, it is the Old Testament, interpreted through Christ. Finally, the virtue evident through the study of nature. But, since God and even the highest human character possible are ultimately incomprehensible, conversations with truth-telling as the goal must occur so that we can make the course corrections necessary to attain to the ideal. This is why Paul can say that he presses onward toward the goal, but also that he does not think he has attained to the goal of perfect participation in God or in the character of Jesus Christ.

The Jordan Peterson Video:

Here’s my own take on that concept:

Here are some of the relevant passages of Scripture:

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (26) Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (27) And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (28) And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, (29) yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (30) But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (31) Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (32) For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (34) “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (4) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (13) So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, (2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (4) having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

 

Philippians 3:12-14 ESV Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Writing a reference letter

To write a good reference letter, you need three ingredients:

  1. Metal
  2. A Word Processor
    I recommend Libre Office.
  3. The Gift of Gab
    As to the third, here is the generic reference letter that is guaranteed to get anybody into whatever they want to do. They probably won’t need a resume:

    To Whom It May Concern,

    This person is better than your other candidates’s. Don’t even think about hiring/accepting/considering them.

    My student/colleague/employee has every trait necessary to succeed. Not only so, but they certainly exceed your competence. Trust me, this person is the best. I once saw him/her create tremendous synergy in an output flow organizational paradigm.

    More importantly. Big heart and destroyer of many enemies’s. Your organization will fail without this [insert name here…honestly, they won’t need the name at this point, you could put anything here], believe me.

    Geoff Smith
    Professional Reference Writer

    Note: This is probably not good advice. On the other hand, I would hire this person in an instant. Also, try to use apostrophe ‘s’ for plural a few times. This forces the reader to see how smart you are.

Growing In Grace: A Vision For Who We Want To Be

Proverbs 29:18 KJV Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Having a vision for who we want to be is crucial for all personal growth.

As a consequence, such a vision is important for spiritual growth.

The Christian vision for human excellence and happiness revealed throught Scripture, but most intensely in Jesus Christ.

In the first post in this series I wrote about what it means to grow in grace.

In it, I explained Dallas Willard’s V-I-M paradigm for personal transformation.

In VIM, the V stands for vision. Our vision is our picture of what we want to be true about ourselves in the future.[1]

Having a vision for strength, longevity, and durability can help you to joyfully endure the grind at the gym. Similarly, having a vision of future food (like the ant in Proverbs 6) can help us to ensure that food by gardening little by little each day.

In the case of growing in grace, our vision is the character of a human being fully alive and conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is a powerful vision which has fed the souls of God’s saints for quite some time.

There are three important things to remember about this vision:

  1. It is about growing into somebody who is like Jesus and who does the kinds of things he said to do.
    Jesus’ ministry cannot be replicated, nor should it be. It was his and his alone. Nevertheless, his character, which was on display in his life and explained in his teachings and that of his apostles is the goal for his disciples. We should envision ourselves as destined to be fundamentally strong, courageous, self-controlled, clever, confident, creative, productive, truthful, loving, humble, and forgiving in all the ways Jesus is in the gospels.
  2. The vision is not a vision of sameness of personality or calling.
    In one sense, all Christians have the same calling: love God and love neighbor. In another sense, Christians have diverse gifts and callings insofar as calling refers to your unique life circumstance and whatever legacy you can leave that is unique to you.This is not the same for everybody. Christians might be scientists, farmers, plumbers, pastors, homeschool mothers, philosophers, artisans, waiters, slaves, and so-on. Jesus does not call all of us to be itinerant preachers like was. Similarly, we aren’t all to have the same personality and interests. Some people like novels and poetry, some people don’t. Some people love tidy desks, some don’t. Some people like spicy food, sarcastic jokes, and terrible music. The New Testament never prescribes conformity of gifts or personality.
  3. The vision of Christian character must be rooted firmly in Scripture.
    Because the vision of Christian growth in grace is based on Jesus Christ, it must be rooted in Scripture. What this means is that our vision of Jesus is subject to change insofar as we understand Scripture more correctly (or by accident, less correctly) over time. The vision is not merely impressions about Jesus and his will which flash before our intuitions and feelings (as in many super-spiritual versions of Christianity). Instead it is a robust picture of Jesus based primarily upon the gospels, but also upon the whole Bible.

In the previous post, I showed how two passages Scripture support the idea that Jesus is the prototype for human character and happiness. I’ll add one:

18 Now, while we all, with unveiled face, contemplate the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another (this is from the Lord, the Spirit). 4:1 For this reason, having this ministry, just as it was mercifully given to us, we do not lose heart, 2 but we renounce the shameful tricks [of our opponents], neither walking in trickery nor falsifying the word of God, but by shining light on the truth we commend ourselves to the consciences of all humanity in the presence of God. 3 But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in their case, the God of this epoch has blinded the minds of those who are unfaithful so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not preaching ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants on behalf of Jesus. 6 Because God is the one who said, “From darkness let light shine,” is he who shines in our hearts for the understanding of the glory of God in the face of Christ.[2]

 

Observe the sections in bold. Christians are transformed as they contemplate the glory of the Lord into that same glory. But what, in Paul’s argument, is the glory of the Lord? It is related directly to the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the image of God. It is to this image that Christians are to be conformed (also see Romans 8, Ephesians 4, and 2 Peter 1:3-4). And this glory is found, again in the face of Christ. The meaning is clear: the human life of Jesus from birth to ascension which is contained in the gospel which Paul preached is the matter for Christian contemplation and personal transformation. In the exercise below, I will include passages that go beyond this, but this is because the whole canon of Scripture is a witness to the whole person of Christ.

 

Final Exercise:

I recommend reading passages of Scripture like Psalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 119, Proverbs 1-9 and 31, the four gospels and Acts, Romans 12-15, 2 Peter 1:3-11, and 1 John (all of it) in order to get a picture of the type of person that Jesus wants us to become as well as the results of that type of character. What is on offer (eternal life, entrance into the wonderful family of the church on earth, present happiness, strong character, joyful generosity, creative concern for others, a life based on love, justice, and wisdom, an infinite reference point for self-improvement, and experiential knowledge of God) is amazing. When you read these passages try this exercises:

  1. Write down the positive character traits mentioned (in teaching or on display in the lives of Jesus and the apostles in Acts).
  2. Write down the positive results the text uses to entice you and I toward those character traits.
  3. Write down the character traits you need to grow toward.
  4. Write down the character traits you need to grow from (lack of self-control, ungratefulness, irritability, pornography use, stinginess, thievery, and so-on).
  5. Now, simply pray for forgiveness for your sinful character traits and ask the Lord’s help in becoming more like Jesus Christ. If you’re concerned to put on Christ, then you’re precisely the type of person that Jesus is willing to assist in becoming like him (see especially Matthew 28:16-20).

References

[1] This might not seem very academic, but Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about vision in a very compelling way here:Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Dobbins, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 437, “As I alluded to in Chapter 5, the first step is to have a clear vision of where you want to go, what you want to achieve. “Where the mind goes, the body will follow” is a saying I have always believed in. If you want to be Mr. America or Mr. Universe, you have to have a clear vision of yourself achieving these goals. When your vision is powerful enough, everything else falls into place: how you live your life, your workouts, what friends you choose to hang out with, how you eat, what you do for fun. Vision is purpose, and when your purpose is clear so are your life choices. Vision creates faith and faith creates willpower. With faith there is no anxiety, no doubt—just absolute confidence.” He also talks about this exact thing in this video:

 

 

[2] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 2 Co 3:18–4:6. “18 ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος. 4 Διὰ τοῦτο, ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην καθὼς ἠλεήθημεν, οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν 2 ἀλλʼ ἀπειπάμεθα τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς αἰσχύνης, μὴ περιπατοῦντες ἐν πανουργίᾳ μηδὲ δολοῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τῇ φανερώσει τῆς ἀληθείας συνιστάνοντες ἑαυτοὺς πρὸς πᾶσαν συνείδησιν ἀνθρώπων ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 3 εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον, 4 ἐν οἷς ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἐτύφλωσεν τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἀπίστων εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι τὸν φωτισμὸν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τῆς δόξης τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ. 5 Οὐ γὰρ ἑαυτοὺς κηρύσσομεν ἀλλʼ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν κύριον, ἑαυτοὺς δὲ δούλους ὑμῶν διὰ Ἰησοῦν. 6 ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ὁ εἰπών· ἐκ σκότους φῶς λάμψει, ὃς ἔλαμψεν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν προσώπῳ [Ἰησοῦ] Χριστοῦ.”

Hedonism, Love, and Goodness

The things that shape who we are and how we think are pluriform and sometimes mysterious. This is especially so in the age of the internet stuff that may disappear forever after you read it. Every once in away, the Internet sends it back to you.

Around 2008-2009, I was quite depressed. And while I was still known for being a social butterfly at work and school, and many people even called me for advice (I remember distinctly two women with doctorates in psychology contacting me for relationship advice), I was languishing. There are probably three main reasons for this:

  1. Many of my friends had moved away, gotten married, or achieved opportunities I had never managed.
  2. I worked between 3-5 part time jobs to pay for grad school at any moment and so I got very little exercise or sun light. My academic nature and lack of sleep made it easy to substitute books for exercise. I also couldn’t afford a gym membership anywhere except a giant mega-gym that operated like a night club and prohibited squats, chalk, and grunting.
  3. I was lovelorn. During this time period, I fell in love, really hard, with two women. And because of that I felt like I had lost every ounce of the charm that had helped me make friends and ask girls on dates effortlessly before that. It was like I developed a speech impediment or a sudden physical handicap when I communicated with either of these women.

Essentially, because of certain failures of courage, mindset management, and personal care I found myself ignored by women right during the stage of my life in which I had, apparently, subconsciously decided to get married.*

Now, during this time, I had gotten really into reading Hans Balthasar, and I read his book Love Alone is Credible.

I searched online for any commentary on the book and found a quote on a blog [utterly devoid of theological interest in the academic sense], lost to the sands of time, “Never compromise on love. It’s the only thing that isn’t bullshit.” I’ve since found the blog through a retweet of the quote with a link to the 2008 post. It’s a great quote (the other material from the post varies in quality), and while the author clearly means erotic love, the point still stands. But, as any depressed person would do, I read other another post from the blog. The other post I read was about the author’s personal philosophy. That was relevant, since I was a seminary student working at a corporate coffee shop and therefore talking to atheistic armchair philosophers all the time. The author advocated a godless hedonism:

 

Imagine you had incontrovertible proof that there was no afterlife. No supernatural entities. No heaven or hell. No otherworld. No reincarnation. No forevermore.

No second chances.

Imagine there was no moral accounting after death of your actions on earth. No supreme being to judge your soul’s worth on the scale of divine justice. No reward or punishment. No appeal to omniscient authority in matters of good and evil.

There was only the endless black void at the moment death. The infinite silence. A complete surrender of your consciousness as the last pinprick of light extinguishes. All your thoughts, your feelings, your sensation, your memories… you… wiped away clean to merge with the great nothing.

How would you live? Given this proof of the finality of death, and of the expectation of nothing once dead, what is your personal philosophy?  

His answer to the thought experiment is this:

My answer to the philosophical question I posed above is hedonism. It is the only rational conclusion one can draw faced with the premises I presented. When there is no second life or higher power to appease; when our lives are machines — complex misunderstood machines cunningly designed to conceal the gears and pulleys behind a facade of self-delusional sublimation, but machines nonetheless — grinding and belching the choking gritty smoke of status-whoring displays in service to our microscopic puppetmasters… well, there can be only one reasonable response to it all. It makes no sense to behave any other way unless you never questioned the lies.

My own answer to the thought experiment is that if I try to imagine the world without meaning he described (advocated?), I come up blank. Why? If love isn’t bullshit, then there is meaning beyond the chemical soup and system of mechanical pulleys and levers he imagines us to be.

Indeed, if love bears the marks of a single aspect of live that isn’t bullshit, isn’t a lie, and is worth pursuing, then the matter of meaningless matter must be questioned. Is life actually meaningless or is this feeling of melancholy a salve for my own conscience? Perhaps the lie is that we’re just machines of no consequence in a heartless universe. If love isn’t bullshit, it’s implied that love is true and if there is truth, then perhaps beauty and goodness are real, too. This is an important implication, for if truth, goodness, and beauty are real, then it is perhaps the case that pleasures beyond the reach of mere pleasure seeking exist. Pleasure is a good, but what happens when the intellect attains to contemplation of goods beyond the mere stimulation of dopamine and serotonin? And what of beauty? Love entails beauty. If there is transcendent beauty, enjoying it may require that we move beyond the mere act of feeling pleasure in the moment.

Ultimately, if it’s true that love really isn’t bullshit, then the meaningless universe is opened to the possibility that there is meaning in the universe rather than artificially imposed upon it by our illusory consciousness (if you’re conscious of your consciousness being illusory, what is what of what?).

Love isn’t bullshit, but on the evidence of that, it appears that neither is the cosmos.

*Note: After I went through a fairly rigorous period of trying to improve myself, I did end up getting married and love, indeed, is not bullshit.

Christians and contentious social issues.

Here’s my personal algorithm for dealing with social issues and political ideologies as a Christian. My hope is that this keeps people from whining and resorting to yelling and general sissiness in disagreements, even contentious ones.

  1. Always deal with people in terms of Jesus’ command to love neighbor and enemy, Christian and non-Christian. With this, practice what Paul and Peter both say about being civil toward outsiders, respectful toward political authority, and keeping with amoral social norms to avoid bringing contempt upon the Christian community. For the Christian, evangelism and discipleship come first. So disagreements with outsiders about government/politics and so-on should, as a rule (with exceptions) be handled with civility. The same goes for disagreements in the church, if both parties come to the discussion with the concept of mutual discipleship in mind, then disagreements over social matters are easier to deal with without losing one’s cool.
  2. Study what Scripture and general wisdom say about the issue at hand. This matters because you’ve got to recognize the difference between asking a non-Christian to agree with divine revelation and sound reasoning. Similarly, you need to know the difference between your gut reactions and divine revelation.  weigh the issue on three levels:
    1. What do philosophy and common sense have to say about this?
    2. What does recent research say about the issue?
    3. What does Scripture teach about the issue?
  3. Based on your own political preferences (I’m emotionally anarchical, but on the rational level I understand the need for government and appreciate what it does), opinions, options, theories about what is good for society, and government structures determine if it is wise to take part in publicly opposing this or that action or policy or whether or not it is wise to carry on with being and making disciples. Important questions to ask here:
    1. Is this action/movement/practice wise for me?
    2. Is this action/movement/practice good for society?
    3. Is this action/movement/practice in need of refutation or of regulation?
    4. How show the church respond to this disagreement in its polity?

Mindset: All of Life Could Be Heaven or Hell


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When it comes to learning to be spiritually minded or to have a Biblical mindset, part of the process is learning to look at the present moment (as you hope for the glories of heaven) as though from the future bliss of life with God (looking back and seeing the Providences and graces which led you to heaven). And while none can do both at once, it’s an important facet of the mindset of the Spirit enjoined upon us in Scripture. Your whole life can be heaven, and as a gift from God, this power lies within you (insofar as you actuate the graces God has granted you). Your whole life can be hell, even before you’re judged, and this too, as a gift from God, is a power that lies within you (insofar as you are free).

Here are three quotes which have helped me to understand this process:

Resolved: To live so, at all times, as I think is best in my most devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of the things of the gospel, and another world.[1] – Jonathan Edwards

 

A mind not to be changed by place or time.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

And what I should be, all but less than he

Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least

We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.[2] – Milton’s Satan

 

Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.[3] – The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

References


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), lxiii.

[2] John Milton, The Harvard Classics 4: The Complete Poems of John Milton, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 96–97.

[3] Lewis, C. S.. The Great Divorce (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 69-70). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


By Leeds University Library – English Wikipedia: en:Image:Milton paradise.jpg, Public Domain, Link

Jesus and Matthew 6:33

Matthew 6:33 Now, see first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and these things will be added to you.[1]

Introduction

Everybody wants to be happy and every good wandering philosopher tries to tell them how to do it. Matthew 5-7 is Jesus’ summary treatise on human happiness or how to live an honorable life.[2]

Like all teachers on human happiness, Jesus tackles the relationship between possessions, necessities, and human happiness. He counsels people to seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness as a first priority in order to cure the anxiety one might have over the future acquisition of food or clothing.

Jesus neither trivializes these needs, as he says to pray for them later in the sermon, nor does he make them absolute sources of happiness or honor as many did in his era. Instead, he says that seeking God’s kingdom and its righteousness will suffice for happiness as well as for the acquisition of the goods of the body.

How can this be so?

Psychologically

On the psychological level, what Jesus is doing is telling people that if they focus upon what they can definitely change, they will not worry. Why is this? Jesus knew one of the great insights of the human mind. You can generally only focus on one thing at a time. If one is focused upon the purposes of God and gaining righteous character, then anxiety (the constant churning of unhelpful and negative thoughts) will slowly cease to be a persistent reality in the human mind.

The other psychological aspect Jesus exploits here is that he tells people to focus upon what they can do. The kingdom of God, in the sense used here, appears to mean “the people of God and his purposes for them.” So for Jesus to say to seek the kingdom of God means for people to be busy about accomplishing the commands of God, particularly, the commands which pertain to the wellbeing of other Christians. The second thing Jesus says to seek first is ‘its righteousness.’ That means that character that befits a citizen of God’s kingdom. In other words, seek to become the kind of person who is disposed and poised to act righteously. One has no control over the weather, the crops, the clothing market, etc. But one does have control over their character. By putting people’s minds on the things which they can accomplish (with God’s help, of course), Jesus is helping people to gain an internal locus of control. To have an internal locus of control is to live with a sense that you choose how you handle the world around you and are not by necessity merely the outcome of the events around you. The research is clear that people with an internal locus of control struggle less with anxiety.

Materially

Jesus observes that for those who seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness “all these things” will be added. Here he clearly means the goods of the body (clothing, food, human resources in general). But how will they be added? Are we to believe that Jesus is making a promise of miraculous intervention for all do are good enough? I don’t think so. Jesus was aware of the martyrs, Job, and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Instead, I think Jesus is making a general claim about the nature of virtue. If you have a good relationship with God’s people and possess righteousness, you’ll generally get what you need. Jesus knew there were exceptions, the Old Testament speaks of them. He also never taught people to expect routine divine protection from harm, he even taught that often, the righteous may have to die for righteousness’ sake. So it appears that here he speaks of the general results of having virtuous habits. Here are the components of “righteousness” according to the book of the Wisdom of Solomon (a Jewish work which approximates Jesus’ thought world quite nicely):

And if any one loves righteousness,

Her [lady wisdom] labors are virtues;

for she teaches temperance and prudence,

justice and courage;

nothing in life is more profitable for men than these. [3]

 

For those who love righteousness as taught in the Hebrew Bible, wisdom works in them even the four virtues of pagan morality: justice, courage, temperance, and prudence. And while the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven is colored by Jesus’ specific teachings, there is really no reason to suppose that it was no longer seen as an all-encompassing virtue by Jesus or the gospel authors. And besides, “nothing in life is more profitable for men than these” is quite similar to what Jesus was saying.

So the point I wish to make is that if somebody have the righteousness of the kingdom, they essentially are growing in the virtues of justice, courage, temperance, and prudence and they can find ways to acquire their needs, stay out of trouble, avoid over indulgence, and take appropriate risks for the good. Such people are able to manage their lives in the world contently and without compromising with evil.

Not least, as I hinted at above, people who seek first the kingdom of God, will find themselves in a community of people who will help them through their trials.

Theologically

Theologically, it’s important to note that Proverbs teaches that:

Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.[4]

And for Jesus, no need of mankind was more desperate than the need to know God. And so the central aspect of human happiness here is that those who enter into the kingdom of God and receive righteousness from Jesus Christ will survive the day of wrath.

Final Thoughts

To seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness first, in my mind, implies that it should be a first priority and driving motivation for our actions but also a temporal one. In our day we should begin with prayer for God’s kingdom to come, forgiveness from sins, and help to do his will. This is why the Christian practice of beginning the day with Scripture reading, meditation, and prayer is so crucial for Christians today. Without this discipline, we’re so likely to rush off into the day and seek anything but God’s kingdom or his righteousness.

References


[1] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 6:33, “ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν ⸂βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ]* καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην⸃ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.”

[2] The word in Matthew 5:3-10 translated ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ carries with the connotation of ‘those who are in this state are honorable.’ Matthew 5:3 could be translated, “How honorable are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

[3] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Wis 8:7.

[4] The Holy Bible: King James Version., electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. (Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Pr 11:4.

The psychological difficulties of being a 5 Point Calvinist

This isn’t an argument against Calvinism.

Nevertheless, a doctor friend once told me that the reason he couldn’t be a calvinist any more was that it stole his hope. He could, he reasoned, have no certainty that God wasn’t simply giving somebody the apparent gift of faith specifically in order to make them apostasize and have greater punishment in hell.

I think that the internal gymnatistic you have to go through in order to have positive hope as a Calvinist must be difficult. When I was still a Calvinist I just sort of puritanitcally thought, “Well, if God did that, I suppose it would be ok.”

But if you take things like Romans 9:10-29 as paradimatic:

Rom 9:10-29 ESV And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, (11) though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– (12) she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” (13) As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (14) What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! (15) For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (16) So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (18) So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (19) You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (20) But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (21) Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (22) What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, (23) in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– (24) even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (25) As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'” (26) “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.'” (27) And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, (28) for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” (29) And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

Then you’re forced to think, if you’re being consistent, “My faith very well may be fake.”

The reason for this can be found in Romans 11:16-25:

Rom 11:16-25 ESV If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (18) do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (19) Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” (20) That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. (21) For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (22) Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (23) And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (24) For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (25) Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

But for the Calvinist the part above that says, “They were broken off because of their unbelief…” actually means “They had no faith because they were broken off…”

Your hope of receiving God’s grace comes not from “continuing in his kindness.” But rather from whether or not God secretly chose to make you do so.

I remember a sermon/podcast once wherein John Piper observed that highly analytical people gravitate toward Calvinism. But I would think that it’s more like to be people who either A) enjoy ambgiuity or B) have trouble detecting agency and therefore overcompensate by finding agency in every event.

There is research that indicates that individuals with high functioning autism tend toward atheism and the connection is made with their difficulty detecting agency. But as far as I know no research has been done connecting deterministic/free-will beliefs with autism.

Calvinist behavior online was, in the early days of the Internet, indistinguishable from Internet atheist behavior. And when 2009 rolled around and Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett made atheism cool again, it was remarkable how similarly the emboldened atheist behaviors were to Calvinists you’d run into at Christian retreats:

  1. Every discussion, no matter how unrelated, would turn into hostile proseltyzing.
  2. Any normal human concern no matter how sad, tragic, or recent would be brought up as evidence against God’s existence (atheists) or as something that “God did in order to show his glory to the select group of people in whose minds he already made his glory apparent.(Calvinists)”

Anyway, I think it’s best to let Romans 11 clarify what Romans 9 says rather than let Romans 9 be the background presupposition to Romans 11.

But there is also a difficulty for Arminians. For they may wonder, “What if I fall away at the last and my faith was for naught?” But Paul at least assumes this possibility and says, “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” But the point isn’t to say one of these positions is right or wrong here. But just to point out the personal difficulties that may occur in those who see Romans 9 as a paradigm for every individual person.

What did Jesus write in the sand?

When I was in high school, my buddy Steven and I went to a concert a couple of hours out of town. We skipped school to do it. I don’t remember if we had had permission from our parents or not. We must have, because we got home at like 2 am. Either way, the band Denison Marrs played there and this song had me entranced:

Around 3:13-3:16 in the song, the singer asks of Jesus, “what was it that you wrote in the sand?”

I’ve wondered that off and on for years. The Biblical passage in question, of course, is this:

[[They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]
(John 7:53-8:11 ESV)

Of course, it is disputed whether this passage belongs in John’s gospel and whether the events described therein occurred. But either way, the author meant for the event to be understood. So what could an early Christian author with an understanding of the Torah and a desire to portray Jesus as a Torah expert have meant hearers and readers to understand by this cryptic event? My thought is that Jesus would have been understood to be writing this excerpt from Deuteronomy 19:

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
(Deuteronomy 19:15-21 ESV)

Deuteronomy would indicate that perhaps every single person present, if they were witnesses of the adultery, would deserve the death penalty because they maliciously brought the woman and not the man. Or every one of them perhaps committed adultery with her (shades of the woman at the well?) and therefore were malicious witnesses. Or only one of them witnessed the crime and were therefore bringing her before Jesus. Incidentally, the entire scene is a miscarriage of justice because nobody was brought before judges or priests. Incidentally, the tabernacle, which would be the necessary ingredient for such a dispute, was missing. So to bring the dispute before the Lord was impossible, but the men did bring the dispute before the Lord unknowingly. This, with John’s theology of Jesus’ presence might work as an argument for the story’s inclusion in John’s gospel. But the story does completely interrupt the narrative where it stands and so it’s hard to imagine where it belongs other than as an appendix.

Are you as likely to be killed by a conservative as by an Islamic Terrorist?

About a year ago a study claiming that Islamic terrorism wasn’t as dangerous to Americans as “far-right” extremist groups made the rounds on Faceborg and Twidiot.

An old friend used the article to talk about how dangerous and awful white people, as a genre, are. He went on to associate gun owners, as a general subset, as no different from the zealot class of ancient Israelites who railed against Rome with violent intent.

I commented that the stats made no sense as they were neither proportional, nor well timed as they, rather obviously, started counting Jihad related deaths after 9/11. And while the case could be made for excluding an outlier…the issue probably wouldn’t be of concern on the scale it is if A) the outlier didn’t occur and B) the Islamic State didn’t openly agitate against the United States. Ultimately, I deleted my comments and let the conflict slide into the dustbin of Internet history.

Anyway, it’s come up again here:

For one, the foundation did not count the deaths on Sept. 11. Secondly, it did not factor in extraordinary security measures, such as the Patriot Act and the creation of Homeland Security, put in place after 9/11 that prevented a large number of attempted attacks by Islamic terrorists on American soil.Moreover, the foundation’s count does not recognize “the disproportionately high number of attacks by Islamic extremists in the United States, who, even after excluding the victims of 9/11, are still responsible for around 50 percent of the total number of deaths due to extremism, even though Muslims only account for around 1 percent of the total U.S. population,” Holt states.Underscoring all that, Holt said the foundation’s count ignored more than a half-dozen examples of radical Islamic terrorism deaths in the U.S.One of the most glaring omissions, he noted, is the 2002 D.C. Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who admitted to authorities that they were inspired by Osama bin Laden and sought to set up a terrorist training camp.

While white supremacist terrorism, or any domestic terrorism for that matter is important. It’s a red herring to suggest that Islamic terrorism isn’t a big deal because other groups do it too. It’s even worse to suggest that since other groups, that no majority agrees with, do it too, that to find fault with Jihadis is a sign of racism. And even more so, it’s outrageous and disingenuous to use poorly interpreted data to show that concern for border security, a sense of feeling at home in the land of your birth, or finding ISIS frightening is a sign of racism.

Anyway, I recommend the article linked as well as Holt’s actual article here.