Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

November 15, 2003

Well, I'm very excited today because I have learned how to add photographs to the blog. So I went looking for a picture to put at the top of the sidebar. Is it me? Well, no. But now and then I dream of someday becoming that fellow, happily perusing ancient manuscripts.

I continue to read and make notes on Colossians. I just can't recommend enough this practice of reading and rereading a whole book of the Bible every day for a while. After a week or so, in my case, I began to develop an insight into the whole purpose of Paul in writing the epistle. To see the big picture. Perhaps I'm just slow, but it's very definitely the case that I often miss the forest for the trees when it comes to the Scriptures. I find that it's rather difficult to move out from the particulars to the general, the over-view, the broad perspective. On the other hand, to move from the broad perspective to the particular is the natural way that I learn. Not only that, but the particulars then, quite simply, make more sense.

And anyway this is the way most teaching and learning goes on, isn't it? We may take Western Civ. (the broad view) as freshmen, while as seniors we're slogging through courses like "Constitutional and Legal History of medieval England," or something.

And this is also the way Paul teaches. Very often he carefully embeds his ethical exhortations (imperatives about how to live, how to continue in the life of faith) in a larger context that emphasizes the beginning and the end of God's great plan of salvation. This is especially evident in Colossians and Philippians, I think, though I suspect not only there. Through the years I have been prone to contemplate the Word in selected passages, paying only a glancing consideration to the overall context. The practice of repeated reading of the same book helps to break me of that mind-set.

Frederica Matthews-Green on "righteous" indignation, which is more often than not merely "self-righteous" condemnation: The worst effect of self-righteous anger is the inner damage. It distorts your clarity about your own sinfulness and undermines your humility. Jesus told us to love our enemies and demonstrated it by asking his Father to forgive his murderers.

Christians' failure to emulate such forgiveness is one of the clearest examples of G. K. Chesterton's line that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

One way of dealing with our inner sense of guilt is to locate somebody worse than us and to condemn. The alternative is repentance and preferring others above ourselves.

Think about the weeping woman who wiped Jesus' feet with her hair. Her repentance broadened her heart to receive and express much love. She was more whole and blessed than the Pharisee who judged her, or a modern yuppie who judges Southern racists. A Southern racist who repents in tears goes up to his house justified, and a smug guy who says, "Well, it's about time" but feels vaguely disappointed inside, does not.

Self-righteous angry people can't afford to be humble. Their peace is fragile. But we can love and forgive them all the same. The illusion, I think, is that we have to fight against our enemies. But in reality our opponents are not our enemies. We have an Enemy, who wants to destroy both our opponent and us. He will entice us to hatred and self-righteousness, even in doing what we think is the work of God.

There is only one way to defeat him: to love our enemies instead.

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