Begging the Question… or something

I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with Michael– he was talking about some philosophy stuff and started using terms like “straw man,” “red herring,” and “begging the question.” As is often the case, I had but a vague understanding of what he was talking about, yet this didn’t keep me from using the terms in subsequent conversations… completely incorrectly, of course. For a time I found it rather amusing to tease him by shouting “Red herring!” or “That’s a straw man!” when we were discussing something. He always looked a little baffled as he tilted his head to the side, raised one eyebrow, and gently corrected my woefully inadequate philosophical understandings. Ah… Good times.

I’m still not sure that I understand all the proper terms when it comes to the “world of ideas” that Michael inhabits. I do know that I have a better grasp of how to think than I used to. That’s definitely thanks to the countless conversations we’ve had over the years.

One thing that I’ve been noticing (everywhere, it seems) is how our culture often focuses on the completely wrong thing—we ask the wrong questions. It’s almost as if someone were to ask, “What does a circle smell like?” How in the world do you even answer that question, except to say that the person radically misunderstands the basic nature of a circle. The incorrect thinking– the crazy assumption– that a circle is the kind of thing that has a scent leads one to formulate an equally impossible answer. I think this has happened in our society at large in so many areas. As we raise our children, interact with each other, and even get and give counsel, we often focus on false things.

For example, we raise our children to believe they are special snowflakes and can accomplish anything they want. And then when they grow up and do have everything they thought they wanted, they find themselves empty, unhappy, and discontent. We teach them to follow the wrong things… to ask the wrong questions.

When we listen to our girlfriends sob and pour out their hearts because of a bad breakup or because they despair of being pretty enough, smart enough, or generally good enough to find a husband, our counsel most often consists of telling them things will get better. You are pretty! You are smart! Just believe you are the precious snowflake your mama said you were—it will get better! When a dear friend is struggling because she desperately wants to be married and she feels like her present situation is indicative of her forever future, we aren’t doing her a service to simply say, “But you will get married! I know it!” It certainly makes us feel better and perhaps it even helps our friend for a moment. But friends, she is asking the wrong question and it’s one we can’t answer! That’s like saying a circle smells a little like a triangle and a lot like the number seven.

I even see this cluttered thinking from time to time in some leading pastors that I admire and respect. I’ve heard more pastors than I care to admit talk about how “hot,” “gorgeous,” or “sexy” their wives are. In addition to saying they are godly and faithful, they slip in a comment about the physical beauty of their wives. By grouping godly virtues together with physical attractiveness, I think we forget Isaiah 53 that says Jesus “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Yet, it always seems to be open season to comment on a woman’s body, beauty, and sexuality– whether it comes from the media or the pulpit. I think it would be really strange if I publicly commented on how attractive I find my husband, but it seems that we as a culture (even in our Christian communities) are fine with holding up a predetermined standard of sexual attractiveness as a necessary quality for women. The pastors that make comments like this are causing others to ask the wrong questions and then come to false conclusions. I can’t help thinking that the women who hear this message are further indoctrinated to believe they must achieve some worldly ideal of beauty in order to have value, and the men hear their pastor saying they should seek a wife who is hot and sexy (whatever that means) or be dissatisfied if their wife isn’t as gorgeous as the pastor’s wife.

So what are the right questions? What are the true things we should follow?

I understand wanting to raise children to believe they have value and are special. But telling them they are special just because they are your baby and you love them isn’t going to help them when they face a crisis of identity in their early 20’s. We as parents have to help our children understand how the universe works, what their place is in it, and why exactly they have value and are important. It isn’t because they just are…. It’s because they’ve been created by The Creator. As we watch them grow and see their strengths and weaknesses unfold, we don’t lie to them and tell them they can do anything they want, but instead lovingly talk to them about how the Lord gives us gifts for specific purposes. They don’t grow up ashamed because they aren’t perfect at everything, but instead learn to rejoice in the One who gives and takes away.

When our friends are struggling to feel loved and valued, we carefully and gently point them to the Gospel. We help them see that in the midst of an unknown future, there is one thing that is certain—they are infinitely loved and valued by the King. We sit with them in the midst of their sadness, but instead of offering worldly hope, we offer hope that says, “Even if you don’t get married, the Lord’s plan for you is perfect and He will not abandon you.” We help them ask the right questions.

And when we hear a pastor publicly say something about his wife being sexy, we can recognize that he, too, is not unaffected by this world. I’m sure the comments are innocent enough (just as the mama who tells her son he is a precious snowflake) but the effects of such comments rarely are. We need to be able to recognize when something isn’t in line with the Gospel and reject it.

I confess that I am not a rigorous academic thinker, trained in the technical aspects of syllogisms and formal arguments. There’s probably even a straw man or red herring in something I just wrote. But, I am starting to notice how the “wisdom of the world” is like the air we breathe—most, if not all, of it needs to be carefully examined instead of just breathed in and absorbed into our system of thought.

Shiny, Happy People

Being visibly pregnant means that people constantly ask me if we’re having a boy or a girl. We haven’t had our ultrasound yet (it’s today at 1pm, y’all!!) and so this then leads people to ask if we’re waiting to be surprised. Really?? Do you know me at all? Is there anything about my personality that says to you I would be okay with waiting to find out? I am not laid back, spontaneous, happy-go-lucky, or in any way go-with-the-flow. I need details, people– about everything.

Folks are typically a little taken aback by that response, so they then try to recover by asking about baby names. This invokes a bit of stress because we do not, in fact, have any girl names picked out. Michael takes this as a sign from the Lord that we will be having another boy. We have about a dozen boy names picked out, but we cannot agree on a single girl name. I guess we will know in a few hours, so stayed tuned for that.

Names are interesting. Many women change their last names when they marry. We have nicknames that we only allow certain people to call us. In naming our children we give them the first piece of their identity that will be known to others. Thinking about names reminds me of one of my favorite things about the Bible. I really love how God sometimes changed people’s names. He changed Abram (father) to Abraham (father of many) when promising to make his descendants into a great nation. Jacob (cheater) became Israel (strives with God) after wrestling with an angel of the Lord. We see Simon being called Peter by Jesus when he is chosen as an apostle, and Saul becomes Paul after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Bham! Just like that– name change!

I think the reason I love hearing stories of people getting new names is because I can totally relate. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t like my name. Actually, I quite like it (thanks Mom and Dad!) But I understand the need for a new identity. When the men mentioned above received their new names, it was right after a life-changing event. And the name change signified a change in character because of an encounter with God. An encounter that was completely initiated by God and left each person utterly changed.

When I became a Christian in college, the experience was so totally life-changing that I felt like a different person. I was a different person. I seriously contemplated changing my name. And if it wasn’t for the fact that you just can’t really get away with that these days, I probably would have. That, and my whole aversion to being spontaneous and in any way wild and crazy. I still think back to that time, though. Thinking about how real and tangible the change was reminds me of what Paul calls “the new self.” In Colossians 3:10, he talks about actually putting off the old self and putting on the “new self which is being renewed in knowledge of its creator.” In those early days of being a Christian, it was kind of easy to put on the new self. It was like getting your eyesight corrected after a rainstorm had just washed away all the dirt in the whole world. Things were bright and shiny and just beautiful. And I could see so clearly and it was so easy to make the right decisions. The new self was my favorite self! It felt so good to put on the new self.

But then the new self seemed to lose some of its luster. The dirt came back and got all over my new self and I lost my nice new glasses that helped me see so clearly. It got really hard to put on the new self. Some days I didn’t want to get dressed at all. I had a bit of a crisis and wondered if the change I had experienced had really happened– what was I thinking wanting a new name? I was the same old Natalie as before, nothing was really different.

Luckily, by this point, I had tricked Michael into marrying me, so he was around to help me though this part. He helped me see that Paul tells us (commands, actually) to put on the new self. It’s something we have to do daily, hourly, sometimes moment by moment. I’m not talking about salvation here– please do not misunderstand me. We don’t lose our salvation and then get it back again. But we do choose to remember whose son or daughter we are. We choose to remember our blessed position as heirs with Christ. We choose to remember Paul saying “above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14)

I think it is a sign of God’s grace and goodness to us that so many of us experience the bright and shiny new self at first. What kindness from the Father to help us in those early days by making the new self so easy to put on. But much like a child growing up and learning to do things for himself, things do get harder. I don’t think this means something is wrong or there is reason for panic, though. It means we are growing. And when we do put on the new self even though we don’t particularly feel like it, there is much rejoicing because we are learning to be obedient. We are learning to remember the right things and forget the things that don’t matter. We are remembering that this, too, is for my good. We are remembering the Gospel.

This, too, is for my good

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, or if I’ve just talked about it with people. Sometimes I seriously can’t remember if I’ve dreamed something or if it actually happened. So instead of going back through old posts to see if I have, I’m just going to write about it now (again, maybe?)

‘Good for me’ vs.For my good’

I can’t get past this idea of something being “for my good.” In the past year or so, I’ve started to deeply and more fully believe Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” In the past, I think I’ve had a bad attitude about this verse. I’ve equated it with the well-meaning, but really hard to take, people that say things like, “Everything happens for a reason.” Yes. I know that. But this-thing-I-really-don’t-like is still very real and your non-helpful platitudes make me want to roll my eyes like the 14 year old girl that I still am, deep down inside.

I’ve always had a hard time with this verse because I’ve put it in the category of what is “good for me,” like eating my vegetables or sweeping the floor. Trials (or chores) are necessary because they’re building character and saving me from a life of bad nutrition and dirty feet. I have an attitude that says, “I don’t like this, you can’t make me like this, but I will do it anyway because I have to.” Lots of resentment with a healthy dose of childish thinking thrown in for good measure.

But recently, I’ve begun to think about Romans 8:28 differently. For one thing, this verse is smack dab in the middle of Romans chapter 8, which is not exactly about eating your vegetables and liking it. The first chunk (verses 1-11) talks about how there is no condemnation if we are in Christ Jesus. It says that the Spirit of God dwells in us and will give life to our mortal bodies. Verses 18-25 are full of encouragement about our real hope and where it lies, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The part after verse 28 (verses 31-37) is just beautiful with Paul saying things like, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Paul could have said something like, Look, life is hard, but this is good for you. Everything happens for a reason, and even though you don’t know what that reason is, be glad that God knows. Stop complaining and just get on with your life– after all, there’s someone out there suffering more than you.

But Paul didn’t say that. Hallelujah(!), he didn’t say that. Do you see the Gospel logic in what he wrote in Romans 8? He starts by reminding us that God has “done what the law could not do.” There is no more condemnation for us; “the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus  from the law of sin and death.” He paints a beautiful picture of future glory where “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” He talks about how the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words.”

And then he gets to the part about all things working together for our good.

This is how I’ve come think of things being “for my good.” No longer isolated instances of things I don’t like and have to struggle through, but instead part of the bigger picture of what Christ has done, and the Spirit is doing, in my life. Remembering where my hope is and thinking on eternal things, instead of earthly things, has shifted my perspective. Preparing my heart by “preaching the Gospel” to myself daily, sometimes hourly, has been huge for how I think about this verse.

Over the past few months, when life has been difficult and full of things I would rather not deal with, the refrain that’s been bouncing around in my head has been, “It’s for my good. This, too, is for my good.” But far from being a trite remark that I easily dismiss, those words are now laced with deep meaning. They remind me that I have a Father in Heaven who is kind and generous and, by giving his own son to save me from myself, has already given me everything. Those words remind me that, though this circumstance may be difficult, it cannot take away my true Hope. The words “for my good” are comforting and strengthening, reminding me that I am not alone, for as Paul ends chapter 8, he says:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen, and amen.