Posts tagged ‘Arrogance’

“Let us” vs. “I will”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project - edited.jpg
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel (c. 1563) / Wikipedia

Human arrogance is nothing new. It’s as old as sin itself. Adam and Eve, after all, were tempted into sin by a delusion of grandeur – if they broke a command of God, they could “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Another early instance of human arrogance comes in the form of an infamous building project:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:1-4)

The arrogance of humanity in this project can be summed up in two words:

“Let us.”

“Let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly,” they say. “Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves,” they plan. They believe that there is nothing they can’t do. They don’t need God when they have a “Let us.”

When God discovers the people’s plot, He stops them by confusing their language so they can no longer communicate with each other, which is why we now call this building project “Babel – because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world” (Genesis 11:9). But God does not merely judge these people by confusing their communication. He does something else. He does something more. He tries something better.

In the very next chapter of Genesis, God calls a man named Abraham and says to him:

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

God is not only promising to bless Abraham here, He is also working to undo the calamity of Babel by responding to humanity’s arrogant “Let us” with two words of His own:

“I will.”

“I will give you a new land,” God explains. “I will make you into a great nation,” God declares.

On the one hand, the words “I will” can trouble us, because what God will do always outdoes and overcomes what we might want to do. On the other hand, these words of God are a great promise for us. They remind us that our accomplishments, our worth, and our lives are not in our hands. We do not live by what we do. We live because of what God has done – and will do – for us.

At a time like this, the temptation to say “Let us” can become overwhelming. “Let us get a raise so we can live more comfortably.” “Let us airbrush our lives on social media so we can present ourselves perfectly.” “Let us win this presidential election so we can beat our opponents into submission politically.” What we need most at a moment like this, however, is not another “Let us.” We need God’s “I will.” “I will provide for you.” “I will grant you My perfect righteousness.” “I will be your perfect king and your loving heavenly Father.” His “I will” always works better than our “Let us.”

The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

October 26, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Social Media Sins

erik-lucatero-UrhMJ6kfKlo-unsplash.jpg

Credit: Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that teenagers who spend as little as one hour on social media over what they normally would in a given year show increased markers for depression. According to the report:

Repeated exposure to idealized images [on social media] lowers adolescents’ self-esteem, triggers depression, and enhances depression over time. Furthermore, heavier users of social media with depression appear to be more negatively affected by their time spent on social media.

In an article for Christianity Today, Jeff Christopherson decries the dangers lurking in social media not only for teenagers, but also for society-at-large. He explains:

If the social media experiment was intended to connect and enlighten the world, it appears to have failed, and failed spectacularly. Our social connectivity has actually produced a more disconnected, isolated and polarized society. We have become more entrenched, angrier, and observably much, much dumber. Political, cultural, and – yes – theological echo chambers have only served to exhaust any semblance of critical thinking and extinguish any light for truth.

Mr. Christopherson’s sentiments are echoed by National Review writer Kevin Williamson, who, in an excerpt from his new book, describes how the memes we post on social media are often nothing but agents of attack on others rather than windows into an understanding of others. He writes:

We think in language. We signal in memes. Language is the instrument of discourse. Memes are the instrument of antidiscourse, i.e., communication designed and deployed to prevent the exchange of information and perspectives rather than to enable it, a weapon of mass intellectual destruction – the moron bomb. The function of discourse is to know other minds and to make yours known to them; the function of antidiscourse is to lower the status of rivals and enemies. 

All this is to say that there are plenty of dangers prowling around social media.

Sadly, Christians are not immune to these dangers. Mr. Christopherson, in his article, takes Christians to task for their sometimes reckless ways on social media. But even if we are not immune to social media’s sirens, we can fight against them. In a social media environment that feigns perfection in picture postings, we can point toward true perfection in Christ. In a social media environment that stupefies with anti-proverbs, we can teach with true wisdom from Christ. In a social media environment that inflames hatred, we can live out the love of Christ.

At the heart of many of our social media woes is a problem with comparisons. We either compare our lives to the idealized Instagram-filtered lives of our peers and find ourselves lacking and thus sink into despair, or we compare our opinions to those of others on Twitter and find others lacking and thus ascend into arrogance. But there is an antidote to the sins of despair and arrogance: humility. A humble person, instead of craving to compare, is comfortable in their own skin. They feel no need to measure up to others or to look down on others because their identity, worth, and world is not found in others, but in an Other – Jesus Christ. A humble person measures their self-worth not according to their own shortcomings or successes, but according to Christ’s death on a cross, which levels the playing field between all people as it reveals every person as a sinner in need of God’s grace.

In a social media ecosystem filled with comparison, perhaps we should post more about and point more to Christ. After all, whether a person is posting polished pictures on Instagram or vicious vitriol on Twitter, that person needs Christ, too.

August 19, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Pointing Fingers

Pointing Face Boy Portrait Finger Hand Man

At the end of his epistles, the apostle Paul often includes a section of personal greetings to people in the congregation to whom he is writing.  At the end of Romans, for instance, Paul includes a lengthy list of greetings:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.  Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.  (Romans 16:1-15)

I would guess that, as you began to read through the list of names above, your eyes quickly skipped to the end of the paragraph.  After all, a list of names isn’t exactly riveting reading.  But take a moment to go back and note how Paul describes the people on his list.  He describes Phoebe as a faithful supporter of his ministry.  He lauds Priscilla and Aquila as ones who risked their lives for him.  He calls Andronicus and Junia “outstanding.”  He celebrates Persis his as “dear friend.” He fawns over Rufus’ mother as his surrogate mother.  Paul, it turns out, has a lot of good things to point to in lot of good people.

In both the church and in broader culture, we seem to be much more comfortable pointing at people in order to criticize them rather than pointing to people in order to celebrate them.  I am part of a church body that, sadly, can spend so much time pointing at people with whom we have theological disagreements that we can fail to point to people with whom we share a common faith, even if our confession of that faith differs at certain points.  In broader culture, one needs to look no further than our nation’s capital to see a whole political system that trafficks in pointing fingers at other people.  Republicans point at Democrats.  Democrats point at Republicans.  Sometimes, it seems as though the only ones people actually point to in Washington are themselves.

As Christians, we must never be scared to point at something that is wrong.  Wrongness, after all, needs to be corrected so it can give way to righteousness.  But let us never become so proficient in pointing at what is wrong that we forget to point to all that is good.  People in differing ecclesiastical factions still have plenty of good things to point to among each other.  People in opposing political parties still have plenty of good things to point to on the other side of the aisle.

Perhaps it is time for us, like Paul, to make a list of good things and people to point to.  Pointing at people can quickly dissolve into arrogance as we pontificate on how someone else is wrong.  But pointing to people can keep us humble and give someone else a much-needed boost of confidence as we put the spotlight on what they are doing right.  Not only that, but pointing to others is supremely godly, for it mirrors the character of Jesus, who relentlessly pointed not to Himself, but to His Father.

So, who can you point to this week?  Who can you give a glowing review to?  Who can you celebrate on Facebook?  Who can you, even if you disagree with them on some things, rejoice in as a fellow-traveler in Christ?

Now is the time to begin a list of people to point to.  You just might be surprised at how quickly that list becomes really, really long.

July 3, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wisdom That’s Not So Wise

Credit:  wired.com

Credit: wired.com

It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.”[1]  There just seems to be something about one’s own age the dupes those living in it into thinking they are living in the best age – they are living at the pinnacle of human achievement, intelligence, and insight, unsurpassed by anything that has come before it, or, for that matter, anything that will come after it.

Case in point:  Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work The Quest of the Historical Jesus, opens by touting his credentials:

When, at some future day, our period of civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time.  For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophic though, critical acumen, historical insight, and religious feeling – without which no deep philosophy is possible.[2]

At least Schweitzer doesn’t have a confidence problem.

The ironic thing about Schweitzer’s opening paragraph is that on the back of this very book is this review:  “Schweitzer’s … proposals no longer command endorsement.”  In other words, Schweitzer, who thought his age was so wise that the people, and specifically the Germans, in it could in no way be mistaken, were, in fact, mistaken.  Perhaps his German pedigree wasn’t as intellectually impenetrable as he thought it was.

Whether or not we are as unabashedly arrogant as Schweitzer, we all, to one extent or another, use our age as the measuring rod for all ages.  We project the sensibilities of our age back onto the past and even forward into the future.

Greg Miller of Wired Science recently published a pithy little post, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today.”[3]  Ed Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft, shared with Miller a fascinating cache of vintage European postcards that offer a glimpse of how the people of yesteryear thought we would be living in our years.  For instance, there is one postcard featuring a prop plane with a spotlight and luggage attached to the top of the cabin ushering a group of tourists to the moon for “just another weekend trip.”  The year, according to the postcard, is 2012.  Are any rockets needed?  No.  And the people on the aircraft seem to be blissfully unconcerned with the fact that their cabin is not pressurized.  Another postcard features a videophone, projecting its picture onto a wall, just like the movies of the early 1900’s did.  Apparently, those at the turn of the 20th century simply could not envision the hand-held screens we enjoy today.  Perhaps most comically, the people in all of these postcards are decked out in their early 1900’s wears.  As Miller wryly notes, though everything else underwent radical evolutions, “fashion stayed frozen in time.”

For all the fanciful things these postcards envision, they are embarrassingly transparent products of their time.  No one would mistake these as accurate or modern depictions of our age.  The people of the early 1900’s, it seems, were stuck in the early 1900’s.

We would do well to remember that just like the people of the early 1900’s were stuck in the early 1900’s, the people of the early 2000’s are, well, stuck in the early 2000’s.  We too are products of our time.  Not that this is all bad.  Our age has much too offer.  But our age cannot lead us to disparage other ages – especially past ages.  For the wisdom of the past that we discount as foolishness in the present may just be the wisdom of our present that will be discounted as foolishness in the future.  In other words, we should take the wisdom of our age with a grain of salt.

One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that it self-consciously bucks the human tendency to jump on the bandwagon of whatever zeitgeist happens to be popular at any given moment.  Indeed, it sees past learning as key to present wisdom.    As the apostle Paul says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  This is why, according to one count, the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament some 263 times.[4]  Wisdom, according to Scripture, cannot be confined to just one age.  It needs many ages.

When you look at your present, then, don’t assume that your day is the greatest day and your generation the greatest generation.  Or, to use the words of Moses, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deuteronomy 32:7).  Wisdom is not just when you are.  It was before you.  And it will continue after you.  Wise, therefore, is the person whose memory and vision is long.

______________________

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908).

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1911), 1.

[3] Greg Miller, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today,” wired.com (5.28.2014).

[4]New Testament Citations of the Old Testament,” crossway.org (3.17.2006).

June 2, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Pride and Destruction

One of the frustrations of teaching through a whole book of the Bible in the scope of a mere hour, as I did in Sunday’s ABC, is that, inevitably and necessarily, I must leave many aspects of the book unaddressed.  Thus, as I taught the book of Esther yesterday, I found myself frustrated with all the things I didn’t have time to talk about!   Thankfully, however, I do have this blog.  And so, I thought it might be helpful to touch on a fascinating subplot in Esther’s story that I did not cover yesterday.

The basic contours of Esther’s story are these.  The Jews are under the rule of King Xerxes of Persia in the fifth century B.C.  When Xerxes’ queen, Vashti, embarrasses him at a party, he banishes her and launches a search for a new queen.  After an exhaustive quest, Xerxes settles on Esther, a lovely young Jewess.  Shortly after Esther becomes queen, however, an evil advisor to Xerxes named Haman concocts a plot to destroy the Jews.  Esther has a cousin named Mordecai, and when he catches wind of this plot, he sends the queen a message, begging her to help her people.  Esther then holds a series of two banquets to which he invites King Xerxes and the evil Haman and, at the second banquet, reveals to the king Haman’s nefarious objectives.  When the king learns of Haman’s plot, he becomes furious and orders Haman to be executed by hanging.  And the Jews are saved from extermination.  This is the story’s major plot.

The subplot of Esther’s story centers around the queen’s cousin, Mordecai.  We are first introduced to Mordecai in Esther 2 where we are told, “Mordecai had a cousin named Esther, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother” (Esther 2:7).  Thus, Mordecai had taken Esther under his wing.  Later in this same chapter, we read this interesting anecdote:

During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.  But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.  And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. (Esther 2:21-23)

Apparently, Mordecai is a Xerxes loyalist.  When the guards of the king’s chamber conspire to kill him, it is Mordecai who foils their plot.  Incidentally, about ten years after this assassination attempt, Xerxes is indeed assassinated by some new guards who also keep watch over his chamber.  What is especially important to note, however, is the thanks Moredecai receives for saving the king’s life.  He receives no thanks.  The king quickly forgets about his valiant act, though it is recorded in his annals.

Well, several years pass, and the night before the king and his right-hand man Haman are to attend Esther’s banquet where she will reveal Haman’s plot against the Jews, the king comes down with a case of insomnia:

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.  It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. “What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked. “Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered.  The king said, “Who is in the court?”…His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.” “Bring him in,” the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?”  So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor,  have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” (Esther 6:1-10)

Mordecai finally receives his well-deserved commendation from the king.  But how he receives it is comical.  He receives it from Haman, the very man who is plotting to kill Mordecai along with all his people!  And Haman could not be more humiliated that he is compelled to honor Mordecai in this way:  “Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief” (Esther 6:12).

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  Clearly, Haman is presented as an insufferably arrogant character.  His delusion concerning his own greatness is sickening:  “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?”  Haman believes there is no one greater than himself.  But before we scorn Haman for his haughtiness too quickly, it is worth asking if we don’t suffer from a pride similar to Haman’s.  After all, who among us does not think we are somehow worthy of high honor?  And who among us has not gotten angry or bitter or resentful – if only internally – when we did not receive the acclaim we thought we deserved?

Haman’s hauteur should remind us all that we are called to be humble servants of Christ.  For we follow One who “humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  Do you live your life with Christ-like humility?

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May 9, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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