Why We Write

I spent the afternoon listening to the book idea and life stories of a brand-new-to-the-game author whose manuscript I’ll be typing.

The timing was interesting because earlier that day I’d decided I wanted to write a blog post on the reasons a person might be driven to write. There’s been much said (written, I mean) on the process and the mechanics and the how-tos. I’ve run across much less on the subject of the why-tos. But I’ve often pondered the subject for myself. Why do I write? Why must I write?

I mused on the subject on the way to the new author’s house to discuss his project. It didn’t take long into the discussion for me to understand that he was driven to write his first book for the same reasons I’ve written … um … I don’t even have a head count of mine at the moment. More than twenty, anyway.

Driven is the right word. While much writing advice floating around at large is along the lines of, “Just do it! Just treat writing like you’d treat any other job. Just get your butt in the seat and your fingers on the keys,” my mantra would be, “If you have nothing to say, say nothing.” (The world has enough bad books methinks!)

I don’t want writing to be like any other job for me. If whatever I have to say isn’t a fire shut up in my bones, burning its way out one way or the other, I’ve learned that I probably don’t want to bother trying. The world has enough bad books, and I’ve written my share of several chapters of partials and false starts of them. If I’m writing just to write, I can’t write at all. Nothing worth writing, anyway.

There are certainly times “Just get your butt in the seat and your fingers on the keys,” is good advice. I don’t think it’s good advice when there are no ideas to begin with. (Have I mentioned yet that I think the world has enough bad books?) There is a difference between starting with an idea one finds captivating–then needing to row one’s way through the doldrums to bring it to completion–and starting with no idea at all. Starting just to start. You’ll only get so far blowing on your own sail.

But to each his own! It’s maybe just that I’ve learned that the common advice is bad advice for me. It may help fill some time, but I’ve never come away with a product I’m happy with whenever I’ve tried writing just to write; treating writing like a job. It might be a different story if someone was paying me to write, but seeing no one’s paying me to do it, I prefer not to treat writing like a job. I prefer to treat it like a passion. I don’t see any point in coming away with a product I’ll never be happy with.

But all this doesn’t address the question, “Why are some driven to write?” Granted! The reason some of us write is because we’re driven to. But why?

I think the answer is simple. We want to communicate.

That was the obvious fact I picked up in my discussion this afternoon. My new-author friend has been driven to write his book because he wants to communicate the ideas that captivated him.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that most of us who find ourselves captivated by an idea can’t rest contented with just being captivated ourselves. It doesn’t have to be writing. Any creative endeavour manifests the same way. People who try out for singing contests, etc. aren’t content just to sing to themselves in the bathroom with a hairbrush for a mic. They want to be heard. I journal sometimes, and I really only journal when I feel that fire shut up in my bones, burning its way out, but I’ve noticed something odd. I always journal as though I’m writing to someone other than myself. Even when I’m writing only to myself, I find myself writing in such a way as to communicate. What is it that drives us to communicate?

I think the answer is very simple: We want to be known. We are relational beings.

This longing I’ve noticed in myself is held in tension with a catch-22: I don’t want to be too known. I’ve grown slightly more calloused now, but the first steps I took towards making anything I’d written public (or even letting anyone know that I’d written anything) were accompanied by a terrified shrinking-back from having any eyes other than my own encounter it. The sensation of deep and abiding shame of being too known still has me scrambling for a handful of fig leaves to patch together every time. It’s the ol’ Genesis 3 quandary that is unavoidable when relational beings become relationally broken: We long to be known. But we dread being too known.

All this line of thinking I’ve traced many times as to why I find myself driven to write always leads me back to God and His Book. Yet again, in this drive of mine, I see the truth that His Book proclaims as the most basic fact of life: We were made for relationship. It’s the meaning of life. We were created to be relational beings because God is the All-relational Being. “God is love.” He, too, longs to be known. Why else would He be driven to write us a Book?

Interesting that “the Word” is one of the names of God the Son. This desire to communicate with us, to be in relationship with us (and all relationship is dependent on communication), drove God to communicate with us not just through a Book but in person. But how instructive that this desire to communicate, to be in relationship, is so basic to the nature of God that He chose the name “the Word” for one of His names!

And there we have it! Why do we write? (Those of us who do, that is!) Probably, because we’re driven to. And why are we driven to? Because we’re driven to communicate. And why are we driven to communicate? Because we’re driven to be known. And why are we driven to be known? Because we’re relational beings, created in the image of the All-relational One.

That’s what it boils down to: we write because we’re image-bearers. We write, we communicate, because God does. He was the original Author, and His was the original story He’s been writing since the beginning of time. That’s reason enough for me to write, I guess. Because God does.

“Just Ask”

In the last couple months, I got myself back into counselling and also joined a recovery group (before lockdown called a halt to the group meetings). Both were intended to address my struggles with depression. The recovery group is for general recovery of any kind, but it’s typically attended by those in recovery for addiction. (I joined up to assist in my depression-recovery because, TBH, I really don’t plan (or want) to completely give up any of my addictions.) The two strains of depression-recovery came together for me recently with a little mental experiment I’m trying. I call it “just ask.”

The cognitive behavioural therapy I’m working on in counselling doesn’t appeal to the “Higher Power” of the recovery group (or the God of the Bible in the one I attend as it is a Christian recovery group), but I’ve always seen the principles of CBT as helpful and effective because (I think) they are based (unintentionally perhaps) on biblical principles. Which, being in line with reality, work! Freud (happily) seems to have generally been put in moth balls and replaced by the cognitive-behavioural approach. Since the first time I learned anything about it, I associated CBT with Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.” CBT starts by working on one’s thinking, trying to keep it balanced. At its heart, it’s a search for truth (that’s how I see it, anyway). Very biblical!

The problem I’ve run into with the therapy is that I don’t always know what’s true and balanced. I can almost always, however, predict when a particular thought train will be unhelpful. When it will lead me away from the health that is the goal of the exercise. Still, sometimes the thought trains that seem unhelpful in the short run still need to be ridden for long-term results. Some truths need to be faced even if they’re not pleasant. (Notice that “pleasant” didn’t make the list of Philippians 4:8.)

This is where my “just ask” therapy comes in and forms the intersection between my counselling and my addiction recovery group. “Just ask” is a principle God’s been (gently) beating me over the head with for years now, so I guess it should have occurred to me sooner that I could try to utilize it with both my CBT and my addiction recovery. While I’ve admitted I don’t want to recover fully from all my addictions, I have noticed that a couple of them that seem harmless (and probably are in small doses) are getting a bit out of hand.

I decided I had to ask God every time I wanted to have a cup of tea or watch something on YouTube (my substitute for TV and Netflix and all other viewing services). Yes, that sounds a bit over-the-top, and I remember reading somewhere years ago the curious case of the lady who, before she could get dressed in the morning, had to pray over what she should wear that day. Then, which stocking, the left or the right, to put on first and how best to button her top, etc. And then the rest of her day carried on in this fashion. It sounds agonizing! Of course, I don’t plan to make myself more neurotic with my little mental experiment, so I will be on the lookout for signs that I’m heading in the same direction as this curious case. But we are talking about actual addictions here which had started to take over too much of my day. I think tea and YouTube are legitimate concerns for prayer when they begin to reach bona fide addiction-status.

When I remember to stick to it, I’ve noticed that I’m watching less YouTube and being a little more productive with my hours. Plus, I’m being a little more careful about what I’m watching and welcoming in a little less garbage into my mind. (I’ve also noticed that, suspiciously, “God” always seems to say “yes” to a cup of tea whenever I happen to feel like one.)

It may, in fact, seem like the value in the experiment is really just slowing down to do mindfully what I was accustomed to doing mindlessly. And there would likely be some value in the experiment if that’s all there was to it. However, given that I do, in fact, have some solid reasons for believing in a “Higher Power” (aka: the God of the Bible) who cares, there’s much more value in the experiment. It changes everything when I believe I’m not accountable only to myself.

That brings me to the third addiction (not such a small and harmless one this time) that I’m also trying to subject to this experiment. This is a step beyond what I’m trying with the official CBT but so far, proving to be the most valuable part of the therapy. It’s demanding and somewhat exhausting, but when I notice myself climbing aboard any particular thought train that I’ve climbed aboard many times only to arrive at a destination where I don’t want to be, I’m trying to remember to stop and ask God if I should be climbing aboard that particular thought train. Sometimes, I anticipate the answer being “yes.” Sometimes, I’ll need to think about things that aren’t pleasant and don’t appear helpful. But still need to be faced. Sometimes.

Sometimes (or most times), I anticipate the answer being “no.”

In the past, I haven’t had much success getting off my circular thought trains that (like the train in Disneyland but much less fun) run around and around and around the same old territory. There does seem to be something different in the act of asking God about them in the moment that is helping break the cyclical thinking where I wasn’t able to break it on my own. I feel like I’m seeing some progress. Finally!

2 Corinthians 10:5 talks about bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. And yes, that is as exhausting as it sounds. Who wants to think about their thinking all the time? (Eventually, I expect it to become more automatic and habitual and less exhausting.) It’s just not as exhausting as trying to bring every thought captive to the obedience of myself. The Higher Power in the picture really does make the difference.

* * *

On a different tack (but the same one, really), I have a saying I’m fond of. (I think I invented it which might explain why I’m fond of it.) I like to say that faith is knowing who is really God and who God really is. By that, I mean, the first step in faith and a relationship with God is acknowledging that I cannot be my own god. I am no longer accountable only to myself. I am not the boss of me. God is really God. The One in control. Of me. I bow to His sovereignty in my life. (This is the heart of the first commandment of the ten biggies in Exodus 20: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”) This is the only starting place for what God asks from us, the very necessary first step in being restored to a relationship with Him. Knowing who is really God. And it ain’t me!

Knowing who God really is is at the heart of the second commandment of the ten: not creating any false images of the One True God. Learning to know enough about the One True God that we get the important details right. Knowing who God really is involves acknowledging some of the basic facts the Bible reveals about Him: that He came to earth as a man to die for sin and come back to life on the third day to be seen by eyewitnesses who passed on to the rest of us the vital information about who God really is.

In these two, ginormous, little acts lies the entire message of the Bible and all God asks of us: knowing who is really God and knowing who God really is.

These are the only steps that we must take to enter into the Christian life and be put back into a right relationship with God (knowing God in a relational way–loving God, then others) that is the essence of living the Christian life. But these two steps really encompass the whole of the Christian life. The life of faith is a life spent constantly growing in the knowledge of who God really is (growing in that relational knowledge that leads us to love God that leads us to love others) and growing in turning the controls back over to Him. It’s so simple, really! But so difficult at the same time!

I got onto this thought train today (yes, one I did ask God about, and I think He said “yes”) not only because of this mental experiment in my three different areas of addiction but because it’s struck me lately how easy it is to neglect the first basic of the Christian life. As Christians, we tend to put a lot of focus on knowing who God really is but weaken the focus of knowing who is really God. But it is the daily business of the “Christian walk.”

The Bible has various ways of describing what I’m calling “knowing who is really God”: taking up one’s cross and denying Self, dying to Self, being filled with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, walking in step with the Spirit. As far as I can tell, they all boil down to intentionally seeking God’s control over my life. While this description may make those who don’t understand it a little uncomfortable or even downright huffy, they need to understand that God is the God of freedom. Which is why He requires that we intentionally choose His control for ourselves and that this state is the only true freedom. Running one’s own life is a guaranteed recipe for the disaster and captivity to which all the millennia of recorded human history (and our own personal histories) can amply attest.

The problem for us as Christians, however, seems to me to be that we give lip-service to the truth of who is really God but so often are in the habit of doing our own thing, anyway. It’s so habitual that we’re blinded to it. Instead of keeping in step with the Spirit, or a half-step behind, letting Him lead, we always seem to be out in front. A good idea seems to us to be a God-idea. So rather than ask first, we run out ahead of Him and expect Him to catch up. We ask Him to bless a new venture rather than asking Him if we should undertake it in the first place. As I do with my tea-drinking, we assume His blessing on the things we want to do instead of first asking if we should do them.

I’ve called this principle that God’s been teaching me for years “just ask” because that’s really the only responsibility I have in His guidance (other than to follow it once I think I have it). I seldom have any sense that I’m being given a direct answer. So, as in the case of my frequent cups of tea, I often assume the answer to be “yes.” And that’s okay. After I’ve asked. Not before.

My responsibility is to ask. His is to guide. And He’s promised to fulfill His if I fulfill mine. So, having asked and waited to see if there is any sense of hearing an answer, I am free to step out in whatever direction seems best to me. The difference is, I’ve asked! I’m trusting that there is a truly Higher Power leading and directing my steps once I turn them over to Him. I can tell you from my own experience that this little act of “just asking” has made a huge difference in my life. It frees me from indecision, knowing that I’m not capable of irrevocably screwing it up once I’ve simply asked. And to tell you the truth, on every occasion where I know I did remember to “just ask,” even though the results haven’t always been pretty, I’ve never regretted those decisions. At least, I have the confidence that things went the way they were meant to, even if they weren’t the way I wanted them to.

Now, I’m trying this “just ask” principle as part of my cognitive behavioural therapy/addiction recovery journey, and I expect good things. I think I’ve started seeing them already.

In Illusion We Trust

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the subject of freedom vs. safety which I deleted the next day after deciding it had far more to say about the subject of the present Corona-crisis than I wanted it to say. As I said in the post, I’ve been avoiding saying anything publicly that could come back to bite me on that subject because a) I don’t know what I’m talking about, and b) everyone else is talking about it. Why add my ignorance to the mix? I wrote the post because I did want to comment more broadly on the subject of freedom vs. safety and the general trend in our modern culture to chase after “safety” at the cost of our freedom and how that trend relates to the present Corona-crisis. It’s been a discussion that’s risen to the surface often lately in the political-commentary world with the extreme measures being taken on account of this latest pandemic. And it will be interesting to watch the results of the Swedish experiment in the months that follow.

From what I understand, Sweden decided on employing less extreme measures than other countries, allowing most businesses to stay open and trusting to its people to abide by social-distancing recommendations voluntarily. Will Sweden regret its COVID-19 strategy? Will it decide that the higher number of fatalities early on (getting the “second wave” out of the way in one, fell swoop) was not worth keeping the economy alive and its people leading relatively normal lives?

We were told at one time that the purpose of all our various lockdowns was not the for the sake of eradicating the virus (which wouldn’t work, anyway) but for the sake of “flattening the curve,” keeping the hospitals from being overwhelmed all at once and giving the health-care system time to make adequate provisions. If that really was the (sensible) point to the lockdowns, I would speculate that Sweden will have no regrets in not participating in them. From what I’ve been hearing, Sweden’s curve seems to have levelled off without its health system reaching swamping-levels. Life has carried on for Swedish citizens. They seem to have weathered the worst of the crisis and now have no fear and uncertainty of what will happen once people finally do begin to creep out of hiding in their houses. And they still have an economy.

And that is the point that the “freedom” side in the freedom vs. safety debate tends to focus heavily on. I’ve noticed that “freedom (plus the economy)” is the argument made by the side pushing to end the lockdowns. Which is interesting. It occurs to me that (for some) the debate is not really “freedom vs. safety” but “safety vs. a different kind of safety.” And when I couch it in those terms, I realize that a more accurate re-wording of those terms would be “the illusion of safety vs. the illusion of a different kind of safety.”

I’ve fallen into that illusion-trap myself with my own worries about the economy side of the argument. I’ve been reading and thinking about a story from the Bible today that has me seeing this illusion-trap for what it is.

In the story of the fall of the Babylonian empire from Daniel 5, Belshazzar (whose name means “Bel,” a.k.a. Baal a.k.a lord or master, “preserves the king”) hosts a drunken bash for his nobles on the very night that the Medes and the Persians invade the kingdom, killing Belshazzar and upending the Chaldean domination. You may be unfamiliar with the story from Daniel 5, but you’re no doubt familiar with the common expression that comes from the account: “…saw the handwriting on the wall/saw the writing on the wall.” In Daniel 5, Belshazzar was given supernatural warning as to his impending doom in the form of an apparently-disembodied hand that appeared as an uninvited guest at the party and wrote the words, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” on the wall for all to see. It would be enough to make a man swear off strong drink then and there.

No one except the exiled Hebrew prophet, Daniel, a courtier from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, could decipher the meaning of the words. When Daniel was eventually called for, he interpreted the message to Belshazzar to mean that God (the God Daniel worshipped) had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom, that Belshazzar had been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and that his kingdom would be divided between the Medes and the Persians. The margin notes of my Bible may not be the equal of the prophet, but they interpret the words to mean, “Literally a mina (50 shekels) from the verb ‘to number.’ Literally a shekel from the verb ‘to weigh.’ Literally and half-shekels from the verb ‘to divide.’” Very, very interesting.

I didn’t need either Daniel or my Bible’s margin notes to interpret the shekel for me. I knew that the shekel was then (and still is today, I believe) the name of a currency. Money.

On some earlier occasions, I underlined four verses on the pages in my Bible where this story is found. I underlined Daniel’s words to Belshazzar in Daniel 5:23, “And you have praised the gods of silver and gold…” I underlined Daniel 5:30 which records, “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.” And on the facing page I underlined a verse from Daniel 6, the account of Daniel being thrown into a den of lions. “[…] he [Daniel] knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Dan. 6:10). That act got Daniel into trouble and a lion’s den, but I also underlined Darius’, king of the Medes, words to Daniel in 6:16 as he (Darius) reluctantly carried out his own unbreakable law of the Medes and Persians by throwing Daniel into the aforementioned den of lions. “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.”

I don’t remember when or why I underlined all the bits I underlined when I underlined them, but taken all together, the message jumped out at me from the pages. Are you seeing it?

Belshazzar (“Bel preserves the king.” Except, uh, no, he doesn’t) praised the gods of silver and gold. Yes, technically, he likely worshipped idols of silver and gold, but in a wider sense, his greed and love of “filthy lucre” was emphasized repeatedly throughout Daniel 5. I don’t think it was any coincidence that God spoke through the handwriting on the wall to Belshazzar in a language he should have been well-familiar with: the language of money.

But the gods Belshazzar praised did not and could not deliver him. All the wealth he had amassed and was showing off at his great feast did nothing to keep him from the disaster that overtook him that night. The gods of silver and gold are dead and helpless. They can’t deliver anyone, even themselves.

Daniel, on the other hand, praised the One True God. Did that God have the power to deliver Daniel as Darius fervently hoped in Daniel 6:16? Well, you remember the ending to the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, I hope. Yes, Daniel’s God certainly did have the power to deliver him and did, in fact, choose to deliver him.

On the U.S. currency are written the words, “In God we trust.” Atheists need not cry, “Separation of church and state,” over the design of the dollar. The statement is simply truism. One’s god (or God) will be what one trusts most. What one trusts most will be one’s god (or God). Sadly, the gods many, many, many trust are the dead, helpless pieces of paper on which the truism is written, the gods that populate their wallets.

Even Christians are prone to sliding into this idolatry in a thousand, subtle little ways. We will all carry around little pockets of idolatry with us that need conscious combatting till the day we die. For most of us, one of those pockets of idolatry we carry around with us is the idol we carry around with us in our pockets.

It’s not that money itself is an evil. It’s not that having money is an evil. It’s the replacement of the One True God with money that is the evil. It’s our misplaced trust in the gods of gold and silver rather than the One True God that is the idolatry. And it is misplaced trust because money provides only the illusion of safety.

I find myself combatting my own slide into this little pocket of idolatry constantly. Many people see it as crass to discuss one’s finances publicly (after all, that which is sacred shouldn’t be dragged out into common daylight for all to see), but I tend to be crass, anyway, so here goes the public discussion of my finances (the public declaration online that I have none should at least help protect me from online scam artists): I quit my most recent job at the end of December 2019 with no cushion of savings as a safety net. This may have been partially due to misplaced trust (or at least misplaced hope) in the illusion of online work but also due to the decline in my mental health that I noticed after going back to work in 2019. (I’m also crass enough to be very open about my depression.) The online work did not materialize as hoped, so for the five months of 2020 that have elapsed, I’ve had no regular income and no savings to live on. I also wasn’t eligible for the Canadian government’s bailout of workers who lost their jobs due to lockdowns, seeing that I quit my job before the lockdowns. And with the lockdowns still in place, I have no likely prospects of going back to work any time soon (even if my mental health were ready for a return to the workplace). To the general observer, I would imagine it looks like I am in dire financial straits. I wouldn’t ordinarily bother to mention all this in a blog post (and believe me! I’m not asking for money! I never have! I didn’t need to! And please! No more! I can’t sufficiently thank those of you who gave without my asking, but it’s time to stop!). Except that I feel I must mention it. I feel I must mention my finances in order to praise the One True God who promised to meet all our needs if we seek first His kingdom. I’ve had no savings and no regular income for five months, and yet, I’ve had all my needs met (and all that without even any conspicuous, strenuous effort on my part to seek first God’s kingdom. Sometimes, He meets our needs even without us meeting His conditions, I find.) . I have all my bills paid and never once lacked food in my cupboards or fridge. These needs were met in various, unexpected ways. A generous gift here and there. The odd job that landed in my lap. The sale of items I didn’t need anymore. It’s been so spectacular to watch these needs be met right when they needed to be and just exactly how they needed to be that it’s astonishing I should still be capable of falling into the subtle idolatry of worrying over silver and gold, as though it has any power to deliver me.

For those who shake their heads over my laziness and irresponsibility and lack of regard for my future, you’re probably right. I have been lazy and irresponsible and careless of my future. But many who worked hard and valued their jobs have now found themselves out of work. Many who were prudent with their money may find that the stocks and bonds and portfolios and 401ks (and I am not speaking my own language now, so I have no idea what I’m saying here) can’t deliver them. Many who are trusting in the government to find the solutions may discover that the government doesn’t have the solutions, and we are now heading for a different kind of crisis. I don’t want to be alarmist, but I don’t know. We just don’t know. The future is always uncertain. Failing to recognize that fact is always illusion. It wouldn’t be the first time the gods of silver and gold have let us down. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend setting about decreasing one’s trust in the illusion of safety and increasing one’s trust in the One True God the way I inadvertently set about it, I would recommend the end result of decreasing our trust in the illusion of safety and increasing our trust in the One True God.

And that’s about it. Those are really the main COVID recommendations that I would recommend. It’s up to you, though. Those recommendations must always be taken on-board freely or not at all. The only true safety we can find, the safety of trusting God, is never about coercion. In the end, true freedom and true safety are not “versus” each other at all.

My New Favourite Bible Verse

Today is Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter (or, as some of us like to call it, “Resurrection Sunday”). On this day every year, there’s a little mental exercise I like to try to engage in as a sort of tradition of my own. I like to try to imaginatively enter into the dregs of despair the disciples of Jesus must have been feeling on that day almost two thousand years ago that this day commemorates.

I don’t know if this little, private tradition was the reason I found myself breaking down in tears watching a show (that has nothing to do with anything relevant to this post) when the main character in it was weeping to herself in the bathroom.

Okay, Idiot! Why are you crying?” I asked myself. “It’s just a fictional show. She’s not really crying. She’s just an actress. And, anyway, you know it will all have a happy ending.” And I answered myself with, “Yeah, but I’m crying for all the real pain out there, like the pain this character is going through.” Fair enough! That shut me up. Self had no come-back to Self on that one. That’s a legit reason to tear up because of a fictional show and fake tears. Life isn’t fiction, and there are plenty of real tears to go around.

There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my head lately, and I’ve now decided it’s my new favourite Bible verse. That’s not only because it’s the shortest verse in the Bible (a whole two words) and easy to rattle off when someone asks me to recite my favourite verse but also because it’s incredibly profound.

John 11:35. “Jesus wept.”

I want to give that verse some space and just let it bear impact for a second.

Like the crying scene in the show I was watching, this verse makes me tear over every time it’s occurred to me lately.

If you’re unfamiliar with its context, it describes Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. A man who was on the verge of coming back out of that tomb. And yet, Jesus stood at it and wept, knowing full well what He was about to do. Raise Lazarus from the dead.

But that ending didn’t negate all the pain He felt in that moment. He wept for the very real pain and desperation that Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, (who didn’t know what Jesus knew) carried due to their (temporary) separation from a brother whom they loved dearly and who may have been their means of support. Jesus wept along with all the other mourners who wept for the temporary separation that is death—a necessary evil in order to escape the fate of living on this sin-stained planet forever with no end in sight and no hope of perfection and a fresh, new start. But still, a natural evil that tears us apart when torn apart by it (temporarily) from the ones we love. He wept for all the millennia upon millennia of suffering and death resulting from the sin-stain that has permeated our planet. He wept for the suffering that we inflict on each other. He wept for the suffering that our sin and suffering inflicts on God Himself. He wept for the death that we inflict on each other. He wept for the death that our sin and suffering and death would inflict on God-in-human-flesh in approximately a week’s time. He wept for the great drops of mingled blood, sweat, and tears soaking into the soil of a certain garden He’d be taken from under armed guard with the kiss of betrayal stinging His cheek. He wept for what was past. He wept for what was coming.

That’s what I see now when I read those two, simple, unutterably profound, little words. “Jesus wept.”

They’ve become my favourite Bible verse because, in a way, they sum up the entire story of the Bible. There is a God. There is a God who created us for relationship with Himself. There is a God who could not remain distant and unmoved when we cut off that relationship by our rejection of it. There is a God who weeps over that rejection and all its natural results. There is a God who did more than weep from afar. He came to weep with us in our midst and join us in bearing all the natural results our rejection of Him had created. Yet somehow, that bearing would be the means of defeating what He bore. Somehow, humanity’s ultimate rejection of Him would turn into humanity’s ultimate redemption. It was the plan all along. (What a fantastic plot the Author of the Book came up with!) He would weep from a cross, using the last remnants of the air left in His lungs to gasp out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” to show us that we are not God-forsaken, however it may feel. God Himself would be God-forsaken so we could understand that we never are. Not by His choice, anyway.

Jesus wept” is a microcosm of human history with the main weeping-event at its centre, that event that divides our calendar into “before” and “after,” that event that is the ultimate example of God weeping, that event that we commemorate and then celebrate this weekend.

I wept today (a little) not because I don’t know how the story ends. Not because I don’t know that the main character (even this main character) gets her happy ending. Not because I don’t know that the disciples’ dregs of despair would be turned into wild, exuberant, scarcely-believable, over-the-top rejoicing. But I wept because weeping over the process is an appropriate response. John 11:35 shows us that.

But John 11:35 is followed (eventually) by John 20:1. “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” And we must never forget that outcome. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Happy Resurrection Sunday, Everybody!

The Search

An excerpt from LOOK AROUND! Ten Observations That Lead to One Conclusion.

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Are you an observer? Do you sometimes find yourself in public places just watching people? Do you sit and wonder what their lives are like, trying to imagine each individual’s unique experiences?

If you answered, “Yes,” I’m with you.

Sometimes, when I’m in a crowd, I’m overwhelmed by the realization of all the billions of “Me”s there are out there. I may subconsciously view myself as the centre of my universe and the most important person on earth, but I’m sometimes shaken out of that view by the startling reminder that all the vast array of people surrounding me are all equally the most important persons on earth, all running their own personal, little universes and leading lives that are just as central to them as mine is to me. I try to imagine what those lives are like, but even more mysterious, I wonder what goes on inside all those heads bobbing by. What are they thinking about?

Ideas interest me. I’m always fascinated to listen and learn how other people think. It doesn’t take a whole lot of listening and learning to come to a realization that is just as mind-blowing as the one where I have to acknowledge that I might not objectively be the most important person on earth. When I finally get that tiny glimpse inside other people’s minds, I learn the tragic and shattering truth that not everyone thinks like I do. We all think very differently. We all have different perspectives, different perceptions.

Recognizing this reality has led many to the conclusion, “There is no absolute truth.”

Now, on the face of it, it’s a nonsense statement. “There is no absolute truth,” is an absolute statement. It must be either true or false. If it’s true, that would make it a statement of absolute truth, stating that there is no absolute truth. As it’s stated, it self-contradicts, so logically, it must be a false statement.

But when people make statements like, “There is no absolute truth,” they may really mean something like, “We can’t absolutely know the truth,” or “No one knows the truth about everything.” And that’s certainly true! If we all see things differently, how could we know who’s right and who’s wrong? We’re all just human, after all. Some may score higher on IQ tests than others, but that doesn’t automatically make the higher IQ individuals right about everything and the lower IQ individuals wrong about everything. No single human is qualified to impose his or her way of seeing things on the rest of us because no single human knows the truth about everything. In fact, because we all have different perspectives on any and every subject, perhaps we could say that no one knows the truth about anything! I mean that no one can know for a certainty that his or her way of looking at a thing is the one right way. I see a certain thing a certain way; someone else has a different way of looking at it, and I can never be absolutely sure that my way is the right way and someone else is seeing it the wrong-way-round.

This is likely what a great many people mean by, “There is no absolute truth.” They mean, “For us, there is no absolute truth. We have no access to absolute truth because we can’t know it. We can’t know when we’ve accessed truth. So, for us as humans, there is no absolute truth. Not if we can’t know about it. It’s not part of our reality. Whether or not absolute truth exists is irrelevant because our own personal realities only consist of the things we know about. Because we can’t know absolutely what’s true and what isn’t, knowing the truth isn’t important. If it’s impossible, it can’t be very important. So, it doesn’t matter what a person thinks. You can believe your way, and I’ll believe mine.”

Let’s examine this chain of ideas and see if there are flaws in this line of reasoning that would disqualify it from being a sound line of reasoning, coming out at a true conclusion.

I’d like to start with my first observation of life and hold it up against this idea of “No absolute truth” and the thinking behind it. I’ll call this observation “The Search.”

All of us are on a search. We spend every waking minute on a hunt for truth in one form or another.

None of us may know anything absolutely, but we all believe something. Let’s define the word “believe” as, “To think to be true.” What I believe, quite simply, I think is true! That’s a quick, little definition, but I think it’s accurate. By picking and choosing what we’ll believe and what we’ll disbelieve, we’ve demonstrated that we’re all on a search for truth. And believing, whether you’ve ever noticed it or not, is a mental process that is going on in your brain every minute of every day.

It may be (and I agree; it is!) impossible for us to know anything beyond any and all possible doubt or disagreement. But it’s equally impossible for us to stop believing and disbelieving and deciding what we believe and what we disbelieve. And if we believe a thing, we think it to be true.

I don’t need to convince you that there is such a thing as truth. You already believe it! You prove it by your beliefs: by thinking some things true and other things false. I only need to convince you that you already believe there is such a thing as truth.

What is truth? Again, it’s not complicated. Truth is what is. Truth is whatever has existence or occurrence, even if an abstract or inner existence or occurrence. I’ve heard the definition that truth is anything which conforms to reality. Falsehood is anything which doesn’t conform to reality. “Truth” is really just a word we use to mean “that which has being.” So if you believe that anything exists, you believe in truth.

If you like to toy with the notions that things are not what they seem—that mind is the only reality and matter is an illusion, that you’re only living in a sort of a dream, the matrix, or some sort of simulated universe—you still believe in existence. You are conscious. If you’re not, then you didn’t just hear me tell you you’re conscious, but you did, so you’re conscious. And consciousness necessitates existence. If there’s no existence outside of consciousness, at least consciousness exists. “I think, therefore, I am.”* You (whoever or whatever you may happen to be) exist, and you know you do because you’re thinking. Even if you’re doing nothing but dreaming, there’s a you to do the dreaming.

If all of us spend all our lives on a truth-search, trying to learn what is, consciously or subconsciously hunting for the nature of reality under every bush and around every corner, this convinces me that truth, at least some truths, must be discoverable. Why would we all spend our lives searching for something that can’t be found? That would be a very strange state of affairs!

But how can we access truth if we can’t know it? That would seem to be the issue for the one who says, “There is no such thing as absolute truth for us. We can’t know truth, so we have no access to truth. For us, then, it’s the same as if no truth exists.”

And this is the part where I see a flaw in the argument: If we can’t know the truth (in that absolute-certainty kind of way), is that really the same thing as having no access to it? Is knowing (absolutely) the only access we could possibly have to truth? I would argue that it’s not.

What about belief? Is it possible we can access truth through belief? Even if we can never know absolutely that we’ve accessed some truth or other, it’s very possible that we have accessed it through the cognitive process of belief.

I would agree that if a thing is impossible, it can’t be very important. So I can agree that knowing anything (absolutely) is unimportant. It’s unnecessary and irrelevant. We don’t need to worry about knowing things in that absolute kind of way. But does it follow, then, that it doesn’t matter how we think and what we believe?

And here’s the problem with, “It’s impossible to know anything, so it doesn’t matter how we think. You can believe your way, and I’ll believe mine.” The statement conflates knowing (in the absolute sense) with thinking and believing (but knowing and believing are two very different ballgames) and jumps to the conclusion that if knowing doesn’t matter, then neither does believing. But remember that, while none of us can truly know-beyond-doubt, there’s another mental process that it’s impossible not to do: None of us can stop ourselves from believing. If it’s impossible to do a thing and, therefore, that thing is not very important, does it follow that if it’s impossible not to do a thing, the thing is probably very important? What we know is not important; what we believe may be vital.

When we begin to realize that what we believe controls every part of our lives that we have any say over, we can begin to understand why believing is such a vital activity. Every step we take through every day, every tiny decision, every tiny action, can be traced back to the way we think. It all comes down to what we believe, to what we’ve decided to think is true.

When I get up in the morning, it’s because I believe I have some reason to do so. If I choose to stay in bed all day, it’s because I believe it won’t really matter if I get up or not. If I choose to brush my teeth after I get up (if I’ve decided to believe it was important that I get up), it’s because I believe brushing my teeth will help me keep them. If I decide not to brush my teeth, it’s because I believe it won’t really matter, anyway. If I make my bed, it’s because I believe making my bed will add something to my life. If I don’t make my bed, it will show that I don’t believe there’s any real purpose to making the bed. When I decide what I’ll eat for breakfast, I’ll make a healthier choice if I believe it will help me be healthier. If I choose the Sugar Crunchies, it will also come down to what I’ve decided to believe about the merits of Sugar Crunchies versus a healthier choice.

Our desires interact with and influence our beliefs, but we make our decisions based on our beliefs. I may have the desire to stay in bed all day (or climb out just long enough to pour myself a bowl or two of Sugar Crunchies), but I often act against my desires. My actions show that my beliefs are controlling them and not strictly my desires.

Now, it’s true that not everything we believe is of equal importance. Truths are all equally true, but they’re not all equally important.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s true that brushing my teeth and eating a healthy diet will make a positive difference in my life. I may choose to deny these truths and believe that my teeth will manage just fine all on their own with no brushing, even after a steady diet of Sugar Crunchies. When I’m in the dentist’s chair with a toothache, I may realize that the first truth I denied was an important truth. Then, I may still think a steady diet of Sugar Crunchies can’t possibly hurt me as long as I brush my teeth. But if my steady diet of Sugar Crunchies leads to diabetes, I will realize that there are worse things than toothaches, and the second truth I denied was a more important truth. If I choose to believe that diabetes isn’t dangerous and continue with my steady diet of Sugar Crunchies and refuse all treatments for my diabetes, I will eventually learn that I’ve denied a terribly important truth, one that may cost me my life through my denial of it. I hope you’re starting to see that what we believe just might matter, and some truths are very important ones to believe.

But let’s talk about even more important beliefs than ones that may save our teeth or our lives. There’s a certain set of beliefs that all of us believe to be very vital. Some don’t realize that they believe this belief (I mean, believe the belief that this certain set of beliefs is a vital one), but I’ve never yet met anyone who doesn’t believe it. Even if a person doesn’t admit it and doesn’t realize it, he or she proves it in everything he or she says and does. All of us consider our beliefs about morality—about right and wrong—to be vital beliefs.

Some will tell me that, just as there is no absolute truth, there is no absolute standard of morality; that just as we all have different perspectives, so we all have our own personal moral standards, and no one is qualified to tell anyone else that his standard is the only true standard. But such a person will immediately fly into a towering rage when his own personal standard is violated in some way.

If we have nothing more than billions and billions of our own personal moral standards as the basis for morality, then we have no right to impose our own personal moral standards on anyone else although we may still choose to do so if we have the ability to do so. But there is no “should.” There is no “ought to.” Those kinds of words imply a larger, overarching moral standard. An absolute moral standard.

We have to force this idea to its final outcome and look at the most blatant example of a divergent personal moral standard we’ve seen in modern history. If all we have are our own personal moral codes and there is no absolute standard of morality, then what Hitler did wasn’t really wrong and there really was no reason he shouldn’t have done what he did. That is what we’re faced with if there is no absolute standard of morality.

Laws and their penalties could still be enacted to punish those behaviours we deem unacceptable in society, but there would be no moral grounds for them. It would come down to one set of arbitrary standards triumphing over others by virtue of the strength of the numbers supporting it. It would come down to what we’ve agreed works best for us. It would come down to expedience. It would come down to “majority rules.” It would come down to “might makes right.”

The Hitlers of the world may be stopped by those who want to stop them for no real reason other than they happen to want to stop him and they have the power to do so. But if you are convinced of the “No moral absolutes” way of thinking, you are faced with the reality that if Hitler’s side had been stronger in World War II and the world was now dominated by the ideology that spawned the Holocaust (“might makes right”), you would have no basis for saying that wrong prevailed over right. “Might makes right” is the ultimate destination of the “No absolute moral standard” viewpoint. And it is the ideology that laid the groundwork for the historical event of the Holocaust. Yes, it does matter what we believe, and there are some truths we can’t afford to get wrong.

Although I’m sure they exist, I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who truly disbelieves in an absolute moral standard. I don’t believe I know anyone who could look me in the eye and tell me that Hitler wasn’t really wrong and there was no real reason he shouldn’t have done what he did. I don’t imagine anyone among my acquaintances fully embraces the ideology that might makes right. If you are one of those who claim to believe in no absolute moral standard, are you prepared to accept all the implications of such a belief? I’ll leave you there, pondering that question.

But this is a dilemma! We’ve seen that we all have different perspectives and perceptions and that no single human is qualified to impose his way of seeing things on the rest of us. We all have our own personal moral codes, and no single human is qualified to impose his own personal moral code on the rest of us. Nor does consensus determine absolute truth or morality because we’ve seen that the world used to agree on “facts” and “sins” that the world no longer agrees are facts or sins. Consensus changes. It can’t determine truth.

It doesn’t matter very much when we’re talking about not making our beds or occasionally skipping brushing our teeth or eating the odd bowl of Sugar Crunchies. But now we’re talking about Holocausts and genocides and mass shootings and terrorist attacks and serial killings and child abuse and every other manner of evil, and suddenly, it matters very much. Truths about right and wrong are very important truths, and if we are all there is, then all we have are our divergent, competing, but equal, personal moral standards. And we have history to show us the mess all those billions of personal moral standards land us in.

Here’s the conclusion to which my observation of life and the search that all of us are on leads me: We are not all there is!

If there is absolute truth and an absolute moral standard that can be truth for us, then there must be some Mind greater than ours to finally know the truth. About everything.

And if we are to be able to access this absolute truth through belief, then this Mind must be a Mind capable of communicating the truth to us for us to believe it.

If there is no one besides ourselves, if human minds or any other fallible and non-omniscient minds are the only minds in existence, then, in essence, there is no absolute truth! There is no absolute standard of morality! We are adrift on a sea of speculation and ignorance. We may as well eat the Sugar Crunchies or commit the genocides or follow any other desires that happen to conspire within us. Nothing really matters.

But this is a conclusion that none of us can stomach. None of us can live consistently with the inherently self-contradictory doctrine that there is no absolute truth. We are all on a search for truth. We feel it to be vital that there is a real right and a real wrong. We all secretly (a secret we even keep from ourselves, sometimes) believe that there is truth and there is a real right and a real wrong. But we’re reluctant to follow the search to its logical conclusion and admit to a Mind greater than our own; an infallible, omniscient Mind; a Mind that knows everything there is to be known; a Mind capable of communicating some important truths to us.

If there is such a Mind (and my observations so far lead me to believe the likelihood is strong), what can we learn about this Being just by looking around at our world and the realities that surround us? Let’s dive in to the truth-search.