the flourishing to come

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah 35:1-10

I am much interested in Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun’s book, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference (Theology for the Life of the World). It seems that they advocate for policies for human flourishing within the pluralistic world in which we live. I personally am all for that. I don’t know what else they say, but I’m sure they agree that full flourishing will come only at Jesus’s return when God’s promise of salvation and new creation will be fully realized.

Human flourishing is at the heart of God’s will for the world, for humankind. It’s when all is well, humans are individually well themselves, and living in the relations in which they’re meant to live with each other. Each realizing their full potential, and enjoying the outcome of that together.

Unfortunately in this present existence, simply put, there’s too much resistance against God’s will. There’s both lack of faith, and actual desire to live in God’s will. Although in common grace there’s much in common (not to repeat the same word so closely) with God’s will. There is goodness and righteousness along with evil, whether or not the educational elite can or are willing to recognize that.

We long for the breakthrough to come when the world will at long last be what God intended it to be. Paradise restored and human culture meeting its full potential in the life and love of God. In and through Jesus.

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is our focus uplifting?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Taken in context, Paul’s words here call us to a mindset that is uplifting, turning our attention to what in itself is wholesome and good. This has nothing at all to do with “the power of positive thinking,” or even “possibility thinking.” Nor does it have to do with shining our light into the darkness of this world. That will more or less naturally happen wherever we go as the light of the world in Christ. But yes, inevitably as we see the better way, we’ll see that the less better ways, or what we once thought to be good, or good enough must go. So it’s not like one has their head in the sand, either.

Sometimes Christians along with others see it as their moral duty to focus on all that’s wrong, the mess of the world with the goal of exposing and rooting it out, or at least taking a stand against it. There is surely a time to speak and a time to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). But one can become completely absorbed in that, totally occupied with it, so that there’s no time to do what we’re called to do in the passage above. I liked what I heard Dallas Willard say online in a talk, that only after one has worked hard all day, and is collapsing should they turn their attention to the news. That might be an overstatement to make a point. It’s not like we’re to ignore what’s unpleasant. But neither should that be our focus. Instead we’re to concentrate on what’s uplifting and helpful to us. Then hopefully that same spirit and practice can help others as we continue to be helped. In and through Jesus.

the moral fabric of society and the Christian witness

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 2:14-16a; 4:8-9

Philippians is a great (short) book to read and meditate on. Interestingly, Philippi was a Roman military outpost, so at least in that respect, it was quite what we would call today, nationalistic. It surely had the normalcy of cities with city life and its own culture. Paul’s letter is written in that backdrop.

Fast-forward to today, and while we see stark differences, I think we can find more similarities than not. For Christians to live in a kind of exile on earth as ultimately citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) had its precedent in Jeremiah 29 where the people of God were to settle down and live as witnesses of God, hopeful for the true good of the nation where they lived.

Paul’s words on what we’re to think on involve terms that were quite embedded in the culture of his day. What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, yes- excellent or praiseworthy. Our thoughts are to be on such things. If we embrace politicians and systems that violate these ideals, are we really adhering to what Paul is getting at here? I would argue that we’re not.

Christians can advocate for the unborn, for the protection of minorities, etc., while not lining up with what is untruthful and ugly. We should never have any part in that, or at least hold it at arm’s length. Someone once told me something we all more or less take for granted: “Politics is dirty.” Okay. But that doesn’t mean Christians should get in that dirt, nor look the other way, thus unwittingly participating in it.

And that gets to Paul’s words quoted above, that we’re to conduct ourselves in keeping with being God’s children: in a manner, first with our tongues, in which we’re blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, as we hold on to the word of life: the gospel or good news of Christ, and Scripture in that context. That we’re to be witnesses of the light of the world, Jesus, and not dim the light we are in him is central to what Paul is getting at.

If we care about society, then we can’t accept something less than that. Our main concern by far is our witness, and being faithful to Christ. We hope and pray for the best in this world, and acknowledge its limitations, while pressing for better. And we realize that the one true life is found only in the church through the one good news in and through Jesus.

what is important, what to be remembered for

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…

2 Peter 1:5a

In the world in which we live, knowledge seems to be considered the end all, everything. And it’s assumed that if you know enough, you’ll do the right thing, or that this is true of society in general. What’s need is just more education. Ethics are considered quite secondary in education nowadays. If you start talking about ethics, then you’re pushing something beyond what is scientific or pure knowledge. The modern world has little regard for anything beyond what can be measured and verified scientifically. And so knowledge is on the throne, the kind that humans can gather especially in scientific ways, through ongoing hypothesis, testing, and observation. And a popular differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is all but ignored, at least too much of the time.

Actually in Scripture knowledge and wisdom are essentially synonymous. Both are revelatory, received from God for life. Knowledge might be somewhat for knowledge’s sake from God, but is never separated from who we are, who God is, and apart from the world in which we live. It is given for appreciation for and navigation through this world. And the proper term for this might be understanding. Knowledge and wisdom are given to us from God for our understanding of life both in reference to the world at large, and how we should live in it.

In the list from 2 Peter, we see that goodness precedes knowledge (click the above link). We’re to add to our faith, not first knowledge, but goodness, then knowledge. I know some Bible scholars say the order of the list is not important and beside the point, that they’re all to be added to our faith. I think that’s a fair point, but I also think their order is suggestive. Goodness carries the idea of what is helpful and fitting to be and do in love for others. God alone is good, but imparts goodness to his creation, particularly to those made in his image: humankind.

What the world needs, indeed what the church needs first of all is not more intelligence, but more goodness. Intelligence in and of itself does not automatically result or even tend toward goodness. But goodness does result in the kind of intelligence which is helpful to all. What is appreciated in God’s eyes, and truly godly, and what is really needed in the world is a high dose of goodness, then the intelligence that follows will be helpful. As God gives that to us in and through Jesus.

not acting on emotions

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

I think one of the greatest problems we have in not really following through on wisdom as we would like is our habit of acting on impulse. Somehow we proceed on how we feel, our emotions, rather than on good thinking based on understanding considered in the light of what is good for others and ourselves, in the fear and goodness of God.

It is almost a given that if we feel a certain way, then corresponding words or actions will follow. For example, someone cuts us off on the road, or sits at a light. At best we might utter a relatively mild word under our breath, at worst we remark that they’re dumb. Or I might just think they’re on their cell phones, and shake my head in disgust.

What Scripture calls us to is not some stoic resolve and refusal to acknowledge what is happening and how we feel. I’ve seen people act like everything is okay when it’s not, and keep doing that only to explode at a certain point later. It’s better to shake one’s head right along, while keeping oneself mostly in check, not flying off the handle. But better yet is the refusal not to act at all on our emotions which we would call negative. But rather, to keep working through things in a thoughtfully wise and understanding way. And many times along the way that will involve prayers to God and seeking help from others, as well as simply persevering in what we need to do.

Like the NET Bible footnote tells us, it is harder for us to appreciate the impact of this verse now, since the kind of warfare mentioned is largely a thing of the past. If we carried that forward to what we know of the military today, they’re trained not to act on emotion, but strictly on command. But in our imagination we can go back to the days when military feats we’re done in hand to hand combat.  I actually don’t think it’s so much comparing one action to the other, but rather simply saying that one mode of conduct is better than the other.

The Holy Spirit and the word helps us to avoid what is not helpful. To be patient, or slow to anger, to be self-controlled. It’s vitally important that we don’t act on negative emotions like anger or fear when we know our words or actions will not help those who hear or see us. Best never to act on such emotions at all. Part of living in wisdom, knowing what is good and right and helpful. In and through Jesus.

 

goodness after faith

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:1-11

Knowledge is the watchword not only nowadays, but for some time now. Our universities value knowledge above all else. It is popular to assume that it can solve all our problems, or we can solve our problems, and come to live a flourishing life through knowledge. And indeed knowledge is important in its place. And right at our fingertips nowadays, we can answer any question in less than a minute, then find out much more. That’s a blessing.

The only problem is that knowledge in itself rarely if at all changes us. Something else must come before that if indeed we are to change. There has to be a “goodness” which takes in a number of other virtues, not the least of which is humility, before knowledge can arguably help us at all. There is no end to how humans can misuse knowledge.

This all began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate from the one tree forbidden, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In doing so, theology says they lost their innocence. And key in it was the serpent’s suggestion to Eve by insinuation that God is not really good since God would withhold something good from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). We could say that knowledge, in this case an experiential knowledge replaced faith.

It’s not like the two are mutually exclusive. But for human flourishing, one has to precede the other. Faith comes first. By faith we can properly understand. And at the heart of such understanding is a commitment to goodness. But even that must begin by realizing that God is good and that God’s goodness precedes our own, evident even from the passage of Peter quoted above. We must hold on to faith in God, and in God’s goodness.

Because of God’s greatness and goodness given to us in his promises and our actual participation in God’s nature, we’re to make every effort to add to our faith, goodness, etc. Although exegetes say the order doesn’t matter, and I wouldn’t argue against that. They are all important, and need to be taken together. Yet in the actual reading, goodness is after faith, and after goodness, knowledge. I can’t help but think the sequence of wording has some meaning to it. All that we’re to add to faith must be taken together. We don’t add just one of them at a time, but all of it together in a lump sum; they all go together. Without goodness, knowledge is bereft. And without knowledge, goodness is frustrated and potentially even somewhat limited, we might say.

This all begins with God’s goodness, along with his greatness. From that God gifts us with yes, that very same goodness. A goodness meant for us humans made in God’s image. Essentially basic to our basic humanity in creation, and in becoming fully human in the new creation in and through Jesus.

what is good? dwell on that

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Paul wrote with what has been pointed out to be Hellenistic terms here. In other words the whatever means whatever. And the terms need to be taken all together: what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. Something might be good, but not praiseworthy, for example a person might be quite good at something which in itself is not morally good. That of course is excluded from what we’re to dwell on, according to Paul.

Unfortunately not everything is comfortable or easy. Christians are concerned for the common good through common grace, as well as the gospel. It would be nice if everything could be black and white, but reality requires discernment. We have to sort out the good from the bad in our judgments. And we need to do so humbly, even shaking a bit in our boots, so to speak, knowing that it begins with us.

I have to be in the word every day, regularly throughout the day. And in prayer. And I don’t want to dwell on what doesn’t fit Paul’s list above. Such as media on any side which is riddled with attitudes and words which sadly are anything but good. Maybe one can spend a bit of time in that (I don’t), but one has to be careful. It reminds me of a group of people who had to consider pornography by actually observing it. I remember one person saying how difficult that was. Not!

I personally love to listen to classical music, my favorite being Bach (right now, violin concertos). Anything good, we’re to fill our minds and hearts with. Then we’ll be able to see readily through what is not good, and address that in an appropriate manner, even as we remain committed to keeping our focus on what is good, ultimately our focus on the Lord himself, and the good news in him.