Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Love and power

I was thinking about love on the bus ride home today. In particular, what I came to realize is that when you truly love someone, that love empowers you in that person's life. A fantastic passage illustrating this is from George Macdonald's Phantastes, which I will now quote at length:

It was evening. The sun was below the horizon; but his rosy beams yet illuminated a feathery cloud, that floated high above the world. I arose, I reached the cloud; and, throwing myself upon it, floated with it in sight of the sinking sun. He sank, and the cloud grew gray; but the grayness touched not my heart. It carried its rose-hue within; for now I could love without needing to be loved again. The moon came gliding up with all the past in her wan face. She changed my couch into a ghostly pallor, and threw all the earth below as to the bottom of a pale sea of dreams. But she could not make me sad. I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This is possible in the realms of lofty Death. "Ah! my friends," thought I, "how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you with my love."
This is a beautiful passage and the part that really struck me is how he speaks of the power that comes to someone who loves another. As he says, this is a power that cannot be but for good. I would call it (somewhat tritely) a "power under your beloved" rather than a "power over" them. It is a power, but it's a power to serve, honor and lift up that person; not to manipulate them to do anything for you (selfishness, using them to serve or satisfy you) but a power to do good in their life.

It is a position of sacrificing your own interests, taking up their interests and doing what you can to see them blessed. But the true mystery is that it really does give you power in their life. This is something that I have experienced with 2-3 of my closest friends and it's hard to explain but I really feel like I have the ability to affect their lives in various ways, such as influencing their thoughts, emotions or decisions.

Like Macdonald says, this doesn't have anything to do with whether that person even knows you. Anybody (loving or not) can manipulate others through words, to change how they act. I'm not talking about giving advice to my friends who trust me and therefore I have power in that trust. What I'm talking about is that through my love for them, I have a direct line of power into their spirit/soul to change them and bless them.

But lest anyone fear manipulation, the other mystery is that this power is purely derived from the love (selfless concern for the other), so if a person even starts thinking about using that power for anything but the good of the beloved, the power fades.

A more concrete example I thought of is this. When I was in college, I remember once when my campus minister was sharing some prophetic words with me and a few other students there. These were not "regular" prophetic words, but rather he was getting prophetic insight into our lives because he was our minister. On other occasions, he would just randomly know stuff about me. I believe he was able to do this because he had true spiritual authority over our lives, but at a deeper level you can only have spiritual authority over another person if you love them. Jesus says the greatest among you will be the servant of all. True love is laying down your life for your friend. Therefore the path to gaining spiritual authority over others is to have selfless love for them, considering your own personal interests as less important than theirs.

And on a slight tangent, this is how you can reliably identify spiritual authorities over you. There is a lot of confused and confusing teaching about authority in the church, but at a simple level if you want to know if someone is an authority over you, just ask yourself how much they love you. The proportion in which they selflessly love you is how much of an authority they are.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Abstract Beauty and Known Beauty

Even though I've thought a lot about this, I'll try to keep this post short to save myself time. I've been thinking about two things, which I call "abstract beauty" and "known beauty". Abstract beauty is what happens when I see beautiful people who I do not personally know. It's abstract because, even though the beauty is real, I don't know the issues they deal with and what's going on in their lives. So in these people, I get to see the exterior beauty, but I do not get to see the interior struggle.

With Known Beauty, this is what happens when I see beautiful people who I know very well. Not only do I get to see their outward beauty, but I also get to see them fight through and overcome difficult situations. I get to see their joy and pain through all the various issues of life, and so to me, their outward beauty is filled with the substance of my knowledge of their inner beauty.

So what I've been thinking about is how amazing it is that so many people with so much brokenness and horror within can be so beautiful on the outside. I'm thinking of both people who overcome their difficulties (like my friends) and people who are overcome by their problems (for a biblical example, Cain). For all these people, outward beauty is a manifestation of the grace of God, which is so incredible to see. I honestly marvel whenever I see beautiful people because outward beauty is a mark and a sign of the grace of God over a person's life.

But if that is a marvel, I am even more astonished at the inward beauty that I have seen in the lives of my friends. If outward beauty is a mark or sign of the grace of God, then inward beauty is the substance of the grace of God filling a person's life. That is truly a profound miracle.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Random George MacDonald quote

The story goes on to tell how, at last, weary with wintriness, she travelled towards the southern regions of her globe, to meet the spring on its slow way northwards; and how, after many sad adventures, many disappointed hopes, and many tears, bitter and fruitless, she found at last, one stormy afternoon, in a leafless forest, a single snowdrop growing betwixt the borders of the winter and spring. She lay down beside it and died. I almost believe that a child, pale and peaceful as a snowdrop, was born in the Earth within a fixed season from that stormy afternoon.

From Phantastes. So, so powerful.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Natural limitations vs. Divine provision

This post is cribbed from an email I sent to a group of friends, but it should be interesting and profitable even without the discussion that preceded it.


Hey guys, great discussion on the group today. I've been thinking about the first topic, the dichotomy between finite natural resources (and the human needs thereof) and infinite divine resources (and how we need provision from this too).

What I said on the call was that infinite divine provision "trumps" natural limitations, such as Jesus multiplying food to feed the 5000 and the 4000. However, in the same parable Jesus tells the disciples to collect the leftover scraps of bread. So at first glance there really is a paradox here: why would God who can multiply food tell people to collect the scraps of leftover bread and take it along? If he can multiply food, then "wasting" food becomes irrelevant. In a hypothetical scenario, why didn't Jesus multiply the food so much that it could feed 10000 and leave piles of bread in the dirt when everyone was done? It would have been a great testament to the extravagant, wasteful love of God, and yet he was not wasteful. He gave out as much food was needed and then stopped. It's actually somewhat surprising that there was ONLY 12 basketfuls of bread leftover, because that means that Jesus did not make too much.

There are two old testament parallels I can think of (I'm sure others can name more). One is the manna from heaven, where the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. God prevented people from hording by making the extra food spoil, so that they would have to come to him every day, but once again you see that the resource (manna given) matched the need. The second is the jars of oil that were multiplied for the widow (2 Kings 4). Once again you see that the oil stopped flowing when all the jars were filled, so there was provision to fill every jar to the fullest, but it stopped flowing so that oil was not wasted and poured out on the ground with nothing to contain it.

I believe all of these examples strongly highlight the importance of resource stewardship. Everything we have been given should be well managed (cf. Joseph in Pharaoh's house), and in an aggregate sense this means that we as a people should manage national resources well: natural resources, economic resources, technological resources, and the land, people and properties of our country. I believe that we individually and as a group collectively have a responsibility to govern the earth correctly and with prudence, including the preservation of natural habitat. In Revelation it says that God will destroy those who destroy the earth (Rev 11:18). Obviously it's important to not fit in that category (people who destroy the earth), but of course this is only one aspect of stewardship.

It's a very important question to ask how and why to reconcile natural stewardship (stewarding natural resources like money, property, land, human resources, etc) with divine provision. I believe that there are two equally-flawed extremes one could take and the best path is walking between them. On one extreme is focusing entirely on natural stewardship ("wisdom") and ignoring divine provision ("faith"). This would be the standard secular humanist perspective. Cf. Matthew 6:25-34, but in particular verse 32-33. In 32 you see that pagans (those who do not know God) run after natural resources, because they do not know divine provision. I'm sure they are great stewards of their possessions, because that's all they have.

The other extreme is ignoring "wisdom" and relying on "faith". In this case, you have people who believe that God will provide everything they need, but don't bother to save money or invest, or handle their finances correctly, etc. This is common in certain streams of charismatic Christianity and I don't think it's the right perspective.

Ultimately I don't think the flaws with either of these extremes is in actions, but ultimately the root issue is in the mentality. You see that again in Matt 6 where Jesus focuses on WORRY for "wisdom" based people. While I don't have a corresponding passage for "faith" based people, I think the bad mentality there is simply not understanding the ways of God and the original mandate of humanity (Gen 1:28, to care for and govern the earth). I don't know if I can identify one root mentality behind this behavior, but at least I can show in numerous ways how it contravenes God's desire and intention for humanity.

So in conclusion I think the best perspective is to combine both approaches with the Godly mentality of Matt 6:33-34, to seek first the Kingdom, to not worry about material possessions, to govern what is within our control with wisdom and intelligence, but always to have faith and belief in the abiding presence and provision of God. Do not seek after material things, do not let them control you, but use wisdom in investing what you have (donation is a form of investment), and let your peace rest in the knowledge that God will always provide what you need.

Finding the balancing point between faith and wisdom can be tricky, but if you seek the heart of God about this and seek his ways I believe that he will give us all clarity on this matter. See Psalm 25 for a GREAT prayer on learning the ways of God.

The LORD confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.