Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why Would You Do That?

The Lord God said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men, therefore I will again deal with this people in surprising and wondrous fashion:  The wisdom of its wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men be hid.
--- Isaiah 29
Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said to yourself, “I, and no one else!”  But upon you shall come evil you will not know how to predict; disaster shall befall you which you cannot allay.  Suddenly there shall come upon you ruin which you will not expect.
--- Isaiah 47
Rejoice, you heavens, and celebrate, O earth: cry out with praise, you mountains; for the Lord will have compassion on his poor.
--- Isaiah 49
The coming of Advent brings some heavy reading in the Church, words from the books of Isaiah and Revelations.  We’ll read and hear much about how people have sinned and forgotten God.  In Isaiah, we’ll read the promises that a Savior will come.  In Revelation we’ll read about the same sinning, and that a Savior will come --- again.  But they will be two vastly different comings, one to sow, and one to harvest.  Now, with the coming of Jesus, the sowing has been done, and the crops have had time to grow --- and even be re-seeded where some fields came up bare, but as the time of harvest --- His re-coming ---grows nearer, I wonder what the harvest Master is thinking and seeing, as He surveys the results of His work.
  -  -  -  -  - 
I was out of reading material again this past week, and so I gathered up the used books I had read, along with the new ones I was enticed to buy at the local grocery, and went to the used book store, to trade them in and re-stock my reading pile.  I buy 16 books there once a month, or actually I buy 15, since the store has a policy of buy 15, and get one free.  When I entered the store, the woman greeted me joyfully:  “Well, now that Obama won, are you going to fire everyone who works for you?”  (Last month I had informed her about mom’s caregivers, who thought that elections didn’t matter.  “I informed them,” I said, “that if the economy tanks, as I expect it might under Obama’s policies, I might have to let them go, to preserve mom’s remaining investments, out of which they are paid.”)  I told the bookstore owner that mom’s investment value had dropped considerably, but no, I had let no one go --- yet.  She laughed.
Then she changed the conversation to one of more immediate interest to her:  “Why don’t you buy my bookstore, so I can retire?”  I told her I didn’t think that was going to happen; I had better things to do with my money and time.  “But this is perfect for you,” she countered.  “You could read as much as you want, and you’d get to meet lots of interesting people.”  I told her that I read as much as I do, for now, because of the time spent caring for my mom, much of it quiet time allowing me to read much.  Assuming I outlive my mother, there may come a time when I will find better things to do than just read --- certainly there are more important things.
  “Like what,” she asked.
“Well, I can spend more time helping my neighbors,” I said.  Right now I help one who is out of a job and in need of money to survive.  “Why would you do that,” she asked.  “Doesn’t he get unemployment and food stamps?  And what if he can’t pay you back?  Don’t you have things you want with your money, like making sure you have enough for a happy retirement?  That’s why I’m asking you to buy this store, so you can find how enjoyable a job this is --- that and the fact that I need money for MY retirement,” she opined honestly.
Relative to helping my neighbor, I said I do that because of the commandment to love your neighbor.  (I didn’t go into any depth about why it is YOUR responsibility not the government’s, as I have written about here in the past.)  When I mentioned “love your neighbor,” she said: “Oh yeh, well, you have to love yourself, too.”  Unsaid was her obvious priority between the two.  Her mindset, as with many in our culture, is about taking care of oneself first --- or making sure the government does it.  Loving your neighbor and charity comes only “if you have any money left over.”  And she believes that makes her a good Christian.
I mentioned that I was prepared to live a modest retirement, with the investments and income I had --- despite what may happen to the economy.  “Well, not everyone has big pensions,” she said.  I noted that I had been saving for my retirement since I was 21.  “New cars, houses, clothes and other things came last, saving came first.”  She looked shocked.  “You’re kidding!”  I dropped that topic there; it was water over the dam to talk about what should have been done by her in the past.  I’m sure she “couldn’t have afforded to save” for retirement in her youth, even as she did indulge in other, more immediate things, that she wanted.  I was taught to save for whatever I wanted; she was taught to get whatever she wanted --- now.  We wouldn’t un-teach the learning of a lifetime in a checkout counter conversation.
This woman, a nice lady, is a typical example of the divide in our country, among the rich and the poor, among the educated and the illiterate; it is a cultural mindset, something we were taught in our youth and accepted, the answer to the question:  Who is number one?  I was taught God and neighbor, and she was taught perhaps that also, but … .  She was implicitly taught, probably in many subtle ways, a “but” --- but she had to take care of herself first.  What she, and many others of her worldview, was not taught however, was why.  Why should I believe what I believe, and why should she believe what she believes.  I don’t think that discussion ever came up, at least not on a belief-comparison basis.
Isaiah and Revelation talk about bad things, sin, and the need for a Savior.  But they also teach why, why He came.  He came to not only forgive our sins and harvest the righteous, but there was another reason:  that we might have eternal life, with Him.  His work in sowing, and our work in growing, had a purpose, a “why.”  It was that we might have eternal life.  It’s kind of like my saving for retirement my whole life.  Why?  So that I could enjoy comfort thereafter.  My friend in the bookstore might not understand why I did not deluge my life, along the way, with anything that felt good to me, but that would be like a plant being deluged in fertilizer.  The plant might grow hugely, while it continued to grow during its life, but at the end it would yield no fruit.  We, like plants, are meant to yield fruit, for the harvest Master. 
I can understand why it is easy to forget or not believe these things.  After the planting, which occurred before we were born, we can’t see the harvest Master.  There are lots of writings about Him, but we can’t see Him now, and we don’t know when the harvest will come --- and it’s been so long coming that many believe it will never come.  I can understand those feelings.  It is hard to have faith in what you cannot see, but that’s what faith is.  Many of our culture believe that if science can’t prove something exists, it doesn’t.  They don’t ask the question of why we do one thing or another because they don’t believe there is an answer to that question.  “You do what you want and I’ll do what I want; there is no reason for it other than the fact we want to do it.”  That’s called relativism.  It says there are no absolute truths, nor Truth.  It doesn’t understand that I live my life for an eternal reward, and that is why I love my neighbor, even if it costs me something.  And so they ask:
“Why would you do that?” 
This Advent don’t just listen to the readings and doze off; “same old, same old” with an “I’ve heard it before” attitude.  But think on these things: sin, immediate gratification, do I really “deserve” all I want, and on eternity.  Don’t just think about WHAT the readings are saying, but WHY.  Why should I plan for the future, for eternity?  Can I really live counter to the culture, un-like “everyone” else who is “having fun?”  Why would you do that?  Is the reward big enough for my sacrifices?  And, I’d also urge you to consider, is the reward big enough for His sacrifice?
And finally, (for those who probably would never read this), if you really don’t believe there is an answer to the question, “Why?” then I’d urge you to be honest, and live honestly with what you say you believe.  If there is no reason to live without all you want, then I urge you to take all you want, to rob, to steal, to rape, to pillage, to cheat, to lie.  Let everyone else see who you are, so that they might have an example to live up to --- or look down upon.
Now, and perhaps in eternity.   

No comments:

Post a Comment