Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Friday, June 23, 2006

Progress vs Purpose

I've just started reading "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard and was struck by a quote from the writings of Tolstoy. The basic concept of this chapter is that life without moral structure is meaningless (at least) and enevitably dangerous. In our world today, universities are allowed to teach morality only as something to "understand" rather than something to believe and follow.
For example, you may study Christian morals and then Communist morals and then Muslim morals for the purpose of understanding and comparing the moral codes as an exploration in culture and thinking. But, it does nothing for the student other than to inform. Understanding of moral living without a compulsion to apply that morality is, in post-modernity, the point of religious or philosphical study.
This basically leads to very educated people with no personal moral code. And what is the result of that? It could lead to manipulative managers or vascilating leaders or permissive teachers or frustrated parents or damaged people... But, one thing it wont lead to is someone who passionately lives for a set of ideals because it is true, right and holy. That is, to the post-modern immersed reality, both arrogant and naive.

So, here's Tolstoy's statement considering the above worldview:

Leo Tolstoy in "Confession"
I was like a man in a boat who when carried along by wind and waves should reply to what for him is the chief and only question. "whither to steer", by saying, "We are being carried somewhere".

When I read this, it reminded me of a passage from Acts 27 telling the story of Paul's shipwreck experience. Paul had warned the sailors that if they sail on, at that time of year, they will get caught in a storm. The sailors, recognising that Paul was not a sailor and they were, stated that they were aware of the seasons and that they would easily make it to the next port before winter weather set in. Further, they assured Paul that if they hugged the coastline there would be no worry because they could sail into port at the first sign of bad weather. Paul, in his chains, shrugged his shoulders. He had warned them.

Acts 27:14-15
Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster," swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.

This passage was brought back to mind as I read the above quote from Tolstoy. He sees the post-modern plight as someone, in control of a ship called life, being told, "Don't try to stear, we are being carried somewhere!" Progress is not success. In fact, success is not necissarily beneficial. Both can be brought randomly by the winds of change. Only purpose - a north star - can bring true success or progress. Merely "going" is not valuable. But, going with purpose is everything in life. If that purpose is the right purpose!

Jesus said, "As you are going make disciples, baptise them, and teach them everything I taught you." We call that the great commision. But, it is not complete as I have quoted it because it does not have the purpose - the north star by which to steer - of going. Just before this three-phase commision Jesus said, "All authority in Heaven and on Earth are given to me, therefore..."

If you are going - discipling, baptising, teaching - with another purpose other than leading people to the authority of Christ, you are going astray. If the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.

We need to steer our ship toward Jesus, toward his reality, his authority. Without the North Star we will be blown by the winds of change and there will really be little reason to steer as, indeed, we are always being carried somewhere...