It’s unfortunate that far too many churches these days have jettisoned the traditional observance of Advent. I’d say they’re missing out on a lot. Historically, the Church revisits her course at this moment, making sure her heading is sound and her crew is ready.
For all of the cultural twinklings surrounding it, Advent is a darker season dealing in two contrasting images.
The first is the darkness of penitential concern. It’s a time for recalling the very real predicament facing the world because of Sin’s infection.
With this in mind, Advent takes aim at Mankind’s impotence in relation to Sin’s chief product, which is Death. It also anticipates the final day when the Lord returns to judge both the living and the dead. Together in these, all time and opportunities will have ended. A last breath will have happened, or the Last Day will have arrived, and you will go. The time for even the most foolish negotiating will have passed. There will be no discussing or bending the standards. There will be no convincing God to your side with explanations that you did your best to keep the Law (the Ten Commandments). You won’t find room between the two of you for slight disagreement on what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Advent strips away all hope for leniency by works of the Law. It helps to remind us that “in Adam, all men die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). It puts before us the divine cue that the Law silences everyone, holding all humans accountable to God’s perfect standards (Romans 3:19). And lest we forget, Advent reminds us of the inescapable predicament of the Sin-nature in all of us. Standing beside the Law’s requirements, we’ll discover the impossibility of ever being counted righteous by our deeds (v. 20).
Advent teaches the hopelessness of human effort against all that plagues us when moving from this sphere to the next.
Advent also teaches that this dark night of helplessness isn’t permanent. Not only will it come to its completion at the Last Day, but Advent carries us back to the day the solution to the Sin problem was given—when Death was put on notice, and all of the long-foretold promises of God were completed in the God-man born to a virgin in Bethlehem. Advent looks to Christmas. It brings us back to the same sense of anticipation that’s ours as we await our last breath or we await the Last Day, except by faith, this time it’s fearless. It reminds us that the midnight concern of our lostness more than faded away in the sunrise of the Savior’s birth.
This is hope. Advent preaches this. It keeps before us the effervescent fact that God’s love moved Him to send His Son, Jesus, to save us, and faith’s grip on the merits of Jesus will, without question, see the believer through to eternal life. For believers, even though we die, yet shall we live (John 11:25). The One born on Christmas morn said this. In the same way, for believers, the Last Day will be like the celebration of Christmas. It won’t be a moment of terror, but rather a moment of bright-eyed joy. In fact, it will be a moment of familiarity, one that recalls the angels’ words to the shepherds about peace being accomplished between God and Man through the oncoming work of the newborn Christ. In that final moment before the returning Christ, such peace will be experienced as never before, and it will wash over us as we hear the voice of the One who once laid in a manger say, “Come and receive the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
After fifty-two long weeks of travel, having visited all of the distant landscapes of the Church Year, we’ve come full circle and arrived once again at Advent. We’ve come home.
Still somewhat afar off, there’s a plain between us and Advent’s perpetual twilight eve of waiting—an oasis of sorts. It’s always been there. We just didn’t necessarily notice it until a handful of our nation’s most thoughtful carved it from the landscape, cultivated it, and made it a more prominent vista. They named this lush borderland “The National Day of Thanksgiving.”
Strangely, some of the Church Year’s travelers have been long-bothered by the demarcation of this day. Each year at this time, they share their concerns for such a day instituted by this world’s princes and celebrated by the Church. And so, passing through its parcel, they say it doesn’t belong—that the Last Sunday of the Church Year is well enough equipped for delivering us into the new Church Year, and the Day of National Thanksgiving needn’t be one of the Church’s events. I’d say these fellow travelers are right, if only by their humbug commentary they didn’t demonstrate a bizarre disposition against one more opportunity for thankfulness. Doing this, perhaps they prove, even more so, the National Day of Thanksgiving’s necessity.
I agree with them in the sense that thankfulness is already written into each and every stop along the Church Year’s way. This is true because it’s written into the souls of believing travelers by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. This means thankfulness is a fruit of faith that cannot be kept from sprouting from the soil of the Church’s collective heart, reaching up toward the sunlight of God’s grace, and rejoicing in His wonderfully sustaining love.
As this meets with the National Day of Thanksgiving, perhaps a day set aside and focused specifically on giving thanks works quite well between the Last Sunday of the Church Year and the First Sunday in Advent. The journey has ended, another is beginning, and both are born from the fact that God is always faithful all along the way. In between the two, thankfulness just seems natural. It’s what any normal traveler does when his journey has ended and he’s found himself at home’s doorstep. He does not wisp a thankless sigh, a sound made because he’s annoyed by home’s obligation. He sighs with thankful relief. He’s glad. And so, he falls to his knees—or perhaps he goes right inside to fall into his favorite chair, or into the arms of a loved one—and he gives thanks to the One who took careful notice of each of his steps along the way, being sure to guard and protect him through to the end of one journey, and into the brief respite granted before beginning another.
Saint Ambrose said so exactly: “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” In a radically individualized society filled with takers, I probably don’t need to explain Ambrose’s words to you.
With that, I say a day set aside that takes aim at thankfulness can do little, if anything, to harm our nation, let alone a Christian, no matter who established it. Besides, Christian thankfulness is already attuned within us. It’s always on the lookout for ways to show itself to a thankless culture. We need it to show itself. It certainly knows how. It knows far better than the world. Again, this is true because Christian thankfulness is powered by the right kind of joy—the kind born from the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is well-equipped for seizing every opportunity for gratitude in this life as we await the next. Christian thankfulness exists through sunshine and rain, warmth and cold, happiness and sorrow.
Just imagine how Christian thankfulness must leap for joy when it sees it has its own day on the calendar.
I suppose you don’t need to imagine it. Our Savior in Hartland is not a congregation that ignores the National Day of Thanksgiving. We’re glad for it, and we embrace it. It seems natural to do so. Perhaps even better, it seems only right. Come and see for yourself. Join the thanks-filled gathering of Christians here at Our Savior on November 25 at 10:00am. Join us as we take hold of the National Day of Thanksgiving and use it in a way that makes God smile; which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re gathering to give anything to or do anything for Him that He needs. We gather because of what He gives and does, and we have hearts for receiving more. We desire His soul-strengthening gifts of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament ministry. We want to receive this heavenly bounty whenever we can, and after each opportunity, to be sent out by His smile, which is the gracious benediction of His face shining upon us and giving us peace.
Indeed! O, give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good, and His mercies endure forever (Psalm 136:1)!
God bless and keep you, my friends, and may you have a wonderfully happy Thanksgiving. I hope to see you in worship. And, if I do, I’ll have one more reason to give thanks to my faithful God, not only for His grace, but also for your faithfulness.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned with age. I know this, as I’m sure you do, too. Perhaps like me, I’m guessing that if you sat and flipped through the pages of a photo album, one containing images chronicling the expanse of your life, you’d be able to reach into each grainy portrait to retrieve a lesson, perhaps something you know and understand now that you didn’t before that particular moment. Some of the lessons were hard-learned through trial, error, or struggle. Others were simple realizations born from the natural circumstances of an ever-unfolding life.
I have a picture on my shelf that includes me, Dinesh D’Souza, and Michael Shermer. Most folks know who Dinesh D’Souza is. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of “Skeptic” magazine. I have to say, when it comes to critical analysis, he’s no slouch. Before the debate, I read his book “Giving the Devil His Due.” I figured I’d better have some sort of grasp on the fiber of his being before attempting to engage in conversation with him. I’m glad I did. Not only did it make our time together much more gratifying—and I think, in the end, helped forge a genuine friendship—but I discovered the book wasn’t completely unenjoyable. In fact, it tested the fences of my own understanding of God—who He is and how He operates. I wouldn’t recommend giving it to an unchurched (or de-churched) high school or college student. Although, having learned rather recently that many high school students are entering universities in need of serious remedial reading assistance, unless they can dig deeper than emojis and SMS language, they might not get past the first few pages before feeling the urge to give up and watch gamer videos on YouTube. The book doesn’t spoon-feed the reader. It requires some effort.
Anyway, the picture I mentioned before was taken in my office after the debate between D’Souza and Shermer we hosted here at Our Savior in 2020. In the photo, we’re raising whisky-filled glasses in a toast. I remember the moment very well. I remember the evening’s discussion. When I look at the photo, I remember a lesson learned. Actually, I should say I learned several lessons, but the one I remember when I look at the picture is this: Humans are definitely skilled at reconciling the most glaring of contradictions. In other words, we can find ourselves trapped by inconsistencies, whether that be our behavior, words, or whatever, and yet we always seem to find a way to legitimize them, to justify them, to make them fit seamlessly together.
I won’t go into the details of the conversation that nurtured this discovery. I’ll just say it was definitely demonstrated. It was subtle, but also very apparent. Having experienced this indirect instance against the backdrop of two men of incredible intellect, I’ve learned to be much more observant, to listen more closely, and to respond more cautiously in most situations—more so than ever before. Doing so, I’m better able to see when I (or anyone I’m conversing with) have left the land of objective truth and entered into the realm of subjectivity. To flesh this out a little, I’ll give you a less cryptic example from current events.
Kyle Rittenhouse—the teen acquitted in Kenosha, Wisconsin for killing two attackers, one of whom had a handgun—had the charge leveled against him by the prosecutors (and countless onlookers) that he shouldn’t even have been in the situation to begin with, let alone armed. With that, it’s been the crux of so many that he provoked the incident. For the sake of clarity, Rittenhouse’s father lives in Kenosha, which helps make sense of his involvement; and the judge dismissed the charge that he was carrying his weapon illegally. Still, even without these things being said, a glaring contradiction emerges from the prosecutors’ charge. While they ask what reasons Rittenhouse had for being where he was—which, objectively speaking, it appears there were a several—they appear completely disinterested in the reason for the attackers being there, all three of whom had serious criminal histories. I’ve seen little discussion on this issue. Perhaps worse, it was established early on that the man who aimed the pistol at Rittenhouse was a convicted felon, namely, a pedophile. What’s a convicted felon doing with a gun—and in a city being burned to the ground, no less?
It seems the concern for one but not the other uncovers a rather glaring contradiction.
Another example I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the visceral anger being expressed by parents in relation to local school districts around the country. I read an article in “The Federalist” last week that sorted out what’s been troubling me. Yes, parents are mad that they’re being excluded from participating in their children’s education, and now they’re fighting back. Admittedly, they should be mad. Even better, I’m glad parents are finally leaning into these radical agendizing institutions. The ideologues at their helms need to be reminded that if anyone is to be considered sovereign in the parent/school relationship, it’s the parents. But what’s bothered me for so long is that these same parents have already been more than willing to relinquish so many of their parental responsibilities to the state. Long before feeding them into all-consuming sports, so many already served their kids up to “before care” and “after care” programs that pretty much handle all of the basic food, medical, and educational needs children require from the time they wake up to when they go to bed. Parents don’t need to feed them breakfast or dinner. They don’t have to help them with homework. They don’t have to help them navigate sexual or social concerns. The schools have programs for all of it.
Parents gave their kids to the state a long time ago, and now they’re mad when the state assumes the supreme role of parent? The contradiction here is piercing.
And lest we lose a molecule of honesty we have in this regard, this stuff isn’t just happening in the world around us. We see these contradictions in the Church, too. A person gossips, and when confronted, demands the benefit of the doubt. Another person complains after a long work week about Sunday morning worship being too early, only to be found standing in line at Walmart at 4:00am on Black Friday. Another person takes offense that his church didn’t reach out often enough over the years he was absent, saying he expected more from Christians. Another claims strict faithfulness to the Bible while heralding women’s ordination, the right to abortion, or defending his or her child’s homosexual disposition.
Before I go any further, I suppose I should at least give a nod to Aristotle’s Law of Contradiction (or Non-Contradiction, as it’s sometimes called). The Law of Contradiction is a relatively simple principle, but for as simple as it is, it’s necessary to logic and foundational to basic communication between individuals. In its most elementary sense, it establishes that two antithetical premises cannot both be true. In other words, red cannot be blue—or to use the philosopher’s language, “red” cannot simultaneously be “not red.” Perhaps more interestingly, no small number of philosophers in history worried that a society found abandoning this very simple law would have poisoned itself in a way leading to certain death. I wonder what that means for America, a country where science is no longer science, where a man can menstruate and an unborn human child is not, in fact, a human life.
As you can see, glaring contradictions abound in every aspect of our lives, and the fact that human beings have the uncanny ability to reconcile them in their favor proves something innately dark to humanity. The Bible knows what it is. For starters, take a trip through texts like Ephesians 2:3, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Psalm 51:5, Genesis 8:21, Romans 5:19, Romans 8:7 and you’ll likely figure out what it is. It’s Sin. Even further, God’s Word establishes the necessary boundaries for identifying Sin, not only by revealing and then measuring the specifics of God’s holy law (the Ten Commandments) against our lives, but also by confirming the Law of Contradiction as a very real thing at work in Natural Law. The Scriptures do this when the Apostle John announces so succinctly, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21); or when Saint Paul describes God by declaring, “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Of course, there are countless others, and by all of them, the Bible is not only affirming the existence of truth, but also reminding us that when we make excuses that justify our contradictions, it’s likely we’re on a dangerous trajectory aimed away from truth.
The fact that humans are so easily inclined to do this once again proves that the Sin-nature goes much deeper than we could have ever expected. We learn that Sin has burrowed comfortably into our souls and does not want to let go.
So what do we do?
Once I finish typing this note, I’m going to finish the sermon for this morning, which in its current course, spends a lot of time in the epistle appointed for today from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. It’s there that Saint Paul says pretty straightforwardly, “For you yourselves are fully aware…”
Indeed, God has not left us ignorant of the predicament. His holy Word answers the question. To deliver us from the darkness, He has given His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17). Trusting in Him and the Gospel Word of His wonderful work, we are different. We are attuned. We are aware. It’s from this that Saint Paul can assume there remains very little left in this world to surprise us like a thief (v. 4). We are no longer children of the darkness, but rather “children of light, children of the day” (v. 5). We can see what’s going on and not be duped. We can watch what’s happening and not be startled. In this particular text, Paul makes the case that not even the sudden return of Christ in glory at the Last Day will catch us unaware. We cling to truth. Truth keeps us prepared.
The text ends with Paul urging the reader to “encourage one another and build one another up” (v. 11). Consider this morning’s eNews message an encouragement to you to continue holding fast to the Word of God for discerning the world around you. Let it teach the lessons you’ll learn along the timeline of your life, many of which will be camera-captured and preserved as memories to be revisited. Let it be the ultimate source of revealed truth to you. Let it bring you to the knowledge of your sinfulness—to the seriousness of your devout commitment to “self” and the sinful contradictions we so often try to justify. From there, follow its lead as it tells you of the One who took your place in Sin on the cross, giving to you a new heart and a willing spirit that has more than enough muscle for arising from contradiction’s trap and aligning with faithfulness (Psalm 51:10-12).
Those who attended our conference back in October will know from the presentation I gave that the 1982 film “The Thing” is one of my favorites. It just so happens I’d been watching the film with my daughter, Madeline, a few days prior to the conference, and at one particular moment in the film, it suddenly occurred to me just how similar the terrifying creature was to liberal progressives and the Democrat party’s platform principles. I detailed these in my speech.
But that’s not what’s on my mind this morning.
About a year ago, I joined an online forum devoted to “The Thing.” I don’t provide much content in the group. To be honest, in all of my time in the forum, I’ve only made a handful of comments. I’m more of a lurker. Although, I did take a chance at starting a couple of discussions within the last few weeks that, in some ways, resulted in reaffirming a few premises of my presentation at the conference—which, again, if you haven’t seen it, can be viewed by visiting here: https://youtu.be/Y_97Ty6s7XA.
The first post I made was simply to share a couple of pictures of me on stage at the conference beside a projector screen beaming images of the original movie poster and a few of the movie’s characters. I shared these pictures because, firstly, it’s not out of step for the group’s members to work the well-beloved film into life’s everyday moments and then share it; and secondly, I’d just accomplished this in a public speech beside some folks of relative prominence. I didn’t tell them what my speech was about, but for context, I did include a picture of the panel discussion with Candace, Abby, Charlie, and me.
The first four or five comments were good, mostly high-five in nature, expressing how cool it was that I’d figured out how to bring the film in for a landing among such folks. But it certainly wasn’t very long before the pile-on of invectives against conservatives began, and of course, I was in the crosshairs of the viciousness.
To be clear, I did get a few private messages from folks asking for a link to view the speech. I shared the link, and a few came back in follow up messages saying not only how I’d forever influenced their perception of one of their all-time favorite films, but how glad they were for my words. Unfortunately, none came to my defense publicly, and I understand why.
The last time I checked, the post had been deleted. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few posts since then that belittle conservatives. My post, which was not malicious in any way and said nothing political in nature, is gone. Their posts are still active.
Call me foolish, but the second post I made in the group happened last Monday. I offered it following a dinner conversation with my son, Harrison. He had suggested that the creature in “The Thing,” which assimilates and imitates every living thing it eats, probably couldn’t eat and imitate a Xenomorph, which is the creature from the movie series “Alien”—another of my favorites. The deeper Harrison and I got into the topic, the more I realized he was right. We even found ourselves discussing it the following morning over bowls of cereal, once again reaffirming our common suspicions.
Now, if you don’t know anything about these films, please bear with me for a second. I’m certain you’ll learn something other than just how much of a sci-fi horror flick nerd I am.
In the movie “The Thing,” the alien is an organic creature that operates at a cellular level. For the record, everyone in “The Thing” forum is in agreement with this. What this means is that if even one of the creature’s cells infects your body, you’re done for. It’s going to do what it does—which is to gradually eat, assimilate, and eventually become a near-perfect imitation of you. Once the characters realize the situation, in order to find out who’s human, they develop a test. The test is simple. A copper wire is superheated with the pilot light from a flamethrower and then dipped into a petri dish containing a sample of each person’s blood. If the person is human, nothing will happen. If the blood is infected, what’s in the petri dish will fight back. It’ll do this because, again, each individual cell is a sentient organism trying to survive, and early on in the film, one thing the characters learn is that the creature hates getting burned.
In the “Alien” movie series, the creature is silicone-based, which means its biology is more of a synthetic polymer. This means its flesh does not have carbon as part of its backbone structure. What’s more, it has concentrated acid for blood. Anything its blood touches is instantaneously dissolved, no matter what it is. It even melts metal. This is one reason why a Xenomorph is very hard to kill. If you try to shoot it, or perhaps hack at it with an axe, even the slightest bit of blood spatter will burn right through and likely kill you.
Anyway, being the nerd that I am, and having all of this in mind, I shared the following thought in the “The Thing” forum. I’d say my words were pretty innocuous.
“Perhaps it’s been posited here before, but I was thinking the one creature The Thing probably couldn’t assimilate would be a Xenomorph. The acid-blood would definitely be a problem.”
As with any post, conversations ensued. What bothered me, however, is that those who disagreed with my premise did so first by way of an insult. Consider the following conversation that unfolded—and for the sake of anonymity, I’ve given this particular forum member the name “Brandon,” because, well, it just feels right.
Brandon: Eh? You aren’t too bright, are you? Assimilation is AT THE GENETIC LEVEL.
Me: I thought assimilation happened at the cellular level. That’s different from genetics. If cellular, the silicone framework would prevent it. And the acid-blood would be little less than a superheated wire causing The Thing to retreat. They’d fight, but the Xenomorph would not get assimilated.
Brandon: You are kind of ignorant when it comes to cellular biology. Blood is made of cells.
Me: No need to continue insulting me. You said genetics. That’s a different discussion than cellular. I agree with the cellular premise. Nevertheless, the Xenomorph’s blood is not cellular. It’s concentrated acid. It does not contain anything relative to cells, which means it doesn’t have anything in it with cytoplasm bound externally by cell membranes. Concentrated acids react exothermically with organic material. They burn up cellular material. It seems pretty straight forward.
Brandon didn’t offer any follow up commentary.
But here’s the thing that bugs me in all of this. In both circumstances of my posts, why attack me? It sure seems to prove the liberal-progressive caricature. They get mad. They attack. They call people names. They shout. They walk out, expecting everyone else to feel as though they lost someone important to the conversation.
I suppose we could try to examine all of this, but in a practical sense, perhaps I’ll simply ask, what good does it do as a first reaction to so venomously tear into an opponent because of a differing opinion or position? It certainly doesn’t help toward winning the opponent to your way of thinking. When a person comes out swinging in this way, I can promise you I’ve got one thing on my mind relative to his or her character. I think Nicolas Boileau said it best:
“Honor is like a rugged island without a shore; once you have left it, you cannot return.”
Frankly, one’s honor is near-fatally harmed when viciousness is shown to be the go-to tool in debate. Even further, the louder such people shout at me (or the more they write in all caps), the more I trade genuine curiosity in their position with interest in what’s happening outside the nearest window.
But notice I said “near-fatally.” No matter how much I’d prefer to write someone off completely for such behavior, from the Christian perspective, a believer must be ready to offer forgiveness in these circumstances. Say, for example, Brandon reaches out asking for forgiveness. If he were to do this, it would be on me to be ready to give it. And yet, let’s again be frank with one another. That same Christian perspective reminds us just how hard it is to salvage a relationship when the offender lacks the fruits of genuine repentance. In other words, the person can rip you to shreds verbally, and he or she can then offer an apology, but the words will lose all of their gravity when the person does not at least demonstrate an active willingness to fix it.
Amending is part of the equation.
Of course, none of this infringes on the fact that when Saint Peter asked Jesus how many times we ought to forgive a neighbor who sins against us, the Lord told him hyperbolically, “Seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22), which is to say indefinitely. Still, understand the Lord shared this instruction right after He taught His disciples how to deal with an unrepentant person, essentially saying that the time might arrive when forgiveness must be withheld (vv.15-18).
The Christian is mandated to forgive. Well, maybe “mandated” is too strong a word. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t, especially when one realizes that by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, a Christian has everything necessary for meeting the mandate—and not as an element of salvation, rather as a fruit of faith. Another way to say it: A Christian is privileged to forgive (1 John 4:19). The same goes for the offender. The Christian offender has at his disposal the same Spirit-endowed muscle for repentance. The offender has everything necessary for not only expressing sorrow, but for proving his sorrow is genuine by changing the behavior. The offender is privileged to amend. Take a quick trip through Saint James’ epistle. You’ll see just how insistent the Apostle is that this is true. He speaks pretty straightforwardly about faith producing what faith is designed to produce. For James, just as faith and works are inseparable, so also are repentance and forgiveness.
This is the Christian’s identity, an identity that relates to the Law as we’re born from the Gospel.
I don’t know any of the people who attacked me in the first post. I don’t know Brandon, the guy who insulted me in the second. With that, I don’t expect any of them to seek my forgiveness, at least not in an age of throw-away online relationships. Of course, if I’m wrong and they do come around asking for it, I’ll give it. Beyond any of this, here in the world of my immediate surroundings, I’ll continue to amend my behavior when I wrong someone. I’ll expect others to do the same when they wrong me. If they can’t seem to get their behavior somewhat under control, then I’m more than happy to continue forgiving them each time they ask for it, but at the same time, I’ll probably keep my distance in the same way I’ve resumed my role as a lurker in the online forum. I have other things to do—things that require focus, things that are more than hindered by the fetters of contention. And besides, turning the other cheek does not mean being someone’s doormat. Just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you’re required to exist in situations where the people have access to wiping their feet on you every time they disagree. You can exist in some relationships from a distance. You can even keep the mandate to serve and forgive them from a distance, too.
The default answer for many Christians (and it’s a good answer) is to recite Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” Although, take care to notice King Solomon refers to faith (the fear of the Lord) as wisdom’s beginning. A beginning, by nature, leads to other things. And so, what comes in the second half of the verse makes sense: “and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
Insight is born from faith. Insight discerns and then acts along life’s way.
Just so you know, my question was prompted by the text of Job 32:9. I crossed paths with it this morning during my short devotion. The text reads:
“It is not the great that are wise, nor the aged that understand judgment.”
I explored the context of the words, and as it would go, Elihu is the one who spoke them. It seems to me that from among Job’s so-called friends, Elihu was the only one who really tried to help Job as God would desire, which explains why neither Job nor God rebuked him in the final analysis. It’s from that angle we can learn from Elihu’s words. They resonate with Godly authenticity. Essentially, he speaks them to dispel some of the foolishness of Job’s critics. The first point he makes for Job is that just because someone is considered great does not mean wisdom inhabits his or her innards. And Elihu’s right. You and I both know people who’ve attained the title of greatness in this world, and yet have done so in ways that were not all that wise or virtuous. Look at Hollywood and pick a celebrity. Consider Washington DC and choose a politician.
Taking that point a little further, Elihu adds that age isn’t necessarily relevant to one’s ability to wield wise discernment. This is definitely true. While I know plenty of older folks I’d consider wise, I know plenty more undeserving of the descriptor. The man in the White House is an example. I’d trust a salamander to better understand the difference between right and wrong before trusting Joe Biden. On the flip side, I also know people well beneath my age who have firm grips on insight’s steering wheel and understanding’s chrome gear-shifter. Charlie Kirk is one of those people. He’s hard to outthink, and when it comes to discernment, he’s pretty solid. When he hits the gas pedal, my first inclination is to get in the backseat and simply enjoy the ride.
Still, I suppose the question remains: What makes a person wise?
Or perhaps thinking from another angle—since Elihu brought it up—maybe I should also be asking, “What makes a person great?”
Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, the people in my life I’d label as great are usually the ones who don’t see themselves as being all that spectacular to begin with. What’s more, no matter what they do, their labors always seem to be aimed at faithfulness to Christ. Again, paradoxically, this most often results in them being counted as lesser to their friends, family, and co-workers in an onlooking world. The world may appreciate them as people, but they don’t necessarily consider them among the greats.
The first example that comes to mind in this regard are the parents who do what they can to protect their children from cultural influences—namely monitoring their video game and internet access, having absolutely no tolerance for foul language, forbidding clothing that promotes inappropriate sexuality, and so many other things—these folks are great people in my book, even though they’re often interpreted by others around them as backwater itinerants with unrealistic expectations. Another example is a person who prefers anonymity when giving a sizable gift to the Church. In most cases, the world considers this a wasted opportunity among peers for recognition. Other examples of greatness are the Christian business owners who stand their ground while the cancel-culture attacks; or the pastors who hold to the Word of God rather than bending a little here and there to fill the pews. It might seem foolish not to embrace woke ideologies that all but guarantee a business’ success, or as a small church struggling financially to bend one’s theology a little in order to see more money received through the collection plate.
In summary, I think maintaining a steady course of faithfulness to Christ and His Word when everyone and everything around you is moving in the opposite direction indicates greatness.
Of course, these are just random examples that come to mind, and I could go on describing similar people and contexts. Still, I imagine what I’ve shared already sounds somewhat familiar to another group of people I consider great: the ones who observe, interpret, and respond to the world around them through biblical lenses. Those are the folks who read the descriptions above and made mental comparisons to our Lord’s interactions in the Gospels. For example, when a woman cries out regarding the greatness of Jesus’ mother, He is quick to reply that those who hear the Word of God and keep it are even greater—nay, blessed (Luke 11:28). When the disciples want to know who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, the Lord sets before them a toddler—someone of simple faith, a little one who trusts Him no matter what (Matthew 18:1-5). When the disciples are again found wrestling with the issue of greatness, the Lord so crisply reminds them that whoever is to be counted as great among them must be a servant (Matthew 20:26).
Again, I could share so much more in this regard. The Scriptures are full of this stuff. Suffice it to say that to be great in a way that actually matters doesn’t mean being powerful or popular. It certainly doesn’t mean being the oldest and most experienced. It almost certainly doesn’t mean being the most eloquent, smartest, wealthiest, or best looking. Instead, it starts from faith, and then it moves forward with a desire for steady and ongoing alignment with the will of Christ. And this is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. Apart from this, there’s no beginning.
By the way, it sure seems like this could be what’s behind Elihu’s less-than-direct communication to Job in the verse right before the one I originally shared. It certainly seems like he’s insinuating that the real measures of both wisdom and greatness have more to do with God’s gracious in-reaching than it does the nature of man.
“It is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (v. 8).
If this is true, whether or not Elihu could articulate it precisely, it means that parents can continue to fight the arduous fight of faith for their children confident they bear wisdom and greatness that are not their own, but rather, were established in them by God. They can be sure these things have replaced their flimsy desires for worldly prominence with a sturdy determination aimed at faithfulness. Likewise, a person can give generously in support of the Church’s efforts without needing to be recognized. A Christian business owner can stand his or her ground, and a pastor can hold fast to the Word, come what may, because of this wonderful truth, too.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” Thinking on what happened to Scott Smith recently in Loudon County, Virginia, or what’s happening to Jack Philips, or the struggles of Barronelle Stutzman, or my new friend Artur Pawlowski in Canada, I can’t help but think just how right Emerson was. The world doesn’t get it. It just doesn’t understand real wisdom. It just can’t identify true greatness. This is true because the world’s definitions are completely out of step with the Lord’s definitions (1 Corinthians 1:20-25). On the other hand, believers know there’s only one kind of wisdom born from a singular form of greatness that can and will carry a human being from this life to the next, and this wisdom and greatness has nothing to do with anything this world might try to set on a pedestal.