Leather Bound

Digital Bible apps are convenient, but physical Bibles are much more.

Recently I was sitting in a worship service and looked around me. For every physical Bible opened I saw at least one or two smartphones glowing softly. I’m not sure why, but this was surprising. Is the Bible app really that common in evangelical worship? I guess it is. Not long after this I took a more deliberate notice in my small group of who had Bibles and who had Bible apps. It was a much closer ratio than I had assumed.

Bible apps are unquestionably convenient, and of course knowing and obeying the words that are there is far more important than whether you’re holding leather or glass. I have to admit, though, that it’s hard for me to imagine ever replacing physical Bibles with apps. Aesthetic value would be lost, but something else would be lost too…a compact landmark of my spiritual memory.

For me, physical Bibles are connected to both time and place. A quick glance behind my shoulder as I write these words lets me see a row of Bibles on my shelf, each one provoking a vividly clear memory of where and when I got each of them. In several cases I even remember the individual who sold them to me. These Bibles’ physicality takes me back to a specific season of life, a process of deliberate remembrance that isn’t just nostalgia. It’s a spiritual exercise that awakens thankfulness (at least, it should!).

Opening the Bibles deepens this experience. Opening up the Bible I bought right after graduating college, I see the markings of a blue ink pen drawing attention to Psalm 4:4: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” My markings are almost certainly at least 4 years old. Was I feeling convicted about my anger? It’s hard to recall, though I do know that I underlined this verse before I married and had a toddler son who nailed me with a toy golf club just the other day. Even as I write this I feel ashamed at my ridiculous anger over a toddler’s mistake. Had I not opened up my 5 year old Bible I likely wouldn’t have contemplated this verse today.

I still remember my first Bible, a red faux-leather King James version that frayed at the edges after years of use in Sunday school and Bible drills. I remember bringing the Bible to a National Day of Prayer event with Dad and a reporter for the local newspaper taking my picture. I remember my “Adventures in Odyssey” Bible where I, a true Baptist child, underlined Proverbs 23:31. It’s not that these Bibles give me supernatural memory of my childhood. It’s that each Bible is somehow connected to something specific, so that the memories that coalesce around each Bible become a sort of memorial. In the digital age I continually feel my sense of time attacked. It’s as if physical Bibles carry antidote.

They invite questions. Why would I underline that particular verse at that particular age? Why would I write that in the margins? Sometimes these reflections open up powerful memories of traumatic and hurtful times. Sometimes they invoke a simple joy at the quiddity of life. Sometimes they make me laugh, sometimes they make me cringe. Not all are meaningful. But each one seems to have something in common with the others, a secret thread running through every adolescent jot and grown up tittle that binds the minutia of dozens of little purchased Bibles together. In the marginalia of these Bibles I see myself, and seeing myself, I somehow see God.

To hold onto a treasured leather-bound Bible is for me a way of holding onto awareness of God’s grace in my life. Yes, Scripture is universally true all the time, but the Bible I hold in my hands was given to me at a specific place and a specific time. Perhaps a struggle in my Christian life has been to see myself not merely as mooching off the extravagant kindness of Jesus that he gives to everybody else, but as a specific target of his sovereign love. Proverbs 3:5-6 is true for everyone, but it’s underlined in my specific Bible because it’s true for me. It’s one thing to know something applies to you. It’s quite another to know it was meant for you.

So I think I’ll go on being inconvenienced by physical Bibles. I’ll probably open up the app every now and again, and won’t feel one bit guilty. But, Lord willing, everywhere I go I’ll bring a Bible that I can’t turn off and I can’t resist marking up. And I’ll look forward to an unknown future where I’ll open up that Bible and see what I was reading, and more importantly, what it was reading in me.

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Jesus vs the Confederacy

Amidst the violence and brokenness in Charlottesville, Virginia, this picture (I’m unsure of the source) has been circulating widely:

There’s a lot going on here, and probably nothing as striking as the image of a black police officer standing guard for the safety of a group that looks with nostalgia on the time when Americans like him were lynched. For that reason alone, this picture is worth a Pulitzer nomination.

But look a little bit more closely. To the viewer’s left of the police officer, a protester carrying a confederate battle flag in his right hand also carries a placard in his right. The sign reads, in part, “Jews are Satan’s Children.” More interestingly, the sign then lists some biblical passages, two of which are clearly readable: John 8: 31-47, and John 10: 22-33. The protester believes that these passages vindicate his racism, and of course, blogging atheists are all too happy to use this as more evidence of Christianity’s inherent bigotry.

But there’s a slight problem. The passages listed by this protester do not mean what he thinks they do. In fact, they mean something very close to the opposite.

Let’s look at the second reference first, John 10:22-33. I’ll admit to being unsure why this protester thinks this passage supports his claim. It could be that he’s referencing Jesus’ words in verse 26, in which he tells a group of unbelieving Jews that “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The problems with appropriating this passage for anti-Semitic messaging should be obvious. The sheep that Jesus means are the sheep that believe in Him, which, according to John in both verse 21 and verse 42, includes many Jews. The difference between being one Jesus’ sheep and not being one of Jesus’ sheep is the question of response to Jesus himself, not ethnicity. To say this verse supports ethnic condemnations of Jewish’s people is a rather banal moment of illiteracy.

But what about the first passage, John 8:31-47? This passage is a bit more interesting, because Jesus does indeed tell a group of Jews that they are children of Satan. Verse 44: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” Does this passage vindicate this neo-Confederate protester?

Far from it. Look more closely at John 8, beginning in verse 39. “As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This dialogue is a dialogue between Jesus and Jews who have made a profession of faith in him. This point is crucial, because Jesus’ goal is in this dialogue is to expose these people’s hypocrisy. They have appeared to believe in him, but they are inwardly resistant to what Jesus is saying.

How do we know this? Verse 33: “They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham, and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free?” This group of alleged believers resents Jesus’ implication that they aren’t free. In fact, they expose their unbelief in Jesus in a startling way. They appeal to their ethnic ancestry as proof that they are already God’s people, and that they don’t need the freedom Jesus offers (verse 39: “Abraham is our father”).

The shocking irony behind all this is that Jesus’ words “You are of your father the devil” are addressed to people who have claimed to believe Jesus but whose real religion is their ethnic, ritualistic identity. When the claims of Jesus run up against what these people believe about themselves and their ancestors, they angrily dismiss Jesus and ultimately seek to destroy him (v.59)–just as Jesus himself told them they would (v.37).

So the news for this card-carrying neo-Confederate is doubly disappointing. It turns out that the Bible he claims to know doesn’t actually condemn Jewish people, or African-American people, or immigrant people as children of Satan. But to make it all worse, it turns out that when Jesus is talking about what it means to be a child of the devil, he’s actually talking about unbelief–an unbelief that looks quite a bit like southern white supremacy.

No Divination Against Israel

When Balak the king of Moab sees the victory of the Israelites against the Amorites, he calls for one of his oracles, Balaam (Numbers 22-24). “Curse this people for me, ” he says, “since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed and he whom you curse is cursed.” Balak offers Balaam an alluring reward: “Whatever you say to me I will do.” The king has offered the authority of the crown. There is no greater bribe. Surely Balaam will acquiesce and curse Moab’s enemy.

But there’s a problem:

“From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’ How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?”

Furious at Balaam’s blessing of Israel, Balak invites him a second time to call down a spiritual curse. But it won’t work. It can’t work. Not because Balaam is too faithful, not because Israel is too righteous (more on that in a second). It’s because there simply is no curse to call down:

“He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them…For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel.”

There is no enchantment, no divination, no curse for Balaam to bring down. It’s not just that the weapon has no ammo. It’s that there’s no weapon there at all. There is no spiritual power of the air that can thwart the granting of the promised land to Abraham’s seed.

C.S. Lewis said there were two mistakes that Christians could make in their thinking about demons and spiritual powers. One was to disbelieve in them, to ignore them. The other mistake was to take an obsessive  interest in them. Both are harmful. But if I’m guessing, I’d say that for most readers of this blog, gravitational pull is toward the first more than the second. There’s a tendency for Western Christians, and especially us Reformed types, to talk and think and pray and preach as if there are no spiritual forces at work in the world–as if the sum total of what we mean by spiritual warfare is our Bible reading and prayer time pitted against our temptations.

That’s not the worldview of the Bible. Scripture plainly teaches there are invisible, spiritual forces at work right now. There are realities that transcend the physical and powers that we cannot hear or see. This episode in Numbers is not given to us 21st century readers by the Holy Spirit in order that we can laugh at how primitive pagan kings were. The Bible treats this narrative with soberness; a spiritual curse is a real thing, and Balak is not a fool for asking for one for his enemy.

But what Balak doesn’t understand is that there is no spiritual curse to call down on God’s covenant people. There is no demonic force or metaphysical malice that can arm wrestle God and win a round. “For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel.” God’s people were united around God’s presence (Ex. 40:34-38), and in God’s presence all other spiritual strongholds are subdued.

This doesn’t mean that no harm can befall God’s people. God can discipline his sons and daughters, and suffering doesn’t take Him off guard (Joseph: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”). But it does mean that even when the Ark of the Covenant is captured, the idols of the nations must bow before it (1 Sam. 5:3). Dagon kneels before the King of the cosmos, who will bring His people, adopted into His beloved Son, into their inheritance. There is no divination against Israel.

Being Eaten By Lions on Facebook

What does Proverbs 22:13 have to do with social media and public discourse?

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

Now, you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in Old Testament to know that waking up near a lion was not an unheard of event in the life of an average ancient Israelite. David, the father of Solomon, lived among lions daily while tending sheep. So what the sluggard says in this Proverb isn’t far fetched. He’s not talking about Bigfoot or an asteroid.

What makes the sluggard’s trepidation laziness is the reason why he’s saying it. The sluggard is using the fear of a lion to justify his refusal to leave his tent or get out of bed. A lion could appear; but the actual probability, the reality or unreality of a lion, isn’t the point. The point is getting out of work. That’s what makes the sluggard a sluggard.

In other words, sometimes people will say things, and the things they say aren’t really the point. Whether something is true or untrue or half-true is immaterial. The point is what the suggestion of the Something means for the sayer. It creates noise and confusion that benefits the person saying it, and in the end, that’s what matters.

Over the past couple of years I have watched in frustration as evangelical friends, many of whom I respect a great deal, have trafficked in some of the most wild, ridiculous, and silly conspiracy theories that money can buy. Facebook seems to be our cultural HQ for conspiracyism. Many times I’ll see a Facebook friend post a link from a website and I don’t even have to click it to evaluate; the website will be a known fabricator, or even a self-described parody, and I’ll know without looking that this otherwise intelligent, reasonable person has been duped yet again. These links almost always purport to show something incredibly scandalous that the “mainstream media” (a term that usually applies to any source that doesn’t happen to back up this particular story) is suppressing.

Do major media outlets put lids on news stories that interfere with an ideological or political agenda? Absolutely, and Planned Parenthood is very thankful. But for the conspiracy circles of Facebook, this reality is used as a trump card to sell the most hallucinogenic fantasies that an over-politicized mind can dream up–hidden microphones, secret stepchildren, etc etc, ad nauseum.

A few days ago I happened to notice that a friend linked to a column by Ross Douthat. Douthat is one of the country’s most articulate and most intellectually sturdy political commentators, and he happens to be a well-known conservative. This column made some critical remarks about the Republican party and their candidate for president. They were criticisms made, of course, in a context of conservatism; whether one agrees with Douthat or not, it is an objective fact that his analysis comes from a worldview that is fundamentally conservative.

My friend’s post attracted some comments, and one in particular stood out. This commenter was offended by Douthat’s critiques, and offered his explanation of why the columnist must have made them: He was a liberal mole, hired by the New York Times to prop up the illusion of having a conservative op-ed writer.

I got a headache doing the mental gymnastics required to believe that this was a serious comment from a serious person. The suggestion runs afoul of virtually everything you can read from Mr. Douthat’s career. It is an assertion made in gross neglect of every objective fact and shred of evidence. It was, nonetheless, this brother’s chosen theory of why a conservative would choose to find any fault whatsoever in the Republican party.

This comment bothered me. How could this person, a Christian by all appearances, traffic in such delusions? How could a person who presumably believes in absolute truth be willing to contort the reality in front of him to fit his political narrative? That was when it dawned on me: This is a “Lion in the street!” moment. What matters right now is not the entirety of Douthat’s writing, nor the many evidences of his political philosophy. What matters is the mere possibility that a grand conspiracy could be afoot. What matters is the angst and dread that comes from the slightest chance that we are being played for fools by “media elites.”

The appeal of conspiracy theories is that they offer a counterintuitive kind of comfort: If the conspiracy is real and if the deck really is stacked against me, then that means that the world is fundamentally not my fault. I am right about the way things should be; in fact, that’s the way things really are! The problem is that these people in power over me are using every waking hour to keep me in the dark. Change is impossible because it’s not in my hands. Life can go on as normal.

That’s precisely what the sluggard does. It’s true that lions exist. It’s also true they can come up into the camp. But every available piece of evidence–every modicum of reality at the moment–says there’s no lion outside. The sluggard knows this. But he wants to stay in bed. If he stays in bed instead of going to work merely because he feels like it, then people will shame his sloth. If, on the other hand, he stays in bed because he doesn’t want to get eaten–well, that’s just choosing the lesser of two evils.

The Other Woman

Thinking about this passage from Brian Jay Jones’s lovely biography of George Lucas:

What wasn’t right was that George and [then-wife] Marcia’s thirteen year marriage was quickly imploding, largely because of Lucas’s own neglect. He knew he could be difficult to live with. “It’s been very hard on Marcia, living with somebody who is constantly in agony, uptight and worried, off in never-never land,” Lucas told Rolling Stone. Charles Lippincott, Lucasfilm’s master of marketing, wasn’t entirely surprised…”George would take problems to bed with him,” said Lippincott, “and [Marcia] said this caused a lot of problems.”

But it went deeper even than that; for George Lucas, movies would always be the other woman. As devoted to Marcia as he might be, there was forever one more movie, one more project, demanding the time and attention he couldn’t or wouldn’t give to his wife.

I’ve read a lot of Christian books and heard a lot of Christian speakers talk about strategies for avoiding adultery (the “Billy Graham rule” is a timely example). But I don’t believe I’ve ever read an entire chapter or listened to an entire session by a Christian on strategies for avoiding having an affair with work. Why is that? Why, for people who believe that husbands ought to sacrifice themselves for their wives as Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for his Bride, is the threat of all-consuming careerism not taken more seriously?

Right out of college I spent over a year working in the marketing department of a well-to-do mortgage firm. It wasn’t a particularly good experience, but it was at least eye-opening. I heard the way professional men and women casually talked about how little time they spent at home. If you want to know how what is supposed to sound like complaining can actually be a form of bragging, hearing professionals talk about their time away from home is an education. It was remarkable to me how easily a company that was explicitly “family-oriented” corporate rhetoric could nonetheless cultivate this kind of attitude.

Even worse, it’s scary how easily the veneer of godliness can be applied to this “other woman.” If a man is working long nights and weekends so he can spend time away from his family and with a female coworker, he would be (rightly) rebuked. But if he’s working long nights and weekends just because he derives from his career a peace and identity and thrill that home cannot match, what do we say then?  If you want to get really uncomfortable, go back to that previous sentence and replace the word “career” with the word “ministry.” The temptation for celebrity pastors to put their spouse and family on autopilot must be sore indeed when there are so many book deals and conference invitations to be gained.

It’s sobering to think how many Christians might pat themselves on the back for not being the foolish young man whom Solomon sees going by the house of the forbidden woman, when the only reason why is that they are still at the office with the “other woman.” “The safest road to hell,” said Screwtape, “is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

If You Like Your Theocracy, You Can Keep Your Theocracy

My issue with pieces like this one comes down to a question of good-faith. In a certain context, given some mutual assumptions and amongst people who share particular convictions, arguing from the New Testament to a certain political program can be persuasive and valuable. The trouble comes when such an argument appears ex nihilo in a secular worldview universe. Then it becomes a transparently manipulative attempt to appropriate a belief system that the author clearly sees no transcendent value in–aside from the value of momentarily making his opponents look like hypocrites.

This is the kind of theological co-opting that harms the gospel, whether it comes from the right or the left. I have Christian friends who believe, as Kristof apparently does, that the teachings of Jesus lead us to a particular system of healthcare in government. Their perspective is informed by Scripture and Christian ethics. But it’s also informed by a more general humility toward the lordship of Jesus Christ and the inspiration and authority of the Bible. My Christian friends who argue from a biblical perspective for their healthcare policy also believe that, for example, Jesus really was speaking through the apostle Paul when he says that those who practice fornication, adultery, homosexuality, idolatry, covetousness, etc, will not inherit the kingdom. Their perspective on healthcare comes from a place of good faith, and even if I do not agree politically, I have to reckon with their arguments as if it is indeed possible that they articulating a genuinely Christian position.

But Kristof’s op-ed comes from no such place. There is little evidence that Kristof himself operates on a biblical worldview, and there is even less evidence that he really believes a Christian-oriented political governance would be good for the country. In 2004, Kristof issued a strong rebuke to Christians who opposed same-sex marriage, attacking them for their transparently theocratic attempt to force their religion on their neighbors:

In any case, do we really want to make Paul our lawgiver? Will we enforce Paul’s instruction that women veil themselves and keep their hair long? (Note to President Bush: If you want to obey Paul, why don’t you start by veiling Laura and keeping her hair long, and only then move on to barring gay marriages.)

Given these ambiguities, is there any solution? One would be to emphasize the sentiment in Genesis that “it is not good for the human to be alone,” and allow gay lovers to marry.

This quotation does not flatter Kristof’s healthcare column. It exposes a mercenary use of Scripture and a disingenuous instinct toward religious belief. Those who warn against theocracy and the apostle Paul when talking about marriage are not entitled to appeal to the lordship of Christ when the topic turns to healthcare. As C.S. Lewis said, Christ did not leave us the luxury of dismissing him as merely a good moral teacher. He is a liar, a lunatic, or a lord–and the right choice doesn’t depend on which party has a majority.

(photo credit)

Christmas and the Wrong Side of History

When you think about it, nearly everyone and everything connected to the first Christmas was on the wrong side of history.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were on the wrong side of history for sure. They were an elderly Jewish couple, living in an occupied land. They had no platform, no political clout. Even worse–they had no children. Their legacy would die with them: no son to carry his father’s name, no daughter to bear grandchildren. They were prepared to die unwept, unhonored, and unsung, an anonymous couple holding fast the religion of their ancestors. They were on the wrong side of the empire, the wrong side of culture, even the wrong side of fertility.

Mary and Joseph were on the wrong side of history too. Mary, a teenage girl with no husband, no dowry, and no way to explain the life inside of her, at least in a way that her family and her culture would possibly comprehend. There was to be no way around the scandal and shame of a baby born outside wedlock, scandal that would follow her and her child for many years. And Joseph, who did not avail himself of the clear permission that Moses’ law gave him to send his betrothed away in reproach. Joseph, who in the eyes of his father and brothers and friends now was the man willing to live with a whore. The reward for his trouble would be a life of labor, carpentry without a country, and a reputation as a man who had let himself be cuckolded.

Shepherds lived on the wrong side of history. Anonymous laborers who would make the term “blue-collar” seem extravagant. Their life’s hope was that enough of the flock would survive wolves and bears. No “opportunity for advancement” here, except wherever they would guide a foul-smelling herd on a particular night. How many believed their story about the night the angels came and told them about a baby, lying in a barn in Bethlehem? Did their children? Did their grandchildren? Did enough people laugh at them to convince them later in life that it must have all been an elaborate prank or mass hallucination? The word of a shepherd was to be taken lightly.

What about Simeon and Anna? I’m afraid they were on the wrong side of history as well. Two elderly, devout Jews, seemingly ignoring the Roman centurions around them so they could keep babbling about some Messiah. It was like they had never heard of someone called the emperor. Anna the widow never left the Temple; “Don’t listen to her, she’s crazy,” they would say. “Too heavenly minded and no earthly good.” Simeon and Anna, praying to a God who had not stopped an exile and an overthrow, talking about a king whose ancestral line had long been broken. Simeon and Anna, two more religious nutjobs who wouldn’t accept reality.

Poor, mute Zechariah. Poor cuckolded Joseph, poor philandering Mary. Poor daydreaming shepherds. Poor deluded Simeon and Anna. If they could have just accepted the Way Things Are, maybe their lives could have been more. Maybe they could have served in Herod’s palace, or been a confidant of Caiaphas.

If only they had just been on the right side of history, maybe the world would still be talking about them.

If only.

The Hyper-Examined Life Isn’t Worth Living

As we approach the end of 2015 and the beginning of the New Year, many of us in American culture will begin to reflect, even if briefly, on our lives and loved ones in the past year. For some, that will mean reliving warm and cherished moments, and for others, feeling anew grief and pain. In either case, there can be no doubt that American culture, as distracted and unfocused as it often is, encourages a kind of serious introspection this time of year.

Self-reflection is a good thing. It’s a habit that can produce the kind of humility, modesty, and moral awareness that characterize the people we tend to admire. It’s a practice rooted in a biblical command to examine ourselves, to take heed of our spiritual condition so as to not be deceived, either by sin or by each other. Done in the right spirit, introspection can remind us of our need for a Savior, and renew a genuine thankfulness and desire for Christ.

As is true of all things, however, self-reflection can be corrupted. If the unexamined life is not worth living, the hyper-examined life isn’t either.

The hyper-examined life is what happens when a legitimate desire to be self-aware becomes an unhealthy preoccupation with our own emotional lives.  Hyper-introspection can make us watch our thoughts and feelings with an obsessive hawkishness, making us perpetually unable to enjoy moments of self-forgetfulness. This can be particularly debilitating in relationships, when every relationship and encounter is constantly subjected to inward scrutiny.

At first, it may sound like the hyper-examined life is really a personality bug, a flaw in some introverted temperaments that really only affects a few people. But a quick look at social media, the dominant interpersonal medium of our generation, reveals quite a bit about how unaware we can be that we are living a hyper-examined life.

Because social media is essentially a faceless, competitive marketplace for digital personas, it tends to encourage habits of thought and feeling that tend toward a hyper-examined life. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have their respective “reward” systems for participation: Likes, Retweets, etc. The key to getting the most out of these mediums is to constantly orient your own personality toward whatever is popular (or controversial) at a given moment, and post accordingly. This habit can easily spill over into offline life; for example, choosing a book whose picture will get plenty of attention on Instagram, or posting clever zingers on Twitter and being unable to remember anything substantial about what you watched.

The effect here is that we fail to cultivate genuine moments of life that don’t have to rebound back to us in the form of digital approval. And that, in turn, can affect how we live offline too. Many writers and teachers have observed that my generation struggles with decision-making. Millennials often seem paralyzed by fear of failure, desiring complete assurance that the next step will be easy and rewarding. Thus, many young people unwittingly hurt their chances of lasting marriages, stable careers, and fruitful relationships by trying to constantly make the “right” decision, when simply making a decision would, in fact, be the right move.

An obsessive preoccupation with what others will think and a paralyzing fear of failure go hand in hand, and both are symptoms of a hyper-examined life. Many who are living a hyper-examined will flit and float from job to job, from friend to friend, from place to place. This may seem adventurous at first but often what is behind this rootlessness is a compulsive need for satisfaction in every season of life. Instead of losing themselves in the joys of the mundane, the regular, and the everyday, these wandering souls constantly search their own emotional state for happiness, not realizing that this kind of preoccupation with self is exactly what tends to kill happiness in the first place.

The hyper-examined life is exhausting. Life, including the Christian life, isn’t meant to be lived by way of non-stop self-appraising and people pleasing. A day in, day out regiment of the hyper-examined life leads inevitably to burnout, frustration, and a nagging sense of unfulfilled desire not based in reality.

By contrast, the well-examined life is not driven by fear or compulsive self-searching but by a humble desire for grace. Personal failures are not meant to be endlessly agonized over but repented of, with the confidence in God’s provision for forgiveness and transformation (2 Cor. 7:10). Confidence in the mercies of God disarms paralyzing fear, if we live life knowing that poorly made or even sinful decisions do not exist outside the scope of God’s plans and promises for us (Rom. 8:38-39).

Instead of meandering from one thing to the next in search of the emotional fulfillment that always feels out of reach, living the well-examined life frees us to drop self-preoccupation and learn the virtues of gratitude and contentment. The reality is that, many times, the most spiritual thing we can do is stop trying to think such spiritual thoughts and simply stop thinking about ourselves at all.

As you near the New Year, be encouraged to reflect well on 2015, to look for evidences of God’s grace in your life and take stock of how you can trust Christ more in thought, word, and deed. Then close your journal and go outside (and take no pictures!), or call an old friend, or take a coworker out for lunch. Don’t be afraid of the awkward moment or the failed attempt. Live life confident in the heavenly Father who spared nothing from you, not even his own Son. Think on that, and look at yourself through your Father’s eyes.