Category: Thoughts


An intolerably costly war

Three thousand, six hundred and fifty-two days. 6051 dead uniformed US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. 2300 dead US contract workers. 19 870 dead non-US allied soldiers and contract workers. 150 096 wounded US soldiers and contractors. 68 366 wounded allied uniformed personnel. 1 033 000 Iraqi casualties. $872 billion in military, local security, and State Department expenditure in Iraq. $468 billion in Afghanistan. $26 billion in disability pensions and Medicare payments for US veterans. $360 billion in home land security expenditure. $110 billion in national intelligence expenditure. An estimated $3.3 trillion in fighting the “War on Terror”. All in the name of “freedom” (whatever that means). The question is, was all of this worth it?

There are two elements involved in justifying a war.

Firstly, a war will be justifiable (but not necessarily justified) if it was entered into on morally defensible grounds. Secondly, and more significantly in the case of a war which has spanned a decade, a war will be justifiable if the character and consequences of the war was warranted by the objectives it sought to achieve.

With regard to the former, the general consensus is that the response of the US in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks was entirely appropriate. Employing military forces in Afghanistan in order to remove the Taliban regime who had sheltered and abetted al Qaeda plotters was morally defensible: it was a proportionate response to the events which precipitated the war.

However, things get much messier when considering the latter. The integrity of the character of the war on terrorism suffered a severe blow when the US invaded and occupied Iraq in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that conveniently never turned up. The human rights abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay further undermined the integrity of the mission, invoking accusations of complicity in the very conduct the war claimed to oppose.

Not only does a questionable shadow loom over the character of the war, but it is very difficult to make a plausible case for a justified war on the basis of its consequences. In part, this is due to the poorly-defined scope of the war; what constitutes the war on terrorism is practically impossible to determine when the frontier of the war is everywhere where the values of ‘the Free World’ are threatened. This unlimited commitment to the abstract values of freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law creates an obligation to defend them in an ever-expanding series of arenas. Furthermore, because the premise of war is steeped in heavily ideological terms, it makes success very difficult to verify in any quantifiable way.

It is disconcerting, to say the least, when most of the successes of a very costly war exist in the unverifiable realm of the ideological.

Measuring the morality of war

The colossal costs of the war on terrorism would be worthwhile if they were necessary for securing successes of equal or greater weight. Now, some successes are quantifiable; for example, achieving the objective of killing bin Laden. The issue is that this decade-long war has had very few quantifiable successes.

The purported successes appear to lie mostly in the realm of unrealised possibilities; namely, what would have happened if ‘we’ did not leverage our resources to fight terrorism in the way we did. Think of all the civilian lives which have been saved because of thwarted attacks, or undermined capabilities thanks to Allied military presence in Afghanistan.

Don’t mistake me: I think there is certainly some validity in this argument. The problem is that such hypotheticals have little or no quantifiable weight with which to measure against the very real, hard costs. It takes a lot to displace the cost of $3.3 trillion and 28,221 dead servicemen and women. And, when the trajectory of the war does not appear to be on any discernible path to victory, I am not sure that the unverifiable hypothetical and ideological successes are sufficient to do so.

Measuring the costs

The other problem with such hypotheticals (“what would have happened”) is that they also work the other way.

Let me explain.

The New York Times’ latest survey puts the bill for the US in waging this asymmetrical war against terrorism at $3.3 trillion. (As an aside, for every dollar spent by al Qaeda on the 9/11 attacks, the US spent $6.6 million. Bin Laden’s declared intention to “[bleed] America to the point of bankruptcy” no longer seems as farfetched as it once did.)

Now, I am not an advocate of unconditional non-violence as an approach to world affairs (not yet; the likes of Simon Moyle and Jarrod McKenna have seriously shaken my thinking, though!). I am not a pacifist. I think that the direct costs of responding to the 9/11 attacks were probably unavoidable. But those direct costs only make up a fraction of the total bill.

I want to suggest that the way in which the US went about the war against terrorism was not proportionate to the attacks that precipitated it.

You see, the $3.3 trillion dollar figure is comprised not only of direct costs (fighting the Taliban). It includes expenditures of choice (Iraq), and ‘opportunity costs’. These ‘opportunity costs’ are the inverse of the ‘what would have happened’ measurement of success. Namely, they are the cost of lost opportunities. They are the unquantifiable unrealised possibilities of where the world could have been if the remaining $2 trillion had been spent on other endeavours. They are the wistful list of ‘what ifs?’:

What if it had been spent on longer-range threats to American security? Or delivering on promises for ‘Marshall plans’ to rebuild societies that are at risk of letting the next al Qaeda flourish? $1 trillion, by some measures , would be sufficient to build 120 000 schools, feed and immunise every African child for 60 years. What if it had been spent on rebuilding a broken American education system? Reducing national debt? Investing in technological innovation to facilitate better competition with China?

The war on terrorism not only cost excessive amounts of money, and excessive amounts of human life. It cost the US the invaluable opportunities that it can never recover.

Historical assessment

Now, history isn’t science, and it certainly isn’t maths. You can’t test a hypothesis because events are unrepeatable, and you can’t calculate the impact of these unrepeatable events because they are mostly unquantifiable and hard to detach from other variables. It involves a ‘comparison between the actual consequences of some actual event and a consequence which might have followed if that event had not occurred’ (CS Lewis).

However, you can estimate.

In my mind, it is painfully clear that the vague successes achieved over ten years of warfare do very little to temper the terrible spectre that is the costs of this seemingly intractable war.

NB: This was an op-ed I wrote for a uni assessment.

My brother proposed to his girlfriend last night. And she said YES!

I think I was quite probably equally as excited as he was in the hours leading up to it, but it’s been a hugely joyful time of celebration with family and friends. And what’s more, there will soon be TWO Steph Judds! Oh, the frivolity. Andrew has dubbed us Steph Judd the Wise and Steph Judd the Brave, for differentiation purposes. (Yes, he has always been a geek).

As we sat in the front room drinking champagne, I commented to Steph about how crazy seasons of life are, and how from the vantage point of one season, it is very unlikely that you can anticipate what or when the next season will be. 6 months ago, Steph wasn’t even dating anyone, and now she is engaged to a man who she will covenant to spend the rest of her life with.

I’ve been reading a book by an Australian woman who spent years as a physio in Nepal with an organisation called INF. I’ve been turning over some thoughts in my mind, about how you can’t speed on the turning of the seasons in your own life. In fact, restlessness with the season you are in robs you of much of the focus and richness and benefit of where you’re at right now.

As a chronic visionary, I always want to keep my eyes on the horizon; and I don’t think that’s bad. It becomes unhealthy, though, when the horizon becomes the focus of your gaze and the things in front of you blur to the peripheries. Because we only ever live in the present, right? Surely it’s better to dwell fully in the present, to be attentive to the details of now, whilst constantly being aware of the horizons?

But what then do you make of the mandate to ‘SET your mind on things above, not on earthly things’ (Col 3:2) and to ‘FIX your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith’ (Hebrews 12.2)?

I was mulling over this (granted, only for about 30 seconds, so it might not hold up), and I concluded that perhaps the hope of the impending Kingdom, and the reality of Jesus’ Lordship, is the lens through which we focus on the things before us in the present. It’s not a ticket to disengage from this present reality and gaze off into the future with sighs. Fixing our eyes on what is unseen, not what is seen (2 Cor 4.18), doesn’t preclude this. Nor does groaning with longing for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8). This reality is both physical and spiritual, right? Which means that being attentive to the NOW means having an accurate understanding of the times in which we live, the condition of our world, and the trajectory on which its heading.

It’s like when you’re playing hockey: sure, you can focus intently on your stickwork by keeping your head down with single-minded attention. But your stickwork in a game works much better, and according to the purpose for which you learn stick skills, when you are spatially aware, and are constantly looking up to see where you are running, which defenders/attackers you’ll need to handle, and so what stickwork you’ll need to use. (I don’t know if that made sense to anyone else apart from me…) Similarly, the purpose of Kingdom vision is so that your present-mindedness will be more ‘spatially aware’, if you will. If you locate where you are at now within God’s broader purposes, your focus on the present will be according to reality.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13)

It would seem that setting our hope fully on the grace of Jesus means that we engage more faithfully, live more boldly, love more radically, and focus more attentively on the people and circumstances around us with each precious passing breath that has been entrusted to us.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this unintelligible babble.

Renewal

I have been sick, lately. Like the rest of Sydney, apparently.

My usual approach to sickness is to ignore it. If it gets worse I’ll drug up and become more socially inept than I normally am. But very rarely, I get slammed by a flu that morphs into an infection, and end up bedridden for days.

It must’ve been years since the last time that happened, so I was more than a little frustrated when it happened to pop by on the last week my dear friend, Blythe, was visiting Sydney from Oklahoma.

During this time, another friend, Cloudy, sent me a text one evening. It instructed me to check my front doorstep. ‘Lo and behold, this is what I found:

What an act of unmerited kindness!

The card she’d written included this poem, by Helen Steiner Rice. It’s entitled, ‘A Time of Renewal’. It might be a bit cutesy for some (it rhymes, so all the indie kids out there will be cringing in their skinny jeans and fake frames), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.

No one likes to be sick

And yet we know

It takes sunshine and rain

To make flowers grow.

And if we never were sick

And we never felt pain,

We’d be like a desert

Without any rain,

And who wants a life

That is barren and dry,

With never a cloud

To darken the sky?

For continuous sun

Goes unrecognised

Like the blessings God sends,

Which are often disguised.

For sometimes a sickness

That seems so distressing

Is a time of renewal

And spiritual blessing.

Tangled

Perhaps I should be bashful about having watched two movies in two consecutive nights.

But I’m not.

The background to this is that I’ve been coughing my lungs up (with great elegance, I might add) (…? who am I?), and so I’ve been bedridden for the last day and a half. Consequently, I’ve been reading, knitting, chasing thoughts whilst staring at my ceiling, and watching 30 Rock with my dear brothers (it’s rare that they’re both home).

My dear friend Claudia has given me company for much of the past 2 days, for which I am a little bit overwhelmed – thankful, grateful (there’s a semantic difference there, surely?) and feeling very blessed by her gracious love towards me. In fact, that’s something that I was talking with Blythe and Clouds today about: how being sick for the past 6 years has been something that God has used to weather down my stubborn independence from people. In that, I used to not ever want to accept help from people. I would never take days off school, I would refuse assistance and would generally try to do things by myself. Because people helping you makes you incompetent, right?

Praise be to the grace of God that He has saved me from myself, and is refining that part of my personality away. Generally being physically unable to do the same things I used to do has taken me on an uncomfortable road to accepting help, initially out of necessity. I think that necessity broke a lot of my barriers down, which may have paved the way for greater humility to accept grace from people.

But this totally wasn’t what I started this entry to write about.

TANGLED.

I’m getting tired, so this is briefly what I wanted to say. Sometimes people get angsty about Disney movies, and the way they instill unrealistic expectations about what a child’s life can be into their impressionable hearts. But, you see, I feel that there’s something in the DNA of humanity that instructs us to lift our vision to grander stories; legends, mythologies, dreamtime stories, fairytales… aren’t these a testament to the longing of the human heart to live bigger, to be a part of something greater than themselves and their present circumstances? Definitely, I think that there is a place for skepticism, in that we don’t want to have our heads so up in the clouds about what could be in a different reality that we spend our real lives gazing longingly into the horizon, and never actually do anything with the time given to us. BUT cynicism, that reactive disposition of the heart that fears the pain of those dreams never being realised, is crippling and destructive.

See, I think that we WERE made to live bigger, bolder and riskier lives. Lives of faith, lives that see us stepping out in heavy dependance that our God is in control and will come through for us. I think our hearts were wired with the grand narrative of eternity set in them, this deep pulse that knows that our lives, our selves, were made to participate in the greatest story ever told. That we are valued and treasured. No, I don’t think that the happily ever afters are ours on this side of Jesus’ return; no, I don’t think that this longing for a fairytale life is helpful or healthy if it leads you to put off living your life, perennially waiting for something magnificent to occur.

But living boldly, loving recklessly, and living a life of risky faith – living OBEDIENTLY to a wildly passionate and steadfastly loving God? Doesn’t that sound like a life worth writing a story about? Or, rather: doesn’t that sound like a life that is a penstroke in the greatest story ever told?

I certainly think so.

 

Stranger than Fiction

Four years ago, around this time of year (June/July), you could find me watching, pausing, re-winding, and re-watching two Marc Foster films. One was a beautiful piece starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland), and the other was this present piece, featuring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thomson and Dustin Hoffman (even Queen Latifah?!). The former was a supplementary text for 2U English in my HSC, and the latter, Stranger than Fiction, was a supp text for 3U English.

To say that I loved 3U would be an understatement. For starters, I had the best and most influential teacher I have ever had: Hoody was my debating coach, my 4U mentor, and my 3U teacher, and he made Postmodernism a JOY. Our class of about 10 was ridiculously entertaining, intellectually rigorous, and really relaxed, which was such a fantastic learning environment.

Hoody and Jamie. Hand = Very self-aware. Classic.

Postmodernism is fundamentally a dynamic concept, because it is reactionary; it offers a response to the dominant themes and discourses of the social, cultural and intellectual epoch in which it exists. It shouldn’t be altogether surprising that there are several, not necessarily cohesive, impulses encompassed within postmodern theory. But there are bound together by a similar approach to textual construction and analysis.

Baudrillard said, epitomising the sense of belatedness which pervades postmodernism, that “everything has already occurred… nothing new can happen.” Accordingly, the postmodernist seeks to play around with the existing material, in order to present their message. It is innovation, not creation.

Stranger than Fiction focuses explicitly on itself as a construct, exploring originality, the control of meaning and authorship in a brilliantly executed artwork.

The premise is simple, but the nuance comes in the execution. Harold Crick (Ferrell) is a senior IRS agent whose bland existence is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of a disembodied voice, apparently narrating his life. Playful ontological games ensue, blurring the barriers between the constructor and the constructed, as the author who narrates Harold’s life (Thompson) enters the plot as a character on the same ontological level as the character whose story she is constructing. What is pricked my interest as I watched it again last night, was how much it reminded me of Don Miller’s ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’, and the whole notion of living a good story. You see, Karen Eiffel (Thompson) is an author who is notorious for killing off all of her main characters; Crick discovers this, much to his alarm, when she narrates that, “Little did he know that this seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” Without disclosing much of the plot, this revelation catalyses a totally new life for Harold; he LIVES boldly, forging headlong through his fears and insecurities, doing things he would never have dared to do in his ‘previous life’. Freed from the tyranny of routine, he is reckless in his pursuit of love and life – he has a clarity of vision about what is significant in the face of the brevity of his life! This is the final voiceover:

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.

At its heart, I think the movie valorizes experience over theory and love over cynicism. I think it wouldn’t be stretching it to say that it is a universal sentiment to long to live to suck the marrow out of life. To have a sense of one’s own mortality, to invigorate and motivate the self to dwell fully in the present and to live according to what matters – this sentiment isn’t novel!

In fact, the Psalmist expressed this longing:

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (39:4)

But I feel that although living in a gear of life that savours the nuances of life isn’t all there is to the sentiment. I think it finds its roots much deeper in the human heart. We are but a breath. We long for our lives to count for something. And I think that’s because our hearts were fashioned to participate in a great story, to be caught up in greatness outside of ourselves, a magnificence so captivating and other that we revel in the bliss of self-forgetfulness. We become more ourselves than we have ever been before; everything is illuminated by the brightness and beauty of the one in whom true life is found.

There is not a frenetic striving to make your life count, because settling in your place within the grander narrative lends a joy in soaking up and leveraging the insignificant moments. It isn’t all about you. So you can be content in simply being faithful with the moments given to you.

Why waste life on trivialities

 

 

This is a response to a guy’s blog from earlier in the year. It’s pretty much what I think about justice, and is heavily derived from the writings of NT Wright, Tim Keller, Frederick Buechner and the thoughts of my dear friend, Ed Springer. I still find it hard to live this. But in His gracious mercy to me, may His Spirit continue to teach me to love as He has loved.

It’s the hope of the new creation that propels us headlong into the darkest of places. Because this hope was secured by a love from which we will never be severed, the joy that springs from it is resilient. It can withstand the buffets of pain and frustration, at least in part because its source is not our own love for these people. When I burn out or feel weighed down by the brokenness of it all, it’s often because I have been looking to my own resources.

A dear friend once unpacked the beautitudes as resting on the foundation of ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’. From that posture of spiritual bankruptcy, we come to the foot of the Cross and cry for help. Not just for salvation; everything. Including the fight for justice.

When we cry to Him in anguish over the corruption of the world, I think He responds by energising us with two things:

First, the assurance that the in-breaking of His Kingdom has already begun, and there is a Day fast approaching when all things will be restored. Justice and healing are His purposes; and His purposes will prevail.

Second, the love with which to fuel the fight. Not our own limited resource we approximately call ‘love’. His love for people. And with that love flowing through us, to them, from Him, we are free to love – without fear, and without self-regard.

As Buechner says, ‘He says to follow him, to walk as he did into the world’s darkness, to throw yourself away as he threw himself away for love of the dark world.’

It was offensive to respectable society.

It wasn’t just that Jesus the Nazarene carried incidental conversation with them out of politeness; he sought them out at his initiative and engaged in the social norm which was an expression of the closest social acceptance – table-fellowship.

‘They’ were the hamartōloi, the resha’im… the wicked. Although there was a degree of factionalism involved in the use of the word (‘if you don’t subscribe to my interpretation of the law (and accordingly, breach it), then you are a sinner!’), there was a considerable degree of commonality in the use of the term. It was derogatory, to say the least; these were not the kind of people that respectable people would trust with their kids.

It was offensive to respectable society in first century Palestine that Jesus associated with them so closely. And it is offensive still today.

My thought yesterday was approximately this: the fact that those who follow Jesus are often ‘worse’ people than those who do not grates with a lot of people. To an extent, this is attributable to people affiliating themselves with Jesus who aren’t in a relationship with Him, yes; to and extent, this is a smokescreen complaint for someone who wants to keep the claims of Jesus at arm’s length, yes; and particularly, to an extent, this is just the inconsistency of those who follow Jesus but are still plagued by their daily disobedience. Yes.

But what I was reflecting on yesterday in the car was that Jesus associated with those who respectable people didn’t think were kosher. Similarly, although respectable society today looks different (pluralistic, tolerant, PC, etc..), it remains offended by the people Jesus chooses to draw to Himself. It deems them inappropriate candidates for who God would want to be in relationship with. It assumes that because these people are flawed, broken, and inconsistent, that the One they say they worship must not be God. The only real difference between now and then, is the qualities that we associated with ‘the wicked’ have changed. Whereas it was once ‘tax collector, prostitute, thief, liar’, it is now ‘arrogant, narrow-minded, rigid’. Respectable society is hugely resistant to the idea that these people would ever be acceptable to God.

The crucial point is exactly this: those who are otherwise unable to be acceptable to God are approved by Him on the account of Jesus’ blood.

Jesus dined with those who people didn’t like, and didn’t think should ever be able to get a hearing with God, let alone share table-fellowship with Him.

Granted, of course, I’ll be the first to fall to my knees and cry out to God about the way Christians treat other people; our lovelessness and selfishness isn’t normative! It’s residual of who we were when we met Jesus, not a fruit of our relationship with Him. And there is more of a lesson in Jesus’ dining with ‘sinners’ for those who claim to know God, yet exclude those with whom Jesus appeared to be closest.

But this is so important to understand: the fact is that awful people are just the people who Jesus sought out then, and they are just the people He seeks out now. Why? Well, because when by His grace they are transformed into better, truer, fuller, more whole, versions of themselves, it will not be attributable to them ‘just being a nice guy/gal’; JESUS will get the glory.

It’s not to give them a licence to stay in the clothing of their old self; far from it. Jesus’ practise of dining with sinners was not acquiescence to their ways, but a practical parable of his message that the kingdom of God was breaking in, and that it was a free gift to any and all who would accept it through repentance. Repentance required a change of mind about God, about themselves, and about other people. Jesus’ contact with them over a meal triggered that repentance, which in turn brought them into a relationship which would gradually transform their external behaviours.

I’m not sure if this makes sense. Or if I am propagating a total heresy. Indeed, I am so so grieved by the loveless contempt displayed by many who profess Jesus as Lord. I think that they often represent the religious elite against whom Jesus reacted vehemently. And, to be honest, there is more to be said for an analogy of the church as Pharisees than as the ‘sinners’ with whom Jesus associated (maybe they are both?). But that is matched by the contempt of those who react against their sin (lovelessness) and their designation that these people are beyond redemption.

Jesus tells us that no one is beyond redemption. Even the most despicable and contemptible among us.

Because His grace goes deeper still.

Today, I felt that there was an analogy between long-distance relationships and the way that the bride of Christ waits for Him to return. This is how I felt the thought could be expressed:

While you are away,

I while away my moments thinking about how

(while you are away)

I while away my moments thinking about you.

 

 

I wish the same were true of the way I waited for Him. Times a million.

 

Because while He is away,

His thoughts of me outnumber the grains of sand in the sea.

Because while He is away (and into all eternity),

He bears scars in His hands and feet.

Not a single moment goes by that He isn’t thinking of me (I’m feeling uncomfortable now).

For, if He were to cease those thoughts,

I would cease.

For, in Him, all things hold together.

 

 

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

(12th Chapter of the Gospel according to the apostle John)

I did physics for a while. I quite enjoyed it, truth be told. I wasn’t very good, though. Why? Well. I sat next to the smartest guys in the class at the back of the room. You would think that would be conducive to effective learning/leeching. Unfortunately, these guys were the UBER nerd type, who could afford to not be focused the whole time. They were also pretty much the funniest guys in the world. The result was that I spent most of my physics classes laughing hysterically at the jokes the boys would mutter back and forth. A brilliant time. Unfortunately, it meant that I didn’t take class that seriously. I also rarely did my homework. Not deliberately. I just never seemed to get around to it.

In any case, the point of this diatribe is to say that the only thing of use I’ve extracted from that time (apart from a lot of fun, laughter, and the foundation for enduring friendships), was a vague memory of Newton’s Laws of Physics.

Namely, the third one: That every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

I have tutoring in 4 minutes, so to cut straight to the chase:

It makes no sense to be lukewarm about the gracious expression of love and mercy God has shown us through Jesus Christ.

If grace enters a heart, surely it can’t help but cause a reaction that is proportionate to the weight of the grace that has entered the heart and displaced what once resided there? How does it make sense to be calculating and measured about how much grace or love or mercy I show others?

Mary’s actions were not financially sensible. They were, however, an extravagant reaction to an extravagant action. I think that if someone raised my brother from the dead, I wouldn’t be cautious or calculating in expressing my thanks and joy and delight. The reality is that we ourselves have been raised from death; we who were dead in sin, unresponsive to God, and far away, have been given new hearts, regenerated hearts that are responsive to God, and a new life, characterised by the living hope secured by Jesus’ resurrection.

When we have been shown extravagant love, the grace of that experience enters our hearts, brings us to life, transforms us, and overflows into a desire to love back. And not just to love back with a sense of duty or sensible, measured frugality. To love back with extravagance.

 

 

 

[Subsequent Edit/Qualifications/Elaborations]

It’s not a matter of ‘should’; it’s not that grace obliges you to act proportionately. Because that’s not grace, right? That’s still you working to earn what was already freely given to you. No. It is the natural effect of grace. It’s the fruit of grace. Just as the healthy function of an apple tree is to produce apples (it’s not obliged to; it just DOES), so too the healthy and natural function of a heart regenerated by grace to follow Jesus is to produce the fruit of grace.

Those who follow Jesus do things that look like Jesus. It’s not that followers of Jesus ought to. It’s more that, if they don’t, then aren’t they detouring from the path that Jesus took? Like Dallas Willard said, it’s the things you DO that reveal what you actually believe, not the things you say you believe.

To qualify: for sure – EVERY follower of Jesus is inconsistent. Unequivocally. We will bear fruit that looks nothing like Him, sometimes. But that is evidence of an unhealthy tree.

Furthermore, the fuel for bearing fruit isn’t your own effort. You don’t look more like Jesus by trying harder to live like Him. It’s impossible, and will only leave you frustrated, and in bitter self-condemnation. You become more like Jesus when His Spirit reclaims more and more of your heart, and grace takes hold. That is not passive. You have to lean into what He is doing, you have to yoke yourself to Him, you have to abide in Jesus. But He is the one who grows the fruit.

So when I talk about how God’s action of grace towards us “needs” to produce an “equally” extravagant reaction, let me make two clarifications. Firstly, it’s not so much a mandate or a prescription, as a description. God’s action of grace WILL produce a reaction in us. It’s not about you trying harder to manufacture an appropriate reaction. It’s about His Spirit working the reaction in you, and you leaning into that work. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. Secondly, our reaction can never be “equally” proportionate to what He has done for us. But’s that OK. It’s not like grace is a debt we’ve incurred and need to pay back through our reaction. Maybe what I mean to say is that it’s not about quantity, as it is about quality. A reaction to extravagant grace ought to be stamped with the character of extravagance; extravagance derived not from obligation or our own resources, but extravagance which is derived from the GRACE which gave birth to it. It is stamped with the DNA of radical love, it has a quality of recklessness and self-disregard. This will look different in different people’s lives; different people have different capacities. I need to be careful when comparing my reaction to Jesus with other people’s. Yes, there needs to be a degree of commonality; the Scriptures say what the fruit of the Spirit look like. Jesus tells us what following Him will look like, in part;  loving God, loving people, denying self, suffering for His sake, not chasing after the things of this world… But there’s a difference between “fruit inspecting” and being condescending.

I feel that there is a danger in circles of Christians who are on fire for social justice to be condescending towards other Christians who aren’t on fire for social justice. To think that they aren’t being radical disciples. I know because, shamefully, I am often one of them. Maybe there is some truth in thinking that if they’re not on board with God’s purposes to bring restoration to all creation, then they’re missing something. But, hey; we’re all missing something when it comes to God, aren’t we? I know I’m missing several things. But if they’re not missing Jesus, they can still be faithfully, if inconsistently, following Jesus. “But they don’t get what He was on about!!”

Neither did the disciples, and they shared life with Jesus every day for three years. They didn’t get what the “Kingdom of God”/ “reign of God” was about, probably not until the Spirit illuminated their hearts.

What I’m trying to say, in a very longwinded manner, is that we cannot look down on our brothers and sisters who are not zealous for the same things we are. It is only by God’s grace that we have had this reaction stirred up in us to fight against injustice. There is no room for condescension. More than that, we are to in humility consider them BETTER than ourselves! (Phil 2:3)

This is massive for me. I struggle with it hardcore. But I trust that when I fall to my knees, lift my prideful heart to Him and cry for help, that He will move into action. And that his work of renovation in my heart will cause a reaction in my life that will not just enable me to be extravagant in the way I live, but it will enable me to be extravagant in the way I love, particularly those who don’t get the things that I am passionate about.

From 4/7/10. It’s funny how forgetful we are.

Distrust is a stubborn root to weed out of a heart. I think it’s nurtured by wariness of people and the ways they can hurt us; also by a reluctance to ever be in situations of vulnerability. It’s the negative extreme of guarding your heart, in that it is preemptive and suspicious to the point of cynicism.

And cynicism cripples hope and limits possibility.

The other thing about distrust is that it constrains the heart to fear, and disallows stepping out in faith. If you’re constantly over-analysing every interaction with a person, or every situation you’re in, and safe-guarding yourself against any possible infliction of embarrassment or wounded pride, then you immediately shrink your life down to what is safe and predictable.

Horrible!

But on a deeper level, and one more fundamental to the human experience, is our distrust of God.

Uncertain situations tend to breed a few responses: fear, distrust, excitement, faith. I’m sure there are more.

But I was just reading an article called, ‘Can You Bear Uncertainty?’ by Jon Bloom and I thought it was particularly insightful. Maybe you’ll agree…

He was looking at the story of Jesus’ reply to the confident assertion of the eager would-be follower of Jesus that they would follow Him wherever He went, in Luke 9:

So when an adoring fan announced his desire to follow him anywhere, Jesus deglamorized things a bit by replying, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Bloom continues from here with some thoughts which I think I agree with:

God doesn’t tell us how that person responded because what’s important is the implied question: can you bear uncertainty? Can you bear not knowing how God is going to provide for your most urgent needs and still trust that he will?

It is a question that Jesus wants all of his disciples to wrestle with. There are simply going to be times when we don’t know where the provision is going to come from. Circumstances will look precarious, sometimes foreboding and threatening. Plans are going to fall through. People are going to disappoint us. They may reject or misunderstand our mission. If these things happened to Jesus, we should not be surprised when they happen to us. And we are not to become angry when they do. Note that Jesus rebuked James and John for their response (Luke 9:55).

Jesus does not want us to be governed by fear at such times. He wants us governed by faith. The reason is that the uncertainty is only apparent uncertainty. Our future and our provision and our ultimate triumph are certain to God. He has all the foreknowledge, power, resources, and desire to turn everything for good for those who love him and are called by him (Romans 8:28).

Apparently uncertain seasons are usually the most powerful God moments we experience. They often put God on display more than other seasons, demonstrating that God exists and rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

So if you are in one of those seasons, take heart. You are likely experiencing what it means to have a God “who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).

I feel the pain of uncertainty. It would almost be more tolerable just to KNOW, unequivocally, whether life will go one way or the other. Even if it means staying sick forever, it removes the tantalising semi-hope, in which you half-wonder about what might be, rather than dwelling fully in the provision so graciously given in the present moment. Uncertainty can make us off-balance.

The thing is, I feel that uncertainty actually blesses us, because it shows up our spiritual health in a way that we could probably mask otherwise.

It shows up the presence of any distrust still lingering in our hearts. If times are uncertain, and we don’t trust God, then it’s as obvious as a fake tan.

Uncertainty forces us to deal with distrust. It forces us to wait on God, to lean heavily on Him in faith.

What a blessing it is!

It reminds me of Andrew Murray’s thoughts:

Even in the regenerate man there is no power of goodness in himself: he has and can have nothing that he does not each moment receive; and waiting on God is just as indispensable, and must be just as continuous and unbroken, as the breathing that maintains his natural life.

How I wish that I would wait so heavily on God that with each breath I would acknowledge my dependence on Him. Uncertainty, in its principle preoccupation with what is to come, would lose its hold on my heart, because with waiting on God, communing with Him with each passing breath, my focus would no longer be on trying to control the future – it would shift to dwelling in the present with the One who holds all things in His hands.

It is, then, because Christians do not know their relation to God of absolute poverty and helplessness, that they have no sense of the need of absolute and unceasing dependence, or the unspeakable blessedness of continual waiting on God. But when once a believer begins to see it, and consent to it, that he by the Holy Spirit must each moment receive what God each moment works, waiting on God becomes his brightest hope and joy. As he apprehends how God, as God, as Infinite Love, delights to impart His own nature to His child as fully as He can, how God is not weary of each moment keeping charge of his life and strength, he wonders that he ever thought otherwise of God than as a God to be waited on all the day. God unceasingly giving and working; His child unceasingly waiting and receiving: this is the blessed life.

“Truly my soul waiteth upon God; from Him cometh my salvation.” First we wait on God for salvation. Then we learn that salvation is only to bring us to God, and teach us to wait on Him. Then we find what is better still, that waiting on God is itself the highest salvation. It is the ascribing to Him the glory of being All; it is the experiencing that He is All to us.

May God teach us the blessedness of waiting on Him.

Ascribing Him the glory of being ALL to us. All. Not holding back an ounce of self-control. Rather than dealing with uncertainty by hoarding control and shrinking life down to the confines of fear-driven security, waiting on God and leaning on Him in faith lays that burden down at the feet of the most trust-worthy Person, who holds all things together.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1.17

What security there is in laying down all things before the One who holds all things together. What a person to wait on!

Romans 11
33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34″Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35″Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

“My soul, wait thou only upon God!”