I’m very sure that I have had the occassion to read articles by this scholar that I either did not fully understand or truly disagreed with.  Nevertheless, I’m not so sure he hasn’t hit on something in these two. 

The Barkity Barkity Midnight Dog PDF Print E-mail
Political Dualism Dualism Is Bad JuJu
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Friday, May 14, 2010 3:59 pm

In order to sort some important things out, we have to do some further work on the relationship of giver and gift. I propose to begin by discussing the relationship between created giver and created gift, and then moving up to the much more complicated relationship between the Uncreated Personal Giver and the created personal gift. By this latter phrase, I mean my wife, my children, my neighbors, etc. It is all very well to rightly relate a frosted mug of beer to the Creator, but my neighbor is always more sinful than the beer is, and frequently more irritating. Hopefully, this will be sorted out in due course.

Suppose a mother has a pre-teen son who is very bright, highly analytical, and who, because he was born in the late nineties, had never heard of a Rubik’s Cube. She gets him one for a present, and as soon as the challenge is presented to him, he responds to the gift with delight. He thanks her effusively, which takes two minutes. He then spends three hours on the sofa in the living room, absorbed in his gift. During that time, he does not think of his mom once. When he solves the problem, and knows how to do it right every time, he puts the cube down, and goes to find his mother. He says, "Mom, I haven’t enjoyed myself that much in a long time. Thanks so much." This takes about five seconds.

Now if we measured what this young fellow thought of his mother in terms of quantity only, we are going to run into trouble. He spent 125 seconds thanking her, and 10,800 seconds working on a cubical device with different colored squares on it. What’s that? Ninety nine percent of his time was spent on a little plastic box, and one percent of his time was spent talking to his mother, thanking her for it.


But time is not a pie that can be sliced up that way. He is delighting his mother every time she looks out at him, head bent over that dumb thing, not thinking about her at all. Not only does time not work that way, neither is loyalty measured that way.

Creatures need anchor points. We do wander, we do forget, and so we need to reel our minds in from the distractions of the world on a regular basis. There are many whose spiritual life is choked out completely by the cares of this world (Matt. 13:22). Jesus wouldn’t have talked about it the way He did unless it was a big deal. This is why we should worship the Lord weekly, and this is why we should lift up our prayers daily.

But the mistake lies in thinking that if one’s good, then two’s better. We are not supposed to have a worship service every night. We are not supposed to show up at work three hours later because we were praying. That is a false standard of holiness. God wants us to worship Him, thinking about Him. He wants us to visit at the dinner table, thinking about the kids. He wants us to mow the lawn, thinking about nothing.

The work we have to show up on time for at the whirligig factory may be (in the abstract) less important than what we were praying about. But we are still supposed to finish our prayers in a timely way, and go do the less important thing. That’s the important thing.

Now things get complicated when it comes to love of our neighbor. This is complicated when our neighbor is a loving spouse, with whom we get along famously, and it is complicated in another way when it is the churlish neighbor across the street, the one with the barkity barkity midnight dog. Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us without instruction.

"No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:12, 20-21).

This is not a passage that teaches us to love God 90% of the time, for He is God and therefore most important, and then we are to love our neighbor with the remaining 10%. No, we are to love God 100% by how we love our neighbor 100%. They do not exclude each other. They can occupy the same space. But please note that this is perichoretic, not pantheistic.

These things are too hard for us. It makes our head hurt. We need practice. We need to learn how to do this. And this is why God has given us the Lord’s Supper — to learn how to love God in our neighbor, and how to love our neighbor in God, and to do so without confounding them. It was not for nothing that C.S. Lewis said, in The Weight of Glory, "Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." And to treat him as such robs God of nothing.

A Full Tank of Gas and Lots of Wyoming Ahead

PDF Print E-mail
Political Dualism Dualism Is Bad JuJu
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Thursday, May 13, 2010 2:15 pm

A week or so ago, I wrote about Piperian Hedonism 3.0. Following that, a friend helpfully pointed me to Chapter 11 of John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God. That chapter is entitled "How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy." And that chapter is filled, of course, with Piper’s usual exegetical good sense, along with his careful framing of the question before the house. Having read it, and having agreed with a bunch of it, I still want to urge us to go further up and further in. Here are a few thoughts on that.

Piper leans on C.S. Lewis’ argument in an essay called "Meditation in a Toolshed," which is found in God in the Dock. Piper does well in acknowledging that opting out of a bodily recognition of God and His gifts is not actually possible, and the only question is how we do it, not whether. He draws on the distinction that Lewis makes between looking at something (in this case, a sunbeam), and looking along the same beam, back to the sun.

In this chapter, Piper says:

"So the question must be faced: How do we use the created world around us, including our own bodies, to help us fight for joy in God? In God, I say! Not in nature. Not in music. Not in health. Not in food or drink. Not in natural beauty. How can all these good gifts serve joy in God, and not usurp the supreme affections of our hearts" (p. 178).

"Gratitude is occasioned by a gift, but is directed to the giver" (p. 186).

And this brings us to the heart of the problem — the relationship between Giver and gift. But before addressing this, I want to appear to change the subject for a minute.

I said in my previous post on this that we needed to work through this in an explicitly Trinitarian way. But this means more than just counting everything we see in groups of three. One of the essential Trinitarian doctrines that we need to apply to this is the doctrine of perichoresis, the truth that each member of the Trinity fully indwells each of the others. For example, Jesus talks about this in the gospel of John: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-21). Note that the Father indwells the Son completely, and the Son indwells the Father completely. Notice also that Jesus wants the same kind of thing for us, and so perichoretic indwelling must not be a prerogative of divinity. And so I want to argue that an understanding of perichoretic indwelling helps us to address the vexed question of relating the Giver and His gifts.

Given my finite limitations, I have to think about the gifts God gives to me a lot. I have to think about the fact that my feet are not cold anymore, that it is time for dinner, that one of my shoulder blades itches, and so on. To use Lewis’ conceit from the toolshed, I have to spend a lot of time looking at the sunbeams, and a fraction of my time is set aside for direct worship of God, looking along the sunbeam. The temptation we have is that of treating all this as a zero-sum game, assuming that any time spent on the gifts is necessarily time away from the Giver. But though this sometimes happens, it does not need to happen. Rightly handled, a gift is never detached from the one who gave it. Wrongly handled, a gift can be the occasion of selfishness, which is a common problem. But it can also be the occasion of a higher form of selfishness, one which pretends to be above the whole tawdry field of "gifts in themselves."

Picture a particularly "pious" little child who was impossible to give gifts to, because he would always unwrap it, abandon it immediately, and run up to his parent and say, "But what really counts is my relationship with you!" A selfish child playing with a toy ungratefully is forgetting the giver. This pious form of selfishness is refusing to let the giver even be a giver.

We should not assume that in the resurrection, when we have finally learned how to look along that beam, in pure worship, that our bodies will then be superfluous. God will not have given us eternal and everlasting bodies because we finally got to such a point of spiritual maturity that we are able to ignore them. In the resurrection, we will have learned something we currently struggle with, which is how to live integrated lives. If God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being, it should not be necessary, in order to glorify God, to drop everything. We shouldn’t have to keep these things in separate compartments.

Incidentally, this kind of integration will prevent dislocations from arising in families that are sold out to the glory of God. Integration will keep our neighbor (or wife, or husband, or kids) from feeling like a means to an end. There is a delicate balance here, but God is most glorified in me when I love what He has given to me, for its own sake. This is teleologically related to the macro-point of God’s glory being over all, of course, but we still have to enjoy what He gives, flat out, period, stop. Otherwise, in the resurrection, God will be looking at all the billions of His resurrected saints, standing there contentedly, looking at Him, and He will say, "You know, you people are impossible to shop for." Which is, of course, absurd and impossible. In the resurrection, it will be possible for us to be absorbed by God’s gifts in ways that are impossible to conceive of now.

How might perichoresis help us with this? In a perichoretic world, the gift need not displace the Giver, as though they were two billiards balls. In the material world, the space that one object occupies is space that another object cannot occupy. We carry our assumptions about this over into the spiritual world, and we consequently assume that if we are thinking about meat on the grill, bees in the honeysuckle, a sweet wife in bed, beer in a frosted glass, or a full tank of gas and lots of Wyoming ahead, then we cannot be thinking about God also, or be living in gratitude before Him. But I don’t think this is the case at all.

When we think about the gifts in exclusion of the Giver, it is because we are being prideful, or selfish in some way. If we think about the Giver only, we are trying hard to be disembodied spirits — which is not how the Giver made us, and if we were paying all that much attention to the Giver, we ought to have noticed that He didn’t want to make us that way.

If I turn every gift that God gives over in my hands suspiciously, looking for the idol trap, then I am not rejoicing before Him the way I ought to be. There will likely be more on this.