Jews and Christians celebrate the good works of the
Creator, from the macro- and microcosmos to the intricacies of the
human person being shaped in their mother’s womb (Psalms 19 and139).
Ancient Israel was encouraged to remember the works of the Lord (Isaiah
40-43) and Christians are focused the central work of Jesus: his death
on the Cross and victorious resurrection (I Corinthians 15).
Advent story reveals three further attributes of God’s work that can
help us in ours. The first is God’s motivation for the Incarnation:
love. This agape disposition of desiring the highest good for others and
sacrificially laboring for their welfare is the foundation for all of
God’s works (John 3:16). As we go to work, do we love our colleagues and
customers, even the nasty ones? God does. Do we offer our labor as
worship, or merely getting by until the weekend (Colossians 3:17-24)?
The second attribute is humility. As Pastor Justin Buzzard has said in a recent article at Made to Flourish (www.madetoflourish.org/resources),
humility is the one thing God honors. In contrast, pride brings divine
resistance! As we go about our work, are we celebrating others, helping
advance the mission apart from our position, and seeking god’s glory and
the good of others? Humility is not self-hatred; it is sober reflection
on ourselves and warm affection for others (Romans 12:3-8).
Advent work teaches us another lesson for our daily duties: The Lord
loves using all kinds of beautiful and broken people to accomplish his
work in the world. Matthew and Luke’s Nativity narratives display humble
women, poor shepherds, aged prayer warriors, and an overwhelmed couple
willing to accept the Lord’s word in the midst of familial and social
misunderstanding (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2). Can we see past status and
learn from anyone, even helping others realize their potential at our
humility, and a willingness to learn from anyone will help our daily
work be infused with adventure and meaning, even as we wrestle with
boredom, repletion, imperfect systems, and selfish people. God is the
First Worker (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 33) and he models actions and attitudes
worthy of our aspirations. Practically, we can live these principles as
we pray for others, model good teamwork, and encourage all around us.
When historians look back at some of the moral currents of the early 21st
century, they will call it an “era of anthropological confusion.” It is
good that we are no longer imprisoning consenting adults for private
activity and that there is robust dialogue of gender and sexual identity
have forthright opinions of sexual identity and morality; however,
these are not the focus of this essay. Persuading folks that disagree
with my Christian convictions is better done in civil, personal dialogue
or in lengthy communication. Here I want to argue that all sides of the
current disputes on gender and sexual identity and practice are missing
an important factor as they seek to persuade, or, in some cases, coerce
conformity to their understanding of what is moral and tolerable.
mistake our entire culture is making on sexuality is profound: we have
made Eros the Almighty and sexual pleasure the defining characteristic
of human identity. This is tragically deficient anthropology, reducing
identity to one’s current sexual proclivities. There are great
complexities involved in how people feel and think about gender and sex,
and no one should feel marginalized. We do, however, need to dialogue
on these issues, especially regarding the education of children, without
labeling and libeling those who disagree with us.
agape love is our starting point, then other loves will find their
place. Agape compels thoughtfulness concerning our loyalties and
pleasures, our motives and our practices. At this juncture I am only
calling for thoughtfulness about sacrificial love. Agape sees people as
made in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect. Agape love helps
people not objectify others or abuse people for pleasure. Friendships
rooted in mutual interests are possible without the intrusion of
unwelcome erotic demands. Comradery in a cause can include people of all
orientations and persuasions as they sacrifice for the common good.
are more than our erotic passions, wonderful as they are (in boundaries
of morality and mutuality). Choosing self-restraint is not repression,
but a loving decision. People of all persuasions can offer their best
efforts toward the common good. There is still a place for debating
gender and sexual issues in an environment of love and respect. Even
where we radically disagree, a commitment to sacrificial love allows us
to unite for noble causes.
we stop bowing before idols of immediate pleasure and choose noble
pathways of love and service? Can we debate without rancor and stop
labeling and libeling? Our preferred future depends upon a social
compact of principled liberty for all.
In these contentious days, it is hard for voices of
sanity to be heard about the name-calling and ideological noise. In
this four-part series, I want to present a new vision and voice for
public dialogue that offers hope for both peaceful engagement and
prudential solutions to our seemingly intractable problems.
is my conviction that underneath all the anger and insults are
disordered human affections. Our “loves” are confused. “Passion” has
replaced principle and emotions seem to triumph over ethics. When
politicians argue that, “facts do not matter if you are moral” we have a
serious confusion of categories, a loss of critical thinking, and signs
of inner chaos.
sages often speak of at least four kinds of love: familial bonds,
brotherly/sisterly affections, the comradery of soldiers and workers,
and romantic attractions. Whether the stories come from China or Greece,
Africa or India, such affections and their proper ethics are universal.
There is another type of
love that the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian theology have brought to
the world: the covenantal love of the Almighty (Hebrew: hesed) the unconditional and self-donating agape
love embodied in the person and work of Jesus. This altruistic, holy,
and sacrificial love helps all other loves find their proper place.
Familial and friendship love are now rooted in sacrifice, and
comradeship is more than suffering together – it can take on nobility.
And erotic attractions – powerful as they are – have boundaries of
behavior and loyalty.
much of contemporary confusion comes from eros overtaking agape and the
perversion of other categories that arises when self-fulfillment
overtakes service. Whether it is sexual attractions and actions,
economic policies, political discourse, or cultural expression,
disordered loves subvert the common good and leave everyone ultimately
need visions and voices rooted in agape that considers others before
self, and refines actions according to their long-term consequences and
not immediate power and success. Stay tuned for the applications of
agape to the challenges of our day. There is hope – but not in the
lowest denominator of human passion, but the highest aspirations arising
from the image of God in humankind.