Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Right Place, Wrong Way

Christendom is full of people getting to the right place the wrong way.

“Well, that’s a good thing,” we might say. “The important thing is that we get there, right?”

That’s certainly true. Correct conclusions matter. They affect what we do and how we live. But how we arrive at them is often just as important.

In his new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Dr. Jordan Peterson gets to a pretty good place by examining dominance hierarchies in lobsters. No, I’m not kidding.

Not HIM Again!

Some of our readers are probably wondering by now why this guy’s name keeps coming up here every couple of weeks. Peterson is, after all, a firm believer in evolution and a bit squishy on the definition of words like “God”, making him not the most obvious subject for regular analysis on a blog that more frequently devotes itself to Hebrew and Greek etymology, Old Testament character studies and explorations of the ways in which so many of our churches are slipping away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Well, as IC says in our current description of what we’re up to here, “We want to find out what it means to think Christian-ly about everything. So everything in the world is fair game.” And if you’re talking to the unsaved these days about the Lord Jesus, Jordan Peterson’s name is bound to come up in short order. He is rapidly becoming the “gateway drug” for those interested in exploring what the Bible teaches and examining its relevance to their lives. And if Peterson is sometimes overly-quick to dismiss the foibles of fundamentalists and evangelicals, he is equally enthusiastic about the character of Jesus Christ, dropping his name repeatedly throughout the book — even in a chapter ostensibly about lobsters.

Stand Up Straight

The “lobster chapter” is actually entitled “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”, wherein Peterson makes the perfectly valid point that in order to live well, we need to tackle life’s challenges head-on rather than run from them. The fact that he gets there via lobster-land is certainly different, but his conclusions are useful.

Christians, of course, don’t need to negotiate such a meandering intellectual route to get to the same destination. We have a Role Model of whom it was said prophetically “I have set my face like a flint”, and who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We can point to fellow travelers like the apostle Paul, who could not be dissuaded from going up to Jerusalem to face his enemies despite prophetic warnings. We can reference an Old Testament full of characters who exemplified moral courage under the threat of death (David, Daniel, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego come to mind), as well as characters who did not really want the job they were given (like Moses, Jonah or Jeremiah), and whose recalcitrance or bitterness, while understandable and eerily familiar, jump right out to the reader as suboptimal responses to the commands of God.

Further, we can point to Old Testament injunctions to the perfectly ordinary people of God to be strong and courageous and explicit New Testament encouragement to the same.

Attend to Your Posture

Lobsters, as explained by Peterson, may get you to the same place … if only aspirationally. Here’s how he puts it:
“To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protects the world from the flood, guiding your people through the desert after they have escaped tyranny, making your way away from comfortable home and country, and speaking the prophetic word to those who ignore the widows and children. It means shouldering the cross that marks the X, the place where you and Being intersect so terribly … So, attend carefully to your posture.”
Here Noah, Moses, Abraham, the prophets and even the Lord Jesus himself are held up as examples of what moral courage and character look like in action, something with which I entirely agree.

But you see the problem, of course.

Motivation and Power

Every one of these individuals was both called by God and enabled by him to do the things they were being asked to do. They were not doing what they did to improve themselves or to “contend with Being” and “accept the terrible burden of the World”, nor were they doing it in their own energy or in the strength of their own will. Their source of motivation and power was heavenly, not earthly. It didn’t come from a boost in lobster-like serotonin, it came from a spirit of power, love and self-control provided directly and personally by God.

The problem with getting to the right place the wrong route is that you may find you have accidentally skipped right by the reason you were going there in the first place, and that what you have learned on your journey has entirely failed to equip you for the obligations you have taken on.

On the bright side, I walked for 45 minutes this morning conscious of pulling my shoulders back. That’s not bad advice, though I suspect Dr. Peterson nicked it from my dad.

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