justbarelymadeit

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Tag: Culture

On Christian Character

“I think you may judge of a man’s character by the persons whose affection he seeks. If you find a man seeking only the affection of those who are great, depend upon it he is ambitious and self-seeking; but when you observe that a man seeks the affection of those who can do nothing for him, but for whom he must do everything, you know that he is not seeking himself, but that pure benevolence sways his heart.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1876

Understanding the character of those around you profoundly shapes your view of the world. This is intimately connected to understanding your own character as well. One cannot look at someone else’s failings or accomplishments without seeing themselves in regard to that. I truly believe this. When I encounter a man of low character, I usually do not think myself higher than him. I often find myself first asking, “Where is that weakness in me, and what should I do about it?” I don’t always follow through with actionable items, but sometimes I do. I think Character is one of the easiest things to fake, and hardest things to prove.

In the Western Evangelical church we often assume church membership equates to character, but sadly it does not. The church is nothing if not filled with broken sinful people. In some senses, that’s ok. Christ did not come to call the righteous, but instead the sinners (Mark 2:17). In other senses though, it can lead to a lot of pitfalls for those who are not wary.

In my experience, working with people seems to be one of the easiest ways to learn about their character. I have often found myself finishing an interesting spiritual conversation with a religious coworker only to turn around and be treated badly by them. It leaves me a little boggled, and confused. Though I do know, that once this happens I now have a quick and firm response for the next time they wish to give me moral or spiritual advice:

“I do not wish to discuss moral or spiritual matters with you, as you have shown through your character that any advice on the above from you will either be false or toxic.”
While this does well to protect me from fools, it is only the first step. From there I must then ask myself about my character, and where my shortcomings are, in hopes that I may avoid hearing this same thing from another. Worse yet, that I may avoid failing my God.

A Culture of Doubt

In the West, we have a saying, “Seeing is believing.” How many times have you heard the declaration, “I’ll believe that when I see it”? Hard evidence is valued over trust or belief, almost every time. One can build a friends trust, and have them “believe” in you, but even that is a time-tested process built on temporal evidence. Since the Enlightenment, western man has been so tied up in this Aristotelian notion of the here and now and what that entails. If I can touch it, it exists. Anything I cannot fully understand must be doubted. As a good friend of mine, Ben, says, “We live in a culture of doubt. Doubt should be assumed as it is our starting point.” One is actually out-of-place or odd, if one doesn’t struggle with doubt. Given a proper understanding of Western thought, one can assume a starting place of doubt and it suddenly isn’t so terrifying any more.

So if doubt is expected, or even understood to be our starting point how does that help us? Well, what IS a starting point? Or better yet, what is a starting point not? It is not an end. Just because you have struggles with doubt does not mean you will end with doubt. It is, by nature, a process not a solution, a question,  not an answer. One’s doubt will eventually  lead to a certainty. Whether that certainty will be encouraging or not is another question, but the doubt itself must be transient. Even in our culture, the doubt or skeptical though is only there so one can push through to clarity of thought on the subject.

I spent so many years terrified and paralyzed by my doubt, when I should have realized that all that doubt really was doing was spurring me on to the deeper truths. Doubt is our cultural inheritance but our inheritance does not need to define us. We can go forth and make our own fortune. Go forth!

Stephen Mattson

Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing.

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