Saturday, June 28, 2008

When Time Is Of The Essence

As a Christian, I believe that the scriptures (also known as the Bible, also known as the Word of God) are the preeminent and authoritative guide to how Christians ought to live their lives. But the scriptures do not consist of a dry list of rules (with rare exceptions, such as the Ten Commandments). The scriptures consist largely of stories. Even the epistles of people such as St. Paul occur in the context of true stories and real relationships between people. None of this is to say that the Bible is any less authoritative on account of its nature. But it does sometimes create challenges in terms of knowing how particular verses of scripture ought to be applied to our own lives. Some scriptures are prescriptive (meaning that they tell us what we ought to do). Some are proscriptive (meaning that they tell us what we ought not to do). And some scriptures fail to fall into either one of those categories. People can fall into error when they make the mistake of reading the Bible in a manner which does not take the context of each scripture into account. And the scriptures themselves make it clear that Satan delights in taking God's Word and twisting it to suit his own purposes. He even attempted to tempt Jesus by misquoting scriptures.

Sometimes Christians have misquoted scriptures in order to attempt to justify their own sinful impulses. Men have misquoted scriptures pertaining to the submission of wives to their husbands in an attempt to justify spousal abuse. Parents of both genders have misquoted the verse about sparing the rod and spoiling the child in an attempt to justify child abuse. Slave owners have misquoted verses about the proper Christian attitude of slaves towards their masters in an attempt to justify slavery itself. Powerful political leaders have misquoted verses about war in order to justify the desire to make war.

Sadly, the misuse of scriptures has caused some folks to conclude that the scriptures are useless (or worse), and to conclude (as Richard Dawkins and others of his ilk have done) that Christianity is a force of evil in the world.

One example of a scripture which lends itself to abuse and misinterpretation is Isaiah 40:31, which advises people to "wait on the Lord" so that their strength can be renewed. There are undoubtedly situations in which that's the best advice that one can offer. But the verse has been used, by some, to justify inertia, even in the face of crisis situations where waiting is not a legitimate or compassionate option.

It was precisely because FEMA waited too long to respond to the crisis in New Orleans, after Katrina, that the Bush Administration was subjected to some very harsh criticism. Imagine the outrage if Bush had responded by saying, "Your problem, folks, is that you're too impatient! You've got to learn to wait on the Lord!" Such outrage would have been totally justified. Some things just won't wait.

The same thing could be said about any situation which could be characterized as a crisis or an emergency. When people call 9-1-1, they expect an immediate response. They don't expect or deserve to be told to wait. Only a jerk would imply that their unwillingness to wait while the police department or fire department took its sweet time was an indication of their lack of spiritual maturity.

Of course, not everything is an emergency of that magnitude, but there are many situations which, to a greater or lesser degree, are time-sensitive. Patience is a virtue, to be sure, but our time on earth is limited, so it's imperative that we make the most of that limited time rather than putting off things which badly need to be done. I say this as a person who is hardly blameless when it comes to the matter of procrastination. My natural tendency is to want to put things off until tomorrow. But contrary to what I've sometimes heard, there are times when delay is indeed tantamount to denial. So if I sometimes seem a little bit "pushy," it's because I understand the urgency of addressing certain needs. In some cases, that understanding is the result of the fact that other people are poking and prodding me to respond quickly. Even if I wanted to be patient, they would not be willing to be equally patient with me. So I have no choice but to try to impress others with the urgency of the situation.

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