Friday, March 4, 2011
If You are “Light” and “Salt”: Say Something!
It isn’t easy to discern our purpose on this earth. We lack the perspective in this life to know what we have been about or whether it matches the expectations of the One who put us here.
It seems clear, regardless of what sectarian (religious) message one chooses as their guide, that we are put here to do “good.” But what is “good”?
Is blowing oneself up in a crowded temple, mosque, or church, calling attention to some perceived evil, “good”? Is holing up in a mountain retreat to chant and meditate “good”? Is joining a legitimate organized military to fight against those who blow themselves up “good”? Is living in abject poverty among the world’s poor “good”? Is amassing billions of dollars through shrewd investment “good”?
Most of us find more mundane ways to do good deeds: going to work regularly and providing our employer with an honest day’s work, being faithful in our commitments to family and friends, being honest, law abiding citizens, donating time and money to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
But is that narrow definition of “purpose” sufficient? Not for those who call themselves Christian. Christians sense that God has put them here to be both “light” and “salt”. And they struggle to know what it means to be “light” and “salt”. Light is active, penetrating darkness, showing a path, dispelling fear, and revealing lurking evils. Salt is passive, waiting to be carried to its tasks by the natural flow of events, but being, wherever it is carried, a “chemistry changer”.
Soon I’ll have been on this earth seventy-five years. It is time that I decided, if I’m ever going to in this life, what I’m here for. I have spent my life studying history, civics, politics, theology, and Scripture, professionally and avocationally. Since youth, I’ve been an observer of events on the world, national, and local stage. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that my life experiences have given me a relatively broad perspective, philosophically, religiously, and historically.
It has slowly dawned on me that I can, and should be a voice – a “chemistry changer” – in whatever circle of influence I am carried to by the “flow of events”. And I should be able to shine the light of experience and perception into the often dark maze of human activity in which we all walk. That is a daunting assignment for one who is very aware of his human frailty, limited vision, and ingrained prejudices.
The prophets of Israel spoke with much assurance, even asserting, “Thus saith the LORD!” I’ve wondered where that assurance came from. They too were keen observers of their world and sincere students of the Scriptures at their disposal. But they were also flawed human beings of limited knowledge and ingrained prejudices. We are told, in some instances, that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon them”, lifting them above their human limitations, giving them special insights. It seems that kind of “inspiration” was given to a very limited number of men and women in any era.
I don’t feel the need or the assurance to claim that kind of prophetic office. I don’t often invoke God’s name in support of my contentions. Nor do I seek to equate my “ideology” with true religion. But I’ll speak my mind, trusting that I’m drawing from whatever “inspiration” and insight I’ve been given, from whatever sources. I believe that theology and Scripture are among the most potent and useful sources from which to construct moral and ethical convictions. And I believe that the Scriptures give us stories and instructions that allow us to have a sense of what is pleasing and not pleasing to God, our Maker. And finally, I believe we must compare our carefully, humbly, constructed convictions to our own conduct in this world and to our judgment of the conduct of others. But in the end others, who also have a sincere desire to “know the Mind of God,” will judge our words and our works. Their judgments provide us with a check on our tendency to “lean” too much “to our own understanding.”
And, of course, my words and works will ultimately be judged by the One who put me here to “say something.”