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How much better to show it

March 16, 2015

In It’s a Wonderful Life, there is a great scene where George attempts to woo Mary, the once little friend who has grown up into a beautiful young lady. As they walk home in borrowed clothing after a swimming pool mishap, George asks Mary what she wants, and then, noticing the full moon above, asks if she wants the moon. “I’ll take it,” Mary replies. “And then what?” With eyes wide with excitement, George turns on the poetic charm. “Well, then you could swallow it and it’d all dissolve, see? And the moonbeams’d shoot out of your fingers and your toes, and the ends of your hair.” Then he pauses and asks, “Am I talking too much”? A man sitting on a porch nearby observing this romantic encounter stands up and says emphatically, “Yes!! Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?” Looking a little flustered, George responds, “How’s that?” The man replies with a tone of annoyance, “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?” “Want me to kiss her, huh?” George asks. And in one of the best lines of the movie, the man exclaims, “Aw, youth is wasted on the wrong people.”

Sometimes we just have to quit talking and start doing. Actions can be so much more believable than talk. This I take to be true although it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m the theoretical type. Let’s dig down deep, I say, and understand the foundational issues involved, and then let’s consider all the possibilities. This is one reason, I think, that I found Christian apologetics so attractive. It’s about ideas, and I’m an idea kind of guy.

This general principle came to mind after I recently had cause to think about church music. As I thought about it, the all-too-common phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” came to mind. That’s often pulled out to explain why someone doesn’t like something in the realm of aesthetics that someone else does. There really is no intrinsic right or wrong in matters of beauty; everyone has his or her own tastes, and no one else can  say someone else’s tastes are wrong.

This obviously can’t be taken absolutely. If it could, we couldn’t say God is beautiful or the things of God. If someone said there is no beauty in God, he couldn’t be accused of being mistaken or worse. That’s his opinion, and since there is no beauty in God Himself but only in the eye of the beholder, the person who sees ugliness is on equal footing with the one who sees beauty. Conversely, we couldn’t condemn someone who says that a pile of dead and mutilated bodies is beautiful (sorry, but I have to use an illustration so extreme that everyone in their right mind would have to agree). If there is no inherent beauty in things, or no lack of inherent beauty, then it’s all just subjective opinion.

However, since there is so much diversity about what is truly beautiful, there must be a range of things that could legitimately be called beautiful bounded by a perimeter outside of which lie those things that aren’t beautiful.

But there I go again getting theoretical. This kind of conversation could go on for a long time with no agreement reached regarding my basic theory or about what properly goes inside the perimeter (if there is one). What is one to do?

One possibility is to simply create or display beauty and let it be recognized for its own intrinsic worth. People are attracted to beauty. (Feel free to pause here to listen to “Add to the Beauty,” one of many of Sara Groves’ great songs).

Morality can be like this. Sure, there is a place to debate moral issues, and this not just for the pleasure of the theoretical types. Immoral acts should stop, not only because they dishonor God but because they harm us on both individual and societal levels.

At the end of the day, though, how much better to show the way God-honoring moral behavior avoids disaster and fosters a rich and satisfying life?

Redemption can be a little tricky to explain (from whom was God buying us out of slavery?). How much better to live a redeemed life set free from harmful effects of the weight of sin? Are we really free, or is that just Christian talk?

The existence of God has been debated for centuries and will be until we all face Him. Sometimes and for a few different purposes such exercises can be helpful (I think their benefit is very limited outside the study of the philosophy of religion, but to develop that further would mean getting theoretical, and that wouldn’t be fitting here, would it?). How much better would it be to show what it means to worship something (Someone, of course) that sets us free to experience the fullness of what being human can mean, something that gives real meaning to our daily lives and gives us real hope for the future, that gives to us that we may give to others rather than turning us in on ourselves and our own pleasures?

I could go on, but I think the point has been made. Note that I’m not making the point so often attributed to Francis of Assisi that we should preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary (Mark Galli, who wrote a short biography on St. Francis, claims that it is highly unlikely that he would ever have said such a thing: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/mayweb-only/120-42.0.html). Words are necessary, and actions are necessary. There comes a point, however, when words don’t persuade. Even when they still may persuade, they are more persuasive when they are shown to be true rather than just argued. People can come up with all kinds of arguments to refute what we say (in their own minds, anyway), and sometimes our own life’s experience convinces us of ideas that aren’t true. There is a truth behind the maxim, “seeing is believing.”

But here’s the rub: it’s much easier to talk it than to live it. However, live it we must. Christianity is lived truth, not just theory. We can complain till the cows come home about how our culture and society are going to hell in a handbasket or about how Christians are not being heard in society. But if we aren’t living it out, our complaints will continue to fall on deaf ears.

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