what they can
want to see
for a reason
I knew it
I wish I didn’t
what they can
want to see
what they can
want to see
for a reason
I knew it
I wish I didn’t
what they can
want to see
and there, at last, into the
It begins in tears and blood
Clenched teeth, wails, and tearing flood
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
A slap, a cry, viscous snot
Pinch, pull, poke, and stabbing shot
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Gnawing hunger and no words
Confusion, blurring, thought like birds
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Corners to foreheads…often
Bumps and bumbles, though fat softened
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Monkey bars and playground slide
Arms don’t bend there, ambulance ride
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Snickers, glance, tongue of cut glass
Sticks and stones and words have mass
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
The turtledove rattles your chest
The confession, rejection, a pathetic mess
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
A phone call, and a bad one
Hearts thumping, lines, now one’s done
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
A pink slip, awkward goodbyes
Still leave every morning, partially maybe tries
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Slammed doors, incomprehensible
Yelling, cajoling, blaming, hiding, responsible
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Papers served, mediation
Courtrooms, drama, without probation
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
A fiery burn hits your liver
Arrow from the bottom shelf’s quiver
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Styrofoam coffee, acid burns
Cigarette, blank stare, stomach turns
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
Days off, it doesn’t matter
Wandering streets, hearing laughter
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?
An old oak door, stain-ed glass
Penitents kneel, children pass
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt.
Bloody statue, arms outstretched
Eyes to heaven, memory fetched
Streaming side and thorn-ed brow
Lash marks curling, wonder how
(Startle, stare) That must have felt
Purpose flood (the blood!) knee knelt
And you thought it wouldn’t hurt!
Imagine a door. Shut, it is an effective barrier to entry; open, it is an invitation to enter. What enables the same piece of wood, metal, or plastic to function in such opposite ways? It is the hinge on which the door swings. The door’s make-up is unchanged; its state, barrier or entry, is wholly dependent on the direction of the hinge. The hinge itself is also unchanged; open or closed, it is simply reoriented. Now imagine a man created perfectly good becoming evil. Such a transformation would, like a door opening and closing, require a hinge.
The Fall of a Righteous Man
Francis Turretin asks the question that naturally arises from seeing such a radical change: “How could a holy man fall?” This question has presumably been asked ever since Adam and Eve took those fatal bites. It is not hard to imagine Adam himself asking in a befuddled tone, “How did this happen?” The question is an enduring one because man’s original fall from a state of created goodness is one of theology’s most thorny questions: there are prickly results no matter the answer proposed. It is at this point, the Fall, that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility intersect and whatever resolution is accepted will have radical effects on subsequent theological development. And, as with most persistent theological debates, there is an element of mystery that seems to shroud the solution, in spite of every best effort to pierce through to an ultimate answer.
This enduring lack of clarity does not, however, forbid further consideration. Indeed, upholding God’s goodness and man’s responsibility in the Fall is a worthy and necessary task. In order to accomplish this goal, a solution would need to identify something in man’s original created nature that was good, but could, without divine sabotage, be turned to sin. This mechanism would be a kind of hinge, present before and after the Fall which could explain its occurrence. One such hinge could be man’s pursuit of happiness, a philosophical tenet held by secular and religious scholars as well as by common experience. Man, it is presupposed, pursues happiness as the end of all his thought and activity. This paper will argue that God created man to pursue his happiness in what he rationally perceived to be the greatest good, that this process was sabotaged by Satan’s deception, and that man’s subsequently flawed reasoning led to the Fall. The problem is not the door, in other words, but the swinging of the hinge.
Why is a Good Man’s Fall an Issue?
A question must first be addressed and that is why the issue of how a good man fell need even be addressed? A quick glance at the ten o’clock news will readily reveal a fallen reality and questioning its origin can seem an unnecessary labor. Ultimately the issue is not the Fall of the creature, it is the goodness of the Creator. How, if God created him “very good”, is it even possible that man fell? More importantly, was God unable to create a wholly good man and thus not omnipotent? Or did He intentionally create a flawed product, deceptively label it “very good” and thus reveal Himself to be morally flawed? In order to defend orthodoxy, both God’s ability and His moral character must be upheld. Examining how a righteous man could become unrighteous is not simply about understanding man: it is about understanding God.
The Nature of Created Man
Given that the greater issue at stake is the nature of God, what was the nature of God’s crowning creation, Man, in the paradise of a pre-Fall world? There is a part of man that is indistinguishable from the stuff that makes up all the rest of creation: “the dust of the ground.” But man is not merely comprised of dust: God breathes “the breath of life” into this dust sculpture and suddenly it becomes something entirely new. Man is a hybrid being with two parts. There has been little consensus throughout theological history on the exact nature of how these two parts, physical and spiritual, interact, but it is biblically certain that man was created “in the image of God.”
How this image of God is communicated to man though, can bring its own issues apart from deciding what it contains. For example, Jonathan Edwards, in his work The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin, presents this explanation:
When God made man at first, he implanted in him two kinds of principles. There was an inferior kind, which may be called natural, being the principles of mere human nature; such as self-love, with those natural appetites and passions, which belong to the nature of man, in which his love to his own liberty, honour, and pleasure, were exercised: these, when alone, and left to themselves, are what Scriptures sometimes call flesh. Besides these, there were superior principles, there were spiritual, holy, and divine, summarily comprehended in divine love; wherein consisted the spiritual image of God, and man’s righteousness and true holiness; which are called in Scripture the divine nature.
While his description of man’s image of God being implanted distinct from other parts of his nature is appealing, Edwards’ categories of “inferior” and “superior” rise from outside understanding of the image of God proper and actually lean into the relationship of God and man. This blurring of the lines unnecessarily complicates the subject.
Edwards portrays the Holy Spirit as indwelling Adam from the moment of creation, only departing when man fell into sin: “When man sinned and broke God’s covenant, and fell under his curse, these superior principles left his heart: for indeed God then left him; that communion with God on which these principles depended, entirely ceased; the Holy Spirit, that divine inhabitant, forsook the house.” If Edwards is correct at this point, why did the Holy Spirit’s super-added righteous presence combined with Adam’s original goodness not suffice to prevent the Fall? This state of relationship between God and man would seem to necessarily preclude the Fall or, worse, risk a Fall that almost assuredly implicates God in the guilt of the first sin. After all, the Holy Spirit’s presence in the redeemed believer suffices to grant the possibility of a fallen person not sinning. How much more would that same Spirit’s presence in a wholly righteous man heighten that ability?
Edwards is correct when he argues that man possessed original righteousness. Indeed, he states the case forcefully: “It would have been a disparagement to the holiness of God’s nature, if he had made an intelligent creature unholy.” His placing man’s holiness in the Spirit’s indwelling is not helpful, however. A better way forward is to understand man’s nature as wholly created, materially and spiritually different from God. Man was created for relationship with God. Nonetheless, this relationship was not the same as that enjoyed by redeemed sinners who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is better to understand man’s original righteousness as being wholly good, wholly derived, wholly dependent and yet wholly integral to his created nature. The Triune God was in relationship with Adam, but God’s righteousness and being were external to man.
In all the discussion about the nature of man, it cannot be forgotten that man did, in fact, fall. Man is entirely responsible for this fall and God bears no guilt for it. To accommodate these truths, there must be a firm distinction made between God and His creation. It is on this point that Augustine asserts that God, immutable and sovereign, created the world and Adam and Eve in it, mutable, or able to change. Francis Turretin picks up the same terminology when he considers the Fall. He recognizes the essential nature of the debate as defending God’s righteousness. But, while the fact of man’s mutability is undeniable, the value of affirming it seems limited. In effect, mutability argues that in order for a righteous man to fall, he had to be able to fall. Obviously, this answer will not satisfy. A door indeed turns because it can turn, but simply stating that fact doesn’t hold it in place or answer how.
The Pursuit of Happiness
A mechanism for man’s Fall has to be sought then and one possibility is found in man’s pursuit of happiness. Happiness can be defined as the, “complete satisfaction of desire.” While Edwards’ may have run into problems with his understanding of original righteousness, his understanding of man’s purpose seems spot on: John Piper famously summarizes Edwards’ perspective by declaring that, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.From a human perspective we are happiest when we are glorifying God. When Adam and Eve were living in obedience to God’s commands, glorifying Him by living exactly as He had created them to, they were happy.
Happiness as the complete satisfaction of desire is not only accepted by theologians, but by philosophers operating within a Christian worldview as well. A person may be happy, as John Locke asserts, only so long as there is not an “uneasiness of desire”. Adam and Eve were not only “very good”, they were very happy because there was no lack, nothing between them and complete satisfaction in God and His benevolent provision for them. They, as Thomas Boston states, “had a life of pure delight, and unalloyed pleasure, in this state.” Happiness was not merely accidental to Adam and Eve: it was the end God had created them to pursue.
It is not only the Christian philosophers who agree: no less a figure than Aristotle gives what is considered by many to be the archetypal statement regarding the issue in his Nicomachean Ethics:
Therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else. Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue…we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by the means of them we shall be happy.
Happiness for Aristotle and many other philosophical thinkers is the end towards which all men strive in thought and action.
It should not be surprising that both theologians and philosophers, Christians and pagans, would agree with revealed truth. The light of general revelation is sufficient to analyze, though not perfectly, the nature of the human reality. It is not surprising that if there is a hinge in the Fall of man, that it would be witnessed to by those who exist in a fallen world. As Augustine said, “let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.” When pagans point from general revelation to a concept that accords with revealed truth, it highlights rather than obscures that truth. Considering that thinkers like Aristotle would, solely in the light of general revelation, argue that all men pursue happiness in their current state strongly suggests that this point is indeed the hinge for the Fall since Adam and Eve pursued the same in the original state.
God created mankind to pursue happiness and gave them the tools to do so. Turretin writes that man’s original state “abounded in all goods…necessary for obtaining true happiness in that state, so it experienced the most holy and agreeable government of God”. These goods include the ability to reason and by that reason to conclude that the ultimate good to pursue to bring about happiness was submission to God’s rule. Adam could not doubt that he was a derived being and that God was the Sovereign Creator of all that he saw. He had an intimate relationship with God, a clear view of God’s transcendent beauty and goodness. God, and His benevolent rule, was the greatest good that Adam could conceive of and so he pursued his happiness in that reality.
It is in this idyllic setting that God commands Adam and Eve to enjoy what was given to them, to work in exercise of their stewardship, and to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The command functions in part as a test of mankind’s acceptance of the Creator’s role as supreme good and source of man’s happiness. In particular, the command regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil indicates God’s desire for man to prove his submission. The other commands, to enjoy the gifts and tasks given them seem redundant: how could they not do so? The garden delighted mankind, so must be enjoyed; the One in whose image they were created worked, so they should work. But God gives them a choice that does not follow necessarily when He places a fruit-bearing tree in the middle of the Garden and says, “No.” Nonetheless, this rule would also seem inviolable and natural at first, because Adam and Eve assumed God’s authority to direct their lives towards the happiness they were created to find. Had things continued unaltered, there is no reason to suppose then that man would have ever turned from the path of righteousness and thereby tasted the horrible consequences of ignoring God’s command.
The presence of the command, however, was an opportunity for Satan to bring his temptation into the picture. It is helpful to walk through the process of this temptation in order to understand it and how it relates to man’s pursuit of happiness. Satan comes to Eve and to Adam and asks a question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” He knew, and the original pair knew, that this statement is not at all what God had said. But it serves an important function: it gets Eve to question what exactly had been commanded. This questioning of God’s Word was not natural to man because God created him to receive as truth what was revealed to him. Satan had to start by introducing grounds for questioning God.
His next move is to present an entirely new concept: that God might be wrong: “You will surely not die.” Had he not established the question, he could not have followed with this assertion. He is saying that life (and happiness) will not cease if mankind disobeyed the command of God. The obvious assumption behind his statement is that if God could be wrong about the consequences of disobedience, He could be wrong about other things as well. It is here that Eve is able to begin to form the rational grounds for disobeying God. She was created to pursue happiness and ignoring what God had said need not interrupt the pursuit. She begins to see the possibility of happiness outside of God and His commands.
Satan’s final attack is his most direct: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Essentially, Satan says, “Eve, if you will taste what God has commanded you not to, you can become the source of your own happiness by governing yourself instead of relying on God.” The deception is consistent with her deepest desire. The nature of the temptation is revealed in Eve’s perception of the tangible object: “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” Note the repeated emphasis on “good”, “delight”, and “desire”: all words that point to the satisfaction of a human desire.
The temptation has its root in the mind of man. Satan appealed to both the pride and the will of Adam and Eve, but the unbelief had to come first. Eve could not have believed herself capable of fulfilling her desire for happiness had she not first disbelieved God’s Word. Adam could not have joined his wife in her rebellion had not he thought God’s command laughable. Pastor Jared Wilson calls this aspect of the original sin, “the gnostic transgression”. Turretin says that man fell because his rational mind was “imbued with a false idea” through the serpent’s deception. Both are pointing to an intellectual root for man’s fall: it came on the basis of an altered mind.
Essentially, Satan exploited man’s mutability, his rationality, and his pursuit of happiness to bring about the destruction of created goodness. He presents an alternative to God’s benevolent rule as the source of mankind’s happiness. The serpent claims that God’s command is not a benefit but is designed to keep man from finding happiness within himself. Up until this point, God’s benevolence and rightfully sovereign position was unquestionable; after it, man was given the means for rejecting both God’s goodness and His kingly authority. In its place, Satan gave man the rational, though horribly deceptive, basis for elevating himself to the position of both arbiter of good and self-determinate being, able to pursue happiness on his own terms.
The Fallen Reality
John Milton writes pityingly of Adam and Eve’s experience immediately following their rebellion: “They swim in mirth, and fancy they feel / Divinity within them breeding wings / Wherewith to scorn the earth…” Their elation does not last: Adam speaks to Eve:
“O Eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear / To that false worm, of whomsoever taught / To counterfeit man’s voice, true in our Fall, / False in our promised rising; since our eyes / Opened we find indeed, and find we know, / Both good and evil, good lost, and evil got, / Bad fruit of knowledge, if this be to know, / Which leaves us naked thus, of honour void, / Of innocence, of faith, of purity.”
Adam and Eve, attempting to find happiness outside of God, found instead the exact opposite.
The original pair found out the hard way that they had been deceived. Their sin defaced everything that had been created good, tarnishing their souls beyond recognition, and prompting the righteous wrath of a jealous God. Where the door had been open before for them to be completely fulfilled in God, it was shut afterwards by their decision to look for fulfillment on their own. The consequence is that they are driven from the Garden, cut off from God and from the blessing of His goodness. In this expulsion, there is utter devastation: they are unable to connect again to the true source of their happiness. They had to adjust to a new reality.
The Fall’s effects do not stop with Adam and Eve, though. Scripture teaches that all men are born in a guilty state because of that first rebellion. This theological fact is commonly called “original sin”. Essentially, if Adam truly fell through his pursuit of happiness, there must be some way to account for sin’s continued effect beyond the original pair to their offspring. Not only were the first man and woman unable to continue in pursuit of God as greatest good, but every descendent in the millennia since has, left to themselves, chosen to look anywhere but towards God for satisfaction. How can this be?
The simplest explanation is found in John Locke’s understanding of close and distant means of pleasure.Locke does not explicitly state that he is working within a fallen reality at this point, but it is clearly seen in his understanding of man’s struggle. Though he gives nearly an entire chapter of his On Human Understanding to the topic, it can be briefly summarized here. Locke argues that man does not pursue the greatest good, but pursues goods that his deceived will convinces him are either better, more certain, or closer. Otherwise, intellectual knowledge of God as greatest good and true source of happiness would suffice to “redeem” any man and cause him to immediately forsake any other means of being happy. He writes, “If it were so that the greater good in view determines the will, so great a good…once proposed, could not but seize the will, and hold it fast to the pursuit of this infinitely greatest good, without ever letting it go again…But that it is not so, is visible in experience: the infinitely greatest confessed good being often neglected, to satisfy the successive uneasiness of our desires pursuing trifles.”
God’s punishment of Adam and Eve and their subsequent descendants with banishment from His presence served to remove Him as a close solution to man’s pursuit of pleasure. The punitive distance between man and God is cluttered by a myriad of closer, though lesser, goods for man’s pleasure drive to pursue. Man, through his nature, is unable to surmount these more immediate pleasure producers even if his mind can rationally accept God as the greatest good. His fallen nature, his fallen tendency to view himself and his own desires as the source of his certain pleasure, will continue to sidetrack and sabotage his best efforts to approach God again as ultimate good.
Briefly, this explanation is clearly in agreement with the teaching of the Scripture that man’s nature is irredeemable apart from a unilateral work of God. In order for the cycle of desire/false solution/despair in pursuit of more immediate pleasures to be broken for mankind, God has to come near. He has to radically and fundamentally change the perspective of a fallen creature by breaking into its field of vision in order for it to see God as the sovereign Creator and supreme good end. This divine proximate presence is seen in various Old Testament texts, but is more fully seen in Christ’s incarnation and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. Thus, Christ comes in the flesh to redeem and the Holy Spirit comes to indwell redeemed men. God has to come near to man, because man is unable to come near to God on his own.
This idea, that God must come near to break into man’s pleasure pursuit, also accords with progressive sanctification and with ultimate glorification. In sanctification the presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer gives him the ability to pursue God but it also vies for control of man’s pleasure drive with what Paul calls “the old man”, that part of man still seeking to fulfill himself by himself. This process of sanctification is only finally concluded by the believer’s death and immediate presence with God. Likewise, the final end of all present reality is when God removes all barriers to His people’s pursuit of Him as the ultimate source of pleasure and they are ultimately and finally glorified.
The constant between the created righteousness and the fallen reality is man’s pursuit of happiness; it is the hinge on which man’s fall turned. In creation, Adam and Eve pursued their happiness in God as supreme good; at the Fall, and ever afterwards, they looked for the same happiness in themselves. Like a door that was open to an infinite, brilliant and beautiful light, while they remained faithful to God’s revelation of Himself, they were constantly and totally satisfied. But like when that door is shut the room becomes small, dark and dangerous, so Adam and Eve’s unfaithfulness in pursuit of their own selves led to persistent dissatisfaction and ruin.
As a hinge shutting a door folds in on itself, mankind folded in on himself, looking for happiness where it could not be found. Man, apart from God, is incapable of finding or sustaining meaning as seen in the complete inability of any humanistic philosophy to provide ultimate meaning to life. Augustine writes that, “If (man) loves himself for his own sake, he does not look at himself in relation to God, but turns his mind in upon himself…thus he does not enjoy himself at his best, because he is better when his mind is fully fixed upon, and his affections wrapped up in the unchangeable good,” in God (italics added). The pursuit of happiness in a good other than God was not only the mechanism of the Fall, but it is the constant state of man in the new reality ushered in by that dreadful event.
Limitations of this Argument
There are no doubt limitations to this argument. There is a point beyond which we cannot go in reconciling the fall of man with the goodness and sovereignty of God. Any explanation made will leave something to be desired. Indeed, there may be a risk in delving too deeply into the matter. Francis Turretin thought so, enjoining his readers that “here we truly meet the depth of the wisdom of God – rather to be wondered at that to be pried into, far surpassing the reach of reason…let us remember that the ways of God are not our ways and that we must here be wise with sobriety, lest searching into his majesty, we be overpowered by his glory.” Turretin’s caution is perhaps a bit melodramatic, but highlights the risk of claiming to have all the answers to the deepest mysteries of God’s sovereign design.
This subject may be carefully inquired into, but it should only be done with a great deal of humility because there are limits to any explanation of the Fall. Objections of many sorts may be made against the present concept. Some may object that God’s creation of man as mutable is evidence that He is culpable for the subsequent Fall. These critics will reason that if God had merely created man unable to change or even never have created him, the Fall would never have happened. Others may assert that God is guilty because He gave Adam and Eve a command He knew they would disobey. If a sovereign, omnipotent God knew an end, is that not the same thing as Him causing that end? There are responses to these objections of course, but none of them wholly complete. Somehow, in the mysterious and secret will of God, He created humanity capable of change and He knew they would. Ultimately, it must be affirmed that humanity bears full responsibility and God bears no guilt: there is no bulletproof answer.
Nonetheless, it may be that there is a logical explanation for Adam and Eve’s mutability, a way of understanding how a righteous man could fall. It has been argued that their pursuit of happiness serves this purpose as a hinge connecting their created righteousness and fallen sinfulness. More important than seeking logical resolution to the issue though, such an explanation also seeks to remove God as far as possible from the taint of sin’s guilt. If God created man to pursue his happiness in what he rationally perceived to be the greatest good, but this process was co-opted by Satan’s deception and man’s subsequently flawed reasoning led to the Fall, then the fault is on the man who fell and the devil who deceived. God is not to blame. Instead, He takes the gracious initiative to restore the fallen and deserves all the glory.
Questions about how a sovereign, creator God can be reconciled with a righteous man’s fall will always persist. But when all reality reaches its fulfillment in the glory of a new heaven and new earth perhaps then understanding will be possible. It is more likely though, that all these concerns will be left aside, tossed to the ground as the door opens and God’s people fall in down in wholly satisfied pleasure before Him, the gloriously visible, close, and present Lord of Righteousness. That end is more to be desired than any answer so come, Lord Jesus, come.
Aristotle. The Works of Aristotle. Vol. 2. Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Albert C. Outler. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library , 1955.
_________. Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love. Translated by Albert C. Outler. Grand Rapids, MI: Christians Classics Ethereal Library, 2013.
_________. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings. First Series. Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 5. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.
_________. On Christian Doctrine. Public Domain. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2013.
Boston, Thomas. “Human Nature in its Fourfold State.” BiblesNet. 2008. http://www.biblesnet.com/Thomas%20Boston%20Human%20Nature%20in%20its%20Fourfold%20State.pdf (accessed February 22, 2014).
Edwards, Jonathan. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Christian Classics Ethereal Library PDF. Vol. 1. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.
_________. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Christian Classics Ethereal Library PDF. Vol. 2. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.
The Truth Project. Directed by Del Tackett. Produced by Focus on the Family. 2004.
Fuller, Andrew. The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller. Edited by Joseph Belcher. Vol. 3. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Electronic Classics Series. Edited by Jim Manis. Hazleton, PA: PSU-Hazleton, 1999.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Edited by John Leonard. London: Penguin Classics, 2000.
Piper, John. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003.
Rishmawy, Derek. Reformedish. 2 20, 2014. http://derekzrishmawy.com/2014/02/20/a-very-brief-gospel-centered-defense-against-the-problem-of-evil/ (accessed 2 20, 2014).
Routledge, Robin. Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Edited by Jr. James T. Dennison. Translated by George Musgrave Giger. Vol. 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992.
Wilson, Jared C. The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. Jr. James T. Dennison, trans. George Musgrave Giger, Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992), 606.
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 610.
Genesis 1:27; See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, “The Creation of Man”, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), Grudem argues that there is a dangerous tendency to narrow the definition of the terms “image” and “likeness”. He argues that the goal should be to seek what the original audience would have understood: that man somehow resembled God. His perspective is very helpful for getting to the heart of the matter. For a brief summary of other perspectives, see Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 138-141.
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Christian Classics Ethereal Library PDF, Vol. 1, “The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended”, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 1140-1141.
Edwards, Works, Vol. 1, 1141.
See Thomas Boston, “Human Nature in its Fourfold State,” BiblesNet, 2008, http://www.biblesnet.com/Thomas%20Boston%20Human%20Nature%20in%20its%20Fourfold%20State.pdf (accessed February 22, 2014).
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Christian Classics Ethereal Library PDF, Vol. 2, “Sermon: God Glorified in Man’s Dependence”, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 8.
See Turretin’s discussion in his Elenctic Theology, “Fifth Topic: Creation”.
Augustine, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings, First Series, ed. Phillip Schaff, Vol. 5 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 485.
Augustine, Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, trans. Albert C. Outler (Grand Rapids, MI: Christians Classics Ethereal Library, 2013), 9.
Augustine, Handbook, 9. See also Augustine, Confessions, trans. Albert C. Outler (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library , 1955), 211.
John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 18. See also Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Christian Classics Ethereal Library PDF, Vol. 1, “Dissertation on the End for which God Created the World”, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974).
 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, The Electronic Classics Series, ed. Jim Manis (Hazleton, PA: PSU-Hazleton, 1999), 246.
Boston, “Human Nature”, 12.
Aristotle, The Works of Aristotle, Vol. 2, “Nicomachean Ethics”, (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), 342.
Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Public Domain, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2013), 78.
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 569.
 Locke, Human Understanding, 246.
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 579.
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 605.
Jared C. Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 59.
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 607.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. John Leonard (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), 211.
Milton, Paradise Lost, 213.
Locke, “Power”, 218-270.
Locke, “Power”, 239-240.
Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-11; etc.
See The Truth Project, directed by Del Tackett, produced by Focus on the Family, 2004.
Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 33.
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 611.
While there is no complete answer that I am aware of, there is a recent and excellent blog treatment in response to objection from the problem of evil. See Derek Rishmawy, Reformedish, 2 20, 2014, http://derekzrishmawy.com/2014/02/20/a-very-brief-gospel-centered-defense-against-the-problem-of-evil/ (accessed 2 20, 2014).
“Take a picture of that one, Daddy.”
If I had a dollar for every time one of my kids pointed to a flower beside the Spring Creek Trail outside of Kannarraville, UT, and asked me to take a picture, I’d have 82 dollars. At least, that’s how many flower pictures I had to sort through when we got back home.
This hike was actually our second attempt at Spring Creek. The first one, several years earlier, had ended with a round of “I’m tired” choruses about 300 yards into the hike. For our second attempt, I was determined to actually make it into the slot canyon portion of the trail.
With that definite goal in mind, I briefly considered a solo hike. It was already late in the afternoon, and I knew that hiking 4 miles before dark would be a challenge if I were dragging kids along. But guilt at strapping my wife with them in addition to the evening chores she wanted to stay home to do was more than I could bear. Before I agreed to take them, however, I elicited firm agreements from my young children that this would be a “serious” hike, one focused on reaching a specific destination, and that I wouldn’t be putting up with any whining, dilly-dallying, or related tom-foolery. In other words, I was doing a solo hike, and they were welcome to come as long as they didn’t interrupt it.
The related tom-foolery started almost as soon as we left the trailhead parking lot. Scarcely had we crested the mild hill that obscures the mouth of the valley entrance than one of my darlings declared their need for alimentary elimination. After explaining that there were no facilities constructed for that purpose, dealing with the outburst of indignation that followed, and directing said darling to a convenient shrub a suitable distance off the trail, we waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Eventually, the darling returned. Apparently, pointing your kid towards a cactus patch for such an occasion is not only lousy parenting but also leads to a prolonged search for a “safe” place to take of business.
Mission accomplished, we proceeded up the trail. At the 300-yard mark, I heard a child inhale, and their lips began to form the word, “I’m.” I stopped the rest of the statement with a mean-eyed stare that would have made Clint Eastwood proud.
…another 50 feet. There, twinkling merrily in the afternoon sun, was the first of what would be several intersections of trail and creek. Clear, cold, and narrow, Spring Creek crossed the trail, burbling among the convenient rocks someone had thoughtfully placed for hikers to cross on and keep their feet dry. Some, however, eschew such conveniences and we continued past the crossing with three pairs of dry feet and one pair partially soaked and picking up a fine accretion of red-tinted dirt. I knew it would look exquisite smeared over the tan interior of our vehicle.
And, yet, we were still going. At this point, a good 55 feet farther along than our first attempt, we came up the first stunning example of native flora.
“Take a picture, Daddy! Then we can show Mommy!”
Having placed my trusty DSLR in the pack, I had to briefly weigh the benefit of stopping, opening the pack, getting the camera out, and taking the picture to satisfy the oh-so-sweet desire of my daughter to share this moment with her mother against the near certainty that, while the pack was open, the treasure trove of snacks said mother had packed would be spotted. I knew that, even if they caught just a bare glimpse, there would be nothing preventing a ten-minute feast of tangerines and chocolate-covered granola bars.
“The lighting’s no good for a picture right now. We’ll stop on the way out.”
I figured we’d need those ten minutes.
Five minutes, 15 flowers, and 98 yards later, we stopped for snacks in the shade of a juniper tree.
As tiny, chocolate-smeared mouths chomped enthusiastically and clear water turned suspiciously cloudy as cups were raised and lowered, another family hiked by.
At this point, I should probably explain that my family is not poor. You wouldn’t know that to see us in our hiking outfits, however. My stain-encrusted t-shirt could have passed for desert camouflage, though it had started life as pure as the driven snow. One kid had on pants she’d outgrown two years before, which I figured mostly made them capris. Another refused to wear any other shoes and thus had on some cute canvas flats with giant, rainbow-colored bows still peeping out from the red mud. The coup de grace was the dust-flecked snot trail running down a poorly-wiped nose and cheek that blended incredibly with the chocolate ring around a mouth.
Anyways, this family that passed us as we enjoyed our snack looked like they’d stepped out of a hiking magazine marketed solely to upper-crust western families who’d made their fortune investing in Columbia, Merrell, and Osprey stock and then received a bunch of promo gear from the companies and an invite to be a part of an upcoming ad campaign. They were serious about this hike and seriously equipped.
I tried to hide my face behind my thrift store farmer’s hat, waving a greeting that I hoped clearly communicated that we actually weren’t homeless and living off the land back here but also discouraged further conversation. My kids, however, waved enthusiastically, calling out hellos. Embarrassed into interaction, I wished the family a good hike and a good evening. They all smiled, waved, and hurried down the trail before they could catch whatever it was we had.
Snacks finished and thirst quenched, we carefully gathered all of our detritus and stowed it back in my pack. I pulled out the camera, and we continued.
We came across a section of trail that was covered with some of the most perfect sand ever discovered. It was perfect for running through fingers, drawing fun shapes in, and throwing at your siblings.
I hurried the kids along before our free hike could be encumbered by an optometrist’s bill.
We came to a spot where the trees arced gracefully overhead and almost formed a tunnel for us to walk through. It was the kind of place that I had loved as a kid. A place alive with possibility, precociously stirring the soul with vague glimmers of romance, danger, and mystery.
And alive with bugs. Cicadas to be exact. The kids took turns urging one another to touch the rattling things while I snapped a few pictures. We laughed whenever the loud buzzing the followed a hesitant touch drew shrieks of semi-delight from whichever one had gathered enough courage for the act.
And we continued down the trail. After another creek crossing, this one mercifully dry, we found another bug, a butterfly. One of the darlings wanted a picture of it but, after chasing the manic creature for a few minutes, we concluded it was camera-shy and started walking through a grass and sage meadow.
Ahead, we could finally see what we thought was the entrance to the slot. It was almost wholly obscured by a sandstone outcropping that bulged towards the south rim, but we were soon past the obstruction and into the canyon. The creek that had flowed narrow in the wider valley below spread out here, tripping over smooth rocks between the walls of the canyon. A brief duck under some low-hanging branches and we were in a clearing. A brushy embankment covered the north side, but the south side was an exposed face nearly overhanging the creek as it meandered gently.
We stopped and threw rocks in a bend of the creek, scrambled onto the narrow bar between two channels, and floated leaf boats in regatta races. The lowering sun shone perfectly through sheltering leaves and glinted off the peaks of tiny ripples in the stream.
Realizing the sun was sliding inexorably towards the horizon, I gathered my brood and continued, certain that we hadn’t reached the best part yet. But, as we pressed on into the canyon, the walls narrowed occasionally, but never all the way to a “true” slot.
We came to a sand-slide and scrambled up it to explore. At the top, a small cave with a triangular maw greeted us. A brief discussion ensued, mostly concerning who the mountain lion who undoubtedly lived inside would eat first. Anxious to prove the non-existence of said big cat, I crawled in, my heart beating a strange rhythm in my chest and my hands unusually sweaty. When no yowls or claws greeted me, I coaxed my kids into at least peeking in. They did, and then we all clambered back down the sand, filling our shoes and “accidentally” flinging it down the back of the person in front of us.
At the bottom of the slide, we paused to let another party, one we could hear coming but not see, pass. As they emerged from the foliage to the east, I recognized them: it was the ad campaign crew. One kid was yelling at a sibling, and the dad was red-faced, packing another. Mom huffed as she passed by. I asked how it was farther up, and she said that they hadn’t made it much farther so couldn’t really say.
My competitive fire stoked, I urged the kids to tackle the trail again. We passed another interesting branch off the main trail, but I resisted the calls for another exploration. The sun was sinking, and we didn’t have much more time before we’d need to turn around.
“Dad, can we go back and race some more boats?”
“Only if we have time.”
“Well, what if we go back there now?”
“We’re so close to the actual slot! Let’s keep going.”
“Daddy, take a picture of that one!”
“If you kids keep going and don’t stop and don’t whine, we’ll go get ice cream when we get back to town.”
“Daddy, which nature souvenir would you like better: this snail shell or this flower?”
I sighed. And thought. And stopped. We were on a broader section just before a bend. The south wall had crumbled down enough that I could see what lay ahead. It looked like a narrow cut started right there, maybe 100 yards away. I was convinced this was the section I’d wanted to reach.
But there was my child, not looking up, not looking around. She was simply contemplating a plain, brown shell and a purple flower not unlike 562 others we’d already passed. And she was content for one of those two items to be her memento. There was no competition, no inferiority complex, no destination that mattered nearly so much as the decision, right now, between a spiral of calcium carbonate and a semi-crushed splot of petals and pollen.
I told her I’d pick the shell, told my son we’d go race some boats, and assured my oldest that we’d take pictures of each flower she wanted to on the way out.
Then we turned and, backs to whatever lay beyond the bend, headed out the way we’d come in, committed to nothing more than making memories.
And getting some ice cream.
Disclaimer: This post IS based on an actual hike. It IS NOT a 100% accurate portrayal but is semi-fictionalized because, as Mark Twain is frequently (but dubiously) cited as saying,
“never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
But, don’t let that distract you from the fact that there is Truth. Thanks for reading!
Grasses their heads wave in victory cheer
Streams murmur of You, The One without peer
Mountains white-crested their orisons raise
Daisies bright humbly Your attributes praise
Lofty pines still You more lofty declare
Canyons all echo yet still add their share
Wind rushes swiftly to fall at Your feet
Clouds grace its worship, in chorus they meet
Waves toss thanksgiving upon echoing shore
Sands their vast numbers great praises do store
Far reaches of space limitless glory sing
Planets in dance precious offerings bring
The whole world in praises devotes its time
The universe thought-songs to heaven climb
The voices are swelling, repeating the same
Rising crescendo declaring Your Name
With such excellent choir O man, rise!
Join with creation, lifting up your eyes
On bent knee before His glorious light fall
Praise God the mighty, enthroned in His Hall
It’s that time of year again: advertising season. I have always interpreted the 30 or so days beginning with Thanksgiving and culminating in Christmas as “the holidays.” But a disturbing trend has been evident in recent history: beginning around October 1stand carrying over into the New Year, retailers have bombarded America with advertisements, sales, and window displays. As someone once told me, Black Friday is getting more attention than Thanksgiving these days and J.C. Penney’s is more prominent than J.C., Savior.
This frenzied materialism is merely the visible effect of a deeper reality. In rejecting the tradition of Thanksgiving and Christmas as spiritually centered, family and faith-oriented holidays, Americans have taken a dangerous path. As people move towards atheistic materialism, they have to try to find fulfillment in stuff: stuff that breaks, stuff that gets stolen, and stuff cannot provide ultimate peace.
Christians are called to be different, called to find our peace and fulfillment in God. Yet the temptation to follow the culture in its mad pursuit of “stuff” can be tempting, particularly in this advertising season.
Don’t give in. Instead, let’s figure out how to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” (to quote the old slogan).
Let’s commit to reducing the amount of focus and money that we put towards material gifts for ourselves and our families. Our goal should be that expressed by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:8: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Anything above that is God’s grace and cause for thankfulness. It is not that we should not give gifts, but that we should not make those gifts the focus of our hope for contentment and peace.
Another way to combat the spirit of this age at holiday time is to reuse family and Christian traditions that may have fallen out of practice. Find an advent book to go through every night with your family, take a quiet walk reflecting on God’s provision for you, think back to growing up and what practices made the holidays meaningful to you: do those things again. These kinds of non-materialistic traditions can move our focus from stuff to Christ.
If recycling is taking something old and used up and giving it new life, we should think about how we can recycle even the “non-spiritual” aspects of the holidays. For example, instead of a mad frenzy of paper-tearing Christmas morning, consider having each family member take turns opening one gift at a time, thanking the giver as they do so. Invite someone who may not have a place to go for the holidays to participate with you. Maybe you could simply pray before any family gathering, asking God to grant peace and thanking Him for the gift of His Son.
Don’t let the culture dictate your experience this season: seek to create a culture in your home, in your church, and in your community that honors Christ as King.
If “reducing, reusing, and recycling” your Christmas helps, go for it.
In a lunch-induced fog one afternoon, I was fully immersed in my typical productivity-avoidance routine: scrolling through Twitter, not for the snark and fire icons, but for links to stories that, while not pertinent to my day job, can nonetheless fire my imagination up for an afternoon run back to it.
It was in the midst of one of these reading-frenzied fugues that I stumbled across this article by Jonah Goldberg. Having written about Trump once myself, I consider myself a bit of an expert (note: the Internet really needs a sarcasm font) and happily clicked and read away.
Because I assume that you, the reader, are a curious, yet thorough, personality, you’ve taken the time to read the Goldberg article (you can ignore mine: it’s rather dated) to better grasp the context for this one. So, I can assume you know that Goldberg’s argument: Trump doesn’t interact with the world as it is, but as he imagines it to be and he expects his supporters to do the same. And he’s so good at that unreal interaction that even his greatest detractors resort to a similar fictional narrative approach in opposing him. In effect then, though Goldberg argues we should not follow him into the abyss, Donald Trump is creating an alt-reality at several removes from reality itself, yet which is nevertheless substantial enough to sustain both his compatriots’ and his opponents’ interactions.
(Whew. You should definitely just read the article instead of wandering through my word-maze summary of it.)
Ultimately, however, I realized that Goldberg wasn’t just describing Donald Trump: he was describing me.
Yes, dear reader, you and I are exactly like Donald Trump. Well, apart from the fact that we’re not president, don’t have our name emblazoned on gaudy buildings around the world, and manage not to end up in the news every day. We, too, see the world through the lens of the story we imagine and expect others to inhabit that story with us. We don’t deal directly with reality so much as we seek to impose our narrative on reality.
At one point in his post, Goldberg refers to “the script-writing homunculus in Trump’s brain.”
That line resonated with me. Mainly, because I have one of my own. A script-writing homunculus that is. And a brain (kind of).
In other words, there is a part of me that seems nonetheless apart from me; something that seeks to control the world around me by controlling my interaction with it according to the script that it is writing.
That little guy seems to be doing me a favor. He manipulates the people around me, making sure they reinforce the storyline that makes me happiest. What he writes guides my thoughts, my actions, and my words. He directs my undying loyalty to the people who do what I want and fills me with loathing for those who won’t.
And I need to drag him out and shoot him.
Because that little script-writing idiot is keeping me from interacting with the world as it is. And the world, as it is, is vastly superior to whatever world he wants to create for me.
I can’t trust him because he is me.
Like every other human, I am naturally self-destructive. The reality that I seek to create will inevitably damage me and those around me. Donald Trump and his script are getting all the attention, but we’re not so different, his and him and mine and me. Our dominant, self-centered narratives can cause heartache and destruction not only for us but in the real world around us.
Instead of living a constant, self-referential, insane live-acting of my life for the benefit of the script I want it to follow, I’m beginning to realize I’d rather take it as it comes. To sit and have a front-porch conversation because my neighbor is there rather than because I want to seem interesting. To savor good coffee because it is good and not because I want to be known as a coffee-aficionado. To marvel at a sunset with my eyes on the grace of creation instead of the filling of my Instagram account.
Believe it or not, most of this reflection is motivated by my faith. I’m a Jesus-follower.
Aaaannndddd…that’s what I’ve been talking about. Depending on your personal narrative, you reacted in a particular way to that statement.
Maybe you don’t like Bible-thumping Jesus-people, and whatever else I say in this post, you’re automatically going to hate because of the script in your head: hate Christians. Anything a Jesus-follower says, you have to dismiss automatically because that’s the story you’re living.
And maybe you consider yourself a Jesus-follower too, but you’ve been angry at me through this whole piece because you suspect that I am “anti-Trump.” You’re just following your script. You assume that every professing Christian is automatically either pro-Trump or a flaming liberal doofus. You can’t listen to anything I say because it doesn’t fit the story you’re telling yourself.
And that’s the problem: instead of reading to understand, we’re often reading to respond.
Look, you may be, you may not be a Jesus-follower. However, like his followers or not, Jesus has a way of stripping away our pre-conceived selves, regardless of the story we lie into our own ears. His teaching lays bare the rotten, wriggling little beast inside of us that forces and coaxes us into living unreality, whether that be liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, white or black, yes or no. Jesus shows each of us that the problem isn’t “those people”: it’s me. And it’s you. It’s every one of us who can’t take the bloody glasses of our own invention off long enough to see what is honestly.
However, Jesus doesn’t leave us to wallow in our false dichotomist views: he calls us to walk, open-eyed and unabashed, into the world, seeing a more significant reality at work and letting it transform us even as we join it. He demonstrated it.
I want to engage the world, the big, broad, beautiful, scary, terrible, terrific world, just as it is because that’s what Jesus did. And he made the world a better place even as he knew that it was a terrible place.
It’s only as I see the world as it is that I can begin actually to make it better.
I want to call you, dear reader, and me to action. But, I don’t really know what to say except to say that if you’re tired of the phony outrage, manufactured beauty, and slick presentations of a world filled by billions of disconnected bodies all following their individual scripts, like I am, then let’s do something different.
Let’s start by seeing the world as it is, not as our self-deluding narrative wants us to see it.
Let’s move away from our “tribes” and towards our neighbors.
Let’s listen to what other people say, not what we want to hear.
Those are just a few things we can do to move away from the script and into the real world.
And Donald Trump is welcome to join us (as long as he leaves the homunculus at home).
For a brief moment, James stopped and stared at the miracle, transfixed by a reverence that seemed to have materialized in his heart out of nothingness. He was late for his next appointment, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Or, at least not in such a hurry that he didn’t have time for admiring a miracle. After all, miracles were in unusually short supply these days.
“The leaves are beginning to turn,” James noted consciously, as his mind caught up with his soul. He loved it when the leaves turned. He liked to watch the slow, steady, and incomprehensibly-instantaneous transformation from green to gilt-edged, to gold and crimson and ripe barley. Something in the death-process of the leaves stirred that part of him which was still capable of feeling anything without first being exposed to a glowing screen.
It was good to feel.
Musing on nothing but feeling something, he reached the door that marked the entrance to the next scheduled block on his calendar: an appointment with his counselor.
As far as counselors went, so far as James knew, Mike Smith was decent enough. Mike’s office, which was also his house, which was also his cat’s house, (an order of descriptive priority that the cat, a tabby whose purpose for existence, it seemed, was to provide a perfect and living definition of the word “supercilious”, would undoubtedly have taken exception too if he could be bothered to give his opinion on the matter) was pleasant enough.
But James had about had enough. He was sick of counseling. He was sick of scheduling blocks on his calendar for being counseled.
And he was sick of the cat.
So, James’ presence on the stoop that day was not an exuberant one, his reverence pouring out from a hole somewhere near his elbow as he raised his hand to knock on the door. The steps he took inside, the return greeting he gave, and the manner with which he undid his coat’s zipper, could have been described as lackadaisical if they had not so effectively communicated his doneness with it all.
And James was done, he told himself for the umpteenth time.
And he was tired. He didn’t typically walk as far as he had to come here today. Mike had somehow gotten the idea that James’ walking to their next counseling appointment would benefit James somehow. James wasn’t entirely clear on the concept, but it included a great many words from Mike about “fresh air” and “change of scenery” and “consciousness” and other worn-out clichés about the benefits of eschewing convenience.
But James was not one of the iron-willed, self-deterministic members of society. Indeed, James was part of that significant subset of humanity that seems to exist for the sole purpose of doing what other people tell them to do. He liked to pretend that he was capable of independent existence. But he wasn’t. Like many others, James was only happy when he had someone telling him what to do. That way he could mentally complain about them while he did whatever it was that they wished him to do and thereby give meaning to his otherwise meaningless existence.
So James had walked to his appointment today.
And he sat down in the austere fabric chair across from Mike’s plush leather one. Mike Smith was one of those counselors clichéd enough to recommend walking to appointments, but he wasn’t clichéd enough to have a chaise lounge for his counselees to lay upon while he asked them about their childhood. And he certainly wasn’t one to scratch illegible notes on a yellow legal pad and mutter insightful “uh-huhs” at appropriate intervals while James was speaking either. He used a phone with a large screen and was strictly silent except for when he was talking.
It was James who supplied the “uh-huhs.” Mike was prone to long speaking fits. He would break out into one after every few answers James gave to his questions. James would maintain eye contact with Mike, nod appreciatively on occasion, and utter appropriate “uh-huhs” whenever Mike delivered some rehearsed line that he thought was smart and seemed to be trying out for the book he was writing. Mike fancied himself an expert on some esoteric branch of some field or another and, like most self-fancied experts, couldn’t resist at least a small amount of preening in front of the less-informed members of society.
James fit the bill. In fact, he barely qualified for “less-informed.” Like a boulder levered out of rest by external force and bounding down a hillside, James operated less on information than on sheer momentum.
He was in counseling because the sentencing judge in his drunk and disorderly conduct case had told him to be in counseling, along with completing 30 hours of community service.
The reason the case had been one of drunk and disorderly conduct with a sentence of court-ordered counseling and community service instead of the more serious charges of public nudity, defacement of government property, and drunk and disorderly conduct was because he did what his lawyer told him to do and pled guilty to the lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence and having the other charges dropped.
The reason he didn’t also have to negotiate a charge of assaulting a police officer was that he had done what the police officer told him to do and stopped peeing on the officer’s car instead of swinging at the officer like his friend Joey had.
The reason James had been peeing on the car that night was that he had been doing what Joey told him to do: namely, to go out on the town, then to drink more than he could handle, and then to urinate on a parked police car while Joey filmed the incident.
And the reason he was out drinking with Joey was that when James’ girlfriend, Amanda, had replied to his request for her to join him out on the town with an “I’m busy. Ask someone else,” he had.
“Uh-huh,” James mumbled, not because anyone had told him to, but because it felt like it was time.
After the hour was up, James left the chair, zipped his coat, replied to Mike’s farewell, and stepped back outside. He mindlessly groped around his pockets before realizing that he had walked here and would have to walk back now.
Grumbling vaguely to himself, he set back off in the general direction he had come from earlier. He crossed wide sidewalks and narrow streets before coming to the path through the park that stretched out across the lane from his apartment. He stopped there, ostensibly to catch his breath.
Instead, he pulled out his phone. No badge icons to indicate a new message or notification. He pressed the calendar icon and stared at the screen blankly while a swirl of colors in the center indicated that it was thinking about his request. After a few heartbeats, his schedule finally swung into view. Nothing. It was blank until tomorrow morning’s shift at the shop.
He hit the home button and then gently tapped the icon for his favorite social media app. It leaped at his touch, springing to into action and almost immediately flinging updates from friends, both real and digital, against the glossy glass screen. He scrolled for a moment, saw nothing going on that captured his attention and pressed the lock screen button.
He looked up at the trees lining the park, marshaled like barbaric champions pressing back against the encroaching urban hordes.
A bit of reverence slid down from the crook of a branch, entered just at the top of his spinal column, and suffused his being. He slipped the phone back into his pocket. He had time for a walk in the dying woods. After all, today was a day for miracles.
I don’t know which article first made me aware of my phone addiction, but I’ll tell you what really brought it home: my kids. It wasn’t that they had to keep interrupting my train of thought to get my attention.
It was that they had stopped trying.
Oh, sure, they’re kids and occasionally couldn’t help themselves. But, generally, if my cell phone was in my hands, they would ignore me as completely as I was ignoring them.
Yes, that’s terrible. But I’ve started to change. I’ve tried to conscientiously keep my phone in my pocket or on a shelf when I’m at home and the kids are awake.
And I thought I was doing great until recently. We had friends over for dinner and stayed up later than normal. After we realized what time it was, our friends hurried off with their kids and we rushed to get ours in bed.
Once the kids were down, the last dishes cleared, and food safely stored away, my wife and I sat down at the table, held each other’s hands, and, maintaining eye contact the whole time, had a deep and meaningful conversation before retiring to our own rest.
Wait. No, that’s not what happened. It actually went something like this:
Once the kids were down, the last dishes cleared, and food safely stored away, my wife and I sat down…and I pulled out my phone.
Yes, I did.
After a day in which I’d been away in meetings and concerned with my own projects; during which she made sure the kids were cared for, educated, and getting plenty of fruits and veggies; ensured the house was spotless for our guests; planned and prepared a delicious meal for the evening; took care of the ever-growing menagerie that is somehow accumulating on our property; and was a pleasant and gracious hostess…
I pulled out my phone.
Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention but I’m sure that if I had been I’d have seen the look of resignation on her face as she, following my lead, did the same. Not because she’d rather do that than have a conversation with me, but because I wasn’t available for that conversation.
I realized my mistake while waiting for another article to load. But by that time, it was too late to do anything but go to bed and try again the next day.
I woke up the next morning, ready to put the phone down and lift my family up.
Not so fast.
I typically get up earlier than the rest of the crew, so it was just me and the dog. I took her out, wandered around the backyard while she, well, you know, and went back inside. Got her kibble bowl filled, made sure she had fresh water and plenty of toys, and…pulled out my phone.
Do you ever get that feeling that someone is watching you? I got it about five minutes later.
I glanced down from my screen and there’s the dog. Staring at me. With those sad, puppy eyes.
Even the dog knows when a set of glowing pixels is more important to me.
And the fact that even the dog knows that makes me want to radically rethink my relationship with my technology.
I hope that I’m the only one who struggles with this problem. It’d end up being a pretty terrible world if more than one person were walking around giving more attention to a hunk of glass and metal that beeps occasionally rather than to the living, breathing, feeling beings surrounding him.
But in case I’m not the only one, and to avoid that terrible, distracted world from being our reality, here are some tools that have been helpful to me in cutting the umbilical cord attaching my face to my screen. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.
Like just about every other life change worth making, overcoming a phone addiction is easier when you don’t try to do it alone. In a previous post, I mentioned a statistic: 8 of 10 commitments fail without some means of accountability.
We need accountability. I need accountability. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article. That’s why I’ve talked to my wife about my commitment. I shared my intentions with my small group at church. I’ve enlisted others who will bolster my commitment to changing.
You should too.
You know that device you’re carrying around that you’re addicted to? Did you know that it can be fooled into actually helping you break your dependence on it?
There are apps that will remind you to not be on your phone so much. There are apps that help you slow down from time to time. And, if you’re like me with the self-control of a single-cell amoeba, there are apps that will block your use of those apps that are most addictive to you.
My choice was the Freedom App which I use to block social media access on my phone, but there are others out there. Find the ones that put the power of your smartphone to work for you, instead of against you.
One of the addictive aspects of your phone that is often billed as a feature is the virtual friendships you can have on social media. People get a high from interacting with other people’s online personas through likes, retweets, shares, etc.
Did you know you can get the same endorphin rush, and an even better one, from interacting with friends, in real life?
Invite some people over for a phone-free evening. Commit to one another that you won’t check up on your digital friends when your flesh-and-bone friends are hanging out. Play games. Eat dinner. Make something. Listen to a music album from start to finish together. Do something that doesn’t involve you being in the same room looking at different screens.
Try it. You just might end up liking it.
Phone addiction is built on hundreds of tiny bits of focus being diverted to “just check it real quick.” One way to combat this segmentation of your attention stream is to focus intently on something else.
I recommend books.
Books require you to engage your attention both deeply and over longer periods of time. They require the ability to not just get caught up in the moment but to simultaneously retain previous statements even as you anticipate future developments.
A good book is a great antidote for your phone’s poison.
Turn your phone off. Unless you’re reading this post on it right now, then just pretend. Look at it without the glow of the screen. It may have a nice cover and sleek lines, but I bet you wouldn’t be tempted to stare at it for hours on end, right?
I didn’t think so.
You can achieve this same effect by not charging your phone from time to time. Let it die on occasion. The first time it happens, you will panic, but it gets easier with practice.
Eventually, you’ll want to remember to charge it, but letting it die can help cut the tether it has attached to you.
These are just five ideas for breaking a phone addiction. I’m clearly no expert here, so what is working for you?