Not Right Now, Please: I'm . . .

A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail as he was preparing a speech:

“If you had to choose one issue that we Christians face as we tell other people about Jesus, what would it be? Would you say it’s pluralism—the wide range of religious and philosophical options available? Relativism—that says it doesn’t really matter what you choose? Consumerism—that encourages each of us to think of all of life as a supermarket? Individualism—that makes it all about me?”

I’d like to know what you think. Here’s what I said:

As you know, Brother A, I devote whole chapters, or at least parts of chapters, to these topics in my book Humble Apologetics! So I guess I’m on record as agreeing that they’re important—very important indeed.

But today I’m going to side with the great scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal and say that the major issue we face as we try to share Christ is distraction—or what he calls “diversion.”

Our neighbours are distracted, both individually and as a society, as they devote tremendous resources of time, money, and creativity to distracting themselves from what ultimately matters. These distractions can be positive, like caring for their families or pursuing an education or having fun. They can be negative, like hoarding their assets against financial crisis or botoxing themselves against increasing age or worrying all the time about global climate change.

We Christians, of course, are distracted by just the same things—plus our own peculiar concerns, such as policing minor matters of doctrine or battling over who runs the church.

Pascal mourns for us all: Diversion, he says, “is the greatest of our miseries. For it is that above all which prevents us thinking about ourselves and leads us imperceptibly to destruction. But for that, we should be bored, and boredom would drive us to seek some more solid means of escape, but diversion passes our time and brings us imperceptibly to our death” (Pensée 414).

Pascal’s warning would be echoed in Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning screenplay of one of the greatest movies ever, Network, which warns us particularly of the diversion of television and now, perhaps, would be updated to focus on the Internet. And the cover of a recent month’s Atlantic worries that Google has made us “stoopid,” unable to focus on an extended discussion of anything, much less the things that matter most.

Pascal cries, “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something [probably a big screen—note the double entendre] in front of us to stop us seeing it” (Pensée 166).

The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing, the saying goes.

That, I believe, is what our culture and most of us most of the time rarely do. No wonder, then, that we dully ignore anyone who wants to talk to us about what is, in fact, The Main Thing.

What do you think?

0 Responses to “Not Right Now, Please: I'm . . .”

  1. Michael W. Kruse

    Diversion was the first thing that hit me.

    We say Jesus is the answer but what is the question? Very few people are the question we want to answer.

    Os Guinness once estimated that at any given time less the 5% of people are prepared to truly engage a discussion about deeper matters. It usually comes at times of great trauma or transition in life. His point was that apologetics wasn’t so much about defending God as exposing the futility in life without God. Relationship with others and learning how to lovingly ask disorienting questions is part of the agenda. Offering a life lived counter to the culture is another provocative witness.

  2. Paul Peterson

    I’ve often thought that distraction was one of Satan’s greatest tools. I don’t think he turns us around on our pursuit of holiness so much as he subtly and cunningly diverts us off the right path with the many possible distractions of this world.

  3. Rob

    This answer is probably peculiar to the US, but my vote goes to apathy. Most of the people I love (family) can’t be bothered to CARE about the questions that matter. I know that this is very much linked to distraction. However distraction to me implies a certain passivity on the part of the distracted. I’m talking about something that is more than a passive distraction. It is actively seeking the diversion and doing nearly anything not to be confronted with reality (a personal, sinful nature and a personal God who loves you enough and is capable to do something about it). Its maddening.

  4. Michael W. Kruse

    Actually, Rob, distraction encompasses both passive and active redirection. I agree with your idea that many actively fill their lives so as not to consider deeper questions.

  5. Paul W

    I was not expecting that answer at all… but I think that you’ve got a really good point there. Thanks for this post!

  6. Josh Mueller

    The one issue I see as the greatest challenge is the common question: why would it matter what people believe? Is life nothing but a test? Why should there be eternal suffering for failing the test? What about those who believe differently? If grace is unconditional and unlimited, why does it end at the point of death? Why should I trust God or want a relationship with Him if He’s comfortable with a majority of the pinnacle of His creation ending in destruction?

    • David Alexander

      Good questions Josh and I think you may know the answers but good example of the things people really don’t want to engage in. As I to believe folks are too distracted with self and being comfortable to think of such things. let alone ask questions of Christians. Anyway who in their right mind would ask a Christian anything as today it’s difficult to point out too much difference between the “normal” (if there is such a thing) Christian, from those who claim not be ? We certanily don’t live up to being salt and light as Jesus says we should. I would think our communities would be different places if we as Christians were living out our faith. But since they are not I guess that tells us somthing. Hey Josh isn’t some of what you had questions about a control issue? Wasn’t that the deal with Job? He wanted control and didn’t understand God….!

      • Josh Mueller

        David, there’s no doubt that there’s a huge lack of enthusiasm to engage Christian faith in a serious manner in the first place and probably at least partially for the reasons you mentioned.

        I actually understood John’s question more in the context of issues and objections that most likely would arise and present a major obstacle if someone took initiative to talk about his or her faith to a non-Christian friend.

        • David Alexander

          I wonder Josh, do feel there is this lack of wanting to engage in such questions even among those that attend Church ?

          I know I’ve had some questions concerning some of the issues you’ve brought up but feel If I voice them I’ll be setting myself up to be looked upon as weird or worse…an outsider

          • Josh Mueller

            David, if we can’t even find willingness and a safe space to discuss these issues in the church, how much less so with those who are sceptical observers or indifferent secularists to begin with!

            • Wesley

              Can’t help but wondering in reading these comments if you both aren’t missing the sylogism: if John’s premise is correct viz. that human beings are easily distracted/diverted and Christians are human beings (which we are … ok most of us) then it should not be surpising that churches are full of individuals who are easily distracted and uninterested in talking and living beyond a surface level Christianity. As a pastor i love, Matt Chandler said once, we often become satisfied with a surface-level Christianity b/c we know if we press in deeply God is going to bring up the ‘non-negotiable’ thing in our hearts – the idol that we cling to more tightly than Him. And so we keep things light and ‘spiritual sounding’ and never dig deep into Christ though there are profound riches to be discovered!
              The difficulty i found with your initial questions that began this thread of responses is: do you have an earnest man or woman seeking to work out these difficult questions or do you have a mocker seeking to stir up discord with no real desire for answers in the first place?
              God’s peace –
              W.

  7. Frederick Harrison

    Becoming still and silent so that we may become attentive to God is the solution to distraction.
    See Isaiah 30:15. But we choose to ride the horses – i.e. involve ourselves in activity that commands our attention and keeps us from seeking the One Thing (Psalm 27:4) that truly matters.

    We attempt to compensate for our hunger for God by seeking stimulation in the world. But, as Augustine noted in his Confessions, “Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

    “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

    Lo, you were within,
    but I outside, seeking there for you,
    and upon the shapely things you have made
    I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
    You were with me, but I was not with you.
    They held me back far from you,
    those things which would have no being,
    were they not in you.

    You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
    you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
    you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
    I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
    you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

    What does it profit a man to gain experience and stimulation from the whole world and forfeit the one relationship that will save his soul?

  8. Wesley

    Would you pair this idea of distraction/diversion with Lewis’ statement about our passions: being not too strong but too weak and being too easily satisfied?
    As one pastor i love said once, many of us are constantly “plugged in” – even falling asleep to our TV set – lest we sit in the slience of ourselves and face the awful truth of what lying, hypocrites we are most of the time. As Elijah learned, God’s voice was not in the fire or the earthquake or the storm, but in the quiet whisper – what some have said the Hebrew word actually means “the nothing”. How many of our lives even have spaces of quiet sabbath from all distraction where God’s whisper can be heard and our passion stirred to new heights for Christ.

  9. Michael Hart

    John,
    Thanks for this article. Some good comments above.
    I’ ve been mulling over Pascal’s premise -“distraction” and whether it’s the lynch pin to unlock the ‘conundrum’, if I may use that general term loosely. I was reminded of the question: how does one get fit? Some may say walking every day, some say eating right, some say a consistently good sleep, some contend it’s the gym workout 3 times a week. In reality it’s probably a disciplined combo of several things. So that raised the question in my mind as to whether one thing can even be the primary lynchpin, or whether we should be looking for several items working together in tandem. Having said that, I wonder if commitment is as important as distraction. To use marriage as an analogy, I could allow myself to be distracted by other women, and if the temptation should arise to move past any initial acknowledgement of another’s beauty or attraction, I have the covenant of love and commitment to remind me, the ring on my finger a real symbol of the seriousness of what I’ve entered into. Madeleine L’Enlge has written somehere about the pull of an evening mutual attraction and the mental process of how she moved away at 3am, both parties in a hotel sleeping on the same floor. Because of marriage,I am 90% less distracted and for the 10% that tries to distract(Ok, 15%!),it can be warded off better in the context of commitment. Some blunt things I have said to myself to jolt me out of fantasy: “you will be completely without excuse, you will deeply hurt many people around and you will likely kill your own present life.” So if I bring this notion of commitment into the spiritual realm; do we understand what it means to be commited in Christ, or perhaps how more to the point, how His commitment to us should shape our dutiful response of lives lived for Him? I need a deeper reason of why these other distractions are not worth my time (Craigs list at midnight looking for things I don’t need)so instead I get ready for the next day of service to live my ‘limited amount of days’ days for Him.
    I’d love to hear more about commitment as I think everyone knows their distractions intimately, but perhaps not the intimacies of commitment to a Creator/Saviour/Redeemer, or how one could flesh out commitment in His world. Marriage has to be enacted and embodied – not to exlude singles here, perhaps other analogies would work more comprehensively. We could also compare tendencies of commitment in the West (our syncretism etc) in comparison to commitment in poorer nations, where more is often put on the line.

    I look forward to hearing what you chose to eventually present.

    Michael Hart
    MCS Inds Regent 2009

  10. TIC

    Infinite appetite for distractions…

    Quoting Neil Postman’s introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death:

    As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

  11. Henry Cullihall

    Listening to a Mountain Experience!

    Hey Dr. Jon

    Been pondering your question about the “If you had to choose one issue that we Christians face as we tell other people about Jesus…”

    I think the one issue that we Christians face is the temptation of talking about Jesus rather than “listening,” to the Christ-Logos in people.
    I thought about this recently when my neighbor asked, “Henry what do you know about dreams?” Jim knew I dabbled in Divinity.
    “A little,” I say. I enjoy Jung’s works.

    Jim and I have been chatting quite a bit this past month. He’s seventy-seven years of age, quite wealthy but afraid of ending up like me. He has herniated disks in his back. He points towards my wheelchair.
    “Can’t say I blame You Jim boy. Not many want to be like me in any way” I said. We roared with laughter.

    “I want to listen to your dreams. Tell me,” I said as he opens a Pepsi for me. I peer into his pupils.

    “The last few nights my dreams have been the same,” he said. “I’m walking along a path filled with underbrush and thicket. In the distance I see a large mountain and to the left the most beautiful pristine lake. Any idea what that means?” He waited for my response.
    “I’ve heard that before,” I said, recognizing common archetypes.

    He surprised me. He knows the sacred naval of the Gods, a similar dream I imagine Moses had about the warrior-God Yahweh on Sinai.
    Also the living water of the cosmic Christ that St. John the evangelist saw has emanated into his Psyche. And he knows that we all must swathe our own path as Sir Gawain and his heroes in The Arthurian Legend did filled with thickets and briars.
    As I listen to Jim’s dreams of peace, I look away. Lately my messengers of the night have been combative like the fight I had with my brother-in-law last week. By listening I find out that I need to move from what the theosophist’s called the Wrath-world to the Love-World; desiring the same heavenly dreams Jim has been seeing; mountain, forest, and stream.
    “It’s so beautiful Henry,” he said, looking away.
    As I wheeled home I hummed,
    Open now the crystal fountain,
    Whence the healing stream doth flow…
    When I tread the verge of Jordan,
    Bid my anxious fears subside;
    Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
    Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

    Reminding myself of “Listening,” to Yeshua in the other person has been the most important issue facing me these days rather than “saying” something.
    Henry Cullihall

  12. Don C

    I would say relativism, which in some ways plays into distraction. Society in many ways says all faiths are the same basically, so whether on chooses yoga, or nature, or the church, they will find the same thing. Since it is of no great importance (according to Society) people just don’t feel the need to devote much energy to it. Whats the difference?

    It is ironic that as churches have attempted to make entry into the church easier, people have begun to view it as less important. The low cost of membership produces low value assessment and loyalty. There is no need to go deeper, “I am already a member” kind of thing, which leads to less systematic understanding of the faith. The truism that the individual that knows the least has the most options, leads to faith that becomes more fractured within communities and churches. Which produces the “my God does/doesn’t” kind of individual faith that mirrors our consumer society, but would be quite alien to our spiritual ancestors.

    +peace
    don

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