A Bit to Read
What did you think of the lead article in the recent Credo Chronicle? Br Ron deHaan stated what we all know, “Credo Christian High School is a good school.” “But,” he continued, “I wonder if we as a school community are demanding enough. How many of our homes and classrooms demand excellence…?” Br deHaan indicates that easy satisfaction is a hallmark of our culture. “We don’t want to do something over and over until it is excellent. We want it quick, easy and good enough.”
My thoughts? I think Mr deHaan is correct. Our culture is indeed marked by “quick, easy and good enough.” Someone once called it a ‘culture of mediocrity’; achieving the mediocre is good enough – hey, tomorrow is another day…. Mediocre: that’s to say that middle-of-the-road is sufficient, second-rate will do, no need to sweat too much to get it right.
Here’s where an article in a recent Christian Renewal helps to push us in the right direction. Gary Fisher writes an article under the heading, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” I’d like to share it with you.
Some years ago I was asked to serve as moderator of a discussion group consisting primarily of professional technology related fields. The group included several dozen active participants and an audience of several hundred who were permitted to offer questions or comments at any point. Members of the group represented a wide range of religious beliefs, from evangelicals to agnostics.
The group was asked to consider a question which I hoped would generate some insights and interesting dialog, but the results surprised me. My question was simply, ‘What role does ethics play in your life?’ As is often the case, the first response set the tone of the discussion; with few exceptions, consciously ethical behavior, other than avoiding that which was patently illegal, was seen as a luxury few could afford and no one needed. Not all participants agreed on precise definitions, of course; some argued that only ‘minor infractions’ were acceptable, while a few asserted that, at least in the performance of one’s vocation, virtually anything was permissible until and unless you were caught, and sometimes even then.
One commonly accepted position was that, in such matters as permits and licenses, ‘It’s easier to obtain forgiveness than permission.’ That is, if something is expedient, if it ‘needs to be done’ and is not blatantly criminal, then one is justified in doing it even though a reprimand or fine might be imposed if the authorities discover the infraction. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ we are told, which stands between us and our desirable goal.
This attitude seems foreign to believers, but is it really so far from us? While no Christian would consciously, purposely break one of the Commandments, how often do we excuse ourselves for ‘little sins’ in our everyday lives? While we would never set out to drive recklessly, how often do we ‘challenge’ the speed limit? Though we would never set out to practice falsehood, how often do we ‘stretch the truth’? I do not speak here as one condemning others from the outside; in my own life I find myself struggling both too often and too little against such things.
The Heidelberg Catechism speaks to this issue. In Q&A 114 we are asked: ‘But can those who are converted to God keep these Commandments perfectly?’ to which the answer is given, ‘No; but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience…’ Perhaps we would like to stop here. Why, if even the holiest fall short, at least we’re in good company, aren’t we? But the Catechism, teaching from Scripture, goes on: ‘…yet so that with earnest purpose they begin to live, not only according to some but according to all the Commandments of God.’ We fall short, it is true, but do we display that ‘earnest purpose’ to live at all times according to our calling as believers? Or is that a ‘luxury’ reserved for others? When it comes to obedience, there is no ‘small stuff’.
That’s Fisher’s article. “Earnest purpose”: that’s not the language of mediocrity, of ‘good enough’. That’s instead the language of effort, nothing but the best, exertion, sweat. In Q&A 114 it appears in the context of obedience to God’s law. We understand that that says something about how we ought to apply ourselves to live according to God’s commands. We do well to note that this “earnest purpose” applies to every aspect of our lives before God. As the ascended Lord is Master over every aspect of our lives –there is not a square inch of life of which Christ does not say ‘Mine’– our service to this Master of necessity extends to every moment and every corner of the day. In His service I can never say, ‘That’s good enough’. That’s why a culture of mediocrity may never characterize the people of God – not in our schools, not in Catechism instruction or learning, not in our home lives, not in our preaching, not in our daily work.
And that’s not surprising. The Lord God, eternal Creator of heaven and earth, gave in Jesus Christ His very dearest and best to redeem unworthy sinners. How, then, can ‘mediocre’ on our part be a fitting expression of gratitude?
16 February 2007