Archive for September, 2009

Changing the way we think about healthcare

September 29, 2009 2 comments

My last post drew a lot of comments, and a lot of interesting debate about healthcare. This seems to have died down now, but I still feel a certain lack of closure. I feel like, in the midst of all the political debate, the most important considerations, in regards to this particular issue, have not even really been addressed. Though the original post was about much more, all of our debate centered around the best way of financing healthcare. This was all basically working under the assumption that healthcare is something to be bought, that it has a price on it. Even the liberals, who argue on moral grounds that the government should pay for our healthcare, fall victim to this to this way of thinking. Liberals are certainly right in saying that healthcare is our collective responsibility, and that we all should chip in for it. The problem with their view is simply that they don’t go far enough with what that means–they simply conclude that, because of this, the government should “pay for” healthcare for everyone. Now, even if the economics of this happen to work out better than the current scenario, I think we will still have many issues. I think that the intrinsic problem to all of this is that we, as a society, are thinking of healthcare as a commodity, as something which can be bought at the right price. I believe that as long as we are looking at it like this, there will be problems. The liberal solution and the conservative solution share the defect that both are far too focused on the economic side of the problem–I believe that this economic emphasis is itself at the root of the problem.

In the comments of my post, I found myself defending a conservative take on healthcare, on the grounds that the liberal solution would cause more problems than it would solve. I did this because I wanted to address the whole issue from the “practical” angle that I had said the question ought to reduce to, once it was recognized that both sides agree on the moral imperative of improving healthcare. When it comes to practical questions, I tend to lean conservative. But really, I had all along a simpler ground on which to criticize the liberal solution, and the conservative solution along with it. A basic theme of my original post was that collective evils–that is, wide scale social problems, like the lack of healthcare–tend to be the cumulative result of many individual evils. One thing that I believe contributes to the problems we have with healthcare is a flawed way of thinking about it that most of us, liberal or conservative, succumb to. The truth is, neither the liberal solution nor the conservative one really address this problem.

Healthcare in the Kingdom of God

And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4.38-44)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22.1-2)

Healthcare, from the standpoint of the coming kingdom of God, is fundamentally about free healing, about something freely given. The healing of individuals, and the restoration of the health of the world, is a part of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. If we are to emulate the attitude Jesus had towards healing, we are to give it simply because people need it, and not because of anything we will get out of it. We must do it simply out of a love of our neighbor, because we are to view their health as being as important as our own.

As things stand now, however, the life saving drug that a person needs still comes at a price. A doctor will provide care, but this is because he knows beforehand that the insurance company has agreed (directly or indirectly) to pay him. And under a government health insurance plan, it would be no different: the doctor would provide care, but this is because he knows that the government will pay him. It doesn’t take place exactly like this–at least hospitals are, after all, legally required to treat someone, regardless of whether or not they can pay. And there are many doctors who routinely sacrifice their own benefit in order to go against these financial conventions and provide help to people who need it. But it is certainly true that a major interest of many of the people who get into the medical field is money. This is something that needs to be changed.

There are some things that only a trained professional can do, and of course he ought to be compensated for his contribution to society. So I am certainly not saying that we should stop paying doctors! But what I am saying is that we need a collective improvement in how all of us think about the health of our neighbors. I think we have to reach a point in which everyone, doctor or not, accepts in his heart that the health of those around us is actually all of our responsibility. We must realize that improving it means, ultimately, changing the way that we all relate to each other.  This is not easy. It means much more than a sacrifice of tax dollars. It means sacrificing our time, our energy, even our deepest aspirations, to be with those who are sick, to really care for them. This isn’t to say that many people don’t do this already. It is just to say that when we, as a society, become better at this, better healthcare will follow naturally. There is no reason why we cannot improve both our own collective medical knowledge and our own willingness to help each other to such a degree that the broken healthcare system we have now would cease to exist as we know it.

I cannot tell you what this looks like; I can only say that when I look at the way things are right now, everywhere I see systemic violations of the basic principle of unconditional love, and thus I see room for improvement.  I know there are people who have thought about this a lot more than me. One that I stumbled across is Patch Adams, who was made famous through the movie that was made about him. The following article, written by him, contains many insights, and I would encourage everyone to read it:

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The Role of Government

September 20, 2009 41 comments

The other day, a couple of friends and I were talking about healthcare, and one of them expressed surprise at the fact that I am often so resistant to the idea of the government involving itself in certain sorts of things. She thought that this contradicted the fact that I, in other instances, have been quite adamant about the idea that some things are wrong, and should be forbidden by law simply because of this fact, and not based on any foreseen calculations of what the consequences of legislation against them would be. In other words, I believe that sometimes it is a moral imperative for the government to act, to do something, in the interest of justice, regardless of the potential negative consequences. The example of this that I think she had in mind is my stance on abortion. Another good example of such a situation–a situation far less controversial now than abortion–is the issue of slavery in the 19th century. Basically everyone now agrees that it was the right thing, the moral thing, for the government to abolish slavery, regardless of the potential consequences. Now, for my friend, the basic right of every citizen to healthcare is example of a similar sort of moral imperative. Her basic question was this: why do I support a sort of universal government intervention in one such case, but not necessarily in another? Why do I apparently believe that the state should guarantee an unborn child the right to live, but not the right of every citizen to receive medical treatment?

To begin to answer this I think we should first notice that, in fact, the government is neither able to guarantee the life of every unborn child, nor is it able to guarantee every citizen medical care. Many abortions will still take place if abortion is made illegal. And if we add a federal option to the health care system, this will not mean that no one will ever be deprived of appropriate health care. Both of these problems–abortions and lack of health care–are caused by much more than simply how the government has chosen to involve itself in these matters. Secondly, let me make it clear that I absolutely believe that every person deserves adequate health care. To be able to help someone live, and to decide not to, is clearly immoral. I believe this in the same way that I believe every person deserves to be fed, or to have clothing and shelter. When we–any of us–are able to provide things to people, and instead look the other way, we are committing evil. With this out of the way, I would like to try to explain why I would support government intervention in some situations, but not in others. Basically, my answer has to do with the kind of government intervention that would take place. But, to understand this, I think I must first explore some interesting theoretical questions about the nature of goodness and justice in society.

Global and local principles

Goodness, though intuitively perceived by everyone, is hard to define, and thus perhaps ought to be taken in this discussion as basic and undefined. But what is justice? Most people would probably agree that the concept of justice refers to a good or right ordering of things on some level. And there are really only two levels with which I wish to concern myself in my attempt to understand justice: there is the local level and a global level. What does each mean? Well, let’s start with the local level. Locally, justice has to do with a right relationship between individuals: when human beings relate to each other properly (i.e. “goodly,” whatever that means), we might call that justice. But actually, justice is usually spoken of more often in reference to it’s negation: injustice. That is, justice is usually talked about in the context of a breach of good relationships: for example, when people break the law, we talk about bringing them to justice, giving them a punishment appropriate to their crime.

It is, incidentally, an interesting and important question as to why, how, or whether people should be punished for crimes. Many have asked what justification there actually is for doing this. And attempting to answer this question, I believe, leads to a consideration of the global aspects of justice. In particular, one justification for punishing people for crimes is the following: when a person commits a crime, we might think of him as having disrupted a sort of “universal balance.” He has sinned against an absolute law, and thus disrupted something fundamental and universal. Then his punishment is meant to, in some way or another, restore the balance. Now, most societies throughout history have believed in some sort of moral reality. That is, they have believed in some sort of real “moral fabric” to the universe: when people commit wrong, they are affecting this. The eastern idea of karma is a good example of this. Many people today, on the other hand, tend to believe that laws and punishments are really only a means to an end: for example, laws are meant to deter people from committing crimes, and thus bring about a more peaceful or ideal society.

So here we have two different “global” components that come into play when thinking about justice: a sort of “moral fabric” notion on the one hand, and the notion of a good or well functioning society on the other. Many disagreements in ethics have to do with these different conceptions of justice on a global scale.

Global justice and God

I believe that these two different conceptions of justice on a global scale actually come together under a Christian understanding of justice. Christianity teaches that a good and wise and powerful God created the world we live in to be absolutely good, but that we, his creatures, have turned against this plan. In some sense at least, the injustice that we see in the world is ultimately our own doing–all of us our responsible. And actually, Christianity believes in non-human spiritual entities, and believes that the bad ones (demons–i.e. angels that have turned against God) are also at fault in some way too. But, whether through demons or through human beings, injustice originates on the individual level, in all of us, and this adds up, on the collective level, to the world not functioning in the way that God would have it. In this sense, Christian ethics is “consequentialist”–that is, concerned with the overall goodness and flourishing of society.

On the other hand, in the Christian understanding of things, there exists a real moral fabric in the sense that God, and only God, knows what each of us have done, and how it has affected the whole. He also knows how our decisions affect our relationship with him, he who is the author and standard of what is good, beautiful, and true. He cares about this, and will hold each of us accountable for it in the end. In Christian theology (at least in the west–I know the eastern Church thinks of things a bit differently), our sense of guilt is actually more than just a feeling: it is a reality that has to do with how we stand before the good God who created us. So our intuitive notion of a universal moral fabric ultimately goes back to our relationship with our Creator.

Now, God has a plan to fix things through his own grace and mercy, brought into our world through the suffering love of Jesus. Much could be said about this, of course, but for our purposes it is enough to know two things. First we must know that the plan is is taking place right now, and so what we do matters in terms of that plan–that is, in terms of God bringing about a right ordering of things. Secondly, we must know that God’s global plan begins on an individual level, and proceeds from the inside out. Christianity teaches that “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”–that true healing tends to come from the inside out, and often in unexpected ways, through the work of God himself. One of Christ’s most basic teachings was that a focus religious ritual and external appearances–what he called “the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees”–will never bring about true change to our hearts.

This principle, I believe, is also true on the level of societies. Think, for the moment, of humanity as being a vast web of personal interactions. These take place every day–some seem inconsequential, others of great import. A man buys a hot dog, and chats with the vendor. A woman decides to forgive her husband. A teenager decides to join a gang. A teacher says some encouraging words to a child. A couple decides to get married. Now, whatever broader social structures exist in society, this is what society actually looks like close up. And it is here, I think, that the most important battle between good and evil is fought, and the overall health of society is determined. Thus I believe that changes in the large social organizing principles of our society will never bring about any real improvement if the individuals that inhabit that social structure are still just as broken. Conversely, genuine moral improvement within individuals will lead to a better social structure naturally. But it is God–either through design or through his own continued presence and influence in the world–who will knit this all together on a global scale. And this brings us to:

Government intervention

In our increasingly secular society, I believe that liberals and conservatives both look to some sort of impersonal but universal structure to fill the role of God in the above regard. For liberals, that structure tends to be government. For conservatives, it tends to be the free market. Let me say that I don’t trust the free market to fix things any more than I trust the government to do so. Believing that any of these organized products of fallen humanity will ever bring about the peace and justice that only God can bring is a recipe for frustration and despair. Most systemic evil we encounter is a result of moral evil on the individual level. A greedy choice here, a decision to look the other way there–it all adds up to people who can be helped not receiving help. Things are not so complicated, after all. What is really needed in our society is not a a massive reform bill, or a more consistent embrace of free market principles, but better, more loving decisions made by individuals.

According to Christianity, no human entity–no person, committee, or government–is even remotely capable of bringing about the overall sort of justice that God will eventually realize in the new creation, when he finally puts the world to rights. Part of this is due to our own brokenness: any plans we come up with to put things right will ultimately be affected by our own tendencies towards evil. But, more than this, understanding how to correctly order things is not our job, it is not a task our finite minds are capable of, even in their ideal state. It is beyond us. And even if we could imagine it, we do not have the power to enact it. A total right ordering of things is accomplished by God; we can participate in it by being obedient to him, but only he knows how to bring it about. But the great thing is that, as human beings, we can contribute to the overall right ordering of things, by obeying Jesus’ great commandment to love him, and thus love our neighbor as ourselves. If you aren’t a Christian, you may have a bit of a problem with the former, but you can still try the latter.

Now, one cannot conclude a priori that doing so will never entail support for government intervention of the sort called for by president Obama’s health care plan. But we must recognize the limitations and potential dangers of such things, where they exist. For me, the real area of disagreement between myself and my friend, in this case, is obviously not what is right or wrong. We both agree that it is wrong for people to be deprived of healthcare. The disagreement stems from what each of us thinks the government is, and what the government should actually be doing. I see the basic power of the state, in terms of bringing about real social healing–that is, the repairing of social relationships that would facilitate the availability of healthcare to everyone, not the literal healing provided by healthcare itself!–to be fairly limited. As I said before, a Christian ethic believes that social healing ultimately comes from the inside out. It is brought to individuals by the Spirit of Christ within them, and to society by the actions of individuals, guided by that Spirit. Government, of course, cannot provide this. It can only administer things from the outside in.

I believe the government can most positively contribute to good by forbidding certain clear individual acts of evil: murder, rape, theft, etc. Thus I always support “government intervention” in situations where justice is most clearly able to be brought about by their controlling influence, and even then I am wary of potential problems: how do we know what those situations are? What is an appropriate punishment? How do we avoid corruption and abuse of power? In spite of these difficulties, the government is fairly capable of enacting laws that forbid certain grave evils on this individual level. It is capable of setting and enforcing important universal commands on the behavior of individuals–do not kill, do not steal, etc. Certainly, no government is perfect at this, and there are still many problems. But we all seem to agree that it is the right thing for the state to pursue justice in this way, that it is preferable to the alternative of anarchy.

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.” –-GK Chesterton

Much of the systemic evil in our society, however, is more complex than simple “law breaking.” For example, consider gentrification and the related lack affordable housing. This is caused by many factors, and there may be some actual lawbreaking involved. But it is not easy, overall, to say who exactly is at fault or how they should be dealt with–landlords, tenants, real estate brokers, etc. I don’t mean by this that nobody is at fault, but rather that too many people are at fault in different ways for us to really be able to adequately assign blame. Many individual decisions add up a complex, collective evil. I would say that the rising cost of healthcare, and the lack of coverage for many individuals, is a similar problem. For this reason, I think we have to consider such issues differently when we ask ourselves whether or not there is a moral imperative for government intervention. It may be that we can isolate some basic evil that is being committed on an individual level, which is causing the problem, and agree as a society that this sort of thing should be forbidden. Sometimes, even in what seem like complex social issues, this may happen–I don’t rule this out. But I don’t think this is the sort of thing we are talking about when we consider the healthcare plan advocated by president Obama. Here we are talking about a complex and specific social plan enacted by the government. The question of supporting it becomes a practical one more than a moral one. This is true even though there is a moral imperative to try to deal with the social problem. In other words, it is society’s moral duty to try to deal with the social problem, but government is not necessarily the appropriate entity to act, at least not in the way that Obama has envisioned them acting. It may be, but determining this is may be a practical question rather than a moral imperative. And it may be a very difficult question, and one for which the burden of proof is on him, to show that it will result in a greater good. I admire the fact that he has actually tried to do this (and I also acknowledge that I really ought to research the issue more), but still I remain somewhat skeptical.

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Things That are Real

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

I present to you one of the finest moments in the history of cinema:

In the scene, this printer is condemned for being the frustrating piece of technology that it is, and the characters in Office Space are pouring their wrath out on what is, for them, a symbol of their entire futile existence as office workers. The audience easily identifies with them, sharing in their anger towards the printer and the inhuman system that it symbolizes. In this scene and others, Office Space does a good job of expressing a basic frustration that people these days have with the sort of artificial way of life many of us are thrust into, and how such a lifestyle goes against our basic humanity. We human beings have an instinctive ability to decide what things in this world truly matter, and what things don’t. We can see that being confined to an office cubical for eight hours a day can be a soul-crushing waste of time–I say “can be” because I’m sure there are exceptions to this, where the work being done is itself rewarding somehow, and I don’t mean to trash anyone’s vocation. But we can easily see how so many aspects of our modern life go against our basic humanity. We know that these things are artificial. And we know that other things, things like friendship, family, love, art, and truth, are real somehow. Or, at least, if anything proved to be real, it would have to be those things. What I believe deserves more consideration is the question of how and why we are able to make the necessary distinction in order to make such judgments. That is, where does this distinction come from?

The real and its enemies

I propose that some things in life are actually real, whereas some are unreal, and that people can tell the difference, though far from perfectly. I will not be using the ordinary meanings of these words here. That is to say, I will not be using the most immediate senses of the word “real” that it has acquired in contemporary usage. The distinction I wish to make has nothing directly to do with what actually exists–some “real” things are not realized in our world, at least to the degree that they ought to be, whereas some “unreal” things exist in abundance. Nor does the distinction have anything fundamental to do with the human process of manufacturing, effort, or planning. For example, many things are very intricately planned, like a ballet or a symphony, yet will fall on the side of “the real.” Other things have no clear human design, but nevertheless fall on the side of “the unreal”–for example, the HIV virus is not man made (unless you buy the conspiracy theories), but it is quite unreal.

Perhaps some more examples are in order. I hope none of these seem either too sentimental or too morbid; neither is my intent. A family gathering held each year, for thanksgiving, is real. It is real when people gather together and share memories, tell jokes, and think of each other fondly. It is unreal, however, when they let old grudges or gossip skew their perception of one another, when they hold false expectations of each other and judge each other. A couple of glasses of beer, and a few good laughs, shared between old friends, are real. Severe drunkenness, and an angry shouting match, resulting in the destruction of a friendship, is unreal. Marriage is real; pornography is unreal. The smile of a baby is real; cancer in a baby is unreal. Life is real, death is unreal. Real things are intrinsically good; they are part of reality as it should be. Unreal things are intrinsically bad, and are an unwanted intrusion on a good world. Our world, the world we all know, seems to be a synthesis of real and unreal components.

Now, it is my view that we live in a society that craves realness, but lacks the ability find it consistently, that lets unrealness flourish, all too often. Much of this is a matter of confusion. Since our world is a mixture of the real and the unreal, often we create false associations between the two, and so we seek realness in the wrong places. For example, one might seek love and acceptance, which are real, through the pursuit of fame and power, which are unreal. We usually don’t know how to get the real without also getting some of the unreal mixed in. We are, may I say, like sheep without a shepherd.

Jesus: champion of the real

Of all the charges that can be made against Christianity, perhaps the most troubling for me is the simple charge of irrelevance. This is not simply the charge that it doesn’t matter, but further that it couldn’t matter; that is, not simply the charge that it is untrue, but the charge that, if it were true, it wouldn’t be worth much. This is the charge that my most basic conviction really has nothing to say about life, the real life that people live, and that it is even opposed to the flourishing of such life. It is, in the terms of the above, the charge that Christianity is “unreal.” And I think that many people honestly believe this, and won’t give a consideration to Jesus Christ precisely for the reason that they don’t think he has anything to say to them, that he doesn’t speak to their most fundamental reality. They think that, if he really were who the Christians say he is, this would not be good news at all. On the contrary, this would probably mean that the universe is essentially artless and boring.

I understand this sentiment well. I confess that I feel it myself sometimes. After all, who does not get the sense, when confronted with, say, a certain type of street evangelist (those guys who hand out little slips of paper telling you to believe in Jesus or go to hell), that this person is out of touch with life, ordinary life? His slip of paper must appear as an invitation to become like him. And who would want to be like that guy? I don’t usually doubt the sincerity of his motives, but I fear that it is hard for another person to look at such a thing and believe that what stands behind it is of any real value. More generally, much of popular preaching presents, as Dallas Willard says, a Jesus who is “barely conscious.” Often, Christianity doesn’t present a Jesus who we could imagine is actually interested in the things that we clearly perceive as mattering.

So I understand the sentiment. I understand it, but I believe that it is, as a fundamental objection to Christianity, untrue. Seen properly, God is actually the author of the real (whereas Satan, perhaps, is the author of the unreal). As such, God is supremely concerned about the real moments of our ordinary life–more concerned than you or I. One proof of this is simply the central belief of Christianity that God became a man, and experienced these moments, all for our sake. Christians have called this the incarnation. Think, for a moment, about what it means for our everyday life, for the things that all human beings do and go through–that the creator of the universe poured himself into a person! Now, Jesus spent most of his years on this world doing nothing particularly memorable, from a historical standpoint. The New Testament mentions only one public incident between his infancy and his last years. He wasn’t famous during this time. We aren’t told much of what he did then, but I imagine he must have lived a pretty ordinary life. Only those closest to him saw much of it, of course, but I think this is part of the point. In this part of his life, Jesus identifies with the ordinary experience of every man (and woman). The God-man, the one man who ever lived a perfect life, only really made a scene at the end (it was, of course, of prime importance that Jesus eventually did make a scene, since through making it he became our redemption). And that is part of the point: a perfect life, in God’s sight, isn’t all heroic deeds and public attention. Part of the point of the incarnation was to solidify the permanent meaning and basic reality of ordinary human experience. All that is good in human life, Jesus made his own, God’s own. And if we are to believe that Christ’s righteousness–his basic goodness as a human being–becomes our own, then at least part of the reason that our redemption takes place at all has to do with the basic, unrecorded, ordinary life of Jesus. And you see the corollary right? It’s the eternal significance, for each of us, of the real moments of our ordinary, everyday lives.

Eternal significance

In particular, I’m thinking about the eternal significance of how we think and act, including what things we choose to value, and the perspectives we adopt towards life itself. Not believing in any sort of eternal weight to how we go about life is, perhaps, the central tragedy of our age. Even though all people have the ability to intuitively judge what is significant, to know what is real, so many of them are ultimately nihilists–so many people today don’t believe that life will ever really amount to anything, that it all turns to dust in the end. People want to make life count, but they don’t believe that there is anything it could really count towards. This rejection of meaning, in fact, is embraced so strongly by some that it, in spite of itself, practically amounts to a conviction. So people say, sometimes with a hint of irony, “life may be pointless, but at least I…” But if life is pointless, there is no “at least.” The phrase “at least” implies a context in which things are meaningful. One could say, “we lost all our money, but at least we still have each other” or “the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs, but at least their prospects are good for next season.” But to say “at least” without specifying greater context of things in which a comparison could take place simply doesn’t make any sense.

The truth is, our lives are not arbitrary; on the contrary everything fits together in a grand story that will all come together in the end. So life is not a game, and if we live like it is, we are building on a foundation that will crumble. People today are so wonderful, yet so tragic. People are wonderful because God made them that way. People are tragic because they don’t know what and who they really are; they don’t know that they are unique creations of God, and they don’t know that their actions and their lives actual matter, actually count, forever. Not just for the future, nor just for the sake of some vague notion of “having lived a good life” or even “having made a difference.” What you do matters forever; what you say to people matters forever.

I know some brilliant and fun people who are agnostics and atheists. Sometimes, around them, I feel like I am witnessing a great drama in which the participants are dangerously unaware of the real consequences of their most basic decisions and habits of speech and thought. I think to myself: these people do not believe in God, and would barely give consideration to the story I believe in, and yet the truths it speaks of are so obviously present in their lives. In their beauty, I want to cry out to them: is it really so hard to believe that you were created in the image of God, a God who loves you and pursues you? And in their folly, I also want to cry out to them: don’t submit to unreality, don’t trade the real for an illusion! Is it so hard to believe that your cynicism is a spiritual poison that first stings, and then numbs, and then kills the life of your soul? Or that when you mock, or when you gossip, you are doing permanent damage to yourself and others, that you are participating in a plot to rid you of your very humanity? I admit, this often can be hard to believe, and quite hard to remember. I would do well, as I write this, to realize how much my warning applies to myself. I’m not sure God loves me. And I poison myself with cynicism, and I mock and I gossip. Further, I’m too proud to really believe this, as I write it–I’m just doing the standard Christian move of deliberately admitting I’m as much of a sinner as anyone. But it is true, nevertheless.

Our decisions, good and bad, affect our relationship with the most basic reality that there is. This is the basic reality that is, to some degree, perceptible to everyone, that is behind the scenes of all of our interactions in this life, that is rarely spoken of directly but is, in the end, what really counts. It is the reality that God cares about, and it is not a secret. But it is, often, hard for us to see; many things in the world work against our seeing it, and on our own we drift away from it. But there is one who always perceives this reality, and who can and will always show it to us, who will cut through the dark fog of evil that blinds us, one who knows what is really important and is eager to share it:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8.31-32)

I said before that it is wrong to think that Jesus doesn’t care about the things that people intuitively know are significant and real, that he does actually care about these things. I want to make the point stronger now: I think it would be correct to say that Jesus only cares about the things that matter. And if a person decides to try to care about the things that Jesus cares about, he will quickly begin to see more clearly what is really real, what matters to the reality that God always has in mind. If Jesus sees something as unimportant or needless, or worse–like empty religious ritual, or self-righteousness, or selfish accumulation of honor and wealth–then you can bet it is not actually worth anything in the end. If Jesus seems to care about something–like praying for your enemies, or feeding the hungry, or celebrating, or being welcoming to children–you can bet that it matters. So Jesus can show us what life is really about; he is the one we can trust to deliver us what is real.

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