Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Desire for Knowledge

Tenney Frank, in his book Life and Literature in the Roman Republic describes how the quality of literature decreased in the late Roman Republic. He notes that the literary writers acquiesced to the wishes of the audience. He writes “It is not surprising, therefore, that these audiences – eager for entertainment which might exclude all possibility of having to exercise the intellect – finally demanded an extravaganza that appealed solely to eye and ear.” We see much the same when we look at the current state of the entertainment industry in our days. Much of prime time television tends to be sit-coms which titillatingly appeal to the eye and ear. Very little intellect is required when viewing these programs. The purpose of many movies appears to be to provide a visual spectacle. As in the times of the late Roman Republic, the entertainment fare available caters to the whims of the audience.

Outside of documentaries, which tend to engage one’s mind, most programs on television offer mindless entertainment. Our minds are never exercised. These programs erode our desire-for-intellect IQ and it begins to atrophy. The mindless drivel of their content tends to stultify our minds, resulting in a paralyzing dullness. This dullness has become so pervasive that it has not only affected our homes, but also our schools and society at large. In many inner city schools the desire-for-intellect IQ is virtually non-existent. The depth to which we have devolved can be seen in an assignment given by a law professor to his first year law students. The students complained that the papers they were to read were almost incomprehensible. The professor retorted that they must understand for whom these papers were originally published – New England farmers. They were the Federalist Papers, written when our nation was in the process of being born. This example shows how far down we have sunk. When the intellect of modern day graduate students is inferior to that of less educated farmers of former days, we are in desperate straits.

God desires that we have a high desire-for-intellect IQ. Many passages in Scripture speak of the necessity of our studying God’s word. The prophet Hosea states that without knowledge the people perish. The Apostle Paul says we should study to be approved to God. Many passages in the Old and New Testaments speak of the studying of God’s laws and his word as having a high priority. They all imply that we must have a desire to know God. We are to love God with our minds as well as our hearts.

When the intellectual malaise which we observe in our society infects the church, it also is in trouble. Dallas Willard, in The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, notes that while we would reject an analyst or surgeon with shallow thinking, we easily put our minds away when it comes to religion. The focus of many church youth programs appears to have more interest in keeping their young people entertained than in a serious study of God’s word and the deepening of their spiritual lives. Many church services contain little more than pabulum which does not engage the mind. The author of Hebrews has sharp words for the Christian who constantly has a need for milk instead of solid food, noting that solid food is for the mature individual who can discern good from evil (Heb 5:11-14). By implication, those on milk cannot make such discernment.

The desire to know God requires a decision on our part. We have to make it a priority. Where is your desire-for-intellect IQ? Is it in the 150s or in the low 70s?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Benefits of Silence

Walking into the store, the echoes of musak tickle my mind, enticing me to buy, buy, buy, since the tunes projecting from the sound system are not merely for my enjoyment alone. We are caught up in a world where silence and solitude are foreign to both our hearts and our ears. One would think we thrive on noise; it constantly is entering our ears, whether it is from the radio, television or our ipod. If nothing else, the whoosh of automobiles on the not to distant expressway as they travel to and fro invades our ears. There are even machines that will produce white noise. White noise consists of sound from all of the frequencies that the human ear can hear, drowning out other voices, making it difficult to hear them. Noise is now so commonplace that when it is absent we suffer in the silence, frantically seeking the comfort of sound. Just as the quietness of solitude makes us feel guilty, so also does the sound of silence make us feel uncomfortable.

Yet both silence and solitude are keys to being able to listen to the still small voice of God when he speaks to us. Perhaps the rarity with which we hear his voice is due in part to the discordant noise that is all around us. The cacophony of white noise that Satan uses to invade our ears is designed to prevent our listening to God’s still small voice, for he knows that in many languages “to listen” and “to obey” have the same root. He fears that if we actually listen to God’s voice, we might obey it, carrying out his will.

Throughout the history of Christendom, those men and women having been considered saints and giants in the faith by their peers have found solitude and silence to be beneficial to their faith walk. Thomas à Kempis says of them that “in silence and quiet the devout soul profiteth and learneth the secrets of the scriptures”. Henri Nouwen notes that “silence is the way to make solitude a reality”. In silence and solitude men and women of faith were able to focus deeply upon their relationship with the God they adored.

Noise becomes a great distraction, prohibiting us from concentrating upon that which we desire. I remember a time when I found myself being very unproductive while writing some computer programs. Upon analysis, I discovered I was handling sixty phone calls a day. The constant distractions made it impossible to concentrate on the work at hand. Noise, music and words blaring from the radio or TV all cause us to lose our concentration upon God. They invade our reflections and thoughts. God can not get our attention long enough to get through to our souls.

Silence and solitude bring us face to face with God alone. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in his book Engaging God’s WorldEngaging God's World (A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living) says ”Silences may fill us with longing for goodness and listening for God. Silence lets us brood over things that make us deep.” Perhaps the reason we reach for the ipod, television or radio at such times is due to the fact that the relationship we have with God is very shallow. Since the encounter is somewhat frightening, we seek the comfort of noise. In this way we can avoid the awkwardness that silence brings – the silence that tells us that we are alone with God.

The extent to which we welcome silence and solitude may tell us much about the nature of our faith. Do we welcome them, or try to avoid them?