Self-help and hope

Two brief things of note.

I went by Borders with a friend today, who was looking for a book. He then headed to the self-help section to have a look at the books on offer there.

It’s pretty amazing how large the self-help section of any bookstore is. Yet perhaps it is also unsurprising.

When you remove God from the center of the universe, and our lives for that matter, we don’t simply leave a void behind. We always substitute it for something else. In this sense, we are all guilty of idolatry. And the first idol in the Bible was the wisdom of man.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. – Genesis 3:4-6

I find this rather prophetic. In desiring wisdom, she turned away from the true source of wisdom and literally helped herself to some fruit. This is the origin of the self-help culture. The problem is we are seeking gain in the wrong place. There is only one Giver. And He has given us the greatest gift of all.

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. – Philippians 3:8-9

. . . .

The second thing is this idea of hope. It has increasingly captivated me for the past few days. What is it about mankind that constantly looks to the future? What is it about mankind that it always looks for hope?

Obama sells hope. Self-help authors and proponents like Echkart Tolle and Oprah sell hope. Even some ‘Christians’, like Joel Osteen, sell hope! 

Hope is popular. It is always in great demand. There is never a recession. In fact, it is one of the few ‘goods’ that grow in demand when an economic recession hits. There’s always a bigger dream over the horizon. A higher ambition. A loftier goal. Mankind is never satisfied. It always hopes for something better.

In this respct, I would argue we are unique. I can conceive of no other example in the natural world which constantly hopes for something better.

Hope is a good thing. We are creatures of hope. We hope because we are aware that this is not the best of worlds. We hope because deep down we know there is something better.

This is why Christians are to be the most contented of all humans. We know this is not the best of worlds. We know there is something better. We know this because Jesus Christ stepped down into history to tell us this very truth. And He then proceeded to rescue all who repent and trust in Him into His kingdom in a most glorious fashion. We look forward in hope of the consummation of the kingdom, of life and joy eternal in the presence of God forever.  And unlike earthly hope, this is not an uncertain hope; it is a sure and living hope, built on the surest of all foundations, the blood and righteousness of Jesus.

I leave you with a rich doxology of hope.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:3-8

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4 responses to “Self-help and hope

  1. Dear Weng Yew,

    Referring back to a post of yours (can’t remember which) where you mentioned that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’ as quoted from John Piper, could you elaborate on what is meant by this?

    Personally, I feel that this statement is loosely based on a human emotional perspective rather than a spiritual one. I agree with the notion of God being glorified in us when we are satisfied in Him, but is our satisfaction the crucial factor? On the contrary, I would think that God is most glorified when we become slaves to righteousness.

    What are your views on the matter?

    Anyway, on another front, thanks for the rapid succession of posts, and looking forward to the next!

  2. Hmm. I think first and foremost, I would have to refer you to the original material. Consider Piper’s Desiring God or God’s Passion For His Glory.

    It took him a book (in fact many, given all his books expound a similar theme) to elaborate on the statement, so forgive me if my following elaborations sounds woefully inadequate!

    The proposition behind this statement stems from Edward’s essay, The End For Which God Created the World. In it, he seeks to see what the Bible has to say about God’s ultimate end in creation. He finds that God aims at His own glory. However, he also finds that God aims at the good of the creature. Yet He aims at the good of the creature in such a way that He also aims at the exhibition and emanation of His glory. So the creature’s good and God’s glory is not a divided respect.

    John Piper has rephrased this thought in his oft-quoted statement, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. God seeks to make us most satisfied in Him, and in so doing is glorified. Our joy is His glory. He appeals to our experience as well. Is not the most glorified thing in your life the one you express most pleasure over? Another way of putting it is: the manner in which God chose to be glorified in creation was to make His creatures in the moral part of the world, specifically the saints, most satisfied in Him.

    There have been many objections leveled at this idea of ‘Christian hedonism’. Your objection is a common one but also very valid. It is good to test everything with Scripture and I commend you for that and encourage you to continue to do so. If you are worried about the biblical foundations behind this philosophy, try reading God’s Passion For His Glory. It biblically expounds this doctrine very fully, especially Edward’s essay in the second part of the book, which is heavily saturated with Scripture. If you want an easier read, then try Desiring God.

    I would also like to raise the objection that just because our emotions are fickle, it doesn’t mean they can’t be valid. Edwards dealt with this problem in his day, where he was one of the main preachers during the Great Awakening. After this period, he wrote a book called the Religious Affections, in which he sought to distinguish between emotions that were true and proper and biblical, and emotions that were alike but were all heat with no light.

    Going further back, Edwards was quite the philosopher as well. He basically distinguishes moral beings, including God, as having two faculties – the faculty of understanding and the faculty of the will. We know and we act. Those are our primary functions.

    He further goes on to breakdown the faculty of the will into the less vigorous and more vigorous exercises. For instance, our will can incline us to love someone, but while we may perform all the actions of love on that someone, we may not necessarily ‘feel’ love. When that love becomes more vigorous, Edwards (or maybe it’s Piper) calls it joy. The vigorous exercise of love is joy. From human experience, I think we know this to be true. In Edwards’ words, he that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory doesn’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it. The Bible also seems to suggest this. When we read the Psalms and how the Psalmist loved the Law, he also speaks of loving the law as a delighting in the law. There is not only the attitude of love, but the affections that should accompany love being stirred up.

    In that sense, looking at the Greatest Commandment of all, the commandment which I think sheds the best insight as to how God is glorified most, if the most vigorous exercise of love is joy, then God is certainly most glorified when we find the most joy in Him.

    So there are true emotions that stem from a proper heart. Take 1 Corinthians 13. Love delights in the truth. But love does not rejoice over wrong. So there are two types of joy here. There is a biblical joy over truth. And there is a non-biblical joy over sin and error. So not all emotions are wrong. There is a holy context for many emotions, even anger. So be careful that in being suspicious of human emotions, you do not fall into the trap of denying their validity.
    .
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    Now as to your statement that God is most glorified when we become slaves to righteousness, I will turn to that section of the Bible and try to expound the context more fully.

    Note first that in v.19 Paul himself says that he puts this in human terms. I believe the reason for this is that many mistook their freedom in Christ for a license to sin under grace. The human term is that we are slaves to whatever we follow. The connotation of slave however does sound very low, all the more in our day, which is why the disclaimer of phrasing this in human terms. We are free in Christ, and yet we are also slaves to Christ. As creatures, we were created to be dependent on God. But when we rejected Him as the center and source of our lives, we thought we were free. But the freedom of the creature in fact lies in its dependence on its Creator, who gives it life and breath and everything it needs. It is a bounded freedom, but it is the only freedom we know, and it is the only freedom we can rejoice in, not being God. It is a freedom of dependence, which sounds extremely alien to our sinful hearts.

    Now note what being slaves to righteousness reaps. The benefit is holiness. Also from Matthew 5:5 we know the pure in heart will see God. From Hebrews 12:14, without holiness no one will see the Lord. I believe this seeing refers to knowing as God intends us to know Him. This is eternal life, to know God and His Son Jesus.

    Now take the parallel verse from Hebrews 12:10-11:
    God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

    Discipline is painful. But holiness is pleasant. There is a harvest of righteousness and peace. This is what consists in eternal life. Eternal life more fully is to know God. And we know that the pure in heart, those who are holy, are the ones who will see God. The verse in fact says: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed here simply means happy. Happy are the holy, because the holy will inherit eternal life.

    Where is God glorified in all of this? He is the giver of this eternal life (Rom 6:23). He is the one that sanctifies us through and through, to make us holy (1 Thess 5:23). He is the one that sets us free from sin (Rom 6:18). And He will be the object of our praise. I can’t conceive of praise without joy. Lewis himself said that praise is the appointed consummation of joy. When we are extremely delighted in something, we praise it. And if the saving and sanctifying work of God is to redeem a people for the praise of His glory, then the people who are praising His glory must surely find Him to be the most delightful being in the universe. So surely God being glorified by us being slaves to righteousness is but a link in the chain towards our final glorification and the eternal praise and delight of the saints in heaven. Though I do not intend to say that us being slaves to righteousness is merely a means to an end, and has no value in itself. God is equally glorified by us being slaves to righteousness, but I would add that this is also a demonstration of us finding delight in Him over the fleeting pleasures of sin.

    I’ll wrap up with this verse, which I consider to be the praise of all the saints in heaven:
    You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16:11

  3. Thanks for the response and insight! Long but undoubtedly useful.

    I understand the points in which you are trying to make, especially in linking our satisfaction and feelings of joy to God’s glory and His provision of grace and mercy. Furthermore, you went on into explaining that certain emotions can be very real, and that righteousness (in dependence to God) leads to holiness – all in which i agree to wholeheartedly. Certainly, Christian Hedonism sounds rather interesting and somewhat logical, in how our welfare and God’s glory are interrelated (make note, i am in no way referring to earthly and material prosperity).

    However, in regards to this statement ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’. The word ‘most’ is an absolute one, which means that no other aspect can supersede the idea that our satisfaction is the superior factor. Going back to the first Christians under persecution after the Pentecost, it is clear that God was glorified in them when they were satisfied in God’s grace and mercy during then. But is it their satisfaction in God that makes God most glorified? Or would it rather be because of their faith in God’s promises – and in that faith, resort to obeying and living in holiness with a contrite heart via the Holy Spirit that makes God most glorified in them?

    Similarly, as you mentioned above, God would do anything so that we may ‘share his holiness’ even if that includes pain. While satisfaction may not occur as easily, surely our journey into discipleship will emphasize his glory more so in us?

    Anyway with much to think about personally, I will definitely make it a point to read ‘God’s Passion For His Glory’ to better understand this issue before making any personal convictions, if any.

    Thanks once again.

  4. Hmm. You are right in pointing out the implication of ‘most’.

    I would like to ask you 4 questions in regard to your statement, just so I understand where you are coming from better.

    1. What do you understand by faith? In particular, what is the quality of faith that glorifies God?

    2. If you say God is glorified by faith, what is He glorified by in heaven? On another note, was God glorified before the foundation of the world?

    3. Is faith a work of God’s grace or a work of our will?

    4. And are you familiar with TULIP? If so, what is your opinion (as briefly as possible) of the doctrine contained within the five points?

    Take your time to think through the above questions. Your questions strike at the very heart of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and I find it’s extremely valuable to spend time meditating on such things. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation so far 🙂

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