Archives For people pleasing

Encore edition. Originally posted April 30th, 2014

From Timothy Keller:

‘Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralysing and overwhelming’[i].

Easter break is over and term 2 of home-schooling is well into its first week.

I graduate in May and along with taking on the majority of the home-schooling, my goal this year has been to carefully read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

The aim of this was to stretch my undergraduate introduction to Karl Barth, with the hope of doing some post-grad study looking into political theology and the indispensable role of Christian theology in its critique of ideology.http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

So far I’ve read two, plus ‘Evangelical Theology’, a good portion of his commentary on ‘Romans’, some sermons and a range of material I needed to read in order to complete my degree.

I’m coming close to finishing the mammoth 884 pages of Barth’s Vol.1.2 of his Church Dogmatics. By far his biggest in the series, so I am thankful to be near its end and for having some time out recently to help me make progress towards finishing it.

There are many things to note in this volume.

Particularly Barth’s discussion about ‘The life of the children of God’, which involves a discourse on the command to love God and the command to love our neighbour (pp.388-454).

He points out that ‘scriptures such as John 4:24 & 1 John 4:8-16do not teach the god of love, but the love of God. The fact that God is love means not only that we ought to love but can and must love[ii]

Barth is quick to distinguish between love to God, love for neighbour and God’s love for us. For example: Love for neighbour can only be understood in light of our praise to God[iii].

‘The commandment of love to the neighbour is enclosed by that of love to God. It is contained in it. To that extent it is inferior to it.’[iv]

Barth’s distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour, asserts that, in loving our neighbour we must be careful not to deify our neighbour. I.e.: confuse the command to love our neighbour with our love for God and therefore fall into the mistake of making our neighbour god[v].

At this point in the reading, I began to wonder how idolatry (εἴδωλον/Eidalon: phantoms of the mind), false doctrine, and even poor exegesis are easily linked to “people pleasing”.

If, hypothetically speaking, I read the text of the Bible in the shadow of the arbitrary and hostile opinions of someone like Richard Dawkins, I am tempted to read the text with a blindfold rather than without one. Because I become a slave to his hostile opinion of it and an accessory to his false claim of lordship over it. However, if I let the text ‘speak as it is’[vi], I am more than likely going to be confronted by the text, and in Barth’s words, ‘have the text read me.’

This is because people-pleasing or any demand that others, or even God please me, stands to be challenged by the love and Lordship of God. Who in the Bible summons our response to His offer of relationship. Given freely in Jesus Christ, who is actual, present and active in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly loving people, will mean we place God first in any act of responsible love towards them. In other words in showing Christian love towards others, we are called to love God in a love towards them, that is empowered by the fact that He first loved us.

Barth writes:

‘We should love our neighbour only as the people we are; “as ourselves”. We cannot meet our neighbour in a self-invented mask of love. We can only venture, as the man or woman we are, to do what we are commanded in word, deed and attitude, relying entirely on the fact that the one who commands that we – we are without love-should love, will to it that what we do will be real loving’
To love God means to become what we already are, those who are loved by Him. To love means to choose God as the Lord, the One who is our Lord because He is our advocate and representative’[vii]

This echoes what Paul means when he wrote to the Ephesian church:

‘Obey…not by the way of eye service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…’ (6:5-7)

If people pleasing is a form of idolatry then to practice it is to

‘be a slave…it is motivated by something you feel you must have (or do?) to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself…It is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something other than God’[viii] (Timothy Keller, italics mine)

References:

[i] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton p.148

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics Hendrickson Publishers p.374

[iii] Ibid, p.406 ‘it is the praise of God which breaks out in love to the neighbour’

[iv] Ibid, p.411

[v] Ibid, p.405

[vi] Ibid, p.533 ‘let the texts speak to us as it stands’

[vii] Ibid, pp.389, 452 & 453

[viii] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton pp.24,166, 171

{Image sourced from:http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/}

See also, ‘Jesus is man for His fellows [neighbour/others], and therefore the image of God, in a way others cannot even approach, just as they cannot be for God in the [same] sense that He is [for God]…We are the victims of idealistic illusions if we deck out the humanity of man generally with features exclusive to that of the man Jesus. Man generally may mean and give a great deal to His fellows [neighbour/others], but he cannot be their Deliverer or Saviour, not even in a single instance.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Christology is not Anthropology, CD. 3:2:222). [Added, 20th May, 2018]

Blog Post 23rd May 2016

 

There’s a whole lotta smoke n’ mirrors commentary and appearances out there.

Most of which contains very little substance or decisive action. May we be set free from the cult of self. May our words, deeds and attitudes speak more about Jesus Christ; about the way to fullness of life, than the appearances or people pleasing that fuels likes, shares and comments; all things that ultimately only serve to excessively pad wallets and entertain egos.

As James puts it:

‘…the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.’ (James 1:25,ESV)

Allow no double talk.

                   Be real.

          Entertain no vain glory.

                   Buy real.

                  Confront all imitations.

                   Live real.

                           Apply gratitude and prayer.

                   Live well.


Image is my own.

I have been mulling over these words from Marguerite Shuster:

 ‘those who Jesus confronted most directly were as likely to want to kill him as to follow him. He seemed to not have the slightest inclination to make hearing and following him pleasant and easy…Truthfulness, in other words, is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’

(‘The truth and truthfulness’, 2008)

For Christians, Shuster’s words express the very essence of what it means to be a ‘good [faithful/trustworthy] Christian’ instead of a ‘nice Christian’ (Paul Coughlin, 2005).As a consequence, the misappropriation of these words  becomes one of the causes of the double mindedness, which drives our anxiety fuelled obsession with people pleasing.

My developing thesis is that in todays post-modern society we seem accustomed to using the words ‘nice’ and ‘good [faithful/trustworthy]’ interchangeably. For example:  western society tends to value appearance and reputation, over truth and substance of character. In other words, those who appear to be nice are also good. Therefore the assumption is that appearance surrounding a persons reputation negates the need for a reasoned assessment of their character .

The following story illustrates the point that ‘good nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it’ (Charles Spurgeon):

”An old man and his young son were driving a donkey before them to the next market to sell. ‘Why have you no more wit’, says one to the man upon the way, ‘than you and your son trudge it on foot, and let the donkey go light?’

So the old man set his son upon the donkey and continued himself on foot. ‘Why, sir’, says another after this, to the boy, ‘you lazy rogue, must you ride, and let you old father go on foot?’

The old man upon this took down his son, and got up himself. ‘Do you see,’ says a third, ‘how lazy old knave rides himself, and the poor young fellow has much ado to creep after him?’

The father, upon hearing this, took up his son behind him. The next person they met asked the old man whether the donkey was his own or not. He said, ‘yes’. ‘There’s a little sign on it’, says another, ‘by loading him thus.’

‘Well,’ says the old man himself, ‘and what am I to do now? For I am laughed at, if either the donkey be empty, or if one of us rides, or both;’ and so he came to the conclusion to bind the donkey’s legs together with a cord, and they tried to carry him to market with a pole upon each of their shoulders.

This was sport to everybody that saw it, inasmuch that the old man in great wrath threw down the donkey into a river, and so went his way home again. The good man, in fine , was willing to please anybody, and lost his donkey in the process” (Spurgeon, ‘The complete John Ploughman’)

IMG_20130711_110610_20130711111046627After sharing this short story Spurgeon notes:

‘The way of pleasing man is hard, but blessed are they who please God.Put your hand quickly to your hat, for that is courtesy; but don’t bow your head at every man or woman’s bidding, for that is slavery…A person is not free if they are afraid to think for themselves, for if our thoughts are in bonds we are not free…‘.

We are left with this reminder: ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach…but let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind…a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways’ (James 1:8)

In some respects the father’s blind acquiescence (neo-tolerance) and his son’s inability to challenge the father’s lack of restraint in pleasing people, led both of them away from questioning the wisdom behind what they were accepting. As a result they entertained the opinions of others and negated the very purpose of their journey.

Appearing to be nice or good does not equate to the actuality of being faithful and trustworthy. Accommodation (blind tolerance), lack of restraint and making decisions just to keep people happy informs part of Jean Bethke Elshstain’s politically charged statement:

‘I read the palpable despair and violence as dark signs of the times, warnings that democracy may not be up to the task of satisfying the yearnings it unleashes for freedom and fairness, and equality’.

What Elshtain and Spurgeon are alluding to is the absence of the dialectical qualifier. One which says to the current state of Western democracy: that equality, fairness and freedom cannot exist in a truly democratic society when the people give unquestioning loyalty to the state, or the fashionable ideology provoked by academia, which promises much and delivers little.

Hedonism cannot be the deciding factor in political policy. A people pleasing plebiscite that caves in to the demands for unrestrained freedom, does not understand either slavery nor freedom. By it democracy falls and quickly becomes ‘mob rule’. Like the donkey in a ditch it will lay dormant, denied, despairing and desperate for rescue. Those who choose to people please, pledge allegiance to an empty ideology advanced by a lost and wandering activism. An activism which clings to historically destructive theories which say that humanity will be free when it can liberate itself from the life-giving source of our freedom.

As gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 said:

‘When we don’t apply a moral criteria to politics, we mix good and evil, right and wrong. Therefore we make space for the triumph of absolute evil in the world’ (Harvard address)

The result is a persecution of those who respond in a thinking and faithful way to the free God. They are limited and are placed into bondage to a regime that is far from a reasoned, mature democratically elected representative of the people . This consequence is threefold. Firstly, in seeking equality, the lost and wandering activism creates inequality. Secondly, in seeking fairness they subject people to their disorientated view of tolerance. Lastly, by arguing that true freedom means to allow, and act on such a view, is to forget that any freedom absent of self-restraint takes for granted the source of human freedom and ignores it’s ‘commanded orientation’ (Karl Barth).

446px-The_Torment_of_Saint_Anthony_(Michelangelo)

Source: Michelangelo, Torment of Saint Anthony

Sources:

Elshtain, J.B Democracy on Re-trial
Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? critical reflections and hopeful possibilities (particularly chapter three) Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids Michigan U.S.A
Shuster, M. 2008 Truth and truthfulness in Performance in preaching Childers & Schmidt, Baker Academic
Solzhenitsyn, A. 1978 A world split apart Harvard sourced from Columbia.edu
Spurgeon, C.H.  2007 The complete John Ploughman Christian Focus publications