Broken beauty in pieces (Part 1)February 14, 2018
What do you think, feel and do when you see something beautiful?
One of the things I find beautiful in nature are mountains and clouds—yes, the clouds that hang in the sky. The sight of gigantic mountains in their various shapes and forms cause a thrill in my bones as though to shutter them. Research indicates that an average cloud you normally see on a sunny day (that nice, white fluffy cloud) can weigh as much as 500 000 kg (which could be as many as 125 African Elephants). It’s so small but it weighs so big. Whenever I see them in the evening breeze I feel like ice, cold but slowly melting at the radiance of their beauty. Glory. As for you, what causes your jaws to drop? Stop and think about it.
This is a tough article to write. One reason is that there are some Christians who emphasise thinking. There are some who emphasise affections. And there are also those who emphasise doing. But these three aspects of the Christian life are not disconnected from one another. They should be in sync. They’re deeply connected and individually support each other. I agree with Thabiti Anyabwile who once said,
“The fullest expression of Christian living is a combination of head, heart, and hands. It involves receiving truth through the head, which ignites new affections in the heart and flows out in action through the hands.”
Put another way, the fullest expression of Christian living is a combination of our thinking, affections and doing. Our thinking should be shaped by the truth in such a way that creates new affections, feelings and emotions which then outflows in God-glorifying actions. But how’s that even possible? How can we become Christians who are fully functioning properly when it comes to our thinking, affections and doing?
The truth is that sin has affected us. That’s actually an understatement. Let me say it another way that I hope will capture the state of our desperation. Sin has totally affected (and continues to affect) our thinking, affections, and doing of things. This is so deep and serious that “we are all infected and impure with sin” (Isaiah 64:6, NLT). All of our good deeds are infected with sin. Our thoughts aren’t always pure. Our affections aren’t always pure. Our doing of things isn’t always pure—all of our being has been affected to the core. Beauty has been broken into pieces.
“Just because you think something, it doesn’t mean that it’s true or correct.” tweet
Here’s a brief look at how all of our being is affected.
Our heads are big and small
The first thing to note is that we’ve small heads. By that I mean, naturally, we feel that just because we think something, then it’s true. This can be destructive since it affects our feelings and emotions (e.g. anxiety) and compels us to actions (e.g. isolating yourself). However, just because you think something, it doesn’t mean that it’s true or correct.
Most of us come up with assumptions just because we believe our thoughts and thinking. But our minds are broken by sin. This means we shouldn’t simply base our feelings and actions on what we, personally, think is right.
There’s a puzzling narrative unfolding in Genesis. Just before God instructs Noah to build an ark to shelter himself, his family and the couples of all animal species from the flood, we see God grieving over the wickedness of mankind.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
As though re-creating the earth, God wipes out every living thing except those in the ark. But man’s depravity is still there. Noah’s family which survived the flood and emerged from the ark still had twisted heads: “…for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). That’s a big statement. The serpent is not physically there to deceive the man, woman or their offspring, but we read that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. That’s total depravity. Sin has deeply taken root in mankind’s heart.
This narrative in Genesis is not a mistake—it’s important to notice that. It gives us a glimpse of what apostle Paul means when he says, “…sin came into the world through one man [that is Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The implication is that just because something is in your head, it doesn’t mean it is right.
The second thing to note when it comes to our thinking is that we can have big empty heads. By this I mean we can have all the right information in our heads but if it doesn’t create positive affections for God, then your head is big but empty. An example can easily be found in the Gospels. Jesus told the crowds and his disciples that “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). The scribes and Pharisees knew the Law. They had Scripture in their heads. But their affections and actions were not shaped by their heads—they had big empty heads.
With the broader Israel in context, apostle Paul says of them: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge… For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:2, 4). This means their hearts and hands (affections and doing) were not according to the true knowledge about Christ. Their heads were filled with the truth about God. They knew the facts and the details. But they missed Jesus Christ who is the apex of the Law of God. They had affections for God, but not according to truth.
What we learn from the Scribes and Pharisees is big. Our affections for God should be according to truth. We shouldn’t create a God in our heads that is not the true God of the Bible revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ. This means we have to pursue truth. Our heads should be big but not empty. Our thinking should be informed by the true knowledge about God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We don’t want heresy, blasphemy or false teaching—we should protect ourselves from error by inflating our heads with the truth. But all the big heads we get should rightly serve our affections for God which outflows in actions that are honouring to him.
“All the big heads we get should rightly serve our affections for God which outflows in actions that are honouring to him.” tweet
John Piper summarises the point of this article well when he says,
“Right thinking about God exists for the sake of right feelings for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing. Doctrine exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for affection for God. The head is meant to serve the heart. Knowing the truth is the basis of admiring the truth. Both thinking and feeling are essential.”
Due to the limited publication space, this article continues in Part 2 through Part 5, addressing a wide range of thoughts on how to pursue and restore the broken beauty of our thinking, affections and doing, for the glory of God.