Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Groundhog Day

I would like to write again about Groundhog Day. I have been watching it this evening once again (actually I told my wife tonight that I thought someone could never watch Groundhog Day once) The meaning of a man is in his courting of his love, which he wishes to be eternal, but which is not, is probably what makes this a guy film, and that may explain why I keep returning to it. I am not sure about that analysis at all- but you tell me why I am so fascinated with it. It does refer to time change which is an awesome attraction to humans, but it's main theme is trying just once to get it right and you cannot. Of course the film eventually has its star getting it right, but in real life, in our hearts, we know that we could never do that.
     “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered?” asks Bill Murray. That has to be the quintessential question for modern man. What poignant words to express our lives apart from their meaning that our Lord gave us? Aren’t we all dunderheads, repeating over and over again the same stupid things that make up our inane days? What if we could but live the day again (and again)?
     I just came off of a wonderful day with children. I am a fourth grade teacher who gives children an extra hour before school to learn web page building. Many of the children who are coming this year have younger siblings who come along; voila! I am a babysitter too. This morning I happened to feel especially exuberant (that does happen to an older fellow less and less often), and played with the younger children, lifting them into the air and letting them down suddenly. They swamped me and begged for more; that is the problem always with young ones- they have so much more energy than I do. Of course I do remember running out of energy with my young nephews when I was a mere twenty. What chance do I have now?
     But still during that day I had things wrong which I thought, which I wished I could think differently about. I had things I might have said better, or compliment that I might have expressed to put my peers at ease. Wouldn’t it be nice to relive the day so that I could get those things right? Wrong!
     If I had all of eternity to relive a day, I could not live it perfectly no matter how hard I tried. This is the meaning of what Calvin calls total depravity. Though he defines it in a way that I could never ever agree with, I do believe in my own definition of total depravity. Man can never ever be right in the total sense. At the best he can be right only erratically- most of the time even at the best of times I would get only a B minus. Most of the time I, of course, cruise in the “less than B minus category.” In the eyes of God we are inept, and less than the perfect which he desired us to be. We can never ever reach the standards which Christ has dared us to live in: “Be thou perfect, as even the Son of Man is perfect.”
     Yes, I am aware that the word perfect might have been better translated, or at least as accurately translated, complete. But, in my opinion, that begs the question. We cannot in any sense be complete. We are stuck with being incomplete, just vestiges of what we should be, specters of what God has called us to be. That is total depravity. It does not mean, as Calvin insists, that there is nothing good in us. Rather it means that we can never ever be finally good; rather we are condemned to our random goodness (and general badness) - and that only when we are at our best. That is total, complete depravity. We are irredeemably lost apart from the grace of Christ.
     But let me talk about what it does not mean; and what we as Christians give the short shrift to our testimony about Christ because of our insistence on a poor doctrine. I think this is one of the dangers of Calvinism, and I want to explain why it does go way too far. It does not mean that a mother’s love for her child is evil. It does not mean that a brother cannot express love to his brother in a good way. It certainly does not mean that a friend cannot give the greatest goodness in giving his life for his friend. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he should give his life for his friend.” Was Paul a liar in saying this? Nay, let it never be said! Rather let us assume that there is something in man, created in the image of God, which reflects the creator who made us, however dimly.
     I am aware of Lewis and The Great Divorce. In that very great book, Lewis does us a great service by letting us know about how selfish a mother’s love might become; still in its conception and common practice who would ever say it is an evil thing? That a good thing might become utterly defiled Lewis poignantly shows- what he is not attempting to show is that there might be a good thing that is done in man apart from God’s doing it. Are we to believe that every man who gives his life for his friend, every mother who loves her child, and every brother who shows brotherly love is only showing what God empowers them to show? I think not.
     Rather the holistic view of depravity is one that I believe. Man, created in the image of God, is able to feebly replicate the goodness of his God in good deeds, but he is never able to share in the goodness of God because of sin. That sin has forever sold him to evil, which must always predominant apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us not then look forward to living one day over and over again forever; let us do look forward to a day without end which we will live forever at the feet of Christ.

4 comments:

David Porta said...

.

Pat sez: "total depravity. It does not mean, as Calvin insists, that there is nothing good in us."

I dunno what Calvin sez, but I have no issue with that take.

The Bible makes it pretty clear that there are two standards: Man's standard, and God's standard.

By Man's standard, there is plenty of good in us. He pays his taxes, takes care of his family, gives to charity: a righteous man.

By God's standard, none. Break even the smallest part of the Law, you have broken the whole Law. Your guilt is total, your righteous as filthy rags.

Salvation has to do not with man's standard, but with God's standard. Hence Calvin's take, as per Pat.

THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF "JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS"
Romans 4:2
If, in fact, Abraham *WAS* justified by works, he *had* something to boast about ... but not before God.

Mr. D said...

David,
I like the way you state that! I agree totally; I just think I was trying to make a different point. It is not Calvin I object to so much- rather it is his degree. Almost none of his five points could I see carried to absolute extreme. I think of Moody, when facing his strict ordination committee and being asked what he thought of Calvin, answered: "I know Jesus. I know Paul. But Calvin I do not know"
Pat

Danielle said...

"But let me talk about what it does not mean; and what we as Christians give the short shrift to our testimony about Christ because of our insistence on a poor doctrine. I think this is one of the dangers of Calvinism, and I want to explain why it does go way too far. It does not mean that a mother’s love for her child is evil. It does not mean that a brother cannot express love to his brother in a good way. It certainly does not mean that a friend cannot give the greatest goodness in giving his life for his friend. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he should give his life for his friend.” Was Paul a liar in saying this? Nay, let it never be said! Rather let us assume that there is something in man, created in the image of God, which reflects the creator who made us, however dimly."

A modern reformed thinker would completely agree with you. Then he would say that the "something in man" is the very reflection of God that you mention, the "seed of logos," and that is what enables man to do good. Thus every goodness is attributible to God. We are good to the limited degree that we are because we are in His image.

Mr. D said...

Danielle,
I do not disagree with that thought; just the excesses of Calvinism. I have always argued for the probability of something good being in man, however small and ignoble, that God saw as worth redeeming. This very probably would have something to do with being created in His image.
Dad