What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Four Questions that Drive All of Our Lives

So the reality is that Americans aren't very generous. We don't give away much of our money. And two factors that we tend to think should move us more towards the generous end of things don't do so at all.

Rich people give away less money than non-rich people do, speaking in percentages. And generally speaking, religious people don't give away any more of their money than non-religious people.

There's lots of hand-wringing about this in conservative evangelical circles, even though we do a little better than the broader religious world in terms of our giving.

In that aforementioned evangelical-Christian world, coaching and training people in how to budget their money is big business. This is really good and helpful. We need to know how to handle our money so that we honor God with all of it--in what we give away and in what we do with the rest of it.

But every single one of us make decisions based ultimately on the four key questions of life. Our lives run on the rails of how we answer these four questions:

1. Who (or what) is God?

Does he/she/it even exist? Does he have a particular nature? Is he happy or perpetually ticked? Is he near or far? Is God in the earth or wind or trees or us or is God outside or over those things somehow?

2. What does God do?

If God exists, is he/she/it active or passive? Is he a judge? Ruler? Redeemer? Apathetic? Does he wind it all up and let it go or is he involved and moving around the furniture? The world is messed up (so we think) so what is God doing about it--or maybe he can't do anything about it even if he'd like to?

3. Who am I/are we?

Am I a god? Am I alone or watched over and provided for? Am I lost or found? Am I in need of a little improvement or death and resurrection? Am I basically good or basically bad? Am I guilty or innocent? Is my identity found in my geography, resume, family, social circle, number of Facebook friends, GPA, current title and/or office size?

4. What should I/we do?

Obey our thirst? Follow the rules? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? Get good grades? Work hard? Hoard whatever we can get or give to the poor? Vote Democrat, Republican, or abstain altogether? Does anything we do matter at all? Or on the other hand, does what we do get weighed on some cosmic scale at the end and dictate our fate--to be re-incarnated as a slug or welcomed into some kind of heaven?

Okay, so there's the Big Four questions. They are the most important questions we can ask and they matter in this order--God's character first, God's activity second, our identity third, our activity fourth.

It is worth noting that when we bother at all with these questions consciously we are generally obsessed with question number four. And that matters, but it matters the least. To get the answer to question four (what do I do?) without knowing the answers to questions one through three would leave us with simple, mindless activity.

The Scriptures are obsessed with question one--they are obsessed with the nature of God. We are obsessed with ourselves. Therefore, our lives are thin on joy and peace and are rife with anxiety and fear.

And while all of that sounds kind of theoretical, it has everything to do with everything--but let's circle back to the issue of our money.

If I get the best budgeting training that money can buy, but I fundamentally think that the character of God is distant and that it is up to me to make my way in the world, what will I do with my money? Am I going to be generous and give it away? Nyet. I will hoard it, just like everyone else.

Our lack of generosity is a theological problem as much or more so than it is a budgeting problem. Not hating on good budgeting, just saying that it's not the core issue for most of us.

These four questions plays out every day in thousands of ways. How do you study for your exams? How do you relate to your kids or your spouse or your annoying neighbors? What are the fears you carry? What are you anxious about? What are you hoping for? What are the dreams that you carry around? What bitterness and un-forgiveness or disappointment plagues you?

All of this can be traced back to how we answer those four key questions. And it all happens most often beneath the surface. So it might be worth starting to dig around down there--what are your answers to those four questions? And how does that impact your life...every day?

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