Lost in the Cosmos

French women do not have scales in their bathrooms; nor do they “get fat.”[1] Mireille Guiliano suggests “recasting” as the way to curtail calorie counts.  As most health professionals know, weight loss is not achieved through dieting but through proper diet and exercise.[2] Yet, Americans spend over $50 billion on weight loss products, equal to the gross national product of Ireland.[3] Not included in this number is the amount that Americans spend each year on health clubs and gyms, a staggering $18.5 billion in 2007.[4] In The West, can we discipline ourselves through external controls?

In The East, internal compulsion is key.  Yoga, for instance, is a practice which enhances physical activity with the union (the definition of “yoga”) of spiritual well being.  Inner harmony, internal peace, and happiness are thought to be achieved through focus on one’s inner self.  Meditation seeks to empty people of everything so as to attain serenity.  Focused on “becoming their real self,” people are encouraged to discipline their lives to what Eckart Tolle calls The Power of Now.[5] But can individuals monitor themselves?

Governmental discipline is always in question.  Across the country next week, concerned citizens are organizing “tea parties” to register their complaint against government taxation.  At the same time, politicians are using high executive salaries as a front, deflecting blame for personal lack of governmental oversight.  Representatives in both houses of Congress allowed unhealthy fiscal practices for campaign revenue.  But does regulation of an industry by those who profit from it create proper supervision?

Academics attempt to ensure accurate supervision through a practice called “tenure.”   After a number of years, publications, and performance reviews, faculty members seek long term connection to an institution.  Juried or peer-reviewed journal articles are another attempt by the academy to give parameters to research.  Dissertation committees make a student accountable to the directives of higher education.  But do objective standards of conduct driven by subjective professors guarantee “good” teachers?

Discipline in all the spheres of life is impacted because of rootlessness.  We have lost our center.  Untethered, we float, weightless, lost in the cosmos.  Gone is stability in what Francis Schaeffer called “true Truth.”[6] What I refer to my students as the “T” word—transcendence, an outside source of authority—is missing.  G. K. Chesterton argued in Orthodoxy that Christian theology is “the best root of energy and sound ethics.”[7] Henry Zylstra in an essay entitled “Thoughts for Teachers” trains his crosshairs on the target:

We have to get squared around towards God if the universe is to make sense.  Life is bewildering and meaningless without the fixed reference point.  And how were one to find his way in a life of eternity with a map of time except he have a polar point, a Bethlehem, an Incarnation?  Orientation: that is our work as teachers.  We must give our pupils their bearings in life by causing them to face towards the east.[8]

Christian doctrine[9] or theology[10] is necessary to refocus on The Cosmic Center: Christ.  In fact, one was thought to be “healthy” or “well” with the proper doctrine.[11] All other belief systems are dependent upon works for eternal life.  Both Western and Eastern views of living leave one empty inside or out.  Governmental and academic regulations, relying on fallen, subjective people, cannot produce an objective standard of reality.  But Christian doctrine teaches that The Gospel is wholly of grace, from God, “making a person well” from the inside, out.[12]

As I was teaching a group at Mahseh this week they wanted to know what I had learned through the PhD process.  “To be honest,” I began, “My first response, when I returned to my room, was to weep.  Sure, I was very tired.  But there was a sense that not only had a great weight been lifted, but also a great weight of responsibility had taken its place.”   Knowledge carries with it the reaction of humility.  It is true for me every time I study, read, write, think, or teach: I feel a deep wonder, an inexplicable honor to learn.  To me, this is the doctrine necessary for discipline:

By The Spirit’s work within me, I am grateful for this life and the opportunities of it.  I give thanks to Him who has made me for His created world.  I am satisfied with everything He has given to enjoy.  I am humbled by how much there is to know and how little I know of it.  And while He has crowned me with honor, all glory is due Him for His works and His work in me[13].

Were Walker Percy writing Lost in the Cosmos[14] today, I think he would agree with me.  We humans are a paltry bunch, attempting to transcend our slanted, individualistic views of ourselves.  Diet books and self-help books would make him laugh.  And Percy would skewer the pomposity of politicians and academics.  Discipline necessitates Christian doctrine.  We do not need bathroom scales.  We need to remove the scales from our eyes.

Struggling with weight gain all his life, Mark knows that weighty ideas matter more.  Mark throws God’s weight around (the definition of glorifying God) at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Mireille Guiliano. 2005. French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. (Knopf): 44.

[2] The noun “diet” has become a verb, giving undo responsibility for doing over being…

[3] http://www.bodypositive.com/wtloss.htm

[4] http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/03/business/fi-gyms3

[5] Eckhart Tolle. 1999. The Power of Now. (New World Library).  http://www.yoga.com/ydc/enlighten/enlighten_document.asp?ID=459&section=6&cat=0

[6] Francis A. Schaeffer. 1971. The God Who is There. (Reprint, IVP): 129.

[7] G. K. Chesterton. 1908. Orthodoxy.  (John Lane Company): 20.

[8] Henry Zylstra. 1958. “Thoughts for Teachers.” In Testament of Vision. (Eerdmans): 173.

[9] “Doctrine” normally refers to specific beliefs (e.g., Christian instruction on sin, salvation, or angels).  The New Testament most often uses the word didaskalia meaning “teaching” or “what is learned.”  The content of teaching can be positive (Romans 15:4) or negative (Colossians 2:22).

[10] “Theology” generally means the comprehensive overview of The Church’s teaching.  Theology encapsulates the whole of a belief system.  In the case of the Judeo-Christian viewpoint, everything is theological; all things must be viewed from Heaven’s perspective.

[11] 1 Timothy 1:10; cf. Matthew 6:22-23.  Medical terms were used as metaphors for the condition of one’s spirit or teaching by Greek and Roman writers (Keener, 609).  A suave or medication applied externally is the idea of 1 Timothy 1:8-10.  The word “sound” or “healthy” is from the Greek from whence comes our word “hygienic.”

[12] Notice in 1 Timothy 1:8-17 law has a good function in society, keeping wrongdoing at bay.  But “sound” or “healthy” doctrine (1:10) comes from God and is entrusted to The Church.  Notice how many times Paul makes a point of saying “this is not about me” in verses 12-17.  In fact, he ends with a hymn in verse 17, punctuating the truth.

[13] Deuteronomy 8:10-20; Job 26, 28; Psalm 8:5; 115:1; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; 1 Timothy 6:17.

[14] Walker Percy. 1983, 2000. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. (Reprint: MacMillan).

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