Saturday, August 27, 2005

The importance of being…Cool

There’s a thought-provoking social phenomenon I’ve observed in the church and out—and it belongs out of the church. If there’s one thing that seems to be highly valued among many people I know (it’s according to a strange, cultural rather than Christian value system, applied by teens and adults alike), it’s that a person is cool. I doubt that many could argue this assertion with any conviction. And what is considered cool in our culture? It’s hard to fully define, but a “cool” person is one with a number of the more highly valued traits; maybe not all, but most of them in one package. “Cool” seems to usually be a combination of most of the following: funny; fun-loving; dressing to fit in; going to the right school; working at the right job; able to get together freely with others; able to view movies without overly much constraint; love of shopping and computer games; having a family of some social standing; having talent; being good-looking. We sometimes fail to place value on understanding of the Bible, and wise application in one’s life; loving God; desire for discipleship; a desire to love and serve others; an eternal view of life goals.

What would the biblical model of “cool” be? I can’t say this is my original thought but it’s one I heard about 12 years ago and it has impacted my view to this day: the biblical model would be the person who models: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control. Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:23). That means that it would be far from God’s desire to put limits on those traits. You can exercise them to your fullest capacity and it’s only good...or rather, excellent.

A strange word picture comes to my mind every time I read this verse. I think it aptly illustrates the verse “against such things there is no law.” It reminds me of having been on Weight Watchers years ago (when I had the time to follow that program). I was allowed all the vegetables and fruit I want, but not the sugar, starch or fat—at first it sounded a bit confining, until I decided to go for the gusto on the vegetables. I ate a huge spinach salad every day for lunch, with no dressing. I ate and ate vegetables and fruit, and for the most part ignored the other aspects of the diet for the sake of simplicity. Before long I started feeling great. I had all four of my wisdom teeth out one day, and the packings started coming out way earlier than they were supposed to. I called the doctor; he had me come in to see what was happening. He was astonished. “You’re healing at twice the regular rate. What have you been doing?” I didn’t think at the time to connect it with my diet, but later I knew this was the only explanation. One day I went to a party at my brother’s house, and a woman there asked me, “What do you do to make your eyes look like that?” And again all I could figure was that it had to be the vegetables. Please don’t ask me why I didn’t keep up that diet. I don’t know except doing the food preparation seemed to take a lot of time that I lack these days. Look at me and you'll know I haven’t been on it for ages. (Sigh.)

The same is true of the fruit of the Spirit. Against such thing there is no law. You can be as loving as you want (in the godly way of course); you can have joy like a fountain, peace like a river, patience like…well, you live out the fruit in the extreme. Rather than being skinnier, more muscular, faster-healing, sparkly-eyed, you have a great witness, you bear lots of fruit, you cause others to notice God’s greatness through you. Everyone knows there’s something going on in you. And if you stop, there goes that remarkable essence—it’s gone. Showing all the fruit of the Spirit is actually the most extremely cool thing there is, as far as God is concerned. The first mentioned is love because it sums up the others. It’s the fulfillment of the law because it does no wrong to a neighbor (Rom 13:10)—and these thoughts are connected. I say them in opposite order to emphasize that connection.

Living according to the confinements of biblical advice can sound unwelcoming, duty-filled, unrewarding—but quite the opposite is true! His commandments and exhortations are given in love, for our protection and our good; we are to value the traits that are the fruit of the Spirit, and see godliness in them; to emulate them, encourage them, seek new ways to exhibit them in our own lives. It pleases God, it glorifies Him. It’s of eternal value. And it’s definitely the coolest thing on the planet.