Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Christian Calling(s)

Too often when Christians hear the word “calling” they assume it to be synonymous with occupation. In fact, I think the idea of calling carries the concept of man’s lifetime service and subordination to God. As a husband, father of three young boys, member of a community, disciple of Jesus, etc., I wear a number of hats and have various sundry callings or purposes that God has laid before me.

Service to God, however, primarily implies service to men. Though the whole creation belongs to the Lord (Ex. 19:5) we are the stewards of His creation (Gen. 1:26-28). Christians occasionally exhibit Gnostic and Platonic tendencies when they over-spiritualize the faith. Spirituality divorced from the earthy practicalities of Scripture is, in fact, an enemy of true Christianity.

Having a wife and three children under age five presents a number of challenges and certainly creates constraints on my time. Yet what grander purpose could God have for my life than living in covenant under His authority with the beautiful woman he has given to me? Indeed, when God through the Apostle Paul described the glorious mystery of the relationship between Christ and His people, He used the metaphor of marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Paul also used that opportunity to provide imperative commands to husbands and wives. Wives, through submitting to and honoring their husbands reflect God’s purpose for His people. Likewise, husbands become one flesh with their wives, and in loving their wives reflect Christ’s love for His people. In short, my calling and purpose is to love my wife.

Likewise, raising children is a Godly and honorable calling. In Malachi, we read, “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring.”

Writing when Christians looked to Scripture rather than the NY Times bestseller list to find life’s purpose, Martin Luther wrote about the purpose of marriage:

The purpose of marriage is not to have pleasure and to be idle but to procreate and bring up children, to support a household. Those who have no love for children are swine, stocks, and logs unworthy of being called men or women; for they despise the blessings of God, the Creator and Author of marriage.

Frequently, marriage and child-rearing are difficult tasks that appear distasteful in the eyes of foolish men. But we would have an entirely different view of the matter if we looked at things through God’s eyes instead, and sought to glorify and honor Him in all things. To quote Luther again:

Our natural reason looks at marriage and turns up its nose and says, "Alas! Must I rock the baby? Wash its diapers? Make its bed? Smell its stench? Stay at nights with it? Take care of it when it cries? Heal its rashes and sores? And on top of that care for my spouse, provide labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that? Do this and do that? And endure this and endure that? Why should I make such a prisoner of myself?”

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful and despised duties in the spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.
Its says, "O God, I confess I am not worthy to rock that little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of a child and its mother. How is it that I without any merit have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? Oh, how gladly will I do so. Though the duty should be even more insignificant and despised, neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor will distress me for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”

Scripture says that children are a blessing (Ps. 127:3-5) from God, and that as parents we must train (Eph. 6:4), correct (Prov. 29:15), and instruct them (Deut. 6:1-9) in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

The education of children is also a noble calling, and it is a parental calling. Doug Wilson says that as parents we are responsible for what our children learn whether we teach it to them or not. In an age where parents hand their children to the state and church for instruction, such a warning should be frightening. Moreover, the education of which I speak is not merely religious instruction. There is no such thing as neutral or secular education. Either it is grounded in the fear of the Lord or it is atheistic (anti-theistic). Consider the words of God through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD , the God of your fathers, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The law and word of God are comprehensive in scope and as parents we are called to teach our children theology, science, history, economics, politics and all other disciplines from the perspective of God’s Word, always keeping in mind that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

I thank God that in His grace He allows me to participate in His Kingdom, to be His servant, to work for the fulfillment of His purposes. I'm grateful to my Father for the knowledge that crunching numbers is not the entirety of my calling, but that in serving others--particularly my family--I serve Him and participate in greatest of callings.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Darrell,

An interesting question, this idea of a calling. I'm not at all sure that one can separate "call", as it were, from the larger conception of giftedness which is cruciform. The Christian life is, in any case and in all respects, undergirded by the Son; it is Jesus that is proto-typically the actor here. We have but a participation in Him and He is before the fact. Understood in this way, there is never first a call and, subsequently, a response, there is simply the Son. Christ is the living God, dynamic, and, therefore, always acting in love. We do best to seek Him out where He is, to look beyond the obvious to the form underneath and to join Him in whatever it may be that He is already doing, moment to moment. In a phrase, we are first, ontologically, sons in the Son and only derivatively husbands, fathers, etc. The order of these things counts enormously.

Your In The Holy Trinity,

John Lowell

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello John,

I am not understanding what it is you mean by "giftedness" being "cruciform". Perhaps you could define these terms. Further to that one may ask whether there is ever a calling or is the term "calling" meaningless. It seems to me that Jesus called and expected a response. Furthermore the instances where the request to follow, i.e. where the response is expected, gifting is not mentioned. Ontology or "what we are" should never be an excuse for ignoring the existential issues of position ( husband, wife, father, employer, employee) or service for which we are equipped. Indeed it is doubtful that we will be able or allowed to serve in ways for which we are not equipped. Here it is important to remember that we will not be judged for what we are but for what we do. Now, it is true that what we are may stand in the road of what we need to do. If so we are to confess not what we are but how we have failed(that we have sinned rather than our being a sinner). Upon confession we are promised forgiveness,for what we have or have not done, and the removal of guilt. We will only be conscious of Jesus or who he is and more importantly that we are confident of our safe relationship with the Father through him. This confidence is the essence of faith. Of course obedience needs to follow from moment to moment. However the character or substance of that obedience is conditioned by my various callings. The obedience of a father is different from that of a mother and different from that of a child. Indeed order does count enormously - a fact that is upheld and preserved by the order and distinctions that exist in the Holy Trinity.

Bruce Nicoll

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Bruce Nichol!

No better questions could be raised than these:

1."I am not understanding what it is you mean by "giftedness" being "cruciform". Perhaps you could define these terms."

2."Further to that one may ask whether there is ever a calling or is the term "calling" meaningless."

There are a couple of other points raised by your comment that I'd like to address as well in a follow-up. I hope you'll find my doing that acceptable.

Giftedness is cruciform because the gift itself is the Son and, in the history of salvation, the Son is crucified. The Son is entirely the gift of the Father, receiving His being from Him and possesing everything that is the Father except Fatherhood. It is the Son's pleasure to do the will of the Father which is to pour Himself out for the world. The Christian life consists in a participation in the Person of the Son, nothing more or less. This form of the Son, as it were, contexualizes everything in creation and is the very truth at the base of things. We start from here.

With the above in mind, in one sense at least, the whole notion of a calling is, in fact, meaningless. We have one call: To participate in the Son as He pours Himself out for the world. He is this pouring out, this relatedness, if you will, and we share in Him as sons in the Son, made personal ourselves, analogically, by our so sharing.

A "call", of necessity, it seems to me, is a speculative matter. We have knowledge of God only after the fact. In giving knowledge of Himself, God gives grace and in giving grace, God gives Himself. One's knowledge of God is the very presence of God but this knowledge is never comprehensive, giving access to the totality, it is always partial, a kind of snippet. Of necessity, therefore, one becomes suspicious of the often heard claims of a call made by so many. A call is always tentative and nothing more than an invitation, a here-and-now-being-lured in a way. One knows if one has been "called" after the fact and then only hopefully. At best we can say that we suspect that we've
been called and will act in that judgment positively, awaiting a final verdict on the Last Day. Humility is the key here and, perhaps, even constitutive.

I'll follow with more a bit later.

Yours In Christ,

John Lowell

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Again Bruce!

I'd like to take up an additional question posed by your earlier comment which, owing to time constraints, I was unable to address earlier today. I certainly hope in any event that my enlarging upon the comments made in my first post was helpful to you.

While you do not say so explicitly, one senses from your comments a perception that being and doing are somehow mutually exclusive and that you viewed my remarks as a kind of advocacy of being over doing, of passivity to action. If I've understood you properly - and the point is hardly to set up strawmen here - I would hasten to say that the whole vision expressed has nothing whatsoever to do with such an idea. The reference to ontology was simply to point out the priority of divine being over created being, that it is first in the order so to speak.

You do mention quite interestingly, however, Jesus' call to us and the need for a concrete response. What is important about His call it seems to me is that we're asked to join Him precisely where He is, to pick up our cross and to follow Him. I can't at the moment recall any specific exhortation for us to become husbands and wives. These states in any event are purely derivative, related to the primordial call in a way perhaps not unlike substance and accident. And, of course, the confidence of faith is itself derived: From that all-surpassing faith of the Son in the Father, and in the Son's Resurrection. I think it's enough to understand "call" in this way.

Yours In The Holy Trinity,

John Lowell

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear John

I think Jesus' observation that if you are for me you are not against me seems appropo although I am not sure that it advances the debate. In other words I do not think that I can disagree with you. The conception of Jesus as an ontological big sea, that I find myself in i.e. if I am a metaphorical little sea, seems beyond the possibility of distinction or contention. However I do make a distinction between being and doing. And here once again we are in agreement. The fact of the incarnation establishes all facts and all choices because the incarnation is Jesus a man who lived in a specific time and place. From a philosophical perspective we could speak of the scandal of the particular and we would be right although philosophical terms as representative of ideas may swerve us wide of the reality of Jesus before and after the fact. Jesus as the God-man is not a paradigm of the individual but was an actual individual with an individual mother, stepfather and brothers and sisters. As such the knowledge of God is no more after the fact than the knowledge of any other individual. Whether the knowledge is partial or complete is immaterial. Again I am not backing into the existential "foo fa" of encounter. Knowledge is always direct and immediate. To say otherwise is to beg the question of utter skepticism or the conundrum that I can't know that I can't know . Jesus is the mediator not of an epistomological or ontological divide between God and man. He is the mediator of the moral divide. Atonement brings moral unity i.e. love. As for knowing or not knowing the being of God that is easy. He is ever present and not hiding. Rather he is in whom we move and have our being. He is ever immediate and available. It is human beings and other isolate particulars that present an ongoing difficulty. Again because Jesus is never less than an individual our knowing him is dependent upon his pouring out his spirit into our lives. Only then is the possibility of the universal knowledge of the person of Jesus possible. Again through this mystery of the outpouring of his Spirit we are aquainted personally with the person Jesus who asks us to take up our cross and other things as well - such as to love wife , teach and admonish children and to devote ourselves to the instruction of the Apostles(reading and obeying scripture). Thus whatever we are "called" to do is never meaningless. Indeed though it may all dovetail into a generic and universal calling to "sonship" as well as to "take up our cross", the generic call may be subverted by a decision not to do as we are told. Unlike Jonah we would not be wise to presume upon gastric rejection to restore ontological priority. The "crucible " is in the details because thankfully the incarnation was reality i.e. part and parcel in the swirl of things that change and not the world of ideality where the way Jesus broke the bread -a signature gesture- is only "derivative".

Yours in Christ

Bruce Nicoll

4:13 AM  

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