Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).
Here we find Joshua, an old man who has completed the work the LORD had given him to do, saying his final words to Israel, preparing them to enter the Promised Land without him. He leaves Israel with one charge as they settle down into the land that the LORD has given them. They must remember to love the Lord. If they do so, they will live in blessing. If they do not, but follow the gods of the peoples of the land, then they will be driven out.
Joshua’s words are very precise here: Carefully guard your souls, to love the LORD your God (Joshua 23:11, my trans.). He might have simply said “Love the LORD your God,” as is commanded elsewhere (e.g. Deut 6:4). But the precision with which Joshua speaks is important. If we are to love the Lord (which means with all our hearts, souls, and strength), then we must pay careful attention to ourselves. Loving God does not just happen, particularly as Israel lives in a world where the peoples and the gods of the peoples will compete for Israel’s affections. Rather, loving God will require that Israel diligently guard their affections, lest they drift from him.
Loving God always requires careful attention and effort, for the number of things that would drain our love for God are legion. If we remember that loving God requires our careful attention, we won’t be so surprised at “dry times” in which we find ourselves, times which, if we allow them to persist, may well lead to sin, to worshipping the gods of the world in which we live and which compete for our affections. If we remember that loving God requires our careful attention, we will be better prepared to deal with those times if and when they come.
So they answered Jesus, “We do not know” (Mark 11:33).
Sometimes we don’t know things because we don’t know them. Sometimes we don’t know things because we don’t want to know them. Sometimes we trifle with the things that we should take most seriously.
The Pharisees ask Jesus “by what authority are you doing these things”—things like ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (implicitly declaring he is a king), or driving moneychangers out the temple. Jesus agrees to tell them, if they will answer a simple question. He asks them if John the Baptist is a prophet from God. Good question. The Pharisees have two options. They can say no, in which case they will have a problem with the people who believe John, or they can say yes, setting themselves up to have to explain why then they don’t believe what John said about Jesus. So they say they don’t know. In so doing, they reveal that they are fundamentally unserious. They don’t really want to know the answer to their own question. They don’t really want to know by what authority Jesus does these things. They just want to be rid of him. In other words, they have already decided.
Let’s pose a different question. Is a fetus a child?
One would suppose that, given that pervasive and legal practice of abortion on demand in our country for over 40 years, we would require an answer to that question, lest we sanction the killing of children. Not so. In fact, we have decided that the question doesn’t matter. Two examples. Confronted with the question, the Supreme Court in Roe v Wade declared,
We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
Embedded in this scholarly and modest-sounding language is a plain answer: “we don’t know!” Following suit, when asked a question concerning when an unborn child is granted human rights, our president replied that such knowledge was “above my pay grade.” In other words, “I don’t know!”
Of course, the question of whether a fetus is a child gives us two options as well. A “no” answer runs against science and common sense, and would certainly provoke the public and make plain the intent of those who promote abortion. A “yes” answer, well… that would shut down the whole operation. Better to avoid both. “We don’t know” works better.
Interesting times we live in. We expect a man backing out of his driveway to look behind him to make sure there are no children playing behind the car, and may charge him with homicide if he does not. We expect him to know. We demand certainty from policemen and soldiers that a potential criminal or enemy poses “hostile intent” before they are allowed to engage with force. Yet we demand no certainty that the 1.2 million children we allow to be killed annually are not actually children. Our whole legally sanctioned apparatus that has allowed the killing of over 50 million children over the last 43 years is, in the end, based upon “we don’t know!”
Apparently the question does not matter. And because it doesn’t, we see that there is something fundamentally deceptive about the abortion rights movement. When questions like this are simply avoided, “we don’t know” becomes a cover for “we don’t care.” As Aldous Huxley wisely observed, “[m]ost ignorance is vincible ignorance—we don’t know because we don’t want to know.” Because we have already decided.
I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Luke 19:26).
Following are two reflections on Jesus’ parable of the minas. The first is general. Jesus tells the parable because the disciples believed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. Why did the disciples’ belief call forth the parable? Perhaps because the disciples’ focus is not to be on speculating upon when the kingdom comes (although they are told to watch and to read the signs of the times), but rather upon being faithful to the works they have been given to do in the meantime. Looking to the imminent return of the kingdom is not the same as watching and praying, if expecting the imminent return of the kingdom takes us from the work of loving God and neighbor, according to the talents that each of us has been given. Much better to press into what we know than speculate upon what we are not given to know.
The second I write from the perspective of a father. As a father I see a much-needed reminder concerning education and discipleship of children. Not only do Jesus’ words apply to me (for I am called to make good use of the talents entrusted to me), but so also to my children. Therefore, as a father, with my wife, I am called to help my children recognize the specific talents the Lord has given them, and to encourage them in using those talents in whatever way I can. Much has been left to us, for the parable suggests that God is not a micromanager. The nobleman does not tell the men to whom he gave the minas exactly how to invest it. That apparently is left to each man. (Perhaps if precise instructions were given to each, the one who hid his talent would have used it.) Our children all have God-given talents. All of them. One of my chief callings as a father is to help my children discover what those talents are, and to encourage them to invest those talents wisely. Perhaps specific gifts and abilities will be easier to discern in one child than in another. No matter. The Lord’s pleasure, and His rewards, fall not upon those who have been given great talents, but those who have used what they have been given, whether great or small. This should be a great encouragement to parents, particularly in cases where the gifts and abilities of a particular child may be more difficult to discern.