Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Counsel of the Ungodly

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Jerusalem

Years ago I used to frequent a small coffee shop. I would take a book, my journal, a cup of java, and read and write.

One time the county atheist society was sitting a few tables away from me. Three atheists were there. I was around  corner, with my back to them. I couldn't see them, but I knew the leader. He had challenged me in the local newspaper. He said, "No pastor would dare meet with me!" I responded in the newspaper with my phone number, and a request for him to call.

He did. We met. For two hours. The time was spent trying to help this poor fellow understand what he was trying to say. I helped him clarify his arguments against Christianity. Then, I showed him where he was wrong. Gently, I hope.

There used to be a group of older men who regularly met in the café. I could hear their lively discussions, though I tried not to. A couple of the men were loud, confident they understood the deeper recesses of politics, economics, religion, whatever. They were experts on every subject, so much so they didn't need to google anything. Sadly, no one around that table had a clue of what they were talking about, at least when it came to these matters. I found their counsel uninspiring.

Psalm 1:1 states:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

In the little atheist group, and the global wisdom of the old men, we see the "counsel of the ungodly." You often find such counsel in churches, too. Like, e.g., when some Christians told me, "If we build it, he will come."

The counsel of the ungodly is not someone encouraging me to smoke cigarettes, or watch "The Bachelorette." The counsel of the ungodly is, says Dallas Willard, "just the way most people talk." (Willard, Living in Christ's Presence, p. 46)

Willard gives examples.

"The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if it matters what people think of you.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if the outcomes of your life are on your shoulders and you control them.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if aging is something to worry about.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if satisfying your desires and appetites is central to your well-being and a wise strategy for living.

That's the counsel of the ungodly. It goes on all the time, and we rarely even see it." (Ib.)

Turn on the television - there is the counsel of the ungodly.

"Acquire more," "be successful," "look sexier" - that is the counsel of the ungodly. (Get money, get power, get sexy - see Richard Foster, The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power.) Imagine what might happen if such counsel colonized the hearts of pastors!

Willard writes, "Just listen to the conversations we have with each other, and that’s the counsel of the ungodly." (Ib., p. 47)

What, then, is wise, godly counsel? Psalm 1 continues,

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

This is a life that can flourish.

"There’s a decision that everybody faces, and part of the danger of the world is it causes us to forget that we have to decide who we are going to learn to live from." (Ib., p. 48)