Thoughts from Doug Knox.
The Strength of Well-grounded Convictions
2 Samuel 11:1-3
When Chance becomes a Willful Act
If we were to take a poll among Christians about the best-known stories in the Bible, David’s exploitation of Bathsheba would be near the top of the list. The account begins simply.
In When Convictions Fail
One of the most courageous things we can do as men is to take a stand on our convictions. Unfortunately, the culture at large—not to mention our Christian culture—sometimes calls us to bury our beliefs in the dirt. For example, a recent article appeared in Christianity Today Magazine entitled “The Gift of Coming Near.” Guest writer Molly Skawski, a foster care social worker, tells about her experience as a caseworker to a father who had been addicted to opiates for more than ten years. When the man refused to change, she counseled him to release his son to foster care. The article highlights the author’s decision to be with the man during the signing. Her presence with him at this critical moment was an act of Christian love. The man wept as he released his son, but he had chosen his addiction over the boy.
A Deeper Look into Convictions
I do not dispute the decision to put the boy in foster care. It was a necessary crisis intervention. Nor do I have a problem with the author being there for the man when he made the decision to give up rather than commit to a greater battle. Her presence was an act of love. What bothers me is the spin that the author put on her work in general. The article read more like a defense of the social work philosophy than a testimony to Christ’s presence. Midway through the article, she talked about her training days, when one of her social work professors quizzed the class about what they thought their future duties as professional social workers would look like. The class responded with glowing expectations about their efforts to intervene during crisis. The professor explained that they were thinking in the wrong direction. Their jobs would not be to assist in the traditional sense, because such help would reflect too much of a personal agenda.
Instead their aim as social workers “would be to help [clients] find their own answers and support them by taking on the barriers that stood in their way.”
This is value-neutral language at its best. Do “their own answers” mean completely undirected choices? When a client decides on a course of action that contradicts a Christian social worker’s objective understanding of right and wrong, is the worker required to support the other person? In the extreme case, what happens if the client’s own answers involve a decision to take an AK-47 and open fire on a workplace?
A Deeper Spiritual Issue
Unfortunately, the vagueness apparently followed the author from her professional experience to her spiritual belief system. In the conclusion of the article, Skawski wrote these words as a kind of capstone defense for the guy who chose surrender over personal responsibility.
Frederick Buechner says that to be a Christian is to be “one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank.”
Excuse me? “Some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank”? I believe the author was reaching to grace. When we have only a dim notion of whom to thank, God recognizes even that tiny faith. Unfortunately, the article left out anything more convincing. The absence of a deeper, settled faith suggested that the author’s description represented the end of the journey rather than the beginning.
From Dim Notions to Solid Conviction
Compare that pitiful excuse for conviction to Paul’s declaration in his second letter to Timothy. He is about to be executed. This letter is his last correspondence. He has no time to speculate about what being a Christian means. That is precisely what makes this passage so refreshing. Paul does not have to grope about for something that might carry him through his death. His basis for conviction is clear. He rests in the gospel, “for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:11-12, emphasis added).
The Building Blocks of Paul’s Conviction
The reason why Paul’s conviction is so certain is that it comes from a source outside of himself. Nowhere in his writings do we see a comment that he sought his own answers. Instead, he defined his destiny on the fact that he was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.” This fact is clear from Acts 9, where he encounters the risen Christ for the first time. His mission is one that is given to him by God, and from that moment on, he pursues it with unflagging determination. Paul appointment also involves suffering. We need to make two observations about this fact. One, Paul’s calling included suffering from the beginning. In the call story, God calls a disciple named Ananias to deliver his mission to Paul. When Ananias wonders about the man he knows only as an enemy of the faith, God tells him,
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Two, suffering clarifies purpose. Once we face a high cost for our convictions, we begin to think very candidly about them. If our convictions are real, suffering cements them into our being. They gain great value because of their cost. Ultimately, those convictions that have come at such a high cost begin to define us. This brings us to Paul’s final point in this part of the letter to Timothy. He writes, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” When Paul says, “I am not ashamed,” he refers to something far deeper than embarrassment. Shame in the biblical sense involves the absence of confidence in the day of judgment. Confidence involves the ability to articulate our position. Paul’s confidence goes to the one whom he has believed for his security. After all his suffering, he stands convinced that Jesus, the God whom he has served, will remain faithful. Every one of us will be called to stand before the Lord in the last day, and every one of us will face the same question. “Where is your confidence?” Those who cannot answer will face a fate infinitely worse than embarrassment. They will face eternity separated from their creator. On the other hand, those who can answer will enjoy unending joy and fellowship with their Lord.