Carts and Horses, and the Choices We All Make

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'” – Luke 13:1-5

It occurs to me as I look back over the discourse on freedom and benevolence of the last few days, that there is a nice cart and horse narrative consistent with quite a few themes in Christianity. It involves the relative placement of cart and horse in a pre-automotive transportation system.

Many of us, my self included, believe that there is a system of some sort that, if implemented, will make everything “better” in aggregate. I personally believe that economic freedom and individual price/consumption/production decisions lead to a more efficient economy – and we are all better off in aggregate. Most religious folks (a group that certainly includes me) believe that their religious system will lead to greater overall happiness and peace if followed by the general populace.

Consider just the simple case of benevolence. Will people be better off in aggregate if those with considerable wealth are benevolent to those who lack sufficient resources to meet their basic needs? I suspect the answer is “yes”. Beyond that, are we better off if everybody views their resources with a little less attachment and shares them freely? Probably so. (Of course, we would need to stay vigilant against slackers and leeches – but that’s another post.)

Here’s where it (hopefully) gets interesting. In Acts 2:44-45 we read about the financial sharing involved in the early Christian Church in Jerusalem: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” There are some left-leaning Christians who view this as a precursor to Communism. I see something quite different though. These men and women first chose to be part of this community, and then chose to share all their worldly goods with one another. That choice is the key to the whole thing.

Would we be happier as a society if all things were shared by all? Only if we did so by free choice. It’s much easier to be open, free, even sacrificial, when all have chosen of free will to bond together for the common cause. It will naturally make one less suspicious of the motives of the other – though not completely (see Acts 6:1, for example).

It’s much the same as the Christian view of eternal salvation. There are those who view salvation as a test, perhaps graded on a curve. If you do enough good, you can work your way into a position where you qualify to become a Christian. If you stop fornicating, and stealing, and lying, and cheating on expense statements, and all the rest, then you will find yourself acceptable to God and you may at that time choose to become a Christian.

When written that way it obviously seems fatuous. The Gospel is quite different. The story is actually quite simple:

  • Everybody is a sinner: “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” – Psalm 14:3.
  • You cannot earn salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Eph 2:8-9
  • Jesus’ love and provision for salvation precedes conversion: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Rom 5:6-8
  • Our part is easier, a decision to follow Him: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” – Rom 10:8-10.
  • The completion of faith is found in Him: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” – Heb 12:2. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” – Phil 1:6. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” – Eph 2:10.

This places the cart and the horse in their proper relation. It is first a choice – the rest follows. As for benevolence and freedom – first must come the choice to share of yourself, to sacrifice of yourself, for the benefit of others – the rest follows.

Calls to abandon freedom and enforce benevolent “choice” for the sake of the greater good place the cart squarely in front of the horse … and horses ain’t so good at pushing.

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