Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sins of Omission

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Whatever may be your view of hell, we would all agree that even the best of intentions are rather useless without action.

This week I taught a short course on Sustainable Lifestyle. It has been an extra challenge because I have been sick for a month and this week it took a turn for the worse. But what I found most challenging is the question brought to us by a documentary we just watched, Living On One Dollar. After 56 days of living on a dollar a day in rural Guatemala, four young guys were left with the question: What can I do to help?

I have many good intentions, and I don't mind telling people about them. I have been intending to post something on this blog for the past year or so. I started a young adult novel that I hope to finish some day. I have some quality ideas for improving the House or getting some more art on the walls. I feel a burden to connect a great ministry with the opportunities at a local Christian retreat centre. I have a book on camp leadership that I want to see go somewhere.

But it's mostly intention, very little action. These things have been sitting on my "do" list for so long they are gathering digital dust. Should I simply delete them? Will I ever get around to doing something about them?

"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (‭James‬ ‭4‬:‭17‬). I am not a spectacular sinner in the things that I do; my speciality is the sin of omission. I know the good things I ought to do. I regularly watch opportunity drift by. But often, I do nothing.

Those who know me might find that a little extreme. We live with a dozen students and an assistant in Auxano House and are daily involved in their development and discipleship. You might say that this alone is sufficient, and that we can't be expected to do everything. True enough. So should I simply delete everything else on my "Do Good" list and forget about them? That doesn't seem to be an option in James' statement.

I think what I need is better discernment. Paul prayed for the church "that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:9-11).

Love will motivate me to act, but love needs to be informed and insightful or it may prove to not be love after all. For example, billions of dollars are poured annually into foreign aid, but some of it does more harm than good. The intentions are great, but sometimes the results are questionable. Greater discernment is needed.

The same is true with me. It has been a frustrating week because I have been sick, and there is much more I want to do than I am able. But maybe my desire to pour into these students lacks discernment. My intentions are good, but the results can be disappointing. I need to rethink what love looks like. I need more knowledge and depth of insight in my love.

I can't do everything, but by the grace of God I can learn to do the right thing.

And that is definitely better than feeling overwhelmed and doing nothing.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke

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