If Ayn Rand Was Jesus…

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American writer (1905-1982) who developed a philosophical system called Objectivism. Simply, she believed that humans discern reality through their senses; and that the moral purpose of life should be the pursuit of one’s happiness, which she called rational self-interest. For those familiar with it, Objectivism is really just another form of Existentialism. Her system can be seen in her novel Atlas Shrugged and a non-fiction book The Virtue of Selfishness.

A thought entered my mind as I was musing on things during this great season of the Incarnation. What if Ayn Rand was Jesus? See if you get a clue from this quote of where we might be if such were the case: “It is morally proper to accept help, when it is offered not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e. when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses, or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such.” In Atlas Shrugged, the character John Galt took an oath and said, “I swear- by my life and the love of it- that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Gulp; we are scrooged! If Ayn Rand (or John Galt) was Jesus, it would not be in her rational self-interest to leave the heights of heaven’s glory and enter in the miseries of this life in response to the flaws, weaknesses, and moral failures of the likes of me or you. These, not our virtues, form the ground of our desperate need. She would never have humbled herself to live her life nor give up her life for the sake of ours.

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; Naked come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace; Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior, or I die! (Augustus Toplady)

A final thought: how would Ayn Rand’s virtue of selfishness affect our own generosity at Christmas or at any other time? “The Salvation Army bell ringers are out in force at this time of the year, and each day brings mail requests for donations. I have no objection to charity as long as it isn’t viewed as an altruistic duty and isn’t a central issue in one’s life. …Imagine trying to celebrate Christmas by taking altruism seriously. Instead of buying gifts for your children you would be obliged to spend that money on needy children in, say, Bangladesh. Instead of buying yourself a new suit for the holiday, you would have to go around in sackcloth because of your duty toward those who have less than you. Is that what the Christmas spirit is supposed to mean? Does an obligation to sacrifice for the sake of others sound like a prescription for goodwill among people or for resentment and conflict?” (Peter Schwartz, distinguished fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and author of the forthcoming In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice is Unjust and Destructive)

We would become Scrooge! O the beauty of self-sacrifice and generosity! O the Blessedness of the Incarnation!

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence…

let all mortal fleshI have never repeated any of my blogs- until now. On this Friday before Christmas, I wanted to bring this one out of the Archives and offer it to you to meditate upon as you keep silence before the One who has come and is coming…

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is from the Liturgy of St James (4th century), one of the earliest extant liturgies of the Christian Church. Orthodox Christians often recite it on the Sunday after Christmas, or as part of the Christmas Eve service. It is a beautiful Advent hymn, which focuses our attention upon the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His descent to earth to vanquish the powers of hell. Biblical references upon which the hymn is based include John 6:51; John 1:5,9; Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:8; and Revelation 19:1-6. Listen in awe and wonder as you prepare for the Coming of Jesus Christ:

God of the Stars, God of the Brokenhearted…

The Incarnation: God became flesh and dwelt among us. The infinite, eternal God became one of us and fully entered into our human situation so that he might redeem us. I think we still have this mythological notion that if we are facing difficulties, feeling depressed and experiencing life’s unfairness then our Christmas will be ruined. I’m going to make a bold statement; it isn’t until we do experience these things that we will understand the true nature of the incarnation; that the God of the Stars has become the God of the brokenhearted.

The birth of Christ was revealed to the outcast, the old, the brokenhearted, and the dispossessed. This is the truth of the Christmas Story: God stooped so low in Jesus that no one is excluded from his grasp.

I want to take you back to Christmas Eve 1944. The place is the Dachau concentration camp where a German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller, has been held prisoner for seven years because of his involvement in the Confessing Church. Niemoller was the man who wrote the now famous “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a Trade Unionist. The they came for the Jews and I did not speak out- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.” Listen as Pastor Niemoller preaches to his congregation of skeleton-like figures huddled around him in their cold-dark bunk room:

God, the eternally wealthy and almighty God, enters into the most extreme human poverty imaginable. No man is so weak and helpless that God does not come to him in Jesus Christ, right in the midst of our human need; no man is so forsaken and homeless in this world that God does not seek him, in the midst of our human distress…This is what is so singularly peculiar in the Christian message of salvation, which tells us, “You need not go to search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the man who, as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in a manger. All your need is so far from being alien to him that on the contrary he gave himself freely to bear it with you.” Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, ‘Thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.

It is the people who walk in darkness who will see a great light. It the people who live in a land of deep darkness who will have a light shine upon them. (paraphrase of Isa. 9:2). O Blessed Incarnation!

When Dreams Die…

This past Monday at Wheaton College our chapel speaker was Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales. He had an awe-inspiring testimony of how a dream of his died through financial bankruptcy and how he saw God replace that dream with Himself. You may also know Phil as the founder of Big Idea Productions and the voice of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, and a host of other veggie characters. For some reason his presentation made me hungry for more.

He shared that during the time of his greatest disappointment, his mom gave him a cassette tape (do you remember those?) of a sermon titled “When a Dream Dies.” The pastor was preaching on Elisha and the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4; how God gave her a son and then how the boy died when he was older. In her grief, she sent for Elisha who came and miraculously brought the boy back to life. The speaker’s application was that God wants us to let go of our dreams so that we will find that He is all that we need. Vischer found this lesson transformational.

The Shunammite’s story is very similar to the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God wanted Abraham to lay his dream-son on the altar. Was it really to test Abraham to see if he loved the Giver more than the gift? I have heard that taught. However, don’t you think that God already knew Abraham’s heart like he knows ours? I think the issue was that Abraham didn’t know his own heart. Thus I believe that God may allow our dreams to die in order to reveal to us what is in our hearts, something we would never know apart from our dreams being dashed. CS Lewis said that “he who has everything has nothing more than he who has God alone.” We must not pant after our dreams, but we must learn to pant after God. The most important thing is to hold God as the most important thing.

Phil Vischer has now started a company called Jellyfish Labs, which produces new faith-based projects for kids and families. He chose the jellyfish as his business moniker because the creature has no means of locomotion and must be carried along by the current. It is not that Vischer has given up taking initiative for the future, but he is more intentional about being obedient to what God wants him to be doing today. And for that he has learned to wait on his knees. He used to believe the mantra that God can’t steer a parked car. Now he believes that he must “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7).

So if your dream has died, do not think that it is the end. It may be the beginning of an entirely new understanding of yourself and a deeper sense of the sufficiency of God.  It could also lead to a new dream.