Ask Theophilus: Lightning Round

PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

So many letters have arrived lately that in order to answer more of them, I'm having a lightning round -- lots of questions, rapid-fire replies. I warn you, though: When I'm concise, I get mean.1

Smotherly love

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I'm close to graduation, but live at home during summers. My opinionated mother loves me very much and expresses this by expressing numerous opinions on how I should live my life – from career goals, to how I spend my time, to the way I look when I walk out the door. What does it mean to honor your parents when you're 22? Do we ever reach an age or stage in life where the rule doesn't apply? How do I reconcile honoring my mom when I feel like I would be a completely different (and unhappy) person if I were to follow her every suggestion? Help, thanks.

Reply

Honoring your mom doesn't necessarily mean obedience; you wouldn't have to join her in a game of badminton with live ammunition just because she asked, would you? But I can't believe you're worried about that. So what's the problem?

Maybe you're just tired of listening to her. She wiped your nose when you were three, and so now you're too impatient to listen to her opinion about whether your shirt needs a tie? This is a good opportunity to learn real maturity. Don't just listen; listen with interest and respect.

Another possibility is that you don't want to follow her rules for living under her roof. The central fact here isn't how mature you are, but who owns the house. Far be it from me to say whether the house rules are reasonable, but if you don't like them, the alternative is to move out and support yourself.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


Did my salvation take?

Dear Professor Theophilus:

Five years ago, my wife and I met with the prayer team at our last church. We talked about Jesus. All I remember saying is that I'm a screw-up and can't make it in this life or the next without Jesus. Then we were baptized. Since we were baptized after the service, we confessed Jesus as our Lord and Savior the following week.

Since then, I have prayed the "salvation prayer" with Billy Graham, with a pastor from another ministry, and also in my own words. I have been doubting my salvation ever since I was baptized.

There are two reasons: First, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior to get out of hell. Second, I constantly sin, such as blatantly cussing, lewd conversation, and lusting. I wonder if I truly repented and was saved. What is your advice?

Reply

Your letter raises three issues. First: Repentance is complete, so to speak, when we repent not just for fear of punishment but for love of God. Ask Him to help you to love Him. It may help to remember that heaven is just having God completely. What makes hell so terrible is not having Him at all.

Second: Baptism is spiritual birth. You don't need a second spiritual birth any more than you need a second physical one. If you meant what you were doing, God meant what He was doing; baptism took.

Third: Salvation is two things, not one. Forgiveness takes an instant; but we are screwed up, and being healed of sinful tendencies takes a long time. Sure, grace is everything, but here's the question: Are you cooperating with it? Work at that, man.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


A fast one

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I'm a new Christian. I simply want to know how important fasting is, and how I get started. I've searched over your webzine's blogs and can't find any information.

Reply

Great question. The spiritual discipline of fasting is good for us in all sorts of ways. Among other things it trains us to discipline our bodily desires, gives us practice in denying ourselves pleasures, reminds us that we are journeyers in this world, helps us to remember what is really important, keeps us from forgetting our dependence on God, teaches us to be hungry for Him, and prepares us to feast on Him. Jesus took fasting for granted; He didn't teach "If you fast," but "When you fast."

Don't think of fasting as a form of dieting, and don't fast to the detriment of your health. Start with short fasts; for example, Christians of my tradition fast before Holy Communion. You can also practice partial fasts – say, not giving up all food, but just the food that you have the hardest time resisting. Traditionally, Christians have fasted especially during times set aside for meditating on how Christ suffered for us, like Good Friday.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


Is this even praying?

Dear Professor Theophilus:

Many times throughout the day I want to pray – walking to class, brushing my teeth, driving in my car, all sorts of times. Sometimes I just want to start with a quick request, "Lord, show me what to say in this conversation," or I want to ask forgiveness for a sin I've committed. However, I feel guilty in doing so because Jesus said, "And this is how you shall pray," then gave us the Lord's prayer, which has a certain order to it. I feel guilty in starting with a request, considering that Jesus' template starts with praise, "Hallowed by thy name," and submission to His will. Am I supposed to go through this format every single time I want to pray? I feel so restrained. Please give me clarification on this topic.

Reply

The prayer Jesus taught2 shows us the pattern of complete and perfect prayer. Does that mean that a partial prayer isn't good, or isn't prayer? Not at all. God delights whenever we speak with Him. If in some emergency all you have time to cry is "Help me!", He hears.

Besides, I don't see how we could "pray without ceasing"3 if every prayer had to include every element. Suppose you're speaking with a friend. Suddenly he breaks down and weeps. This is a time to pray simply "Guide me!", and hold that thought in your mind. If you had to go through every element in the Lord's Prayer, how could you give your friend the attention that Christ would want you to give him? The other elements of the Lord's prayer can be present implicitly even if you express only one of them. So carry on! You're doing fine.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


Love in God

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I was wondering: Is what we call "Love" expressed within the Trinity? As humans we have emotions of affection toward those we love and we may do actions that express our affections. But within the Trinity, how is love expressed?

Reply

God's very being is the love among the three persons of the Trinity. If they didnít love each other, then St. John's declaration that God, God in His very being, is love,4 would not be true – and the essence of love is not feeling, but action. With us, love is sometimes in action and sometimes not. But in God, everything is in action. He is all actuality. Everything He could do, He is always doing, and that includes His love.

We can't imagine the unceasing torrent of this love as it is in itself, but He makes it known in two ways. One is through creation; human possibilities of exchanging affection are hints and shadows of which He is the perfect reality. Better still are His acts among us. When Christ, "the image of the invisible God,"5 gave up His life that we might live, He showed what the love of the Trinity is like.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


Do you think she means Beethoven?

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I need a fresh perspective. Am I stumbling by listening to non-Christian music? I'm touched by some songs, mostly about love or life. Maybe they have lyrics that move me (I'm a poet) or maybe I just totally agree with what they say. I wonder – does this offend Jesus in any way? I just need to be clear!

Reply

If you were a mathematician, would you worry that you were stumbling by admiring the geometrical proofs of the ancient Greek, Euclid, who was pagan? You're right about this: Everything we do should be compatible with glorifying God. But you're making two mistakes: Music doesn't have to say "Jesus, Jesus" to glorify Him, and not all music that says "Jesus, Jesus" does glorify Him. Some schlocky praise music makes me want to scream.

The standard was stated by St. Paul: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."6 The great thing is to think the way Christ thinks about what really is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise. Since I haven't heard your music, I don't know whether you're doing that – but try!

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus



Specifically mature

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I'm a 19-year-old Christian male starting my sophomore year at college, and lately I've been thinking a lot about the stages of my life coming next, such as dating and marriage. This led me to wonder how I need to change, how I need to work on myself, to become a truly mature man. So, what kind of characteristics do you think make up a mature Christian man? I can think of general things such as patience, kindness, love and so forth, but am I missing anything more specific? And once I know what characteristics I need to have, how do I go about developing them?

Reply

That's such a good question that I'll have to return to it in future columns. For now, remember that virtue is not generic. The virtue of a racehorse is swiftness, but the virtue of an eye is clarity. Your thinking should be equally specific. Ask first about the attributes of a Christian, then the attributes of a mature Christian, and finally the attributes of a mature Christian man.

Speaking of specificity (pronounce it – I dare you), reflect on the following passage from St. Paul: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."7 His point is that besides considering the attributes of mature Christian manhood, you need to consider the attributes necessary to your particular gifts and calling. The basics don't change, but the details vary: What courage requires in a schoolteacher, doctor and fireman is not the same.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus



Fantastic question

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I love to write – fantasy, in particular. It began when I was a little girl, when I was fascinated by fairy tales. But writing fantasy makes me feel so guilty. First of all I doubt that God approves of creating your own world and writing about magic. Another thing is that writing is a major distraction from my walk with Christ, because to write is to be completely absorbed in the process. Whenever I begin, I become so overwhelmed by the sense of guilt that I stop. Should I write only about God, in order to bring others to Christ? Should I forgo any and all distractions from Him?

Reply

My stars and little comets. Do you have any idea how thoroughly Christian the genre of the fairy tale is? Some of the greatest Christian writers have reveled in fairy tale and fantasy, not to escape the deepest facts about God and Man, but to illuminate them. If you think such stories can't tell the truth, read Chesterton's famous essay on "The Ethics of Elfland."8 If you're worried about "creating your own world," delve into J.R.R. Tolkien's on "sub-creation."9 If you're concerned about whether there is right way to write about magic, feast your imagination on his Lord of the Rings – I mean the books, not the movies!10 Lose yourself in George MacDonald's "The Wise Woman"11 and C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces.12 Though I won't vouch for MacDonald's orthodoxy on every point, all of these writers were Christians, with a transformative view of the possibilities of literature.

Your fears are based on two mistakes. First, you forget that everything true and noble glorifies God, just by being true and noble; not everything has to be a means to the end of evangelism. Second, you forget that giving our full attention to what we are doing is a condition of using any of God's gifts. Go ahead and be absorbed – but humbly and gratefully.

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


Aimless but wants to be aimed

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I have no idea what to do with my life. I know I want to use it to serve God, but what does he want me to do? I'm still in junior college, I'm undecided on my major, I work full time at a mediocre job, and the worst of it is that at 23, I still no idea of my direction. Most of my peers have already graduated from college, or even started some type of career. People ask me whether I'll make a career of the job I have now. What with promotions and such, it seems that way, but I don't want to get stuck in a job where God doesn't want me to be. I've prayed for an answer many times, but I just don't seem to find one. What should I do?

Reply

I think your problem is that you're waiting for God to whisper the answer in your ear. I'm not about to limit what God can do, but that doesn't seem to be His usual way of working; He wants you to use the head He's given you. Here's my advice. First, pick a major, even if you have to flip a coin. You'll learn more about what you're cut out for by making the wrong choice, then changing it, than by not making a choice at all. Second, consider what you love doing – you must have some idea – then do some research to find out whether there is a way to make a career of it, whether it can glorify God, and what you need to learn to do it well. Your college career counselors can help you find the answers to the first and third questions. Sometimes people think that a Christian should use an entirely different method to discover his path in life than a non-Christian would use. No, the Christian does all the same things, but does them prayerfully

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


They'd listen, but what do I say?

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I am a parent of a 19-year-old committed Christian daughter. She was serious in the past about a boy whom she thought was a Christian but who turned out not to be, and she was sexually active with him. That's why she broke up with him, and it took her a long time to forgive herself. She waited for the right guy and met a mature Christian guy that she is serious about and he is serious about her too. However, I discovered they are all but having intercourse. She knows why she should wait, but this is an area of weakness for both of them. They both respect me and would listen to me, but I don't know what to do to get them back on track. What can you suggest besides constant prayer?

Reply

If you're right that your daughter knows why she should be chaste, and if you're right that she wants to be, then what she needs right now is the answer to the question "How?" Good resolutions tend to melt in the presence of warm skin, and waiting for the right guy isn't enough by itself, because he's having the same problem.

The answer to the question "How?" is a simple principle of common sense. Ignoring it is like saying "I'll jump off the roof of the Empire State Building, but I'll be very, very careful not to pick up speed on the way down."

For the rest of the answer, read the next letter!

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


How much can I get away with and be good?

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I realize this is a relationship question, so I understand if you don't want to answer it. But I've been wondering about this for some time now. What level of physical intimacy (obviously not having sex) is appropriate before marriage? I have friends who didn't touch at all until marriage, but I also have friends who do a lot more even though they are barely in the courtship stage. I just want to know – what's biblical?

Reply

Doesn't anyone read the archives? Ah, well. Here is this year's answer to the question.

If you're serious about avoiding sin, don't just avoid sexual intercourse. Avoid whatever resembles it, and avoid whatever gets your motor running for it. You won't find this written in the Bible because it's common sense; the Bible assumes that you already know it, and in biblical times you would have. Now how do you keep these good intentions? By avoiding whatever tempts you not to. The most important such temptation is spending time with the other sex alone. Aloneness is supposed to get your motor running for intercourse; that's part of the creational design. You know how the newly married retreat to their private place. Well, I have news for you. If you retreat to your private place, you'll start acting like you're newly married.

Remember, the object isn't just avoiding sin: Purity is a way of living, thinking, and believing that protects the core of our being and keeps it open to the grace of God. Purity of body and of heart are a package deal. You can have both – or neither.

By the way, I accept relationship questions; I just don't let Ask Theophilus become all relationships, all the time!

Peace be with you,

Professor Theophilus


If you have a question you'd like Professor Theophilus to consider for this column, please send it to asktheo@trueu.org. Please note, all questions selected for "Ask Theophilus" may be edited for clarity and privacy, and become the property of Focus on the Family.


Notes
  1. To my editor: Kidding! Just kidding!
  2. Matthew 6:9-13. Back^
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5:17. For a change I'm quoting the KJV. Back^
  4. 1 John 4:8,16, RSV. Back^
  5. Colossians 1:15, RSV. Back^
  6. Philippians 4:8, RSV. Back^
  7. Ephesians 4:11-13, RSV. Back^
  8. G.K. Chesterton "The Ethics of Elfland," from his book Orthodoxy (1908), full text available in various places online. Back^
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories," in The Tolkien Reader (New York: Del Ray, 1966). Back^
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1955, 1965). Back^
  11. George MacDonald, "The Wise Woman, or The Lost Princess: A Double Story," in The Complete Fairy Tales, introduction and notes by U.C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin, 1999). Back^
  12. C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1966). See also his Space Trilogy, which he considered a fairy tale for grown-ups; his Narnia stories, which were fairy tales for children; and the essays collected in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, edited by Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1966, 1982). Back^


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Professor Theophilus (aka J. Budziszewski). "Ask Theophilus: Lightning Round." Ask Theophilus (September 4, 2008).

TrueU.org is a community for college students who want to know and confidently discuss the Christian worldview. It is an apostolate of Focus on the Family.

Reprinted with permission of J. Budziszewski.

THE AUTHOR

J. Budziszewski (Boojee-shefski) earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1981. He teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, in the Departments of Government and Philosophy where he specializes in the relations among ethical theory, political theory, and Christian theology. The focus of his current research is natural law and moral self deception. J. Budziszewski is a former atheist, former political radical, former shipyard welder, and former lots of other things, including former young and former thin. He's been married for more than thirty years to his high school sweetheart, Sandra, and has two daughters. He loves teaching. He says he also loves contemporary music, but it turns out that he means "the contemporaries of Johann Sebastian Bach." He deserted his faith during college but returned to Christ a dozen years later and entered the Catholic Church at Easter 2004. Among a number of other books, he is the author of Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students, Ask Me Anything 2: More Provocative Answers for College Students, How to Stay Christian in College, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man, and Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. J. Budziszewski is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 J. Budziszewski




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