Monday, July 26, 2004

Who we choose to be

I hope you don't mind that these posts are a little serious. I just like to get these sort of thoughts down, but mindless babblings I prefer to verbally plaster on unsuspecting friends =)

I had a thought yesterday after reading the story about Abraham and Isaac again. God had to test Him to see if Abraham would put God first. This is the thing that struck me, surely God would have known Abraham's heart before the test - so couldn't He have known and not needed to test him?

But I realised this: what if our character is literally built through the decisions we make? Character may not be some inherent part of our heart, but rather the sum of the decisions we make. Futhermore, we cannot built character by thought alone, but rather by real-world choice. After making a habit of choosing to be kind, we can say we are kind in character because we habitually are kind in action. I have often made the distinction between spirit, heart, mind, and body, but I am now not so sure there is such distinction. Our actions and our heart are intimately interellated, just as our minds and our hearts and our minds and our body.

How can we really have made a decision unless we act on it? Could Abraham actually 'put God first' in his heart without choosing to do something which requires it to be so? It's just a thought until we act on it, for true choice necessitates the foregoing of one alternative by committing to the other. Faith without works is dead, and I think so is character without action, because character is built on action.

How can we become patient in character without choosing to be patient in practise? How can we become trustworthy unless we are actually trusted, or become kind in heart unless we show kindness? The thoughts go hand-in-hand with the actions. I think our actions are motivated by our hearts, certainly, but there is a distinction here, I think. For example; first, comes the will to act kindly in the heart; then the action itself. It is in the action that the choice is made, not simply in the thought. Likewise, it is the action that builds the character, not the thought.

I have never been able to build character by thinking about it. I don't think Abraham really loved God more or less than Isaac in His heart before He was tested. I believe He put God first when He was presented with a test, and chose through action to put God first. How can we choose God over other things in our hearts until we are forced to make a real choice?

A baby is born with comparatively little character - plenty of personality, but they haven't had the exerience to develop much character. Would it make sense to scorn a baby for not being humble? No, because a baby has not the life experiences to build that character trait (attribute). The child needs the choice to develop that character through choices in order to develop that character at all. The child needs the opportunity to be proud or humble in a given situation, and then choose humility. Then that child has learned something of humility.

And so this, I think, is why God cannot simply look at our hearts and know how we will act, for our heart may only contain an unanswered question - unanswered because we have not responded to it with action. God knows our hearts through and through, certainly, but our hearts do not contain our responses to choices we have not made. Character is not simply shown by our choices - it is made by them, and so we should be careful what we make.


michelle said...

(yay!!! first comment!!)
Awesome post, Reub-ster ... just like usual you've made me think about something that hadnt really crossed my mind, and yet made me realise that i completely agree =)
I really like your point that we can say we are, eg, caring til we're blue in the face, but until we make choices or perform actions that back this up, we're just speaking empty words.
I think i shall start acting like this.. if i think i am something, i will prove i am that something =)

Nathan said...

I was recently thinking about this from another angle, and then I come to this post, and its saying very similar things...

I was thinking in terms of who we are as being defined by our relationships, and our relationships being defined by the actions and interactions that have taken place in the past.

Also, with regard to the spirit\heart\mind\body distinction, I was wondering about it all, especially with regard to michelle's comment about tongues being from the spirit, bypassing the mind. (She originally phrased it as bypassing the brain, which was interesting...) Is the spirit and soul and heart and mind contained within the brain? And is the immortality defined by the ambient eternity of the soul, or by the recreation of God at the second coming? Interesting questions.


One thought relating to what you've writen; What of eternity? If we are the results of experiences, what happens when humans live in eternity? Won't the experiences build up in an uncomfortable fashion? I dunno, I can see weird things happening.

Mike said...

Reubz - you need to write a book.

You could call it 40 days of Philosophy :)

Philotas said...

Lol.. you should talk to Rick Warren about the Trademark there! :) ah.. Good old Rick.. (:P)

Yup.. agrees on all the main points here! :) faith without actions is meaningless, therefore, thoughts also without actions are also meaningless. ^_^

I mean, if we stood around all day 'thinking' about how we should 'go to gym to lose weight' we arent gonna lose anything! (unless of course you don't eat while you are thinking, and end up passing out....Thats a bad thing.)

Good work on the posts mate! how do you always manage to sound so deep?

incognito said...

lol! 40 Days of Philosophy... nice =)

Sounding deep all the time is both a blessing and a curse... I sound deep here because this is where I write my deep thoughts. I like to think deep thoughts, they help us not to discover who we are, but to decide who we are. Perhaps it is a spiritual gift. The downside of course is that it gives the impression that I don't think anything but deep thoughts, making me a deep but somewhat dull and colourless ocean of introspection. =)

incognito said...

PS: I hope some of these thoughts do find their way into a book one day. That's one of the reasons why it's really good to have your feedback, in case I'm talking heresy. =)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree Reubs.

Speaking of Rick Warren... ABC (Avonhead Baptist Church, for thems as are ignorant) started the 40 days of purpose thing last Sunday, and he made a pretty similar argument... which made it almost his only argument I agreed with. ;) His version of it was that you gain characteristics by being in a situation where you need them: eg. if you pray for patience, God will put you in situations where you are forced to be patient, and hence by repetition it will become a habit.

Clearly your choices to do good things rather than bad are important or the NT epistles wouldn't harp on about it so much.

Andrew W.

Jared said...

An interesting thought, Reubz. Raises a different concept outside the question of nature and nurture. In either of those two options we are who we are because that is the way we were born and/or raised. This lifts a lot of responsibility off the shoulders of the individual and places it on the parents either because they raised me this way or gave me these genes. This means I can get a way with anything and can not try to change the way I am which is in complete opposition with the bible that we can and should try and change (Galatians 5:22). Thanks for such inspirational thoughts. God bless.

Mike said...

I don't think being deep is boring at all :) And as long as every once in a while you can break it uop with some silliness, then I think it makes for an unbeatable combination :)

btw - Yay for sun - yay for doing washing - boo for not going to the gym.... (I am sooo lazy)

Fraser Dron said...

Rube, I know for a fact that you are capable of thoughts neither deep nor sane!

Jessi said...

*applauds Reubz* Wonderful post as per usual :)
I'd agree with that entirely! In fact, there's a quote from Aristotle I have pinned on my wall:

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do."