Monday, December 21, 2009

Truth in the Bible

Biblical logic, to the consternation of Western minds, is not linear but circumferential. That is, a biblical “argument” does not proceed in linear fashion, by the exclusion of illogical alternatives, to the point where a single final “truth” emerges. Instead, biblical logic surrounds a subject with arguments from various angles until there remains nothing further to be said, and the matter is dropped in favor of the next topic. (See the study Biblical Logic and Interpretation on our ministry web site, from which this material is excerpted.) This consideration has implications for the understanding of “truth” in Scripture.

This circumferential character of biblical logic stems from a basic presupposition of the biblical world view, the understanding that all truth inheres in the will of God. Truths — we might speak of them today as “facts” or insights — have no force apart from the intention and activity of the Creator. As Proverbs puts it, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). This must be the perspective behind Jesus’ prayer, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). No factoid, principle or “law of physics” can have independent reality apart from the work of Yahweh — or, in the case of the New Testament, apart from Christ who is the incarnation of the Word of the Lord, in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) and who is “upholding the universe by his word of power” (Hebrews 1:3).

The Hebrew word ’emet, often translated as “truth,” does not denote abstract factuality independent of the operation of God’s purpose. Instead, biblical truth is reliability or faithfulness, in particular faithfulness to God and his will as revealed in the purposes of his covenant with Israel. The New Testament writers understand these purposes to be fulfilled, or renewed, in the ministry, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ. Truth, then, consists in faithfulness to God’s covenant, and in submitting to his purpose for human life as revealed in the event of Christ.

But the divine purpose is not confined to the sphere of religion, nor even to the realm of human culture; it encompasses all that the Creator has brought into being. Hence the apostolic witness views the appearance of Christ, especially his resurrection from the dead, as a window into the renewal of the entire created order. When humanity, as “the sons of God,” comes to participate in the life of the risen Christ, then “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). For Paul, indeed, there need be no “waiting period” since the Christian believer, incorporated into Christ through baptism (Romans 6:3-5), already shares the life of Christ’s resurrection (Colossians 3:1). If anyone is “in Christ,” incorporated into the body of the resurrection, that person belongs to the renewed creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The writings of the apostle John present the same essential perspective — if stated in different terms — based on the understanding that the coming of Jesus Christ brings to human incarnation the very creative purpose which underlies the existence of all things (John 1:1-3, 14).

God, then, has written two “books” as the revelation of his truth, or his purpose for the universe and life within it. The first book is the Holy Scripture, with its testimony to the living Word in Jesus Christ. But the second “book” is the universe itself, which also testifies to the Creator’s activity and intent. Paul states the matter clearly in Romans 1:19-20: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”

Since truth inheres in faithfulness to the divine purpose, and both “books” testify to that purpose, they cannot be played off against one another in a supposed search for “objective truth” according to the Western pattern of logic. The two “books” must remain in dialogue, consistent with the circumferentiality of biblical logic. The findings of science, or cosmology, regarding the structures and operations of the physical universe cannot be marshaled in an attack upon the perspective of Scripture, nor can the teaching of the Bible be made to contravene the results of scientific inquiry and experimentation. Truth is commitment to the Creator’s intention, and each witness to that intention must be heard in its integrity, since God is the author of both.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How Far Is It from “Here” to “There”?

I stood in the center of my living room, faced north, and asked my friend to watch me. I held my left forearm across my body, and pointing with my right hand I asked, “How far is it from here [touching my left elbow] to there [touching my left fingertips]?”

“I would say its about seventeen or eighteen inches,” my friend replied. “That’s what the Bible calls a cubit, isn’t it?”

“True, but that’s not what I mean. Let me do it again.” I repeated the exercise.

“I still say it’s around eighteen inches,” he answered.

“Think again. Where was I when I pointed to my elbow, and where was I when I pointed to my fingertips?”

“Why, right here in your living room, both times!”

“But it took me one second to move my hand from my elbow to my fingertip, didn’t it?”

“So?” he frowned. I perceived that my visitor was beginning to wonder about my degree of sanity.

“Consider this,” I countered. “The earth rotates on its axis from west to east. At our latitude of around 40 degrees, the speed of rotation is about 667 miles per hour. In one second, our position ‘here’ moves about two-tenths of a mile — .185 mile, to be exact. So that was the distance from ‘here’ to ‘there.’”

You’re goofy,” he exclaimed. “Or a dork.”

“No, seriously. I was facing north, so my left forearm was parallel to the direction of the earth’s rotation. But that wouldn’t have made much difference, only the difference between seventeen inches and .185 of a mile.”

My visitor groaned. “And I suppose you can calculate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

“It depends on how long their bounce lasts. Now, the better dancers can stay up . . .”

He rose from his seat on the sofa. “I’m getting out of here before this conversation affects my sanity!”

“Wait! we’re not through.”

He paused. “Well, make it quick. I have an appointment in fifteen minutes with my therapist. At least he’s not crazy — I think.”

“This won’t take long. Think about it this way. The earth’s orbit around the sun is about 600 million miles. In a 365-day year there are 31,536,000 seconds. So the earth moves about nineteen miles per second — more or less, depending on which side of the earth we happen to be on when we do our measurement, because the direction of the rotation on the earth’s surface either adds or subtracts from that orbital speed.”

“Then you’re saying that the distance from ‘here’ to ‘there’ was nineteen miles?” He turned toward the front door, looking as though he would like to exit my house at that same speed.

“No, there’s more. The solar system orbits around the center of the galaxy at a speed of 220 kilometers per second. So from ‘here’ to ‘there’ is actually 136 miles, plus or minus the other factors. But then, we have to consider the rotational speed of our galaxy around the galactic center, and the speed of our cluster through ‘absolute space,’ if we could ever measure that. Michelsen and Morley’s experiment in 1887 was inconclusive . . .”

But my friend was out the door by this time. Therefore he failed to hear my final point. “So this all shows that whenever we try to state a truth, we always need to ask from what perspective we’re gauging the accuracy of our statements. Now this could apply to anything we care to talk about, such as . . . oh, I guess he’s gone.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Insight into a Creative Process

In 2003 I acquired a CD recording of the Symphony No. 3 by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar. Elgar will be familiar to you as the composer of “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1, the “trio” of which is almost universally used for the processional at college and high school graduations. This music was performed at Yale University in 1905 during commencement ceremonies in which Elgar was awarded an honorary degree; its use spread from there to other college and secondary campuses.

What is remarkable about the Third Symphony is that Elgar died in 1934, leaving only some 120 pages of sketches for its four movements. In most cases the sketches are fragmentary, providing few indications of their orchestration or where the fragments were to fit into the flow of the music. However, with the eventual encouragement of Elgar’s heirs, composer Anthony Payne took those sketches, elaborated them and created a complete symphony which was first performed in 1998 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Purists insist the work is an “Elgar/Payne Symphony,” and no doubt had Elgar lived to complete it the opus would have taken a different form. Nevertheless, Payne’s compositional skill and empathy for Elgar’s style and working method render this work eminently satisfying as an expression of Elgar’s own creative genius. It is music of both vigor and lyricism and, in my opinion, greater depth than that of Elgar’s first two symphonies of 1908 and 1911.

Recently, upon replaying my recording of Symphony No. 3, I became newly fascinated with it and subsequently acquired three additional CDs of the work, plus a recording and a book in which Payne explains how he went about realizing the sketches Elgar left. Listening to this music, and poring over the explanatory material, I realized that I was receiving insight into a creative process, one applicable to literature and other arts as well as to music.

Elgar’s method of orchestral composition was distinctive. He did not plan out a work in advance, but jotted down sketches for various segments mostly in “short score,” i.e. a piano score only. Often, it was not until he wrote out the full instrumental score that he arranged the sketches in their final order, developing them into longer sections. In the case of the Third Symphony this task was left for Payne to complete, using not only his knowledge of Elgar’s method and his familiarity with the content of the sketches, but also his own creative intuition by which he tried to put himself into Elgar’s frame of mind.

In short, a creative work has come about in spurts of “inspiration,” if you will, during which fragments emerge — but a final “vision” must emerge in which the goal of the work becomes clear and the fragments fall coherently into place. Elgar had played through most of his symphony in his home with close friends, but never brought it to completion. Terminally ill in late 1933 and early 1934, he either never attained that final coherence or was too weak to bring it to expression. Another was to achieve it — if not Elgar’s vision, one that has an Elgarian “ring” to it. Elgar himself, near the end of his life, had foreseen this possibility.

Reflecting upon all of this, I realized that I have often worked by a similar creative process. With a novel, a fragment of speech, a part of an incident or a scene will come to me, and I will write it down. (In the case of a work of scholarship, the fragments may take the form of some trenchant articulation of a point, or a more developed paragraph of discussion.) But where these pieces fit in the eventual flow of the book may not become apparent until the larger scheme emerges. At that point I may discover that new material needs to be created as a transition between the already-written segments, or to “set the stage” for some critical development in the story that I have already narrated. And I may be surprised by new insights into my characters, and realize that more of their story needs to be told, here and there, to “flesh out” their internal struggles and explain their actions. My wife agrees that some of that “initial sketches — cohering vision — final revision” process occurs in the creation of her poetry.

I don’t claim this insight is unique. Probably many, if not most, writers, composers and other creative artists work by a similar process. Seeing it brought out, though, in the discussion of how Elgar’s Third Symphony came to light has been stimulating and instructive.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bucking the Fiction Template

On a fiction writers’ discussion group I belong to, one author recently wrote, “It seems that when telling was more acceptable, the reader had the opportunity to ‘see’ the story in their own minds better, and now, we spell it ‘all’ out in the showing. Since most of us struggle with this, I was just curious. I know the hurried pace has changed a lot in movies and theatre . . .”

That’s part of the story, of course. When I was a child — and that goes back to the 1940s, before TV — I loved to listen to radio programs such as Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee, Mr. Keen ‘Tracer of Lost Persons’, etc. I could visualize the scenes in my head; I didn’t need to have the script “show” everything to me. (Later, of course, when I saw some of these actors or characters in movies, I had to revise my mental image somewhat.) It was the same with reading; as the reader, I took part in the creative process by forming the visual impressions in my own mind even if the author didn’t “show” everything to me. But today everything is laid out for us visually on the screen, and writers feel they have to follow suit.

But that is only one factor motivating the “show, not tell” mantra. The other factor, and I think it’s the main one, is the dumbing down of public education, and culture in general, so that students are no longer stimulated to think or be creative. A hundred years ago people went to Chautauquas to hear lectures, or took part on choral contests, or went to orchestral concerts and other events that required a personal intellectual investment in appreciation and interpretation of creative efforts. Today teens, and adults, walk around with earphones absorbed in whatever trivia is coming through their iPods.

Our grandson was helping us move recently and we could hardly get him to pay attention to our instructions about what to carry, because his earphones were filling his head with “music.” Another grandson who was helping us had constantly to be diverted from texting his girl friend. Popularly available technology has resulted in a situation in which many people never have to think or be creative for themselves; what they think of as art or talent is simply imitating what they experience through media. Every teen guy who doesn’t want to be in the NFL or NBA seems to want to be a “rock” (or “rap,” or whatever) star, or possibly a computer tech or auto mechanic. Rare is the young person with the ambition to compose a symphony, write a novel or make some important scientific discovery. Public education (with some exceptions, of course) and our media culture are not challenging young people to become participants in an intellectual process, and have not been doing so for several decades.

For me, as a fiction writer, the answer is not to reduce my narrative to the fifth-grade level in the vain hope that some publisher will take a chance that America’s dumbed-down readers will actually buy it. As Christian artists we are to participate in the work of the Creator, and His Son who upholds the universe by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). The adversary cannot create, he can only imitate and pervert what God has created. We have a higher calling, to be co-creators with the Father and Son with whom is our fellowship (1 John 1:3).

Consequently, in my writing I will seek to elevate the literary standard of my readers rather than conform to their supposedly low level. In my observation, actual readers have a much wider tolerance for “traditional” writing once they are exposed to it — even if it involves “telling” as well as “showing” — than do some editors and publishers. I believe the bottleneck for good Christian fiction is not at the reader level but at the level of the gatekeepers who operate out of the fear that what they publish will not be accepted because it does not conform to the template created by electronic and other media.

Therefore I will not write according to the current template for Christian fiction, but will attempt to follow a style established by older writers in the hope that my output will contribute to the restoration of a higher literary standard. (I do not claim to be successful in this effort, only that I view it as a goal.) Probably the most successful Christian fiction writers — successful in working out their God-given creative vocation — will be those who can make it appear that their work conforms to the current template, while in reality they are writing to a higher standard and so raising the reader’s level of appreciation. I am not certain I have the talent to fool the gatekeepers in this way, but I am sure there are some Christian fiction writers clever enough to do it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Verse and Universe

By Shirley Anne Leonard

My wife Shirley Anne, editor of WestWard Quarterly, wrote this piece for the Summer 2009 issue of the magazine.

In his book The Pursuit of Poetry (McGraw-Hill, 1960) Robert Hillyer observes that the word verse means a turning, and since the turn must come full circle on itself, it is a repeating rhythm just as in music. He also observes that the word universe means a concerted turning. "We walk, we breathe, our hearts beat in recurrence; the sun and moon, the stars in their courses, the changing seasons — all these are recurrent: we are metrical creatures in a metrical universe" (pp. 8-9).

Ancient musicians looked out on the universe, noted the ratios of the different planetary cycles, counted the rhythmic periodicities in nature, and calculated the ratios of the human body. They put together a geometry, a set of mathematical ratios and proportions. They believed that these ratios, if used in the sounds of music, would resonate with the life forces of the universe and thus enhance life. These particular sounds and rhythms, they thought, would make life healthier and more abundant. Such ideas were handed down to the composers of Baroque music. Musicians in that era were trained to use these particular numbers and patterns for harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and tempo in their music. This "mathematical" Baroque music was supposed to affect a synchronizing of our minds and bodies to more harmonious patterns. But is there more to that?

Musicologist Julius Portnoy found that not only can music, "change metabolism, affect muscular energy, raise or lower blood pressure, and influence digestion," but "It may be able to do all these things more successfully ... than any other stimulants that produce those changes in our bodies" (David Tame, The Secret Power of Music, Turnstone Press, 1984, p. 138).

An intensive series of studies carried out by Dorothy Retallack of Denver, Colorado, demonstrated the effects of different kinds of music on a variety of household plants. The experiments were controlled under strict scientific conditions, and the plants were kept within large closed cabinets on wheels in which light, temperature and air were automatically regulated. Plants grown in scientifically controlled chambers were given concerts of different kinds of music from rock to Baroque. All the plants that were next to the rock music leaned away from the speakers, trying to get away from the music! And to show that it was not just the noise itself, the plants next to the classical music leaned toward the speakers — actually trying to get closer to the music. In the end all the plants next to the rock music died!

What has this to do with poetry? you may ask. It occurred to me that, if music could have this effect, then what about poetry? Could it be that the lack of interest in poetry in our culture is because much of it has been written without harmonious rhythm, and some with intentionally discordant rhythm? The reader who thinks he does not care for poetry may be reacting to the type of poetry that is written today.

As Featured Writer Leland Jamieson stated in his article in the Spring 2008 issue of WestWard Quarterly, "My outlook on writing poetry is this: the healing incantatory energy of meter and rhyme is the reward for both the poet and the reader. There will be no resurgence of readers of poetry until poets give them sufficient reward for their effort. In giving reward to readers, they will give it to themselves as well. . . . It is necessary along the way, of course, for poets to rediscover their roots in an English language tradition going back past Shakespeare to Chaucer. There is plenty of good poetry to serve as a model."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why This Blog Doesn’t Get
Updated Very Often

If you visit this page occasionally, you’ve noticed that this blog sometimes doesn’t get updated for weeks at a time. Perhaps you’d like to know why that’s the case.

I know there are people who live for their blogs. One can picture the dedicated blogger, pajama-clad till mid-afternoon, religiously pounding away at the keyboard in the fervent belief that the cyberworld awaits his latest mind dump with bated breath. But that’s not who we are. We’re under no illusions about the size of our audience or its eagerness to absorb what we have to say. (Google Analytics makes that clear enough.) So we aren’t under constraint to provide something novel every day, or even every week.

But that’s not the main reason our blog is relatively static. The main reason we don’t update it regularly is, frankly, that we have too much else to do. Here’s a rundown:

We manage and regularly update a group of web sites — those of several churches, a missionary in India, our local library and Chamber of Commerce, our personal ministry and publishing activities, our family, our poetry magazine, and our railroad hobby interest. All told, we’re responsible for maintaining 29 web sites if you count all the separate components of our Rail Archive. All these web sites are linked at our server operation site, If our blog isn’t regularly updated, these other sites are.

Servicing the church-related sites involves formatting weekly sermons, updating monthly calendars, formatting and posting monthly newsletters and semi-monthly missionary reports, and regularly revising other material. On our ministry site, Laudemont Ministries, we’re currently adding some of my older sermons my wife is transcribing from cassette tapes. Our Rail Archive regularly gets augmented with new photos, either those I have taken or those other rail hobbyists send me, plus supporting commentary. Recently I’ve been posting my railroad photos not included in the Rail Archive to another site, the NERAIL North American Railroad Photo Archive.

Obviously a good deal of graphic work is involved with all these sites, for which we use Paint Shop Pro 7. We build all our sites in straight HTML; we don’t use any third-party software except the one for this blog, which we have modified to fit into this page.

I also publish WestWard Quarterly, the poetry magazine edited by my wife, Shirley Anne. I work with her in producing each issue, which we print at home on our own equipment. In January I took delivery of my third novel, New America, which I formatted for publication myself including the cover design; now I’m involved in distributing it.

I just completed a two-year term as a trustee of our local library, and two years as a director of the Greater Kirkland Area Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to all that, we’re getting ready to relocate to Hamilton, Illinois in June, sifting through our possessions to trim down for the move and trying to sell our home here in Kirkland.

We believe what we post on this blog is interesting and thought-provoking material, and appreciate those of you who read it. But if this blog doesn’t get updated for a while, you know the reasons why.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Principles of the Kingdom

Over the past few weeks my wife and I have been re-reading The Secret Kingdom, published by Pat Robertson (with Bob Slosser) in 1982. It is striking how this 27-year-old book is still so timely, particularly with respect to the world’s current economic woes. Of course, the “secrets” of the kingdom of God, as laid out by Jesus and the New Testament writers, are always timely. But, especially now, a review of these kingdom “laws” will help us to live our lives above the fray of current events. Let’s take up these principles, in brief, as Robertson discusses them.

The Law of Reciprocity. This follows from Jesus’ so-called “Golden Rule,” and his statement, “Give, and it will be given to you.” Our actions, for good or ill, will bring about a corresponding response from our environment.

The Law of Use. Like the servants in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, if we utilize what we have we will gain more of it; if we fail to do so, it will dissipate. “Use it or lose it.”

The Law of Perseverance. Faced with a challenge, we’re tempted to give up too quickly. But, like the widow appealing to the corrupt judge in Jesus’ parable, we find that persistence in a worthwhile effort will eventually bring results.

The Law of Responsibility. “To whom much is given, of them much is required.” The more ability or wealth we have, the more we’re under obligation to look to the needs of others.

The Law of Greatness. As Jesus taught His disciples, the one who would be greatest must become the servant of all. True greatness comes from humility; whoever would enjoy the benefits of the kingdom must receive it “as a little child.”

The Law of Unity. God created mankind, and all things, in the unity of the Holy Trinity: “Let us make man in our image . . .” Prayer, when we gather as two or three in unity, brings results where a lone appeal may not. Lack of harmony frustrates our efforts to solve problems.

The Law of Miracles. God has all power, and His will cannot, in the end, be frustrated. Reliance on His mercy, and faith in His ability to work wonders, are keys to success in every area.

The Law of Dominion. God created people after His own pattern, to have dominion over their environment. This authority, seen most clearly in Jesus to whom “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given, brings with it a mandate for wise stewardship of the world’s resources. But awareness of our dominion also keeps us from becoming too timid to take the action needed to deal with our challenges.

These principles seem to turn our world upside down; they fly in the face of commonly accepted cultural values. But, as Jesus repeatedly states, “Whoever . . .” The laws of the kingdom work for anyone who will practice them, whether Christian believers or not. Through application of these principles of God’s “secret kingdom” we can weather the turmoil of our times, and be the “blessed” Jesus speaks of in His Beatitudes.

Our nation, and the world community, seem to find themselves on a downward slope, grasping at straws. Foolish and short-sighted measures — at the highest levels of government and at the individual level — have been the order of the day, but in the end they will fail. Eventually the world must realize that Jesus Christ, and His inspired spokesmen, have had the only answers all along.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When Trying Harder Doesn't Work

All serious Christians are concerned about the strength of their faith in God and the level of their commitment to His purposes. The shelves of Christian bookstores sag with the weight of books purporting to guide and encourage the believer in developing a stronger faith.

And no wonder. The Scriptures and the history of our faith are laced with the accounts of men and women of God who serve as examples of deep spirituality and unshakeable commitment. Consider, among others, the perseverance of Abraham, the unrelenting vision of Moses, the tenderness toward the Lord of David, the determination of Nehemiah. Consider the single-mindedness of the Apostle Paul whose “this one thing I do” resulted in the establishment of the gospel of Christ across the Mediterranean world. The Biblical “heroes of the faith” are joined by others: Augustine, who could find no rest till he found it in God; Luther, whose “Here I stand” thunders through history as the battle-cry of ecclesiastical reform; Wesley, who logged hundreds of thousands of miles on horseback to evangelize England.

In the last century we can point to such figures as Pastor Martin Niemoller and the ten Boom family, who endured Nazi concentration camps and suffered death because of their determination to maintain a Christian witness; to Joni Eareckson Tada, who overcame depression to build a ministry of encouragement to thousands despite her paraplegia; or to theologian-philosopher Francis Schaeffer who, emaciated from cancer, stood in the cold to picket a hospital that performed abortions just three weeks before his death.

And then we come to you and me. Where is our faith compared to that of the spiritual giants of yesteryear, or even of today? Admittedly, comparisons may be inappropriate; the Lord has called each of us to serve in his own way. Still, when we consider the great examples of what can be done through faith, many of us stagger along on a guilt trip because we haven’t been so spiritually motivated, or haven’t accomplished more for the kingdom of God.

Once we set out on that guilt trip we can go one of two ways. We could just become indifferent or resigned to our lack of spirituality, and perhaps give up any effort to change. Or, we could try harder. Maybe we should pray more regularly and read the Scriptures more intently. Perhaps we shall set ourselves to participate more actively in worship, schedule a daily “quiet time,” read more of those Christian self-help books, or try witnessing to our unsaved friends. Or, if we are convicted about some habit or personality quirk that doesn’t honor the Lord, we steel ourselves to “kick it” and to amend the manner of our life. With a little more effort, maybe we too can become a “spiritual giant.”

The trouble is, if we aren’t spiritual it’s usually because, at heart, we aren’t motivated to be spiritual. A battle rages within ourselves; our inner being becomes what Joyce Meyer calls “the battlefield of the mind.” In traditional terms, our flesh is at war with our spirit; we want to become infused with “the mind of Christ,” but we want to do it on our own terms or by our own devices, in that self-assertion the Bible calls “the flesh.” So when we try to be more spiritual than we really want to be, the effort to change can just make us more resentful and discouraged with our lack of success.

Such effort also makes us a prisoner of what Paul calls “the law of sin and death,” since any “success” in becoming more spiritual boomerangs. It builds up the very ego whose self-preoccupation kept us so unspiritual in the first place. If we really aren’t motivated, trying harder doesn’t do it. Unspiritual people “don’t have a prayer” — or, maybe, the only genuine prayer for such a time is, “Lord, make me willing to be made willing.” A Scriptural version of the same prayer might be Paul’s utterance: “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

When trying harder doesn’t work, the only thing to do is to quit trying in our own strength and fall back on Christ alone. I like what John and Paula Sanford wrote years ago in The Transformation of the Inner Man:

Paradoxically, we are healed by being taught to put no confidence whatsoever in our own flesh, simply to rest in Him...A self-image is something we build, in which we falsely learn to trust. A self-image necessarily sets us into self-centered striving—to live up to it, to make sure others see and reward it. . . . Christian healing comes then not by making a broken thing good enough to work, but by delivering us from the power of that broken thing so that it can no longer rule us, and by teaching us to trust His righteousness to shine in and through that very thing. . . . We do no good thing. He accomplishes all. For the soul, there is in that sense no healing— only death and rebirth. . . . The Lord wants us to accept ourselves as we are, rotten and unchanged, and then let Him express His goodness and righteousness in us through His Holy Spirit.

Not being a spiritually inclined person, I find myself too often feeling like a “phony” when trying to pray, to worship the Lord or to instruct in Christian truths. I am overwhelmed by my inner awareness of what the Sanfords call “the unbelieving heart of the believer.” For me, trying harder doesn’t do it; I only despise myself for passing myself off as a real believer. Yet, in facing this truth about myself, a strange thing has happened. The less of the phony me there is in my worship and Christian living, the more of the Lord there seems to be.

Spiritual giants of the past endured their own struggles, till the Lord set them free. Their examples are always before us. But if you’re not a spiritual giant yourself, it’s living death to strive to be one. Better to “hit bottom,” face the truth about yourself, and begin to pray, “Lord, make me willing to be made willing . . .”