Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Distraction of Effectiveness

Some things are very effective... If someone isn't contributing to the system, to society, or to "the company," you simply terminate them from their position and exclude them from the benefits of the system. You wanna get a good job? Wanna accumulate wealth? Well, dishonesty is a time-tested and popular option that has worked for many, if not most, of the wealthiest people in the world. You wanna end poverty? Well, just ignore the poor and poverty won't be a problem for you... or label the poor in such a way that their plight is no longer your responsibility or the responsibility of anyone else who has got the money to help them. "They're poor because they're lazy!"

Ending a life can be a very effective thing to do. It can be an effective way to appease society's demand for "justice," it can serve as a way to secure safety, comfort, or to perpetuate a way of life. Indeed, ending a life can also help one get re-elected--Osama Bin Laden's death certainly hasn't hurt President Obama's chances. Killing works, war works, we've seen enough proof of that.

But does effectiveness determine ethical legitimacy? How should the effectiveness of an action even inform the discernment of what should and should not be done?
On the flip side, there are some things which simply aren't effective. Caring for and loving someone who is terminally ill, for example, doesn't really solve their problem. Selling all your posessions and giving it to the poor, won't likely solve the problem of global poverty. Caring for and meeting the needs of someone who has done nothing to earn help or has indeed proven that they don't "deserve" help at all will certainly look foolish the the calculating economist or the pragmatic politician. And yet, I believe, deep in our bones we know that grace is unconditional, generosity is not bound by merit, and love is unbound by functionality or the productivity of a relationship.

The kingdom of God refuses to be defined by effectiveness. Jesus calls us to sell all we have and give it to the poor... Even though spending money is definitely more effective. Jesus says, "love your enemies," "the first are last," serve those who can give you nothing in return, gain life by losing it--you wanna find God? You wanna find glory? Look to the lowly, find God in the wretched. These are the things, however ineffective they may seem to us, which distinguish God's kingdom. Its definition is only ever in the person, Jesus Christ, who was elevated to glory by way of humility and shame.

When it comes to God's kingdom, effectiveness is often little more than a distraction. It is not truly our job to determine what will work, only what is faithful. We are called to follow--to follow and to allow our teacher, our king, to take our faithful discipleship and somehow bring it to fruition.

Therefore, we can stand against violence... no matter how "logical" the violence may seem. We are free to care for the poor, even if we are told that they'll only take advantage of us. We are free to love people, even if it seems to is, in all our faculties, that they're truly bound to hell! We are free to live NOW, according to the laws of the future kingdom for which we hope, which visits us now in the present. And we are free in our discipleship to simply trust in the God who makes a way out of no way.

Live in faithfulness to Jesus... let God worry about its effectiveness.

"...faithfulness is a higher virtue than effectiveness. Some things ought indeed to be done regardless of whether by human calculations they promise to be effective; and other things ought not to be done, no matter how effective they may promise to be." -Dr. George Hunsinger

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