Monday, November 14, 2005

Building Character, Shaping a Life

The longer I live, the more I am convinced by the idea that the virtues we build into our lives affect the ways in which we know the world. Academically, this is often called virtue epistemology, but I think there is a strong biblical foundation for this notion as well. The more virtue we have in our lives the clearer we see the world and our proper places in it, and the more vice we have in our lives, the more cloudy our vision of Christ and our relationships become. In time I hope to deal with a few of the traditional virtues one by one, but to begin making my case, I want to cite a couple of biblical passages. First, Malachi 3:13-15:

"Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, 'How have we spoken against you?' You have said, 'It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.'"

This kind of conversation occurs a lot in the OT, and relatively often in the short book of Malachi. So what does it indicate? It shows, and I picked this instance because of its clarity, that those living in rebellion against God don’t have the moral wherewithal to see it. Sin has deadened their moral senses. In my own semi-technical short-hand translation of the Hebrew, the conversation goes like this:

God says, "You have told people to disdain me."
The people respond, "How have we told people to disdain you?"
God hits "play" on the DVD and we watch as the people say, "You should disdain God."

A supporting passage in the NT can be found in 1 John 2:11:

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

It is not just that when we are sinning we are sinning. Our sins actually blind us to the moral structure of the universe-they "turn out the light" so to speak.

The inoculation of virtue into our characters is more than a matter of looking like Mother Teresa-it is a means by which we can better grasp the world around us and the spiritual realities of God and His creation. You want to have a better ethical and epistemological grasp of things? Become more loving, humble, courageous, chaste, hopeful, temperate, more just.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I agree with you, and think it valuable to say these things out loud.

However, I was a little distracted by a couple of minor errors.

You want the word "affected" not "effected." As in "We are positively or negatively affected by the models we choose to emulate."

My web browser (IE 6) rendered the apostrophe and quotation marks as nonsense. You can fix this by editing in blogger or by using the blogger plug in for Word.