Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Friday 25 September 2009

No Worries

Lately I've been thinking about Luke 12 which says in part

Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Does this advise us not to think, plan or work hard? Surely not, since so many other parts of the Bible (including words of Jesus himself) tell us to do those things. So I suppose the important thing here is primarily to get our priorities straight, and then to work hard but not worry for a moment about the results.

This is difficult for me because there are many things I care deeply about, including my work, my family, and my friends, so I worry about them. I don't think it's wrong to care about these things; Jesus certainly cared deeply about many people. Apathy is an easy alternative to worry but I don't think it's what God wants. This is a very practical issue for me because at times over the last year or two I've not been sleeping as well as usual because of work-related stress.

I think what God intends is for me to care deeply but trust him even more deeply, for me to do all I can and leave all results entirely in his hands, to be always joyful knowing that he is the ultimate benefactor.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is hard for me to do, it's a constant spiritual exercise, but by grace I've had some success lately. I'll need to keep at it.


Well said. Thanks for the insight.
Definitely a fan of this post and the work you do. I've quoted part of Luke 12 to many and never knew that this was in the Bible. As an atheist, I don't agree with everything in there, but it contains a lot of wisdom!
Thanks for that. I appreciate your reflections on scripture and matters of faith.
I have to disagree. It seems rather clear to me that the quoted passage does indeed "advise us not to think, plan or work hard." Of course, if you believe the bible literally contains the perfect word of God, then you have all your work ahead of you to reconcile words like this with "other parts of the Bible (including words of Jesus himself) tell us to do those things."
On the other hand, if the bible is the fabrication of human imagination written by many men over many generations with all the wisdom the iron age has to offer, no further explanation is needed.
I for one am very grateful that my ancestors worried quite a bit about what they would eat, where they would find shelter, and so on. I'm alive today because of that effort.
If I subtract the religiosity from your commentary, I confess I'm not confident I understand what your conclusion is. Obviously prioritization of your work and family life is important, and apathy about either is not going to bear good results. But a little bit of worry about things that matter is, I think, not necessarily unhealthy, because it will help to motivate you. (Chronic or serious stress is obviously not a good thing, of course.)
Robert O'Callahan
Tack, if you start from the assumption that there is no coherence and interpret each passage in isolation as you think best, you will probably find your assumption justified. But I don't think you'd get sensible results from applying that hermeneutic to *any* text.
Just two chapters later in Luke Jesus is saying "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" Could Luke really not care about being consistent in his message from one chapter to the next?
I tried to make my conclusions pretty clear. One can care deeply about an issue, and thus be motivated to work hard for its resolution, without being the least bit *anxious* over its outcome. Whether this is achievable without the "religiosity", I don't know.
I noticed that it is helpful to look at the previous passage in order to help with the message quoted here. In the parable of the Rich fool Jesus talks about the man who has a bumper crop and decides to store up the extra to save for many years so he can lay back and relax. However, as soon as he has built his bigger barns and stored the extra grain his life is taken from him. Jesus warns that "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
It seems that Jesus is connecting this to the next passage that is quoted in the original post. I think this adds the idea that worry can lead to an over reliance on our own abilities, and resources when we should trust God to provide, and use our extras, be it money, or anything that we can share to benefit those around us. So worry, and self absorption directs our hearts and minds away from God, but if we trust God to provide our minds are in the right place. This idea is supported later by 12:31 "But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Well said Roc. I've been worried more about work that anything else in life. We tend to push ourselves, when really we need to ask for help to balance life and keep the focus where it should be. I too fall victim to the never ending things we can do for ourselves, but lose focus of the things we should do for others.
Jeff Walden
Ever since it happened to be the most compact full Bible I could find to carry with me on the A.T. last summer (that plus my aunt alluding to the below explanation), I've been rather enamored of the New Living Translation version. The NIV is at this point the modern-day King James Version in terms of ubiquity (or at least from my point of view it appears as such, maybe I haven't visited a sufficiently large variety of churches), but it has well-recognized flaws in various bits of its translations. In some ways it also tends to use more esoteric terminology: references to denarii or Hebrew months using the actual terms, or using what are essentially modern-day Latinisms like "sanctification" or "justification". The NLT makes a conscious effort to use plain and understandable language, with an occasional footnote that points to more precise explanation using ancient units or some other more in-depth clarification. Thus you get "made right with God" rather than "justified", or two silver coins and a footnote equating to two denarii and two day's wages, not merely two denarii. There's a dozen or so pages explaining the NLT translation philosophy at the beginning of it, well worth reading if you get a chance. But, overall, I feel like the NLT aimed to preserve the original meaning in a modern style moreso than NIV did, so I'm inclined to treat the NLT rendering as superior to the NIV as a general rule.
Anyway, returning to the topic at hand, perhaps the suggestion that this passage discourages planning might be motivated simply by a translation that's not as accurate as it could be. Looking at the NLT translation, for example, I see the additional word "everyday" as a qualifier on "life", in which case the passage pretty clearly doesn't include long-term planning. I don't know that the NLT's translation is closer to the meaning of the original Greek, but I would be surprised if it isn't given my past experience with it (and further, for some of the reasons previously mentioned in comments).
Even beyond that, however, most of the translations I briefly checked use the verb "worry", which has a very distinct negative connotation in everyday speech that's quite separate from any understanding of the act of planning. That basis alone is more than enough for me to avoid a problematic, contradictory interpretation that suggests a disdain for planning.