Virtue and Vice: Who Do You Listen to?

I’ve been thinking about the difference between virtue and vice in Christian thought. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

I looked at the related human behaviors, persistence and stubbornness and meditated on them for a while.

Persistence is the art of pursuing the same goal by different means until learning what works or learning to modify the goal. Persistent people learn from others  and their experience.

The Biblical expression for “stubborn” is “stiff necked.” The Israelites raised goats as well as sheep. Put a rope on a lamb and give it a tug and they will generally respond by following you. Now try it with a goat. This is “stiff necked.”

stubborn-goatNow persistence and the related idea of perseverance are virtues. Stiff-necked or stubborn is a vice. They are both about being consistent and pushing ahead in spite of obstacles.  So why does God recommend persistence but warns against stubborn?

A Gift

WP_20151016_09_34_08_ProIt is fall in Upstate NY, probably our prettiest season. The other day, having read Scripture and meditated, I was driving to see a friend. I was remembering moments with my wife and children. What a congenial way to spend 45 minutes while traveling.

Then I had a gift. A remembered a person from my past who always pointed to what I did and suggested a “better way.” When I complained to him that I just never measured up to his impossible standards, he said, “As your teacher I want to both show my excitement in what you already know but also point you towards your next step. That is how teachers love their students.”

In my mind’s eye I saw him saying this and recalled thinking, “Hogwash, he just thinks I am an idiot.” And now 55 years later I realized I was still though he thought I wan an idiot.

Then it clicked. He was right. He saw what I could master and wanted that for me. He never intended to say that I was not good enough. He was sincerely saying, “Well done! and there is even more great stuff out their to master!!!” I experienced a moment of healing I did not even know I yearned for.

In the poem “To a Louse” Robert Burns wrote:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

For those who don’t speak old Scot dialect and to complete Burn’s thought,

And would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

In meditation we “borrow” God’s eyes to see life if we are willing to ask then listen.


Jamie smallI am turning 72. Last August my wife danced during our anniversary singing, “This is the Best Year Ever.” She made the song up and it was sweet.

Meditation has been huge in the process which has taken me from frustration and resentment to a peace that passes anything that I had hoped for. With King David I can say that the boundaries of my life fall in pleasant places (Ps 16.6).

Recently I realized that I was fearful of joy. “I’ll fix your little red wagon,” was something I heard more than once growing up from bullies and unhappy people in my life. How slow I have been to realize my freedom to chose those I bring into my lives. I forget that I am not responsible for other’s frustration. I have enough of my own to manage. I structure my time in meditation or remember this not just on a theoretical level but on the level of the moments of living.

One of the questions I ask life is, “Where have I seen joy?(Gal 5:22-23)” then shut up and listen. Joy is one of God’s gifts. So I write the moments down and give thanks.  It is good to take time to remember Joy, one of God’s many kindnesses to us.


And Then…

Blessing InstallationMost of us get married, have children and wonder, “Where is this headed?” I don’t know the answer yet, but I do get hints.

The phone rang a few weeks ago. “Dad, Dad,” my daughter began, “would you preach the sermon at my installation?” My daughter was recently called to serve as an Associate Pastor not far from where we live. You can tell that things are good when a child asks you to preach to them!

“Yes, I would be honored.” And I was.

So I spent several weeks thinking about conversations between us. That was very wonderful. I thought about the twists and turns in her life and her family’s like.  I thought of smiles and tears, awards and disappointments. I though of holding her and of watching her run free and climb trees, leave for school and pop home again.  My daughter has always had an amazing laugh and the gift of energy. And then she because an amazing woman, wife and mother!

Back to my original question. “Where is this all leading?” I really don’t have an answer but I have an expectation. There will be another moment of looking back, of remembering and of seeing. That too will be rich and a privilege.  In Ecclesiasties 2:24 the preacher says:

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God

Maybe this is all the answer we get. What do you think?