Why the Extremes?

Why Extremes?

Terry Dashner……………….Faith Fellowship Church PO Box 1586 Broken Arrow, OK 74013

I came of age during the turbulent 1970s. Two weeks after graduating high school, I landed in San Diego, California for basic training with the U.S. Navy.

1973 was not a good year to enter the military. In March of that year, the U.S. had worked out a cease fire agreement with the North Vietnamese and, except for the troops remaining behind to help the South Vietnamese “de-Americanize” (the essential weaning away of the South Vietnamese Army from U.S. support while learning to defend itself against the N.V.A.), most of the American troops had come, or were coming, home. As you might recall, the soldiers were mostly draftees who cared very little for military life. As they came stateside to leave the war behind, I was just getting adjusted to military life.

More than anything, I remember the low moral, blatant racism, overt drug abuse, and the general malaise that many returning soldiers displayed. It seemed that contempt and hate for anything patriotic ruled the day. We even hated ourselves. It was not a good time for America’s military.

Nevertheless, as is often true in life that when the pendulum swings one way it strikes with equal force on its return. Although America was reaping the whirlwind of military burnout and political corruption (Watergate) on the one hand, the other hand opened to great revival among America’s youth. This was known as the “Jesus Movement.”

Instead of hippies with mind altering drugs in hand and free sex to give away, young people were now turning on and turning to Jesus. I remember this period of time from a West coast perspective. Long haired men with beards and sandals were turning their VW buses into missionary wagons. They traveled up and down the coast line, preaching Jesus and winning souls. Some of the men (and ladies) even looked like Jesus.

So while America experienced distress and bitterness on one end, there was great awakening and revival on the other end. When I think about this time, I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome. When sin abounds, grace abounds more (Romans 5:20).

While reflecting recently about the stark contrasts during this period of time in our nation’s history, I was reminded again of some of the words from G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton was a man ahead of his time and spoke eloquently about the human experience in its extremes. I’d like to share some of his thoughts, recorded in Philip Yancey’s book entitled, Soul Survivor (Doubleday 2001).

Philip Yancey writes, “In addition to the problem of pain, G.K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated by its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation.

“Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for all the rest of us?”

Yancey continues, “It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on ‘the problem of pleasure.’ Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question: the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would naturally want his creatures to experience delight, joy, and personal fulfillment. Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?”

Good point Mr. Yancey. And I think Chesterton would agree. After all, Chesterton was the one who raised the question. Yes, there is suffering in this world. But God has also provided pleasure. The only warning attached to pleasure is this: It, too, can be misused and taken to extremes.

Fearful of the extremes, many churches have become death camps for anything of pleasure. One can’t laugh too much, or feel too good, or enjoy too much sensory pleasures. Because of the fear of extremes in pleasure, many people have been turned off by the church. This is a shame. God obviously wants His creatures to enjoy life or He would have made us without senses. Anyone with sense can receive that.

I’ll leave you with a few additional words from Yancey’s take on Chesterton. “Evil’s greatest triumph may be its success in portraying religion as an enemy of pleasure when, in fact, religion accounts for its source.” The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father above us. We must never lose sight of the One who gives us pleasure. Says Yancey, “The ancients turned good things into idols; we moderns call them addictions. In either case, what ceases to be a servant becomes a tyrant—a principle I had clearly seen at work in my brother and his flower children friends [Yancey here refers to his older brother who became disillusioned with the church’s extremes in stamping out pleasures, so he went the way of decadence and found emptiness there as well].”

When considering the dangers of extremism, it’s best to stay “ordinary.” Aristotle called this virtue—the means between two extremes. The New Testament call this virtue—“let your moderation be known unto all men.” Middle road is not so bad. Actually it is the greatest pleasure in the long run. Again the Bible says that to be content with what one has. Godliness with contentment is great gain (I Timothy 6:6).

Keep the faith. Stay the course. Jesus is coming soon.

Pastor T. dash…

About the Author

Pastors a church.

Terry Dashner