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Hubris

by Douglas S. Dillner, Ph.D. (WordAlone board member, Riva, Maryland)

October 20, 2008


photo of Doug DillnerThere is a book I have at home that spends its days in the poder room. It is entitled “The 2,548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said” by Robert Byrne. Some books seem to be written just for that purpose, that is, to spend their days in the powder room – books not really engaging enough to sit and read for long periods of time such as to quiet the mind before bed, but simply light-hearted fare for the moment.

Although I most enjoy the quotes by Erma Bombeck, I found one today that gave me pause: “Leroy is a self-made man, which shows what happens when you don’t follow directions,” (Cartoon caption by Bill Hoest). Poor Leroy Lockhorn was not a character to emulate.

The “Lockhorns” was a syndicated daily comic strip about a married couple, Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn, and was a satire of married life distributed by King Features Syndicate. Pitiable Leroy was egocentric, and a true existentialist. Leroy’s Weltanschauung, a German word from which we derive our word, worldview, was limited to what he saw in a mirror or at the bottom of a stein. Sad. But that happens when we rely on our own reason to establish our own mores.

“I know best what is for me,” some say. “I can reason what is bad and good, right and wrong.”

I am reminded here of lyrics from a song by Neil Diamond, “Don’t think feel, ain’t no big deal; If it feels right then don’t think twice,” the credo of an adolescent mind, no doubt.

We were there, some for longer some for shorter, hovering for a time in the hubris of adolescents -- the know-it-alls of junior high, my mother used to say.

“Listen to your motherrrrrrr,” my dad oft times said to me back then. I grew out of my sophomoric foolishness eventually; some never do.

The British poet, A. E. Housman opined,

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give peals away and rubies
But keep you fancy free.”
But I was one-and twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty I heard him say again,
“The heat out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;

‘Tis paid with sighs a-plenty
And sold for endless rue,”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.

So this poor 22-year-old finally realized the wisdom proffered to him by the wise man. Even to think we know all the answers is the philosophy of a fool. (Job thought he knew what God was all about, and look what that got him!) If this 22-year-old had only followed the directions, his life would have been better a lot sooner and he would have saved himself a lot of grief.

God has given us pretty clear directions for life. Some have tried to rewrite these directions, shading them in the pastels of modern society -- society shaping God -- viewing God through rose-colored glasses. One might think that going to a Lutheran seminary would be a good location for getting the “directions” right, but sadly, it may not be, I fear. In many cases, even at seminaries, God’s directions are distorted by running them through a badly polished lens-of-society -- again, society shaping God, not God shaping society.Scary stuff.

Dennis Bielfeldt, Ph.D., founder of the Institute of Lutheran Theology, which thankfully will be a confessional Lutheran seminary, brings us back to God’s directions when he writes, “Semantic realism holds that what makes a statement true or false is something that human beings may not be able to perceive or confirm. These things, making true or false theological statements independent of human observation, are called ‘evidence transcending truth conditions.’” We need semantic realism; these are good directions to follow.

In the long run, God will win. In the long run, God’s kingdom will come with a new creation in line with God’s will. Until then, all we can do is pray; we must strive to teach from the directions given to us by God through the Bible.

Would that, sooner or later, the world would say in unison, “This is what happens when you don’t follow (God’s) directions.”

Perhaps as Christians the best we can do is take solace in our prayer, “. . . thy Kingdom come, they will be done. . . .” Amen.