today's most viewed

I note that this morning's list of 'Today's Most Viewed' news stories on the website goes like this:

1. George Clooney held at gunpoint
2. Shakira 'sex tape' an April Fool's Day hoax
3. Family claims largest ever Lotto prize
4. Croc Hunter hid pain and suffering, father says
5. Comedian convicted on drink-drive charge
6. Professor calls for tax on 'poison' butter
7. Incest couple had another child, court documents show
8. Men like negotiating curves when it comes to body shape
9. Rugby league star in drowning scare
10. Will food prices ever come down?

This is not a particularly unusual list. I keep an eye on it as it provides a window into a nation's soul. It is usually a combination of the superficial, the criminal, the covetous, the sexual, the celebritous mixed in with the very occasional news story of weight and substance.

I wonder if such a list of 'Today's Most Viewed' news stories on the computers of Jesus-followers would look any different?

Let's name what is going on here.

It is an electronic manifestation of what the writer of Ecclesiastes calls 'vanity'. The English translations struggle with this word: 'futile', 'useless', 'meaningless' ... each one of them is too abstract. I like Eugene Petersen's "smoke". Or the image of our "breath" on a frosty morning. Now a couple of relevant nuances can be developed.

One is 'smoke with respect to time' - that which does not last. It is brief. It is fleeting. Three verses up from Ecclesiastes 1:2 is a fabulous use of the very same word where beauty is described as fleeting (Prov 31:30). In Old Testament thought this "smoke" is the polar opposite to "eternity", the very eternity which God plants in our lives (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

The other is 'smoke with respect to weight' - that which has no substance. It is empty. It is hollow. It is weightless. The Psalms use the word this way (see Psalm 62:5-10). And here it is a contrast to what does have substance and is weighty and rock-like - namely, God. And the word that is used is "glory". In Old Testament thought this "smoke" is the polar opposite to "glory". That is why the baseline message in Ecclesiastes is to "fear God" - take him seriously because he has weight and is as unlike smoke as it is possible to be.

So what is going on this 'Today's Most Viewed' list? Glory is being given to that which is smoke-y. Weight is being given to that which is weightless. And when Jesus-followers are caught up in this it is tragic. Why? Isn't it obvious?! In practice - maybe not in theory - our lives are giving glory to that which has none and in so doing we squeeze out space and time for the glory being ascribed to the One who has it all. I think this is called idolatry.

nice chatting



Ben Carswell said…
Paul - good to read your thoughts. Ecclesiastes seems particularly pertinent in the NZ context. Am looking forward to meeting you at some point - I've recently joined TSCF staff as outreach coordinator, so hope to be able to hear your thoughts on evangelism in a Kiwi context at some point. I was leading a team over here 2 years ago & was at the TSCF conference & your talk on the MTD virus has stuck in my head - a very apt description.
Keep on keeping on in the work!
Mark Maffey said…
Paul - certainly we live in a world given over to the pursuit of pleasure and the idols seem to abound, even our TV shows use the word Idol to describe their content.

The challenge to us is how we exegete our culture and like the Apostle Paul start from where they are and help them to find the "unknown" God they may be looking for.

The other challenge in face of the insidiousness of the world is how to hold onto our faith and not be tempted by what the world offers. As I am in the process of re-focusing on the message of John, I believe John 15 has much relevance to us, here is my poetic reflection/meditation on it's first 4 verses:

John 15 vs. 1-4 - Jesus, the True Vine
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine
That doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
Jesus used an image known to the disciples and told them he was the true grapevine
He was the fulfillment of Israel’s hope of being God’s intent for them to be messianic, life-giving and more
Israel had failed to hold to the law and God has to send Jesus to be like new wine
Replacing the old and became a new covenant, a price paid so that from God people weren’t cut-off anymore
For the Father is the gardener, there comes a point when he must reshape his design
Cutting out that which doesn’t produce fruit, pruning the fruitful branches so they will produce even more

You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.
For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me
Jesus acknowledges the disciples they had been pruned and purified by his message and to him they were true
Jesus call them and us to remain, or abide him, John uses the word over 50 times in Christ we need to keep and be
One of the key ways to do this is to keep in his word, to hear his message to us; his word needs to guide our views
Our actions, for we can’t produce fruit without knowing what it is we are to produce, pears on apple trees you don’t see
We live in a world that sends out messages which say “if it feels right do it”, we must ignore these hold to what is true
Our confession of faith more than just mumbling creeds rather living in light of what Christ has done in him believe

Paul said…
Thanks Ben and Mark

And Ben - I've noted your name already as a new person in the TSCF world. I look forward to meeting you sometime. It is a high and urgent calling that God has laid on your life. I believe there is a Jen as well. Blessings on you both.

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