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Friday, August 16, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
[Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)]

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.
Mark Twain, a Biography

True, there is nothing new under the sun—the 92 naturally occurring essential elements have existed since the creation of the world. Thus we can say that nothing is ever invented from scratch (even beyond essential elements we find subatomic particles). However, it is yet undeniable that innovations of profound importance in fact do occur. I suppose the simplest way of looking at this is to view a new-born baby as simply a combination of tired old essential elements—there is nothing new under the sun. However, surely the unique combination of genes (the one and only) is in some sense entirely new. The potential that the child represents will make possible some new innovation that would have been impossible without her.

Frankly the adage that “there's nothing new under the sun” troubles me somewhat....much as the adage “the poor are always with us.” Again, the question is “so what?” Do the adages imply that we are to make no attempt to alleviate suffering and want through arduous effort or not to lean heavily upon divine inspiration to improve management techniques or innovate coping mechanisms upon planet earth?

Mark Twain moves on from the world of physical elements into the world of ideas, and he says “There is no such thing as a new idea.” As with turning a kaleidoscope, we simply churn old ideas about and come up with new and curious combinations. But all arise from the same old pieces of colored glass that have been around through all the ages.

I like to consider the Bible and search through it for pieces of colored glass. We begin with TRUST between God and humans. But then arises TEMPTATION and BETRAYAL and EVIL. Thus, very early on we appreciate the flawed nature of man—man resides in a state of IMPERFECTION and must strive to overcome his imperfections through looking beyond himself to GOD. (The imperfections are aptly summarized in the Seven Deadly SINS while in contrast perfection is summarized in the Fruit of the SPIRIT). Much of the Old Testament deals with the imperfection of man and the churning sea of complications that result. We learn that man foolishly seeks to ESCAPE from his weaknesses rather than dealing with them. He seeks to escape through IDOL WORSHIP. The abject failure of these idols to stand the test of time brings us to MONOTHEISM—belief in the one true God. The ascendency of GOD is complimented by the BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. We are to regard, respect, and treat our neighbor as we would ourselves.

Since man is flawed we must rely on DIVINE GRACE to endow us with GENEROSITY and LOVE. Because of the flawed nature of man and limited resources, we find that LOVE often calls for SACRIFICE at the expense of self-interest as egocentrically defined. That is, EGOCENTRISM is often the foil of love. Thus, the relationship of the INDIVIDUAL and SOCIETY can present persistent CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.

Governments in the Bible include TRIBES, KINGDOMS, and the EQUALITY found in the church of Christ. The latter outside the Bible bleeds over into FORMS OF GOVERNMENT in which equality is a bedrock belief. Nevertheless, equality can be refracted in unfortunate ways. Basically we confront the challenge presented by the difference between the “LETTER OF THE LAW” and the “SPIRIT OF THE LAW.” Often strict adherence to the letter of the law can gut the spirit of the law. In other words, a dogma that glitters as gold on paper can when implemented result in the IRONY that one ends up harvesting what one most wanted to avoid. That is, we encounter the PARADOX OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

The Bible often speaks of God’s FORGIVENESS and our need to express the same towards others (as explicitly stated in the Lord’s Prayer).

The Bible makes clear that there are ETERNAL VERITIES that embody MEANING and PURPOSE. These long term values need to be present and regnant even the SHORT TERM. In the Bible there is much UNBELIEF and the absence of FAITH. Yet these conditions can be REDEEMED though the acts of God and our REPENTANCE. ETERNAL LIFE thus begins in the present and extends forever into the long, long-term.

The singular value of the Bible is that it lays bare the colored rocks of the ages that warn, enlighten, and inspire. It is my belief that most every form of human behavior can be clarified with study of the Bible. We ignore or “outgrow” it at our great peril.

We must never seek to supplant the Bible with the myopic “pursuit of happiness.” All we need remember is that every tragedy ever inflicted by man upon man (even oneself) has ironically been perpetrated through the pursuit of happiness—the veritable Venus flytrap of human affairs that constantly entices and persistently destroys.  By far the majority of those who sadly sit in prisons (made of stone and steel or of the mind) got there through the relentless pursuit of happiness.

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