You Can’t Get There from Here

A really really old joke. Maybe one should not even call it a joke, but maybe it is more of an anecdote.

A salesman is driving through a sparsely inhabited bit of countryside. He comes upon an old farmer standing at the corner of an intersection of two roads completely lacking in directional guidance.

<Typically, the farmer is a New Englander, but since I can neither speak nor type with a convincing New England accent, I will let you pick the region of your choice.>

“Good day, Sir.” said the salesman. “I am trying to find my way to Glimpton. I am afraid I have lost my way. Could you possibly point me in the correct direction.”

The farmer replied. “Hmm… well let me see. Glimpton… a pretty place. You need to go down that way for a spell and then… Wait, no. You need to go this way and… Hmmm. That won’t work. Maybe you should kind of, let’s see now…”

After a bit more of thinking out loud, the farmer comes to the answer, “You can’t get there from here.”

A humorous anecdote loses its humor when it is dissected… but let’s dissect it anyway. The final statement is meant to be mildly humorous for a few reasons.

  • There is an assumption by most that any point can be reached from any other point.
  • Most would believe that a local should know where local places are (not always a good assumption).
  • Many would assume that the farmer would rather say there is no answer than admit that he did not know the answer.

But let’s think about this for a moment. There are a lot of places we “get get to from here.” A few are:

  • The past
  • The (distant) future
  • The center of the earth
  • 1 light year from earth (or more).

That’s enough for now.

But in Christian outreach I think that there are other places that we cannot get to from where we are.

Most Christians, I THINK, would agree that we are supposed to share God’s message (the Gospel). Most of these same Christians, I HOPE, would recognize that sharing is not enough… we are to seek a response from the hearers leading to individual and societal transformation. And recognizing that different cultures have different values and ideas, these same Christians, PERHAPS, would see the need to adapt the message other hearers.

I am studying cross-cultural ethics right now. If you look at the previous paragraph, you see three major categories of Ethics (as referred to by David Augsberger).

  • We are commanded to share the message (Deontological Ethics).
  • Our sharing must be done to increase the likelihood of a positive response (Teleological Ethics)
  • Our message must be adapted to the specific cultural understanding of the hearer (Contextual Ethics).

When I was in seminary, I was told that Christian Ethics is Deontological. I don’t see that as the case Biblically. Yes, we are supposed to be guided by God who is our authority. That is deontological. Yet, our behavior is also supposed to be guided by anticipated results and by context. This makes Christian Ethics much more complicated… but rightly so. If your standard is God… an infinite living person… it would be silly to assume that such a standard could be distilled into a list of DOs and DON’Ts.

This problem that Christians have with Ethics pops up with Outreach. I have a lot of Christian friends on FaceBook. God bless them, but they put horrible things on FB (and blogs at times as well). One will put an article that suggests that floods, earthquakes and such are God’s way of telling us to stop being nice to homosexuals. Another one talks about Arab Muslim atrocities to Christians, and asks the question, why are we being nice to these people when they are so horrible to us? Some posts seem to be built on the premise that it is good to legally force non-Christians to act like Christians, while it is bad to legally force Christians to act like other groups. Others are notes about when God is coming back in _____ (pick a year… any year). When God does not return at that time… that prophecy gets dumped and another prophecy with a new year (perhaps old year + 2) comes out. Others respond to horrible personal tragedies with trite statements like “God is in control” and “It is all for the best.” <First of all, who says that a tragedy is necessarily for the best? Maybe it isn’t. And the basic premise of the Bible is that at this moment God is NOT in control… that’s why things are particularly lousy.>

I think there is a disconnect. May I suggest a few things.

1.  Putting things on Social Media that insult, denigrate, or negatively stereotype groups of non-Christians, reduces the likelihood that God’s message of love and transformation will be understood and accepted.

2.  Utilizing the argument that people do bad things to Christians so Christians should do bad things to them, is a devilish argument— completely unethical by any standard– and certainly should be rejected in total.

3.  Topics that interest a wacky little subset of Christianity should be kept out of the broader media. Paul said that one should avoid lawsuits between Christians because it hurts their testimony to non-believers. Maybe that principle should be considered when it comes to the quirks in Christendom. That small subset of Christendom that likes to do “Rapture Roulette” (or fight over holidays, or questions of God’s sovereignty and theodicy) should find ways of keeping such embarrassing stuff out of the broader media. The fact that Jesus specifically gave the message of Revelation to John to share with specific churches should be meditated upon. It wasn’t given for the broader society. It was given to Christians for comfort and warning.

The message of God should be shared… but it should be shared in such a way that it is made appealing (refer to Titus 2:10) contextually and methodologically.

When our goal (destination) is at war with our message and method for getting there, I believe it is true that “we can’t get there from here.”

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