Second Thoughts: On Interpretation

 Author: Juliette McNair | Student, Living Ed Charlotte 2020

Estimated reading time: 3 min.

Mr. Peter Nathan began the forum by asking, “What’s your worldview?” Inspired by Dr. Meredith’s article Satan’s Alternative Universe, Mr. Nathan created a presentation that broke down what an alternative universe is—a worldview.

Your worldview shapes your vision—like glasses. It is your perception of reality—literally, “the way you interpret the world.” Interpretation occurs every day in ways we take for granted. We interpret people’s body language. We examine our own conflicted feelings to discover why we feel so hurt or happy. If we apply meaning to anything, we’re using interpretation.  

Dr. Meredith wrote about the countless alternative interpretations we encounter in the world. But these different worldviews don’t simply involve things we can see—they involve perspectives we can’t see.   

A college student combats alternative worldviews regularly. We have to manage ourselves around the various filters (or lack thereof) of our peers, and we are, essentially, every professor’s captive audience in the classroom. We are solidifying our interpretations of reality while being fed the worldviews of those around us. How do students navigate tests, essays, projects, and discussions that require them to regurgitate their professors’ views? 

Interpreting the Interpretations  

Before coming to Living Education, I attended a State University of New York. I had two professors who strongly contended that gender is a societal constraint. One professor insisted that the existence of hermaphroditic, intersex genetics prove, beyond a doubt, that gender is a continuous spectrum. The other professor taught literature, and she vehemently said that people who believe there are only male and female genders constantly oversimplify things into extremes and refuse to see any complexity in life.  

I could have disproved these teachers’ incorrect perceptions—if they would have listened to God’s interpretation of reality. But I had to sit in class respectfully and swallow my frustration—and I couldn’t ignore their worldview. I really gained a better understanding of how and why they see the world as they do. 

Ignoring or avoiding the various worldviews we face is not helpful; we need to understand others’ interpretations to better serve them now and later. But with that said, I want to achieve that balance of seeing the perspectives of others and understanding where they come from while intensely analyzing their worldview for truths and flaws—interpreting their interpretation.  

Have you ever thought about the phrase, “That’s open to interpretation”? Can you imagine Christ ever saying that? Or would He respond with the right interpretation? What are our thoughts when we hear somebody use that phrase? 

Is Anything in Life “Open to Interpretation”?  

Mr. Nathan pointed out that God provides “a perspective for interpreting every subject matter.” 2 Peter 1:20 says that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation….” Yes, we are human, so we all see the world through different eyes, but isn’t there a correct interpretation for which we all strive? This applies not only to interpreting the Bible, but also to analyzing the worldviews of our friends, family members, and college professors.   

If we don’t actively analyze the interpretations around us, and if we don’t take the time to learn God’s interpretation of things, we risk making the alternative universes of the world our own. It’s worth considering how we interpret the world—and the worldviews—around us. 

Second Thoughts: On Distractions and Responsibility

Author: Juliette McNair | Student, Living Education 2020

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

In this week’s Forum, Mr. Jonathan Bueno addressed the danger of distractions.

The relevance of this topic is self-evident—especially to students. We are constantly bombarded with competitors for our attention, energy, and time. Every Sabbath, as we sit and listen to the messages, we are inspired to dive into God’s word, proving for ourselves what He reveals. We promise ourselves that, this week, we will study the Bible more. We determine to work harder on our homework, and we commit to going to bed earlier so we can feel like normal human beings at our 8:30 a.m. class. 

And then comes Sunday morning. Our Instagram feed is exploding. We’re continuing our streak on Snapchat, and YouTube just notified us about this movie we’ve wanted to see—one three-minute trailer leads to a downward spiral into popular reactions to that trailer, a random sketch comedy, and irrelevant tutorials. Two hours later, we remember that we scheduled a coffee date with a friend. There are group messages to check, TikToks to watch and share, and social events to attend. Then, every evening, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix call to us from the living room—or any room for that matter, via the apps downloaded on our iPhones.  

These are just some of the distractions competing with our goal to study the Bible, read our textbook, and finish the assignments coming due. So, we get overwhelmed. It seems like we inevitably have to stay up until all hours of the night to study for exams. Some of us manage to pull all-nighters, working on that term paper. Others just give up and give in to the many distractions, all too willing to fill that void.  

The Sickness or the Symptom? 

It may seem reasonable to blame our lack of time on these various distractions. But in reality, distractions are not the cause of avoiding the important things in life. More often than not, they’re the result. 

Christ tells us of a man who heard the truth—perhaps he was sitting in church, completely inspired, promising himself that he would do better this week—but the thorns that are the distractions of our world caused him to stop moving forward. In Matthew 13:22-23, we read, “the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” This man understands what he is hearing; he gets it—that is, until he turns away. Those distractions only choke us after we avoid the important things. The cares of this world follow us. It is only when we turn toward them that they lead us. 

Matthew 7:13-14 exhorts, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” 

When we avoid the hard things, the things we know we need to do, we turn from the narrow gate and allow distractions to lead us through the wide. We cannot walk through the narrow gate by accident—it takes strategizing and commitment. This was the thrust of Mr. Bueno’s message: we must combat our distractions. But perhaps we must also contend with our distractibility. 

“Hard choices, easy life.” 

The wide gate is the easy way—yet it doesn’t lead to an easy life. Jerzy Gregorek, former Olympic champion and winner of four World Weightlifting Competitions, lives by the mantra “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” If we choose to make small, difficult decisions on a daily basis, if we choose to not avoid important tasks, and if we choose to handle conflict when it arises, we take responsibility for our proclivity for distraction—and our lives, while by no means easy, will be easier.  

Distractions can lead us away from our opportunity to learn and become established in God’s truth. But they only lead us away after we turn toward them. The responsibility is on us to make time for the important things of life, so that distractions cannot lead us away from the narrow gate. 

Second Thoughts: We’ll Never Regret It

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Staff, Living Church of God

Much of this world sees commitment as extremely dangerous. And for the most part, it’s not wrong about that.

Commitment is dangerous—just ask anyone who ever shelled out cash for tattoo removal. The Scriptures actually warn against throwing promises around—even ones with the purest intentions—because we humans are neither omnipotent nor omniscient, and might very well realize later that a commitment we made was unnecessary, foolish, or even sinful (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12). 

A poorly-placed commitment can indeed create a nightmare of consequences, and because they recognize that, most people are understandably terrified of commitment in general. “If I commit,” they think, “I might regret it.”

Things We Can’t

Mr. Gerald Weston’s final Assembly for Living Education’s 2019-2020 year was focused upon the need to remain committed to God and His way of life. And because of the veil they’re under, most in the world find that entire concept absolutely horrifying. “Tying yourself down to a religion for life?! You’re going to regret that.”

To them, we’re binding ourselves to a restrictive way of living that keeps us from variety. Because of the commitment we’ve made, we can’t… insert one of a thousand things here. We can’t try all the foods they try. We can’t see all the movies they see. We can’t do all the things they do with all the people they do them with. We can’t, we can’t, we can’t. 

Things We Can

And again—they’re not wrong. There’s a lot that a servant of God can’t. But what the world doesn’t see, what it’s simply not able to see, is the vast amount of things we can.

We can talk daily to Someone who is genuinely and wholeheartedly listening to us. We can read His heartfelt, wise responses to what we tell Him. We can take a day, every single week, to cast our usual burdens completely aside. We can feel the gratitude and satisfaction that come from improving ourselves with our Coach’s help. We can sincerely ask forgiveness and know that we’ll receive it. 

We can have a wonderful relationship with our Father—no matter who our parents are. We can marry without the looming possibility of divorce hanging over us. We can live without puzzling over what morality is—we can know it, and know that we know it. We can feel the love of Someone who would literally rather die than live without us. We can have unshakeable confidence that death is not the end, but just a pause. We can look forward to one day being far, far beyond human. 

And that’s not even a thousandth of what we can because of our commitment to the only One who deserves commitment. Commitment to the God of the Scriptures will never turn out to be a bad idea in hindsight. We’ll never find ourselves outgrowing Him, never discover fine print that He tried to hide from us, and never be burdened with the realization that it would have been better to commit to some other way of life. We’ll all make many stupid decisions as the days and years pass, but if we’re doing our best to sincerely follow Him, we will never, ever look back and say, “I really shouldn’t have tied myself down to God.”Those in the world don’t think we have the abundant life, but that’s only because they confuse “abundant” for “unhinged.” Yes, there’s a lot a servant of God can’t do—but none of it’s worth doing. If we’ve committed to Him, we’ve made the safest commitment possible, and we can rejoice in the knowledge that we’ll never regret it.

Second Thoughts: “Weren’t the Egypt days great?”

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Staff, Living Church of God

“Boy, things sure were better in the ’50s, weren’t they? People really took the Bible seriously back then, in the great Christian nations…

Sure, the Jim Crow stuff was a bit of a shame, and it was a pretty nightmarish time to be alive if you suffered from mental illness, I suppose—but seriously, weren’t the ’50s great?” 

“How ‘bout those 1700s? Those founding fathers, they knew what righteousness was. They went to church every Sunday, you know. Yes, yes, you might be hanged if you kept the Sabbath in New England, and you could usually get away with murdering someone as long as you called it a ‘duel,’ but hey—at least people didn’t watch TV so much! Weren’t the 1700s great?”

“Wow, do I ever miss Egypt. We had everything we needed—all we could eat, and since we worked it all off, we never got fat. Yeah, Pharaoh could be a bit of a hardcase, but at least the Egyptians were better than these horrible Canaanites we’re up against now. Weren’t the Egypt days great?” 

No. They weren’t.

Not from Wisdom

In his recent Assembly message, Mr. Mario Hernandez passionately warned against looking backward, longing for the way things used to be, because as soon as we do that, we’re no longer seeking first the Kingdom of God. We were created with eyes incapable of moving independently from each other, positioned at the front of our head—we can turn that head to look behind us, or we can keep it where it is and look ahead of us, but we can’t do both. Looking behind cancels out looking ahead.

Solomon had something to say about that: “Do not say, ‘Why were the earlier days better than these days?’ For it is not from wisdom that you inquire this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10, Modern English Version). I also like the simplicity in how the New Living Translation paraphrases it: “Don’t long for ‘the good old days.’ This is not wise.”

Of course, we’re all guilty of this on some level. Have you ever wished you were a blissfully ignorant ten-year-old again? I have. And it’s just as much of a mistake to think of the modern era as any better than “the earlier days,” since modern generations are definitely guilty of many atrocities that past generations were not—and Scripture is pretty clear that society is on a perpetually downward spiral (1 Timothy 3:1-5).

But do we ever catch ourselves comparing the Kingdom of God to some “enlightened” nation of history? Because that’s really quite insulting to the Kingdom, actually. Every single era of human history has belonged to Satan, and had his influence all over it—so when we look back fondly at any one of those eras, we’re essentially saying, “You know, I miss how Satan’s world used to be. His influence was once far more agreeable. It was still a world blinded by sin, but at least the sin didn’t offend me quite so much as it does now. Wasn’t spiritual Egypt great?”

Beyond All Comparison

We humans thrive on comparison. In many ways, it’s how we visualize reality, and that’s not a bad thing at all. I use analogies ad nauseam, so I certainly don’t consider myself exempt. 

But even when I’m tempted to think that the Kingdom will be “Like the garden of Eden,” I’m forgetting that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The “heart of man” includes the hearts of Adam and Eve. Even after experiencing harmony with God before human sin ever entered the world, they still could not even fathom the beauty of the coming Kingdom.

Tomorrow’s world is impossibly wonderful. Let’s not insult it by longing for yesterday’s.

Thomas White was one of the onsite Living Education students for the 2018-2019 semesters. He also has a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Thomas currently works as an Editorial Assistant for the Living Church of God. According to his wife, he eats pizza in entirely the wrong way.

Second Thoughts: Blessed With Disruption

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

Raise your hand if your 2020 hasn’t gone exactly according to plan.

If typing with one hand weren’t really annoying, I’d be raising mine even as I write. Wherever we are in the world, we all had plans for this year—but thanks to humanity’s insane proclivity to eat everything it can fit in its mouth (from bats, to squirrels, to Tide Pods), the majority of those plans have now been flushed down the worldwide toilet that is COVID-19. 

Mr. Rod McNair’s recent assembly, however, drew attention to the undeniable good that has come of this situation—more people seem to be taking the Scriptures seriously, for one thing, which is reason enough for just about any crisis to occur. Many are becoming more adaptable, too, and accounts of people being genuinely selfless toward one another in this time of nearly universal hardship prove that though this is definitely Satan’s world, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, The Scriptures 2009).

A Comforting Warning

And frankly, none of that good has been according to our shortsighted human plans either, which has me pondering the biblical truth that “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). We usually read that as a warning: “Don’t treat your plans like sureties, because God’s in control, not you.” We can also read it as the humbling reminder that “You might make plans, but you’re never the one who accomplishes them—only God has that power.”

But as we know (though probably not deeply enough), “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). So if our heart is what plans our way, what does that say about our plans?

Jeremiah 17:9 actually lends profound comfort to Proverbs 16:9. Since the heart, which we use to make our plans, is actually deceitful and wicked, this proverb ends up reassuring us, “Your plans are pretty terrible, but don’t worry—God is going to completely disrupt them. He’s the one actually directing your life.”

His Plans Are Better

In the midst of a disruption of life as hefty as what we’re all going through right now, it’s hard to imagine that our plans being so thoroughly upended is actually a good thing. But when we peruse our pasts, almost all of us can recognize times when God mercifully rescued us from our own plans. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be five years ago—and I need to thank God for that, because looking back, His blessing my life with disruption after disruption was keeping me from making a horrendous mess of it all.

Does that mean we should never make plans? Of course not. Frankly, we couldn’t stop making plans even if we tried—it’s our nature to try to manage our futures in some capacity, and if we didn’t, we’d all basically end up as human furniture. From a big-picture perspective, we all have to plan on being in God’s Kingdom, and from a little-picture perspective, we all have to plan on getting out of bed tomorrow.

But amidst of all that essential planning, let’s try to remember that for the most part, we humans aren’t very good at it—and we usually only recognize how bad our plans are in hindsight. That being so, we can take comfort in the midst of trials like this, knowing that when our plans grind to a halt, what we’re seeing is the hand of our loving Father, subtly blessing our lives with disruption.

Second Thoughts: One Hundred Billion Eternities

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Staff, Living Church of God

We’re often told to think about the “big picture” of Christ’s return and the soon-coming eternal Kingdom of God. But when you’re young, even the small picture seems absolutely enormous.

Learning to drive a car is terrifying when you’ve previously only driven—and crashed—a Mario Kart. Getting married is unbelievably, mind-breakingly immense when the whole of your existence has been not married. Young adults doing their best to meaningfully visualize eternity will probably be about as successful as preschoolers trying to ponder the theory of relativity, and I say that as a young adult.

Mr. Phil Sena’s recent assembly—delivered via the internet, due to this virus you may have heard of—addressed how difficult it can be, as a teenager or young adult, to focus your life on the Kingdom of God while also… you know, managing all of the really important, earthly milestones young people naturally have to deal with. Because you have to finish school. You have to get a job. You’d really, really like to marry someone and have children, and then you have to make sure you don’t neglect that spouse or those children. And in the midst of all of this, you have to remember how temporary everything is—even though right now it’s legitimately quite important—so you have to keep talking to God. You have to keep pondering His ways and commands. You have to keep fasting, you have to keep spending time with the Bible, you have to keep examining yourself.

Your Part of the Picture

That really is a big picture, and it’s legitimately difficult to keep up with everything. But it’s also a tiny picture—because it’s only about you. When you’re trying really hard not to make a physical mess of your life, and doing your best not to make a spiritual mess of it, either, it can be all too easy to miss the fact that you’re just one person. Yes, God cares so very deeply about you, and you should never, ever forget that, but even your eternity is just one eternity. 

You know what’s bigger than an eternity? Read the title again.

According to that nifty little internet we’re all using to maintain some semblance of normality these days, it’s estimated that around 100 billion people have lived on Earth up to this point. And hey, you’re one of them! Congratulations. That means the Kingdom of God is 0.000000001 percent about you. That’s how big a part of the picture your one eternity is.

Their Part

As Mr. Sena profoundly emphasized, the world needs God’s Kingdom. It’s about so much more than your personal salvation or mine, and it’s even about so much more than the collective saints of God being transformed in the first resurrection. It’s about rescuing everyone in the entire history of the world. It’s about redeeming not just our time, but the whole of time itself. It’s about one hundred billion eternities.

That’s a big picture. And if our first thought of the Kingdom is usually, “Oh boy, I sure hope I make it there,” we’re forgetting 99.999999999 percent of that picture. We should never stop striving to enter God’s Family, because that’s literally the entire point of human existence (Ecclesiastes 12:13), but when we’re trying to think of the big picture, let’s at least remind ourselves that the vast majority of that picture isn’t about us—and let’s thank God for the fact that regardless of any one of us, the Kingdom will come, creating an unfathomably joyful universe of one hundred billion eternities. 

Second Thoughts: Leaving Stephen Behind

Author: Thomas White | Living Church of God, Editorial Department

“And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his death” (Acts 7:58-8:1).

Dr. Douglas Winnail’s recent assembly addressed the uncomfortable truth that what you do when you’re young will affect the rest of your life. People in many walks of life need that warning, and like most warnings, we need it when we haven’t done anything yet.

But what if you’ve already consented to Stephen’s death?


I wonder how many times Saul saw Stephen’s face in his dreams. I wonder if he ever woke up in a cold sweat while being taught by Christ Himself in the wilderness, hearing “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” reverberate through his mind. I wonder how much he felt as though he were haunted by Stephen’s death.

I wonder if he ever knelt before Christ during those years of training and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord! I let them kill him, I wanted them to, and I don’t know how to make up for it. I’ll never be able to forget what I’ve done, and I don’t know how You can, either. I’m tainted, Lord—Your work deserves better. Your people deserve better.”

And I wonder if he heard something like, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. I do not condemn you—go and sin no more.”


When we read in John 8:11 of Christ saying that to the woman caught in adultery, we pay needed attention to the first part, “Neither do I condemn you,” and the third part, “sin no more.” But it was only very recently that I even noticed the second part: “go.”

Only a writer inspired by God could pack so much into a single word. “Sin no more,” our Savior says, but also, “Go. Move forward. Don’t stay here in your mind, wallowing in this time and place, letting the memories of your sin hold you captive. Leave Stephen behind.”

Saul had to, and we have to. Whatever we’ve done, however grievously we’ve disobeyed our Savior, the response he expects of us is to ask His forgiveness, believe Him when He says He does not condemn us, go, and sin no more. And it has to be in that order: If we’re going to leave Stephen behind, we have to first believe and accept that Christ does not condemn us, and if we’re going to “sin no more,” we have to first leave Stephen behind—because we’re almost never more vulnerable to future sin than when our minds are enveloped in past sin.

I doubt Saul ever truly forgot about what he did to Stephen, but I don’t believe he remained haunted by it. In fact, we know he didn’t, because the same man who consented to Stephen’s death—but also, in a very real way, an entirely different man—said, “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

It’s true—what you do when you’re young affects the rest of your life. But it doesn’t have to rule it.

Second Thoughts: Stronger Than Fear

Author: Thomas White | Living Church of God, Editorial Staff

“It breaks God’s heart when you sin,” the minister said from the podium.

That’s been popping in and out of my memory since I was about fourteen, and I thought of it during Mr. Hernandez’s stirring assembly describing the distinctly emotional attachment we need to have to the God Family if we’re to be added to it.

At first glance, it seems slightly ridiculous that God wouldn’t be “above” feeling emotional pain from our actions. But then you remember how He reacted to sin while He was human, and breaking His heart seems a lot more plausible: “Now as He drew near, He saw [Jerusalem] and wept over it” (Luke 19:41).

God is unchanging, so our human Big Brother wasn’t any more emotional than He and our Father are now. The emotion becomes almost relatable when you shrink it down to our level: Imagine finding out your son, or daughter, or little sibling, just rammed their car into a tree while driving intoxicated. They’re badly hurt, and it’s entirely their fault. Are you going to fly into a rage? Are you going to shake your head in disappointment?

Or are you going to weep?

Him Above All

King David understood the very real pain God feels when we break His law, acknowledging that “Against you—you above all—I have sinned” (Psalm 51:4, New English Translation). Since He loves us more than any human being ever could, it hurts Him when we step anywhere outside His safety net. When you really love someone, almost nothing hurts more than when they reject your sincere efforts to help them not hurt themselves.

Having awe and reverence for God’s power is crucial, but if the main reason we try to remove ourselves from sin is “I don’t want my life to get difficult,” or even “I don’t want to end up in the lake of fire,” we’re really missing the point, which is that sin hurts others. It almost always hurts the people around us, and even if it happens not to do that, it definitely hurts the One who loves us most.

This can help us understand why we need to bring our thoughts under subjection to Christ, too; when you care about someone deeply, you immediately feel guilty if you think something against them. Why? Not because you’re afraid of their reaction—they have no idea what you thought. It’s because you hate to see that person hurt, and you know how hurt they would be if they knew what just went through your mind. How much more does it hurt God when we think contrary to His law, knowing that He does see those thoughts?

No Fear in Love

As much as it hurts God when we sin, His forgiveness is relentless, and He will always accept a sincere apology from His child. He knows that we aren’t, in this life, going to love Him as much as He loves us—but if we appreciate Him at all, we’ll try. If all we have is a fear of consequences, it won’t be long before the temptation to sin overpowers that. But a love for our Dad and Brother that makes us never, ever want to break Their hearts, will protect us from sin more than any fear could.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18, New English Translation).

Second Thoughts: Be Yourself (No, Really)

Author: Thomas White | Living Church of God, Editorial Department

“Be honest. Don’t hide who you are. Be genuine. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Be yourself.”

We’ve heard all of that before. Even Mr. Richard Ames’ recent assembly, a powerful message of improving one’s interpersonal communication, addressed the importance of openness and honesty—in essence, being yourself.

But it’s understandable if we think, “Wait a minute, be myself? That’s the last thing I want to be. Doesn’t God say that the heart is deceitful and wicked? Yeah, no, I’m way too aware of the terrible thoughts I’m constantly battling to be myself with anybody. Myself is awful, so to the best of my ability, I’m going to not be it, thanks.”

Actually, though, that perspective has it backwards. When you get down to it, all of the ungodly thoughts we have, words we say, and actions we take are the result of us not being ourselves—and instead, imitating someone truly awful.

Mr. Nathan Weighs In

To explain, I’ll turn to a quote from Mr. Peter Nathan. In the September-October 2019 Living Church News article “A Tale of Two Goats,” he wrote this:

Scripture describes Satan as having deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9) and as having played a role in mankind’s sin from the very beginning (Genesis 3:1–5). It is on Satan’s head that the ultimate responsibility for sin rests. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has already paid the penalty of sin for mankind. Satan, as the deceiver of all humanity, is to carry his responsibility for that sin, confessed over his head, from the presence of God.

– Mr. Peter Nathan, “A Tale of Two Goats”, LCN: Sep-Oct 2019

Now, obviously (because sometimes the obvious needs to be made super obvious at the risk of it not being obvious), Mr. Nathan isn’t saying that any of us are off the hook for our sins. I’m responsible for my sin. You’re responsible for your sin. But also, Satan is responsible for all sin—mine, yours, everyone’s. He doesn’t force anyone into anything, but each and every time we sin in any way, we’re hearing his suggestion and replying, “… Yeah, sure, okay. Seems like a good idea.”

Being Yourself is Resisting the Devil

The heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) because it’s so willing to listen to Satan’s deceitful and wicked influence, not because it’s conjuring up that influence all by itself. Our original ancestors, for example: It’s not like Adam and Eve were side-eyeing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for months, and when a snake started talking, they thought, “Oh good, now I finally have an excuse.” No—they heard the devil’s suggestion and they took it, just like we do when we sin.

Before Satan shows up, we don’t read anything about Eve or Adam being tempted in the slightest by the forbidden fruit. They knew it was there, they knew God didn’t want them near it, and they were on board with that. Were they just “not themselves” before Satan’s deception? Of course they were themselves—God creates children, not clones. If anything, they were more themselves than they ever would be again in their physical lives, because they weren’t yet affected by Satan’s suggestions.

We’re all affected by those suggestions, but it’s when we refuse them that we’re who God made us to be. When we take those suggestions and thereby sin, we’re not ourselves at all—we’re Satan imitators. He’s the one who wants clones. God, though, wants us to exercise the free will He gave us and be nothing less than ourselves.

Second Thoughts: Sonder and You (and Everyone Else)

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

There’s debate on whether or not it can be called a real word, but if you type “sonder” into Wiktionary, you’ll get this definition:

“The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.”

After this week’s assembly, I felt oddly compelled to immerse myself in a bit of sonder. Mr. Dexter Wakefield took us on a journey through the demographical statistics of the Church, and we learned, among many other things, that some of our youngest attending members are two years old, that our oldest attending member is one hundred and two years old, and that the Church’s database keeps track of them and everyone in between.

Thanks for Noticing

It’s always nice to know that someone is keeping track of you. We all feel a certain level of peace in the knowledge that we’re accounted for, that we’re considered. That might be why you get a tiny little thrill whenever someone uses your name. I don’t think it’s egotistical—it may be, in some cases, but for many people, the feeling seems more akin to gratitude. “Thank you for saying my name,” the feeling says, too fast to even be processed. “Thank you for acknowledging and keeping track of me.”

Maybe feeling sonder is just acknowledging everyone as worth keeping track of, when we usually only keep track of ourselves and the people closest to us. Most of us don’t feel sonder perpetually. It takes a surprising amount of effort to meaningfully recognize that other people are as multifaceted as we, ourselves, are. It might even be a little scary to do that, because as soon as you do, you have to recognize, in turn, that you don’t really know anyone. Most of the struggles that define someone else’s life are hidden from you. And once you’re aware of that, the excuses you drum up for judging other people seem… well, about as pathetic as they are, really.

Acknowledge the Battle

God keeps track of everyone, and that’s so easy to say, but hard to completely wrap your brain around. “I’d better be nice, because God wants me to be nice,” you might think when you’re tempted to not be nice. And that’s true, but it’s deeper than that, isn’t it? You might be better off thinking, “I’d better be nice, because God wants this person in front of me to experience kindness.” He’s keeping track of you, yes, absolutely, but he’s keeping just as much track of everyone you interact with, and He knows how much they need your empathy.

“Be kind,” goes an oft-quoted saying of dubious origin, “because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” In all of His dealings with each and every one of us, God always, always acknowledges the battle. He’s never unaware of the struggles we each have every day, as we fight past the monsters in our own minds. We might not be able to know what the people around us are fighting, as He does, but if we want to be like Him, we should strive to treat other people like they’re fighting something painful, going through something hard—because most of the people around us probably are.

So, say peoples’ names when you talk to them. If someone looks sad, ask if they’re okay—and be prepared to listen if they’re not. Smile when you (even accidentally) make eye contact with someone you know. Even a little sonder might go a long way.