Kids, Systems, and Success (A Response to Brant Hansen’s “Your Kids Don’t Need Your Stupid Success Track”)


Last week, I wrote “Radicalism and Reality (A Response to ‘Here Come the Radicals!’)” The next day I had lunch with a friend, Rick. Both of us are fathers and in our fifties. We’re technically Baby Boomers, and we talked about our issues with struggling with the fallout of being younger Baby Boomers who didn’t buy the whole Baby Boomer mentality hook, line, and sinker. In short, we’re trying to find a path faithful to Jesus while being Americans who grew up at a time when Superman still stood for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

My Facebook wall last week saw numerous folks linking to a post by Brant Hansen, a Christian radio personality. I’ve followed Brant’s writings online for years, and he is an astute critic of institutional Christianity, especially as it promotes the American Civil Religion. He’s a brilliant writer, and he’s right about most topics he engages.

But Hansen wrote a post last week that bugs me, not because it’s not right, but because it’s wrong. And that’s an important distinction. Wrong carries more weightiness to its outcome, in my mind, and it needs some kind of counter.

The article: “The Krusty Sage: Your Kids Don’t Need Your Stupid Success Track.” As they say, read the whole thing.

It’s impossible not to see Hansen’s post in any light apart from the one I noted in my post on radicalism. The juxtaposition is just too timely. Hansen’s post suffers from the very issues I noted in that post. While speaking to the Hansen post, I hope I can add further insights to the problem of radicalism and reality and the struggle I discussed with my friend Rick.

The System: The Kissing, Biting, Indifferent Hydra

Remember Superman’s defense of Truth, Justice, and the American Way? That last element in the trio is a system.

You and I live in a system. Most reading this are Americans, so we’re part of a system in this country that defines our national identity. That system consists of governmental, economic, social, cultural, educational, and other, lesser elements that shape who we are. Someone who lives in a different nation might encounter a different system, but regardless of where we live, our local system makes a tremendous difference in our lives.

Systems consist of a multiplicity of conformity expectations. Part of the American system demands paying taxes. All are expected to attend school. We are asked to know something of our history as a nation. Hercules and the HydraAnd while the expectation that each person will contribute something positive to the system rather than leeching from it is not quite what it was when I was a child, it remains for the time being.

Systems have rules. Don’t shoot your neighbor and steal his stuff. Try to be kind. Show up to work on time.

Systems have mantras. Get an education, work hard, and you can achieve your dreams. If we don’t defend our rights, we will lose them.

Everyone in America is part of the American system, and most of us know what is asked of us because we are.

Systems are big, complex, imposing, and frightening. They are like many-headed hydras. In Greek mythology, Hercules fought a hydra, and it was a nasty battle.

The problem for anyone who takes on a system is that most systems are not as clearly defined as Hercules’. Today’s systems are friend, foe, and indifferent bystander that couldn’t care less whether you live or die. This hydra kisses you with one serpentine head and bites you with another, while a third head stares blankly into the distance. It gets even more perplexing when the head that bit you yesterday is kissing you today.

Christians and the System

The problem for Christians comes in trying to deal with the hydra. We fixate on whichever head seems to appeal to us or annoy us most, ignoring the rest, and forming a misguided understanding of the creature. Not to mix metaphors here, but we all know the story of the blind men and the elephant. From touch alone, each blind man “saw” only one aspect of the elephant, so each imagined a creature that bore no resemblance to the real thing.

For those in the radical evangelical camp, every head of the hydra bites. The solution is to hate the creature and fight every head to the bitter end.

For those in mainline Protestantism, every head delivers a kiss. Embrace the hydra because it is your friend.

Neither view is accurate. And holding either of those views will not help anyone deal rightly with hydra-like systems.

What the Bible Says about Systems

People in the radical camp will quote verses like these at you:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
—1 John 2:15-20 ESV

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
—Matthew 10:34-39 ESV

If all of the Bible followed nothing more than that one aspect of faithfulness, the radicals would have a case. They could point to world systems and claim all they do is bite, that they are evil, that even our family members will be seduced by them, and that we should have nothing to do with systems, ever.


Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
—Romans 13:1-7 ESV

After [Jesus] had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
—Luke 7:1-10 ESV

…we have the tempering verses above.

Paul asks Christians to live peacefully and properly within the system. In this case, the system was Rome, the same Rome vilified in the Book of Revelation.

And the same Rome is exemplified by the man of war and Roman politics, the centurion who is called a friend of the Jews and who Jesus not only calls faithful but who receives no rebuke from the Lord for being a stellar representative of the jackbooted system that was Rome.

Kids, Parents, Christianity, and Systems

Systems are. They are relentless, inevitable, ubiquitous, huge, localized, lumbering, swift, stupid, genius, friend, foe, and indifferent bystander. By their very nature, systems are ridiculously difficult to deal with because they are all things. When they support our cause, we love them. When they don’t, we hate them. Their very complexity makes them nearly impossible to fight, especially when we do so as disconnected individuals. Systems are not impervious to change, but they change only when longterm pressure from united fronts forces them to. And then they do so begrudgingly—unless changing is better for PR.

If we fight the biting hydra head of the system, we will most often lose if we fight alone or with the wrong weapons. And then there are the other two kinds of heads.

If we always believe the kissing hydra head will always be what we trust it will be, then we will eventually be bitten or ignored, most often at a time when kissing is greatly desired or needed.

We can’t think generally about the system. We need to be wise.

And Christians need to be much wiser, because there IS truth to the reality that—ultimately—the system does not really like us all that much, kissing or indifference be damned.

Where Hansen errs in his article begins with this statement about your role as a parent:

You’re not here to develop skill areas, pops.  You’re here to develop character.


As a Christian parent, you are here to present your child mature in Christ…within the system in which you and they live.

Yes, character is part of that equation, but it’s not all.

What we do as a parent we do within a system. That makes our job harder, because while we can say all hydra heads are solely one type, that insistence isn’t accurate.

What we must consider carefully as a parent is whether our insistence on labeling the hydra heads incorrectly will be a detriment to our child as our child participates within the system.

Obviously, even if if we mistakenly label all hydra heads the same, we will get some of that labeling correct, and we need to respond appropriately. For instance, we cannot have the world as our master and God as our master. God is jealous for His role as master in the Christian’s life. No other gods. If the system asks us and our child to bow down to other gods, we can’t do it.

But knowing what is another god is not always as simple as the radicals paint it. Labeling a hydra head a biter does not make it so. This is where the radicals err.

The Cost of Entry

When my local NFL football team debuted back in the late 1960s, a ticket to see a game cost under $10. Today, it’s into triple digits. The cost of entry went up.

If I stood at the ticket area of Paul Brown Stadium and demanded to pay $10 for a ticket, the seller would laugh in my face. And for good reason. I may not like how much a ticket costs, but until I band together with a large number of others also incensed about the price, that cost of entry is not going down. In fact, it will continue to rise.

My father worked with men who were experts in their fields, but some had only a high school education—in the pharmaceutical industry.

Today, it is laughable to think a chemical engineer in big pharma would have just a high school diploma. The cost of entry today is not even a bachelor’s degree but a master’s, and even now a Ph.D. is preferred. One day, it may be the cost of entry.

We who possess the the once mighty—but now lowly—bachelor’s degree can howl all we want, but the system does not care. It is what it is.

Here’s another reality few of us like: The college we attended makes a difference. In fact, all the little chances we got in life to get an advantage over the other guy or gal make a difference.

In his book Outliers, one of the phenomena Malcolm Gladwell studied is the exponential nature of advantages great people enjoy. One major example is in hockey. Gladwell noted that kids born in the first couple months of the year enjoyed a maturity advantage in junior hockey clubs due to age-based enrollment cutoffs at the end of the year. Those January and February-born kids were slightly more mature than those in the latter months of the year, and at every stage in development, they were given training advantages that the slightly younger kids did not receive. This multiplied over time.

The final result? The NHL is disproportionately stacked with players who celebrate their birthdays in the first few months of the year.

Gladwell goes on to note that the great people in our system are those who took advantage at each stage in development of the opportunity to step up to the next level before their peers. And that’s an inescapable reality of the system.

In other words, the cost of entry is not only higher, but those who get into the game do so solely by excelling. We must pay to play AND we must grab advantages when they come.

Here’s where it’s tough. Every study done in the last 20 years says the same thing: People who use the system to their advantage are happier than their counterparts who fail to. By a large, large margin. Life is tough for those who don’t make the cutoff, and it’s getting harder and harder. If success can be exponential, so can failure. That’s the system as it stands today, the one our children must engage.

How Christians Must Respond to the System

The crazy thing about this? Christians banded together to demand many of the aspects of the system they now want to fight. Christian parents fought for higher standards in schools, the school system responded, and now parents don’t like the way the system implemented those requests. We have pathetically short memories of our own battles and how they may have backfired.

And the system rolls on.

We Christians have a few choices when it comes to dealing with systems:

1. We can fight a system actively. Those who feel called to fight in the culture wars are fighting to the last man against the system. For the most part, they have lost.

2. We can fight passively. This is the bunker mentality. It’s the thinking Hansen proposes in his piece. Unfortunately, the system goes on regardless, and the rules get harder and hurt more for those who decide not to abide by them.

3. We can work for change within the system. This requires Christians to understand the system, band together, and play by the system’s rules to change it. Unfortunately, given how poor Christian community expresses itself today, banding together in anything is difficult, if not impossible.

4. We can create a parallel system. Christians can establish alternatives to the aspects of the system they dislike. The challenge is that most Christians are not up to this task because it is much harder to enact than simply fighting the system either passively or actively.

If we teach our kids to ignore the system or to constantly fight it, they are going to get bitten constantly by its many heads. Instead, as parents, we need to equip our children in a way that plays by the system’s rules but without losing our souls or theirs in the process. Our kids need to have both the character and the skills to deal with the hydra’s multiplicity of heads.

If the system demands a higher level of skill, then we have to equip our children with those skills. Or we work to change the system. Or we create an alternative system.

Besides, which parent among us can look our kids in the face and tell them that as good as they are on piano, we’re not willing to develop that skill in them because we don’t want our kids on a success track? What then do we say to our kids when they want to excel at piano-playing, but the talent cost for entry is so high that there’s no way for them even to get in the door for the audition because we refused to help them? And all because we thought we could drop out of the system and not play by its rules.

Hansen should know about the cost to play. As a radio personality, he must deliver revenue or else he’s off the air. Thirty years ago, that was less the case, as the novelty of an on-air Christian radio personality was cause enough for a station to take a risk on one. The question now is, what must Hansen do to deliver revenue within the system that is contemporary Christian radio, and how does that compliance work within that system, especially since that system has changed tremendously over the years?

Hansen says that developing relationship trumps skills. I’ve been saying for years that the Church is in trouble regarding interconnectedness and community, so obviously, relationships are critical. Hansen and I agree that relationships matter.

But the system doesn’t care about your relationships or mine. It cares only for the skills you and I bring to the system and how they work to better it. To ignore skills in favor of relationships doesn’t work.

I’m sorry that life isn’t as simple as it once was. I can’t be a doctor without going to medical school and incurring a crushing amount of student loans. And when the radicals say that I should take my training to Africa to serve as the doctor in a village with a huge AIDS orphanage, which of those radicals is going to pay my student loans for me when I do? Will the relationships I develop mean that someone I know will pay those debts for me? And if they do, what concessions did those people make to the system to have a career that makes enough money for them to cover my debts?

The Church is not wisely addressing these issues. Too many Christian leaders make ill-informed statements about how people engage the system. The practical applications of those statements do not work in far too many cases. And then where are those same leaders when the people who believed them crashed and burned and have no second chance to regain what they lost?


We need to work to see our children mature in Christ within the system in which they live. That means developing not only their spiritual lives but also their skills so that they are capable of engaging the system for Christ and for themselves.

As Christians, we are cautioned not to love the system. But not loving the system does NOT mean we fight it constantly, whether actively or passively. We have to find some middle ground based on wisdom. This is what the Bible asks of us. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

Yet in the wake of his post, Hansen later rebuffed those who called for balance.

Francis Schaeffer many years ago said that Christians needed greater wisdom when dealing with the system. To him, the answer was not to drop out of the system but to engage it with all the truth of the Gospel. I firmly believe that one reason we find ourselves as a Church struggling against all the bad things we see around us is due to our unwillingness to engage that system with truth in a graceful, winsome, and intelligent way.

Because the system is unlikely to change without a Christianity that is sober, reflective, and wise about the way the world is and where we as Christians fit into it.

24 thoughts on “Kids, Systems, and Success (A Response to Brant Hansen’s “Your Kids Don’t Need Your Stupid Success Track”)

  1. Travis Seitler

    I don’t believe that God created us to live like this, rushing from one thing to another in a mad frenzy of checking things off a list. Yet as much as I have pondered this, I don’t have a good solution. I believe that living in a more intentional Christian community can free us up somewhat, but the ‘world system’ we have erected for ourselves in 21st century America is crushing the life—especially the spiritual life—out of most of us. Perpetually stunned people have a hard time praying, reading the Scriptures, and focusing on anything besides the conviction that a month-long vacation is needed—so long as all the bills somehow get paid during that time. (Even vacation time comes at a price.)” — Dan Edelen, The To-Do List Christian (emphasis mine)

    Have your views changed since you wrote that? Or is there just something about the way Brant wrote his post that’s keeping you from seeing that he was saying the very thing you said here?

    • My views haven’t changed, Travis. Where Brant and I seem to disagree is that Brant seems to be endorsing disengagement (the fight passively option). That doesn’t work. At all.

      I endorse either changing the system or creating an alternative system.

      I’ve noted elsewhere that Christians have got to seriously question delaying marriage for our children because we’ve fallen into the college or bust mentality. Either we need to get our kids married before they go to college or we need to develop some kind of accredited educational alternative along the lines of apprenticing, THEN we need Christians in the marketplace to endorse that alternative system.

      But here’s the thing: No one on the national stage is doing ANYTHING to address either of those two issues. And until some national voices do, we’re not going to get things changed.

  2. Travis Seitler


    “[H]ow can we possibly meet the needs of others if we’re always focused on our own lives as we rush hither and yon? Well, we can’t. Sort of puts a crimp in those Kingdom of God plans, doesn’t it. […] It’s not enough to say that we must focus more on God. That’s just adding another task to the problem. Instead, we Christians must start questioning the underlying root issues that cause this busyness. […] I suggest that we Christians must… Stand by and encourage those who reject conformity to the prevailing culture rather than marginalizing them.” — Dan Edelen, Demolishing The Culture Of Busyness (August 7th, 2007 – emphasis mine)

    Dan… what happened?

    • Travis,

      Again, it’s a matter of degree. Total disengagement or partial engagement? How much can be offloaded or altered?

      I don’t endorse the extent to which we do things, but perhaps some backing off can occur OR we change the existing standard so that it demands less than what we embrace currently. Selectivity matters and so does locale.

      What is wrong with a church being a nexus for these activities rather than four or five different places? Part of the busyness is simply running all over town. Why can’t the church be the one-stop shop for enrichment programs?

      There are many other options we can explore, I endorse that. Total disengagement is not the answer.

    • One last thing: If Christians sought to bring life back to the local community, this problem might resolve itself. Much of the American system is what it is because America developed by the railroads, which spread out the country, unlike in Europe. The result is that the local community cannot support itself. If we changed that, many of the problems I note would go away on their own.

  3. Mr. Poet

    I followed the two links Travis cited. I checked the dates: 2007 and 2005. That reminds me of how I felt the other day when I heard that Heath Ledger died in 2008. His death was not big news for me at the time, but the fact that five years had passed since I had heard he died? I was stunned. That factoid, and going to see his Batman movie in the theater with my older brother, seemed like yesterday.

    Why am I frittering away so much of my life?

    Last year, a young lady coworker dug out the employee Christmas DVD she and others had made a few years before. It was a collage of different Christmas classic movies, all mashed into one. I played the role of Linus because I am the token religious nut at work. My coworker remarked that, in all the time she had known me, I had not changed. I was wearing the same kind of shirt and the same glasses, and I had the same haircut now that I had then. I was stunned!

    Am I really that bad about change in my life?

    I don’t like to be busy. I never have. And I’ve paid dearly for it. Our society rewards the busy. Not always, but it rarely rewards the slacker or someone who actively eschews busyness.

  4. Mr. Poet

    Hercules defeated the hydra with fire. So must the Church. That sounds, of course, the pontificated platitude. But it makes it no less true.

  5. Eli

    we must each be faithful to what is real to us. Partial disengagement, balance etc sounds nice but in reality one mans balance is another mans compromise and extremity. As you said its hard to define what the system actually is or at least how it operates except using generalisations and referencing traditions, institutions and norms the majority participate in. But honestly as a christian why should i care all that much what the majority accepts and defines as normal. Much of our society is built around self preservation at the expense of the other and that extends into literally all fields.
    The cost of entry into the kingdom is also related to the cost of entry into world systems… ie pursuing the former will often demand giving up on the latter or finding an alternative.
    I agree endless protesting or passivity isn’t healthy but let us not forget jesus was crucified along with many believers who challenged the system and society both through their words and lifestyle.
    We can delude ourselves all we want that we can have it all as if our society is sufficiently christianized that we can live out the gospel without getting into trouble but i will believe it when i see anything like the NT happening on the streets of pretty much any modern city.
    All that said yes its easier just to mature and fit into the systems we find ourselves in… reduce suffering, persecution and discomfort that way.

    • Eli,

      You need a job. He who does not work should not expect to eat. Men are supposed to support their families. The Bible says both those things.

      Jobs demand skills. The skills demanded nowadays are highly specific. Employers will not even look at you unless you have those skills. Gaining those skills costs money. Gaining skills that are most respected demands getting those skills from an institution regarded for those skills. That costs even more money. Parents are expected to pay so their kids can have those skills. Parents need to have those skills themselves if they are to have a decent job to pay for their kids’ skill acquisition.

      It used to be that college was all you needed for those skills. Today, you need to have some of those skills already in place BEFORE you even step foot into a college. And then after college, you need to go to even more school if you want to be taken seriously. Because the system is demanding more skills. The barrier to entry is much higher than it was just 30 years ago.

      At some point, this system must be engaged. You want to serve orphans in an AIDS clinic in Africa? Great. You’ve made the tough, Jesus-honoring call. But you went to med school to do so and now owe $350,000. What do you do?

      The quality of your relationships is unlikely to get you a job if you don’t have skills. The quality of your relationships is unlikely to pay your med school bills so you can go serve AIDS orphans in Africa.

      For all the radical talk, no one is telling people how to effectively live in the system we find ourselves in while NOT giving in to that system. And I’m tired of seeing millstones hung around people’s necks because they are doing everything they can to ensure their kids can enter a system that makes big demands of them.

      Christians who tell others “this is what you must not do” but are not telling people what they should be doing instead are hanging millstones around people’s necks. It’s even more galling when those people played by the system’s rules but then tell other people not to.

      Fact is, your kid MAY need “your stupid success track” if he wants to be an engineer who builds bridges for the poor in Guatemala. Your kid MAY need that success track to even get into a decent engineering school. Your kid may need to be shuttled to some class 45 minutes from your house so he can take Chinese language classes so he can speak the language of the people he wants to serve as a cross-cultural missionary.

      The system demands skills. Skills are the cost of entry to living in the real world. In fact, the skills demanded today require preliminary skills before you can get the higher level of skills. And that’s asked of kids BEFORE they step foot into college.

      Simply stating otherwise does not deal with reality.

  6. Anthea

    I think that you are reading things into this post by Mr Hansen. He is warning parents about overscheduling their children and depriving them of a distinctively character-focused upbringing. It’s clear from the comments, including one from my husband, that the intended audience understood his simple point.

    The motivation for this over-scheduling is suspect, because the definition of success in our society is skewiff, but even if you want your children to get bright shiny degrees and lots of money, wearing them out is not going to help. Children can get fed up with this running about, or burn out.

    I wish I could listen to the radio programme, but we are in the UK. I think that the Kristy alter-ego is a great idea. since the message was to parents of a particular sort, in a robust style, perhaps you should not take it as some big geo-political argument.

  7. connie

    I homeschooled my kids for four years, sandwiched into before-and-after public school. We didn’t burn them out with endless activities. My son still managed to get into a service academy, then served in the Air Force, then when his time was up, went to grad school for a masters and will now be going into a PhD program this fall.

    I majored in character when he was small. Character and honoring God was what allowed him to be disciplined enough to take advantage of the opportunities God put in his path. Did I mention he got stipends both for his masters and now for the PhD and will graduate with NO debt whatsoever?

    God has a path. Without character I don’t care how busy your children are with skills and classes and enrichments. Without a relationship with God it doesn’t matter if they win at “the system.” If we follow God’s plan He has a way. He knows how to enable a doctor or a doctor-to-be to get skills and to serve where needed. One thought-life has seasons. Not every season looks radical. I know a former emergency room doctor who now serves hill tribe people in a southeast asian country with medical care and with the Gospel. He didn’t do that straight out of medical school but by the time he got there he had some wisdom to go along with the calling.

    One thing I notice on a lot of blogs out there is the tendency to fall into the ditches on both sides of an issue, when the path is actually somewhere, held in tension, in the middle.

    • Connie,

      Sometimes, everything breaks your way. Sometimes, nothing seems to. And sometimes, a third way develops.

      You say that God has a path. What if there are actually multiple paths that God makes available, some better than others? Some easy-peasy, and others back-breakingly hard. Some with wealth, others with poverty. But all are God’s.

      If we say there is only one path, is that really true? I think we do say that sometimes, which is why it’s so hard for some people to accept that whatever they are doing now is God’s best for them. Maybe it’s really the 3,421st best out of 12,522 open possibilities. Or the 12,522nd, which is how some people feel, which may make them mad at God because this “best” doesn’t feel so good and comes with a huge amount of regret and pain.

      George Barna had a poll that showed that more evangelical parents were worried about getting their kid into a great college than in their knowing Jesus. I was horrified when I read that, and I still am, so you and I are on the same page.

      But that said, we still have to engage the system somehow, and I’m not sure we’re getting that instruction in our churches.

      In the case of your son, he found a path by going through the military, the epitome of the system. What if he took a different direction and avoided that most obvious of systems? Would things have turned out as well for him? Hard to say. No doubt your wise counsel would have built the character into him he needed to handle life regardless, but what would he have faced if he were a vet back in 1973 rather than in 2013? That path may have played out much differently.

      We all want the best for our kids, but disengaging from the system is not going to yield that best–unless the system is asking more of us than God would desire we give.

      • connie

        I can’t answer hypotheticals. My own path looks much different than my son’s. But all I know is that all Jesus ever asked of any of us was to follow Him. Period. There is no one-size-fits-all Christian path. There are certainly no guarantees that we won’t struggle or have trials-in fact we are guaranteed them. I have had quite a few myself. But I trust God with my life and my path, and if that doesn’t look like success in American eyes-well, those aren’t the eyes I am trying to impress. 😉

        • Connie,

          In Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan, he states that the only difference between the guy in the corporate penthouse and the guy sorting mail in the mailroom may have had less to do with smarts and skills and as much to do with avoiding some stoplight at just the right time.

          Christians don’t want to get that cynical and end up praising chaos over praising God when it comes to outcomes. But all of us want to understand because we need to understand on some level to make sense of the world God has given us and to see how He orders it. This means asking what the difference is between the solid Christian who seems to breeze through life and the solid Christian who seems to encounter every nasty barrier life can throw at a person. This is the stuff of the latter chapters of Proverbs, where the various philosophers write of the things that elude their understanding.

          That matters because Christians make it matter. We ascribe reasons (biblical truths, scriptural principles) for why someone achieves “success,” whether worldly success or spiritual. We like to fall into formulas for why such and such happened in one Christian’s life and not in another’s. One found the guidance prayed for and one did not. Why? If the outcomes of God are merely random, then how is it that we can know Him at all? And if they are not random, then there must be something we can do to influence those outcomes.

          We say prayer changes things, and I believe strongly that it does. But I do not understand it when it does not. Or when two people can pray the same prayer and live the same life and yet their trajectories can be so startlingly different.

          I think God honors those who ask why and yet stay true to Him no matter the answer–or lack of it. I just don’t think enough people spend enough time wrestling with the big questions of life. We’re so “cut to the chase” in everything that I think we are missing the subtlety of living, and that still, small voice goes unheard.

          I can’t live on the platitudes we so easily serve ourselves as a way of buffering our psyches against the paradoxes of life. When Jesus says He does only what He sees the Father doing, there’s comprehension there. I think all of us are dying for that kind of comprehension. Some of us are dying for it more than others.

  8. L Mew

    Hello Mr. Edelen,
    I’m tending to agree with most of the comment here of connie. In this discussion the working of the Holy Spirit is mostly if not totally eliminated.
    Does life have to become micromanaged with skills workshops and the obtaining of Ph-d’s? Can God provide a godly person with a good life sans being skilled and educated up to the eyeballs? I agree with education, up to a point. Especially up to the point where the individual is satisfied with his/her education. Not all children are suited for academics. Does this mean that God will have them suffer for this?

    No, I don’t think so. God is the provider. He will enable these godly people to enjoy and partake of life in their generation. What is suffering for a person outside of Christ can be nominal for a person who is being provided for in Christ. Christ makes the difference.

    Can God drop a word of knowledge into a person as they are driving up their backyard garage door? You bet, and several times to boot, at that. This experience can bring understanding and also a knowledge about what can be done next.

    If we are talking about relationships, our relationship with God is primary to our living a good and just life. The relationship develops with personal prayer, Bible reading, and good decisions on our part.

    Does education matter? Yeah it does. But, we need to count the cost before we indulge in conformity to the world system. There is that scripture that talks about ‘not conforming to the world system’. this scripture is not saying ‘don’t be educated’ or ‘don’t work to earn a position in a good job’ etc. But conforming means letting ourselves be shaped by worldly influences. The church is not teaching the saints about how to resist the world. In fact, the ‘church’ has been endorsing and conforming to the world at a rapid pace in our current times.

    • I. Mew,

      God can do anything He wants in our lives, but I have to reverse your question and ask if God is automatically excluding us from certain careers and livelihoods simply because they are time-consuming and costly, with a tendency to incur debt to attain those skills. I must also ask then why we educate anyone at all? Can’t God do whatever He wants through us regardless of our skills?

      This is not to say that God can’t give someone a flash of superior insight that a trained person cannot match. But still, if you needed brain surgery, don’t you want your doctor to at least have had a class or two on how the brain functions?

      • linda

        Hi Mr. Edelen,

        I agree that God does not exclude us from any career and livelihood because of the reasons you state here of being costly or time consuming. However, if we take things such as our livelihood into the 1st Century church, there are some things that God would not allow. By allowed, I mean, that the Spirit of God would not have been with this individual.

        For instance, becoming a Pharisee. Jesus had negative things to say about this occupation that was so highly honored by Jews and others in Jesus’ day. Jesus said this occupation was corrupt and the Pharisees’ father was actually the devil.

        I am thinking in our own lives today we have to consider where our desired occupations are going to take us. Closer to God or away from God. Does anything else really matter? The Bible says ‘ what profit is it if a man gains the whole world and loses his own soul’.

        • Linda,

          What do you see as examples of normal, everyday jobs that a Christian should avoid? And why?

          I don’t mean something obvious like a stripper or an executioner. Is being an accountant OK? How about a policeman? Or a filmmaker?

          • linda

            Hi Mr. Edelen,
            I think that it is harder and harder to find a job in our times that does not encourage corruption. Especially jobs or occupations that are well paid and honoured by the powers that be that want to control things. There is a cost to some of these jobs and it may be too high of a price for a believer.

            For instance, God says clearly in his word that ‘liars will not have a part in the kingdom of God’. If our job requires us to fudge and lie then we have a problem as a Christian. Do we continue this behavior? Do we stop this behavior at the possible expense of our well paid job and position? What if we have a family to support?

            What are the names of these jobs? Almost anything. Is it wise to indebt ourselves thousands upon thousands of dollars to a wicked generation? Will we have a choice to follow our conscience (and God) if we do this?

            I think in some ways we are asking our young christian people to follow the standards of the world. They do not have all the information they need to make a decision for themselves in these matters. They are only told that they must have a well paid job in order to have any kind of a life in our present world.

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