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Idealism vs Pragmatism
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I'm definitely an idealist; I understand and aim for God's ideal plan as laid out in Scripture. But wait... I know we live in a world corrupted by sin and that God's ideal plan for human life—my life—will probably never work, so I'm a pragmatist. Yep, I'm a pragmatist. I adjust myself to current circumstances and divine guidance, and I try to "go with the flow" in the effort to make things work out in the best possible way—even if it's not so close to the ideal.

Which are you? Let me put you to the test and ask you an ethical question. Please answer the following: "Can't we all just get along?"

The idealist in me says, "Yes, of course we can!" If there is one thing clear about God's plan for us laid our in the New Testament, it's that His community of faith is supposed to get along together. His followers—those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ—are to live peacefully with one another.

The pragmatist in me says: "Ha! Are you kidding?! No way!" If there is one thing clear in the scriptural picture about humankind and our societies, it's that we will always fight and fuss with each other, even within the community of faith.

Rollercoasters of Hope to Discouraging Reality

The Bible is rich with stories of people whose lives ride up and down a rollercoaster from the hope and fresh expectations of idealism to the often discouraging realities of pragmatism. Take a look at the story of Jacob and his uncle Laban for instance. You recall that Jacob stole the blessing from Esau (another story in itself!) and had to flee to his uncle Laban. Genesis 29:13 says that Laban greeted Jacob with hugs and kisses! They had a wonderful few years together. Jacob married two of Laban's daughters and grew a family (another rich story in itself!).

Relations between Jacob and Laban began to fall apart, however, and in the end, Jacob loaded up his family and flocks under the cover of darkness and stole away. Laban took flight in hot pursuit because someone in Jacob's family (it turned out to be Laban's own daughter) stole some of the most valuable things in Laban's home.

When Laban caught up, there was a very serious confrontation that could have turned very violent and very ugly. Thankfully, the two of them avoided killing each other, but they did decide that they could not get along. So they set up some boundaries—some lines, if you will—that were acceptable to both. They made what the Bible calls a "covenant," a treaty, and set up a memorial pile of rocks to note the moment (Genesis 31:43-54). What began as an idealistic family of faith ended in an ugly pragmatic agreement to disagree.

So, am I an idealist or a pragmatist, or a rich mixture of both? I tend to be an idealist who reluctantly slides occasionally into pragmatism on an as-needed basis. Sometimes I guess it is true that we cannot all get along.

How about you? Do you need to work out a treaty with someone today?

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By Mark F. Carr, PhD, theological co-director, Center for Christian Bioethics, Loma Linda University. Used with permission from the Pacific Union Recorder, October, 2006. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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