Either way, you pay
by Patrick Lafferty
Behold, I am the Lord.... Is anything too hard for me?
That he’s eleven years old may be the only reason he’s not on the litigious hit list of multinational food corporations.
Birke Baehr represents a rising generation giving greater thought to the food we eat, to how and where it’s cultivated. An article on mercury’s presence in the ubiquitous additive of high-fructose corn syrup planted a seed of unrest in his then eight-year-old mind. The seed grew into a twofold passion: expose the food industry’s harmful products and practices, and encourage a resurgence of sustainable and more equitable forms of farming that fared well in an earlier era.
The young upstart has turned heads and amplified the chorus of voices championing local, organic, environmentally conscious agriculture. His knowledge and passion landed him an invitation to give his endearing spiel at a recent TED Next Generation Talk. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design—a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing ideas on an array of issues from leading thinkers and dreamers).
In that 11-minute talk, seen now by over half a million people, Birke summarized his thesis in one bold and memorable epigram: We can pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital. That is, to adopt these minority practices is more expensive in up front. (My family’s bill from Whole Foods proves it!) But the higher cost of food pales compared to the price of continuing present consumption practices. Is our current health-care nightmare not influenced by the small choices we make at every meal? Pay the farmer or pay the hospital—either way, you pay.
Dr. Ryken reacquainted us with an unfamiliar but resonant episode in Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. We have all had moments when our investment of faith and obedience appears to be a lost cause.
Jeremiah had only the promise of God to justify the purchase of land about to be annexed by Babylon. To buy the field would cost him on multiple levels, the financial outlay being of least concern. He would have to pay in terms of cognitive dissonance: What reasonable person would make that kind of investment when every indicator insisted on cutting your losses? Add to that the public nature of the transaction. Jeremiah had to sacrifice his credibility in his peers and people’s eyes—to say nothing of the surrender of his freedom as he sat incarcerated by his very own king. It cost Jeremiah in manifold dimensions to exercise faith and obedience.
We hear his story, sigh at what faith cost him, and remember that obedience in faith will often cost us. But do we ever consider what acting without faith costs us?
It costs us joy.
To make our guiding principle the minimal risk of faith and love is to deprive us of the joy of seeing God work in and through us. Loving only those who love us, expending ourselves in the expectation of reciprocity, giving only to the degree that it doesn’t impact how we live—these require no faith, reveal no obedience, and therefore yield no lasting, faith-building joy. As we deny Him purchase in and through our choices we also deny ourselves the joy of esteeming the One who multiplies faith the size of a mustard seed.
Some—even many—Kingdom-centered investments do not pan out. We may even take more losses of a kind than gains. And yet, adapting a line from Tennyson might be appropriate again: Better to have trusted God and not seen the vision come to fruition than never to have trusted Him at all.
Not all bold impulses are of the Lord. But neither are all hesitations born of prudence. Our conventional thinking serves us. But even convention—no matter how helpful—must be in submission to the Lord. For He ordains what abides by convention and what defies it. He does His will by ordinary means but also retains the right to transcend those means. He invites us sometimes to set convention aside and act on the basis of faith in His promise.
To synthesize Jeremiah’s lesson with Birke Baehr’s insight: You can pay with faith, love, and obedience or without. Either way, you pay. What prospective investment of faith, love, and obedience now presents itself? As you wrestle with trepidation about the cost, have you given as much consideration to the cost of setting faith aside?