Favorite aphorisms ring with relevance

Posted Nov. 19, 2010, at 5:14 p.m.

“He does not love good who does not hate evil.”

That’s an aphorism. A particularly striking aphorism, in my opinion, and I am drawn to particularly striking aphorisms like a moth to light. They provoke my thinking. They often move me to make wise choices. They even help me to better communicate what I believe to be true about life.

An aphorism is defined as a pithy (concise, forceful) observation that contains a general truth. In this column, I’m going to open the lid on my 35-year-old personal collection of particularly striking aphorisms. And I’m going to offer some commentary on how each of these aphorisms may or may not correspond to the Christian worldview — the worldview which I believe to be best supported by relevant evidence and real-life experience.

Let’s start with the aphorism above. I’m not sure where I first heard it, but it’s rock-solid insight. How can anyone truly embrace what is right without detesting that which is wrong? The Bible says that we are to “abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) God is the essence of goodness, and God hates sin.” (Proverbs 6:16) If you don’t get upset when you witness injustice, cruelty and evil in this world, you’d better re-evaluate the sincerity of your love for what is good.

“He drew a circle that shut me out — heretic, rebel, a thing to flout; But love and I had the wit to win; we drew a circle that took him in.”

I like this one. It rhymes. It makes sense. And it works. Next time someone does you wrong, invite him over for dinner. Be bigger than his pettiness. Jesus said: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) If you’re mature and secure, you can afford to be magnanimous.

“There is no limit to what a man can do, or where he can go, if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”

I remember the first time that I read this aphorism. I was paging through Time magazine in the fall of 1981 when I spotted a small sign sitting on the desk of former President Ronald Reagan. On the sign were these words. They ring true. And they work. Pride and selfishness breed suspicion. Humility and sincerity engender good will. Here’s how the great leader of all those who subscribe to the Christian worldview put it: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

“To live above with saints we love, oh that will be glory! But to live below with saints we know — well, that’s a different story.”

How true. Maybe uncomfortably true. Is that why we smile when we read this aphorism? We know how challenging interpersonal relationships can be in marriage, with neighbors, or at church. Yet God has called us to love one another. Jesus once said that our love for one another as Christians is the way that others will know that we really are his disciples (John 10:35-36), and that he is who he claimed to be (John 17:16). This aphorism offers no ground for mean conduct toward other Christians, or for dividing with them. But it helps to know that we’re not alone in the challenge of being one in Christ.

“There are sins of omission, sins of commission, and sins of disposition.”

Ouch! This one also gets personal, doesn’t it? Are you way too often way too grouchy, grumpy, negative and out of sorts? Don’t blame it on your mean old boss. Don’t blame it on missing your morning caffeine. (Caffeine addiction is probably a sin of its own.)

Don’t try to rationalize your miserable disposition by saying that you’re only human. Just confess it as sin, get forgiven, jump up, go on and do better. (1 John 1:9-10) If you’ve got to wear a frown, wear it upside down. It requires less muscle-power. And smiling on the outside eventually will make you less miserable on the inside. (John 13:17, King James Version).

“If the rascals only knew the advantages of virtue, they’d become honest men out of sheer rascality.”

Maybe Ben Franklin said this first; I’m not sure. But it makes me smile. And it reminds me of just how ornery the human heart can be, mine included. An old prophet said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Thank God for his grace and power to put a new heart within us, if we ask him to do so.

“How are you feeling about your approaching death?”

Author Max Lucado suggests using this in a conversation sometime. It’ll probably turn the chitchat from trivia real fast. Which is good, because, “Where we are but passing guests, we build such strong and solid nests, but where we hope to live for aye, we scarce take heed one stone to lay.” Another particularly striking aphorism.

The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and pastor emeritus at the Monson Community Church. He may be reached at AIIAInstitute.org or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

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