Carts and Horses

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:31 ESV

One of the great catechism questions of all time is from the Westminster Shorter, What is the chief end of man? Now you might ask what a good Lutheran is doing linking to a Reformed document. Isn’t that a form of unionism? Well, they might not have the sacraments, but they’ve got some things right when the first question asked sets you in the right direction. The answer the Westminster Divines gave to that question was: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and and enjoy him forever. The horse is seeking God. Everything else is in the cart. If all you are doing is rummaging around in the cart then you don’t go anywhere.

The quote from Jesus that I started out with was directed to peasants whose biggest problems were exactly what those questions address – How do I live in a survival sense. Jesus turned those possibly starving people from that pragmatic question to a philosophical or theological question – How should I live? If you are directed correctly on ‘How should I live’ then all these others will be added. (We might stop and take note that they might not be physically added, the desire might be subtracted. All those monks for thousands of years were not seeking God to add a Philippe Patek. Although as Rick Santorum was used to reminding people, that if you get married before having kids and stay married, graduate from high school and get a job, you don’t end up in poverty. Righteousness even in a purely legalistic sense has its rewards.) In our prosperity we are no longer desperate but we also no longer have that excuse. How do we live, what are our lives directed towards, are important questions we should answer and keep in mind.

I’m pondering this because of a couple of articles and a phrase in the Declaration of Independence. We Americans are aimed by default by that declaration toward an answer to How should I live. Jefferson’s answer is the pursuit of happiness. Even in Rick Santorum’s answer the goal or chief end of man is happiness defined as not being in poverty. If we are so aimed, if our chief end is happiness, we are rummaging around in the cart. And like a really old country song, all the gold in California, is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else’s name. Happiness is elusive. It is a lousy answer to How should I live.

Here is Christina Hoff Sommers in the Atlantic responding to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg argues for women to ‘lean in’ by which she means to find true happiness double down on your work life with the goal of more female CEOs. Sommers responds,

An up-to-date manifesto on women and work should steer clear of encounter groups and boys-must-play-with dolls rhetoric. It should make room for human reality: that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women often take different paths. Gender differences can sometimes be symptoms of oppression and subordination. But in a modern society they can also be the felicitous consequences of liberated choice—of the “free to be you and me” that women have been working towards for generations.

What they are arguing over is How should I live. And both of them are directed toward the pursuit of happiness. But the deeper question is which one might allow for you to discover the horse? Could some of those women that Sandberg is telling to ‘lean in’ actually be coming to the realization that they have the cart before the horse? Whose answer allows for a deeper and more correct understanding of the good life?

This is writer P.E. Gobry
in Forbes taking a look an admission of economics professor and writer Tyler Cowen.

I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, none of them would say “get married and stay married”–even though the data on the marriage wage premium supports this conclusion to the same extent as it does going to college.

Read his whole article. It is too good to really summarize fully, but again we are arguing over what creates happiness defined as greater material prosperity. Gobry’s point in my words is that the economics profession is aimed at carts. Economics can tell us a whole bunch about where to find the gold in the cart – go to college, make yourself more productive – but it dismisses as correlation vs. causation problems things like Marriage and Kids. I, and Gobry, would say that marriage and family are much closer to the horse than what economists would say.

Jesus points us toward the horse. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness then all these things will be added. And here is the really tough problem. We can construct a legal society that encourages putting the horse first. Arguably that is what we had coming into the 20th century. But if we are only being virtuous because of the law that society eventually breaks because we can’t keep the law. We are natural lawbreakers. It takes the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify in the Gospel. If you are worried about our society the correct prayer is “your kingdom come”. Seek first the Kingdom.