During the time I attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, a group of students would occasionally visit a nearby establishment called Blueberry Hill. On wind-whipped January evenings, we were able to enter this warm cocoon and momentarily forget the demands of our training. Over a couple of hours, we would share a drink or two and compete in a game of darts.
As I reconstruct this memory, I recall my seminary buddies and me using steel-tipped darts in our evening competitions. But pause for a moment. Imagine the proprietor walking over, taking away our darts, and giving us fish hooks to use instead. Picture a group of surprised seminary students lobbing fishhooks toward the target in hopes of hitting a bullseye!
This mental picture is nothing short of ridiculous. A fishhook might stick if you actually get it inside a fish’s mouth and pull back on it. But a fish hook thrown against a target on the wall is going to fall harmlessly to the floor.
So, what’s the point?
I’m tapping into this fond memory in order to introduce a dilemma confronting us already in this new year. I contend that we “play darts with fishhooks” when we place our own comfort, security, and success in front of God’s Name, God’s Kingdom, and God’s Will — as we earnestly seek in the Lord’s Prayer. We mix metaphors when we attempt to serve God and ourselves at the same time.
The fishhook as described here may help illustrate a Latin term introduced by St. Augustine: Incurvatus in se. This phrase means, “to be turned or curved inward on oneself.” It is useful in describing a life lived “inward” for oneself rather than “outward” for God and others.
Martin Luther describes our “fishhook nature” in his Lectures on the Book of Romans: Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.
Early in 2022 we earnestly resolve to hit the bullseye of loving God above all else and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Yet we quickly find our best efforts falling to the ground, rendered harmless by our inwardly-curved nature.
So as we enter a new year, it would be best for us to quickly confess our sin and confidently receive the comfort of God’s forgiveness and love made available in our Savior Jesus. And although we will never stop aiming for the target of knowing Jesus and making Him known, we do so only by His abundant grace and ever-present power. Only in Christ are our efforts “straightened” and made effective.
May we therefore be encouraged to pursue all that God has placed before us in a glad new year — in His strength alone, to His credit alone.
Rev. Pete Mueller
Mission Strategist, Area C