Nothing that is worth doing…

I always feel like a cheater when I post quotes that are just epigraphs from another book.  But I like this one from the beginning of How the Irish Saved Civilization, so I will continue to cheat:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved on our lifetimes; therefore we must be save by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.  — Reinhold Niebuhr

7 thoughts on “Nothing that is worth doing…

  1. matt

    “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetimes”

    Hmm, what do you think he meant? How do you interpret that?

  2. Marc Post author

    That’s certainly the most debatable one in the trio, isn’t it? It seems to me that there are some very worthy goals that can be achieved in our lifetimes.

    I’m not sure what he meant, because I have no context for the quote (other than this book). But I suspect he means something like, “It is worth working towards something even if we never see the results or achievement.”

    But then, Neibuhr seems to be speaking in theological terms: faith, hope, love. So perhaps it is a reference to the Kingdom of God. (In which case my initial thought still applies.)

  3. Toni

    Is there a possibility that the writer is just simply wrong, or has been quoted so out of context as to render his words meaningless?

  4. matt

    Marc, I like your interpretation better than Niebuhr’s statement. Just sayin’…

    And yes, it’s always good to be straight up and ask the question, “Maybe that dude was just wrong?”

    Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I disagree with that particular statement, or at least with my interpretation of it:)

  5. Marc

    I guess what appeals to me in this quote is that it runs contrary to so many of our modern desires: we need instant results (a missions trip without tangible results or testimonials is a failure); everything must be scientifically explicable; and we are told that you can do anything you put your mind to. And we generally accept these notions as true and good without much thought.

    Neibuhr’s words jar us because they are so contrary to how we normally think–perhaps that’s why he wrote them. I certainly can’t imagine that Niebuhr is advocating complacency or laziness.

    I’m reminded of a Simpsons moment (unfortunately I couldn’t find video):

    Moe: I got this deep fryer on loan from the US Army. It can flash fry a buffalo in 40 seconds

    Homer: 40 seconds?… but i want it now!

  6. matt

    Yeah, for sure. Sometimes (often?) it’s easy for me to overlook the deep truths I find and focus more on what doesn’t seem to fit with me. Thanks for bringing it back home.

    I still don’t really understand exactly what he was trying to say but I see it as the idea that the meaning of our lives is so much bigger than any small, individualistic perspective and unless we look at it from a higher/deeper place then we won’t have a right relationship to life.

    Faith, hope and love. I can’t disagree with those, if nothing else;)

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