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Lacking looks, athletic ability, smarts, or wealth? Take heart

In the spring I counseled high schoolers not to be depressed if the college of their dreams turned them down. (See WORLD, April 24, “Blessed disappointments.”)

Now, as Thanksgiving approaches, I urge students to be grateful for God’s gifts, not resentful for what they lack. After all, having one or several of the big four—looks, athletic ability, smarts, and wealth—might lead them into temptations they’re not strong enough to overcome.

No. 1, physical attractiveness: easy to misuse. Since my mom once told me, “You have a face a mother would love only on payday,” I had to work hard to attract women during college and graduate school. Handsomeness would merely have allowed me to sin more.

2 Samuel 14:25: “In all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.”

Different temptations should lead us to study scripture relevant to our particular situation.

No. 2, athletic ability. Wish I had it: Only as an 18-year-old playground supervisor playing against 12-year-olds did I hit home runs. Sports talent, though, brings temptations. Christian major leaguers yearning to be faithful in marriage have told me a bigger problem than hitting a curve ball is being hit on by curvaceous ladies. Stars often have big ego problems and don’t know when to stop showing off.

2 Samuel 2:18-23: “Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. And Asahel pursued Abner, and … would not turn aside from following him. … Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back.”

No. 3, smarts. God gave me a good brain, although some readers disagree—but if you saw my stuff 50 years ago when I was a Marxist, you’d know I was smart enough then to be really stupid. When hearts are two sizes too small, deep thinkers fall further and drag others with them.

Romans 1:22-23: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

No. 4, wealth. Wouldn’t I do a better job as owner of The Washington Post than Jeff Bezos? Maybe, and I enjoyed going first class on Delta in the mid-’90s when 100 flights annually gave me frequent free upgrades. But rich folks often don’t know who their true friends are. The Bible teaches that those who don’t need to trust God for their daily bread may also think they can get into heaven on their own.

1 Timothy 6:17-19: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

Just as every poison needs an antidote, so different temptations should lead us to study Scripture relevant to our particular situation. If you’re a handsome basketball player, remember 1 Samuel 16: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The old saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” applies to columnists who criticize ideologues. So whenever as a smart guy I’m tempted to lord it over liberals or equate conservatism with Christianity, I hope God reminds me of Colossians 2’s warning: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deception, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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