Cheese and Change

Those who know me even slightly will know that I hate cheese. I’m not quite at the ‘cheese-is-of-the-devil’ stance that I once held, now being able to enjoy pizza, but I still consider cold hard cheese one of the most revolting substances known to science. Those who do so when blue mould is present teeter on the edge of lunacy in my view.

 

That being the case, why on earth am I writing a blog post about cheese? Simple, I’ve recently been asked at work to read the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Dr Spencer Johnson. In this book cheese is a metaphor representing the things we want to get out of life, whatever they are for different people, and the book explores how different people react when things change – i.e. when the cheese is no longer so readily available.

 

When I got past the silliness of the title, I found it’s not a bad read. I should warn anyone considering reading it though: if you have expectations of it being silly and over-simplistic, then it probably will be. True, it is nauseatingly twee, but it makes some valid points:

  • change is inevitable;
  • acting the same old way when the situation changes won’t get you far;
  • activity is not the same as productivity;
  • ostrich-esque burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem won’t go away is the worst thing you can do

etc etc. I won’t go on – you can read the book yourself to find out more.

 

But the reason I’m writing is because it made me think about change. Yes, change is inevitable, so we must try to have a positive reaction to it, but not all change is good, or necessary. You can just as easily change something for the worse as for the better. If change is forced on us by outside circumstances we can’t control, then fair enough, we’ve got to adapt. But intentionally pursuing change without sufficient need is when the problems creep in – that’s when things can go wrong. The old adage ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ is often derided as a conservative truism holding things and people back from positive progress, but there is a grain of truth in it. Change can be good, and can improve a thing even if it wasn’t broken, but change for the sake of change is not good. The grass is very rarely as green on the other side as it appears.

 

I think the book makes a mistake in presenting change as good in and of itself. At one point one of the characters exclaims, “Hooray for change!” It’s one thing to face necessary change with positivity, but to glorify change itself is nonsense and a recipe for instability and inconsistency. If a writer keeps changing plots and characters then they won’t get anywhere; if parents keep changing their values, the kids will grow up confused; if governments keep changing policies a lot of resources will be wasted that could have been better spent.

 

There’s also a difference between change to treat the symptoms of a problem and change to treat the roots of a problem. Companies, churches and individuals can endlessly restructure and pursue fad ideas, but without understanding and acknowledging the fundamental problems facing them those changes won’t help them. In fact, they’ll probably make matters worse. A short term desire for surface changes is no substitute for a long-term vision that tackles the underlying problem. That means change shouldn’t be rushed just as much as it shouldn’t be obstinately avoided.

 

I’m no expert on society’s ills and am utterly unqualified to make sweeping judgements, but I do believe that many of today’s problems could be solved if we reversed the trend of parents abandoning Biblical teachings in raising their children. Many people think Christianity is no longer relevant, or even downright wrong. The Bible seems to be increasingly ignored as people think they know better now, that we’ve somehow improved on the ideas of an eloquent Jew 2,000 years ago. But the change most people need is not any kind of self-help, but the timeless truth of God.

 

God looks at the inside, not just the outside, as most of us know (1 Samuel 16:7), but I think it’s also true that changes which are God-led solve the fundamental problems in our lives; whereas changes led by ourselves tend to just deal with things on the surface.

 

The Bible actually has a really interesting take on change, one that’s easy to get wrong if you don’t look at the context of the whole story. The casual observer is struck by how much things seem to change between the Old and New Testaments, even to the point of surmising that they describe two different deities. I understand the confusion, but it often arises from not reading very much of either testament, i.e. not seeing the whole picture.

 

God is capable both of change and changelessness – somehow at the same time. You see, the book of Hebrews tell us both that God’s purpose is ‘unchanging’ in nature (6:17), and that God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, ‘is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (13:8). Yet in Isaiah we read:

 

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

 

There seems an obvious contradiction here, but I don’t think there is really. It is God’s purpose and essential nature which do not change. Happily for us, His love never changes, His faithfulness never changes. His overall plan for the world and for all of us never changes. The strategy never changes. But His tactics change. The style and the delivery changes to suit different circumstances. Paul understood this when he said ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some’ (1 Corinthians 9:22) – and yet the core of his gospel message never changed. And if God chose to reveal more of His plan to us as He went along, who are we to complain? I’m just happy to be a part of it.

 

He is big enough, and sovereign enough, to deal with the fluctuations of human free will and yet shape everything towards His own purposes. That means He often chooses to deal with different people at different times in different ways. God is also so creative and so full of boundless appetite for new things that we shouldn’t be surprised to see Him saying such things through Isaiah. Who are we to limit such a visionary from doing new things?

 

But the new things don’t change the fact that God’s big idea is still, and has always been, to save the world through Jesus Christ. To act with grace and to reconcile His children with Himself. This tells me that things which are fundamentally good and true, do not change. Well-laid plans and time-honoured truths should not change. What should change is the way we live them out. I will hold onto my Biblical values and faith in God, but my attitudes, habits and behavioural tendencies I will try and hold lightly, knowing that God can bring about changes for the better therein.

 

In summary? I don’t really care what the cheese book says. All I need to know about change, and how to best approach the problems of life, is contained in the Bible. It’s my first love and my final authority. Could I finish by issuing one challenge for change? Read the Bible more.

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