Writings by Cole Huffman


To the Maxim

It occurred to me once that I should ask God for the foresight to avoid what I’ll regret in hindsight. Thus was born another maxim. Sometimes maxims come about as byproducts of weekly sermon writing or reading. Sometimes they hit me out of the blue.

Maxims are general truths or rules of conduct. They’re only slightly distinguishable from axioms, which are general truths or principles widely agreed upon. Maxims are more individualized whereas axioms are more universal. Put another way, axioms are to philosophies of living what axles are to cars. Maxims are more like the tires. They are as divergent as George Washington’s, “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth,” and Yogi Berra’s “90% of the game is half-mental.”

Maxims aren’t as fun as limericks but can still entertain. This maxim occurred to me while running: “The problem with the wisdom of wisecracks is the wisdom gets lost in the crack.” What do you think I mean by that? Am I denying that sarcasm is ever useful in making a point or merely trying to be clever?

Sometimes I don’t immediately know what I mean when I “maximize.” Like asking God for the foresight to avoid what I’ll regret in hindsight: I don’t think this way of putting it is attempting to avoid any and all troubles because I don’t ask God for that. What I think I mean is that I want to avoid those troubles that follow from my own foolishness, haphazardness, or impulsiveness.

But sometimes I don’t avoid my baser self. At those times I think of a maxim I came up with a few years ago: “Your best days are never that far removed from your worst.” The maxim is commending humility, the kind of humility that remembers the grace of God is needed every day. God’s memory is perfect and He chooses to forget my worst days even when I can’t or won’t: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). I once heard someone put it maximally this way: “When successful don’t crow, when failing don’t croak.”

I yoke with that best-days-worst-days maxim one similar: “Motives are always multiple and frequently mixed.” This one complements an axiomatic definition of humility I like, that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Humility is at its purest when it’s self-forgetful. Trying to establish the utter purity of motive for something good I’m doing is usually not humble but prideful. The humble recognize they’re a mixed bag and do the good anyway.

So maxims are idiosyncratic ways of truth-telling and truth-affirming. They can be clever or cautious, original or borrowed. But to invoke them is to indulge “a word fitly spoken” (Prov. 25:11), which is “like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” The perishable is rendered permanent. Words otherwise easily cheapened become priceless. Foresight is trained to anticipate hindsight. Best days don’t have to lord it over worst days. Motives can mingle unselfconsciously, humbly for the good of good.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:17 PM
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