Sin: The Grace Engine?

Romans 14:23 — the big picture: “whatever is not of faith is sin.”

Sin is a word that leaves a burning sensation if applied to oneself — like a big red S seared on our forehead.  For me, labeling myself a “sinner” cuts deep with the blade of shame.  However, in a sermon a few years ago Northland’s Pastor Dr. Joel Hunter said sin was more properly translated from the Greek as “not hitting the mark”– as in archery– and that had a much more benign feel to it than a big red S branded on my forehead.  It’s okay to be a poor shot.  That doesn’t make you evil.  That sure sounds better than willful rebellion against God.

The very Gospel itself, God’s good news, narrowly defined, is the forgiveness of sins. But I personally believe that the “forgiveness of sins” is really about much more — no less than the restoration of a perfect Creation — the world, the universe, all of God’s Creation before it was defiled by Satan’s heavenly rebellion and by Adam and Eve’s in the Garden.  It’s more than just allowing our myriad dishonesties and transgressions to be cancelled out — but more about the restoration of a flawless Creation.

Convicted of Sin

For whatever reason, of the five underlying tenets of Calvinism “Total Depravity” has always been the easiest for me to remember and accept — as in the whole human race, including me, being evil and totally depraved. Is that how its supposed to be? Is the church’s focus on sin the result of the Holy Spirit’s convicting power or Satan’s propaganda infesting the noosphere, his kingdom of the air?  Supposedly, the HS’s conviction leads to repentance, whereas Satan just drives us deeper into despair — and more sin.

The Spirit of Truth

Ah, but the HS’s function is not primarily to convict us of sin but to be the “Comforter” (John 16:8) and to be the Spirit of Truth and to testify about Jesus as the beloved Son of God (John 3: 19-21).  It seems to me that the Accuser (Satan) is the one who convicts us of sin and he propagates this greatly thru religion.  However, if the HS connects us to Jesus, then maybe it’s really the Jesus living in us who’s doing the convicting.  To me, it’s all rather perplexing.  But for me what’s most off-putting are those who opine on these hermeneutic issues with absolute certainty.

Repent and Repeat

Pretty much within minutes of sinning, I’ve repented — which means admitting to God I need to change, and then within the same moment been bracketed by and overwhelmed with shame.  I certainly have a lot of faults (sins).  Like the errant archer, I miss the bullseye all the time. Anger, purveying gossip, judging and condemning others are high on my list — and not being generous and loving enough too.  But the sin which plagues and preoccupies me most is sexual sin.  It has always seemed that enjoying the feeling of lust and ogling woman is far and away my most persistent sin.  It’s like an old friend, and when the demon of lust is gone for more than a couple days I feel like something essential is missing in my life.

Now well into my golden years lust plagues me somewhat less.  I may miss the feeling at times, but I certainly don’t miss feeling the shame that usually accompanies it.  I’m frequently tormented in recollecting of all the stupid, dishonest things I’ve done in the pursuit of “love”– not genuine love but mere copulation.  These are not a happy memories.

But sadly, sometimes lust is the only comforting sensation that I’ll feel in a given day.  Various psychophysiological events accompany lustful thoughts that makes it difficult to extinguish them. There have been times when fantasizing about something sexual has caused a headache to ease off, and quite obviously the sensation of lust is concomitant  with the propagation of endorphins, oxytocin and neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA and dopamine.

Idolatrous Lust

Sexual obsession is certainly the downfall for most young males.  I’m no longer young and so I’m only sexually obsessed about 20% of the time. When I was 13 or 14, it was about 90% of my waking thoughts, and throughout my adolescence and adulthood lust likely stayed in the high-70s.  My generation was a product of the Playboy Magazine ethos.  A total capitulation to my lustful urges was the biggest reason why at the age of thirteen I declared myself an agnostic.

Sexual sin seems to be an engine that drives many people–but especially young males– away from God.  And I wonder how does this fit into the big plan — in God’s perfect economy.  Did God set it up that way?  Or is preoccupying us with sex and shame another trick of the devil?  The paradox of sexuality was the engine which propelled a young St. Augustine into the meditations that became his Confessions. 

And yet, once I get past the shame, and repent again and again it does make me humble.  It gives me cause to cry out to God.  And presumably that is a good thing.  Is it better to cry out as a miserable sinner or to be smug in our self-anointed “purity?’

I do not have any definitive answer — but it all makes me wonder.

Dining Together

Paul’s focus in Romans 14 is on judging others and on eating foods that your brothers and sisters consider unclean — and then perhaps leading them astray by example. However, I think that over the years it’s meaning and intent has been extrapolated to embrace a lot of dogma.  But what Paul is basically saying is that to fit in and be a better witness we should go along with the eating habits of those with whom we are dining.  Then comes the bombshell in the chapter’s last verse: “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatever is not of faith is sin.”  Throughout this chapter he almost seems to be saying that if you think something’s a sin, then it is, and if you don’t think it is a sin, then it isn’t. And, broadly speaking, that appears to render some sins a subjective experience.  And that is a mind bending thought.

Quite obviously, things mentioned in the Ten Commandments like murder, adultery and lying about others are sins. But what about acts not mentioned in scripture like masturbation? Is that a sin if you are convicted that it is, but not, if you’re not?

As for things not done by faith being sin, it seems as though most of my adult born-again life has been beyond the purview of faith.  Maybe that’s why I’ve struggled so much. Maybe it’s not sexual sin but the lack of faith that really torments me.  Scripture says it’s impossible to please God without faith.  I have faith in the sense that I believe in Him, in His existence and ultimate good plan for the universe (and me).  But where I get lost is my trusting Him to work out all the details.  And then too I wonder if I really believe in God’s grace, in the finality of atonement of the Cross?  Our past sins are covered but what about present and future ones?  That’s a heated topic.  Also, when we worry about the details are we impugning God’s goodness? — and God’s primary characteristic is that He is good. When Moses asks God to show him His glory what God allows Moses to see is His goodness (Exodus 33:19).

Satanic Sophistry 

Maybe the church’s preoccupation with sexual sin is one of Satan’s tricks.  For example, to the secular world Christians appear to be judgmental fools when railing against same sex marriage.  Then somehow abortion becomes conflated with same sex marriage. But one sin murders millions of human lives created in God’s image and the other merely outrages some sensibilities.  But Satan and the media causes them to be seen as equal.

Trust v. Lust

As for trusting God, I’m a lot better than I used to be but still quite far from where I think I ought to be. And I continue to struggle with the myriad implications of “whatever is not of faith is sin.”  But as best I can figure, my major idolatrous sin is lust.  And I think that Idolatry is the sin God hates most as He puts it first in the Ten.  But in any event, lust is what consciously torments me, not trust.

Sin Living in Me

However, Paul seems to give us a break in Romans 7:17 when he says it’s sin living in him that causes him to do wrong.  He makes sin sound like an alien intruder, a parasite, residing in our redeemed born again bodies and souls.  As if in some sense we’re not dirty low down sinners but mostly just vessels.  I hope so.  I hope it’s sin in the hands of Satan that causes our self-loathing — and not the Holy Spirit.  Hopefully, like the hymn says: “Jesus paid it all” and we don’t need to worry about ongoing judgement and punishment.

And around and around it goes in some strange recursive dance: lust begetting sin; sin begetting shame; shame begetting grace; grace begetting trust — but sin living in me  begetting more lust. And so I wonder if my sin, especially my persistent sexual sin, is just some great grace generator?

I’m not saying that excuses it.  It just makes me wonder.

 

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Our Wilderness Tests

It seems possible that Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness — a time related in both Luke 4 and Matthew 4 — confirms both His true identity as the Son of God and His role in heralding the Kingdom.  We have scant information from Scripture about what He knew and when He knew it.  About the first three decades of his life there is only the story found in Luke 2 of Him lagging behind at the Temple discoursing with the learned doctors while his parents were on their way back to Nazareth following Passover.  He was twelve years old.  His answer to his distraught parents was that they should have known He would be about His Father’s business. Other than that one incident the four gospels say nothing about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life.

Eighteen more years will pass, and all we are told is that He returned to Nazareth and increased in stature and wisdom and found favor with both God and man.  However, at age thirty,  Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on Him and A Voice proclaims that He is God’s son and that God is well pleased in Him.  Immediately after that He retires to the Judean wilderness for a forty day period of prayer and fasting.  It is during that time that Satan actively attacks and tests His identity.

One wonders if He knew immediately at His baptism, or perhaps even before, exactly who He is and what His mission is to be.  Or did He need a time of testing, a time alone in the wilderness sustained by prayer — a time of confirmation?

Scripture relates three temptations or tests. In the first temptation Jesus informs Satan that we are not sustained by bread but by the Word of God.  In my book Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations I characterize it as the overcoming of materialism — the temptation all humans face in living not by trust but by putting ones focus and faith in earthly goods.

The second temptation, following Luke’s account, is a rejection of worldly power and glory — and the need to be worshipped by others.  Jesus answers Satan by saying that it is written to worship and serve God only.

In the third temptation Jesus rejects the devil’s offer of protection — in sum, He eschews the temptation for security and safety instead of trusting God.  But perhaps more importantly He tells Satan who He is when He answers him that he should not tempt the Lord his God.

What is related in scripture are three specific temptations.  But there may have been many others.  Forty days is a long time to be hungry and alone. The Bible doesn’t tell us all there is to know, just all we need to know.  What scripture relates is Jesus’ rejection of three offers from Satan — offers for material goods, power and safety — but also these three tests may have been the impetus, the defining moment, perhaps the final confirmation for Jesus in discovering who He really is.

It was immediately after this time of testing that He began heralding the Kingdom and calling for repentance. He began living out His mission strengthened by the time alone and hungry in the desert.

Every serious Jesus-follower has a time in the wilderness.  It is a time of aloneness, perhaps a time of feeling abandoned.  It is a time of testing and temptation. Even paragons of faith such as Mother Teresa and C.S Lewis endured times when they felt abandoned by God.

But with every testing there comes a provision, and so when one endures an unusually difficult time, consider that it is a time that allows one to either discover or strengthen their true identity — who they are in Jesus — and thus see the part they play in God’s kingdom with more clarity.

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Complaining

“When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”  Ps 32:3

“How’re you doin’?”

“Can’t complain!”

Oh yes I can.  And quite profusely.

Okay, sometimes I feel like complaining is my life.  I sure do enough of it — and I’m certain my friends get tired of hearing me piss and moan — yammering on and on about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that I perceive myself enduring.  Complaining was already on my mind this morning when I saw something a Facebook friend posted about complaining.  It was an article based on research that spoke about the toxicity of complaining.  It was about how hearing our own voice whine poisons our own health. I’d like to see the original research but I’m certainly open to the validity of its point. Also, the conservative talk show host Dennis Prager says that we have a moral obligation to act happy regardless of how we feel. This is because of the effect our mood has on those around us.  In other words, don’t air your complaints.

I call it venting.  I often feel like if I don’t get something off my chest my head will explode.  And then after I vent I usually feel better.  The fact that I keep doing it suggests that the act was reinforced (rewarded).  The reinforcement might be sympathy but more likely empathy — the hearer emotionally resonating with my feelings.  Also, sometimes folks say they will pray for me.  And to me that’s very important.

Venting complaints may also involve another more sinister phenomena called projective identification (PI).  Projective identification is actively placing our feelings into another person unconsciously.  It is person to person unconscious communication and it is the secret of much human behavior and communication. It is a phenomena that even many psychologists and other mental health professionals do not fully understand. Currently most graduate programs do not teach about the subconscious or unconscious processes in our thoughts. They tend to focus on behavior modification or the type of therapy referred to as cognitive-behavioral. Psychodynamic formulations of behavior have been placed on the back burner, and many younger therapists may only have the vaguest notion of what PI is.

When I complain I’m placing my feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, etc. into the listener.  I feel better. But the sad fact is they may feel worse.  That was not my conscious intention but that might be the result — and it’s not a very complimentary comment on my motives. However, I view PI as a primitive, pre-verbal type of communication.  We want others, particularly those closest to us, to resonate with us at an emotional level.  If I’m sad, I want you to feel sad too.  If I’m happy, I want you to feel happy too.  If I feel anxious, I want you to experience the same anxiety too. I can tell you I feel those emotions but sometimes actively creating them in another is more effective. For example, if I’m feeling anxious I might tell another person a scary story to give them a measure of fear or anxiety as well. But the story I tell might be totally unrelated to the cause of my anxiety.

The exact meaning of the verse from Psalm 32 that prefaces this article is a bit opaque. It probably refers to the confession of ones sins to God, and not venting per se.  Christians know from scripture that when we confess, God forgives (1st John 1:9). We also know that confessing to others leads to healing (James 5:16).  In that regard, accountability partners, spiritual directors and Christian 12-step groups such as Celebrate Recovery all involve confession.  Airing our dirty laundry to one or more persons facilitates healing.

To do this consciously thru a small share group format or with an accountability partner is surely superior to venting to whomever happens to be in our vicinity or unconsciously using projective identification. Romans 12:15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. In other words scripture tells us to resonate with others emotionally — but to do it up front and consciously.

Anyway, I thought I’d try not complaining for a whole week — sort of give my usual listeners a break and also to see if it has a positive effect on my mood.

“So how’s it going?” you ask.

“Cant complain!”

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“Joker”

“I kill, therefore I am.”  That dark parody of Descartes’s famous aphorism might serve as an apt subtitle for this bleak but brilliant iteration of the Batman nemesis.

There is a clever, tangential reference to Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, but the movie is not about what you think it will be.  Generally speaking, I find the whole superhero genre boring nonsense, and were it not for Rex Reed’s compelling review I might not have seen it.  He called it brilliant, as do I — at the same time difficult to watch and yet impossible to turn away from.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) has a rare neurological disability: pseudobulbar affect (PBA), sometimes called pathological laughter.  Sad and upsetting things cause him to laugh hysterically.  He clowns for a living and he’s an aspiring stand up comic.  Also, well into his 40s he still lives with his mother.  They are both addicted to watching a late night Johnny Carson talk show clone played by Robert De Niro.  Arthur is also his mom’s caretaker. In one scene he’s seen giving her a bath — as tastefully done as something that creepy could be done.

Arthur is a faceless, gentle soul — as are most mentally ill — but a couple of beatings and a series of setbacks gradually push him to the edge. His descent into homicidal madness is both chilling and compelling.

Joker is the best rendering on film of the effect of abuse and abandonment on the lives of the seriously and chronically mentally ill, and of our nation’s impersonal and broken system of care as I can recall seeing.  The deinstitutionalized chronically mentally debilitated are a largely faceless and under-served population.  They don’t vote and their only advocates are usually just their closest relatives.  Many end up in jail due to most state hospitals having closed.  Todd Phillips, both directed and co-wrote the script, and obviously did some serious research.

Phillips, has crafted a masterpiece.  The camera work is great and his rendition of Gotham is bleak and impersonal in the extreme.  Gotham is a metaphor for every contemporary urban landscape, and in a sense, Arthur Fleck gives a face to the new pestilence of serial shooters.  Joker and Phoenix’s performance  would both rank high in my Top-10 all time.

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Guilt: Engine of the Left

The Left is consumed by guilt — driven by guilt. For them God may have left the building  but guilt will suffice as a substitute. They know deep in their hearts that there is a Supreme Being and that life is meaningful, and so if they can’t believe in Him at least they can worship at some spiritual avatar. That’s likely guilt with a capital G.

For some,  guilt is a feeling is as close as they can get to the numinous, a feeling of holiness –and the self absolution found in a recitation of our collective sins as a nation is a sad parody of giving thanks to a Creator for our blessings.

Guilt is what drives the climate change hysteria, as well as the very impractical ideas of  a $15-dollar an hour minimum wage and reparations for American folks with African heritage.

Guilt is what tries to erase six decades of very evident progress in race relations. Let’s not praise our racial progress, let us focus instead on some apparent injustice — like when a white cop shoots a black man for some minor crime.  Let’s not talk about the current  historically low unemployment amongst blacks and Hispanics — let’s talk instead about Jim Crowe. If there’s no recent injustice to trumpet, let’s scour the archives of the Zinn Educational Project for a lynching that occurred a century ago.

Hence, the NY Times heralds the 1619 Project. We don’t deserve any of this. All of our prosperity was built on the backs of black slaves according to 1619. Easy enough to swallow for the historically illiterate — folks unaware of inconvenient truths like northern states not having slavery being far more prosperous than the southern slave states, and also thousands of whites enduring indentured servitude, which until they earned their freedom, was the equivalent of slavery.

And who pays who? Larry Elder posted a meme asking if Barack Obama should pay reparations to his Kenyan never-slave side for his white slave-owning ancestors. And are the descendants of Irish indentured servants treated like trash for decades after emigrating owed reparations too? Reparations are a thoroughly impractical idea given legs by guilt-driven leftists.

Leftists knows deep in their souls that they do not deserve the good life we’re living here in the USA.  It’s unsettling that we should live well while much of the world suffers. All of our prosperity must rest on some ill gotten gain. They know that because — well, they feel guilty about it.

God will surely get us for being fat, dumb and happy while much of the world suffers. They read divine retribution into every natural disaster, every hurricane, earthquake and tornado. Guilt is driven by fear, but Believers well versed in scripture know  from First John 3:18 that perfect love drives out fear– and that the sun and the life-giving rain falls on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45).

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The Goodness of God: Pain and Provision

This past week the evangelical community was shaken by the suicide of Jarrid Wilson. He was a fairly well known megachurch pastor. I’d not previously heard of him but he was an author and an associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.  He was only 30 and he left a wife and two young children.

He had written about his struggle with depression on more than one occasion.  He’d also started a nonprofit foundation to address mental health issues.  One obit mentioned that just a day or two before he died he had participated in a baptism ceremony at a Southern California beach — and that he had officiated on the day of his death at a funeral for a woman who had died by suicide.  Given these events, the timing struck me as odd, but suicide is almost always a decision to end unrelenting emotional/psychologic pain.

Other notable recent suicides in the faith community include Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Chino, CA, Inland Hills megachurch in August, 2018, and in 2013, Isaac Hunter of Summit Church in Orlando and Matthew Warren, the son of megachurch pastor and The Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren.

In 2016, the CDC announced that suicide had increased 30% since 1999, and that in that year alone nearly 45,000 Americans had chosen to end their own lives. It is now the second leading cause of death in young people — people ages 10 to 34.  It seems that offing oneself is an idea whose time has come, and the dramatic increase in suicides in millennials and generation-Z begs the question why.  When I was a teen back in the late-1950s and early-60s you never heard of a young person suiciding.  Oh, I know it happened occasionally but it was very infrequent. Today, my desperately unhappy teen clients see it as a very real option.

I have struggled with depression most of my adult life, and yet there was only one time when I felt that suicide was an imminent possibility.  In the autumn of 1991, a perfect storm of events in my life came to a head, and gradually I became obsessed and tormented by an image of me putting a gun to my temple.  At first it seemed an idea I was toying with, but eventually it started to take on a life of its own. It played out over a few day’s time and it ended with me on my knees crying out to God.

For me the lesson was to not allow any self-destructive, life-ending image to build a nest in my thoughts. The last thing some unsuccessful suicides report is an increasingly insistent voice in their thoughts that says, “Do it. . .JUST DO IT!”

In May, 1993, about a year and a half after my spell of suicidal ideations, I started attending Northland Church.  Northland was pastored by Dr. Joel Hunter, the father of future Summit pastor Isaac Hunter.  In an April, 1995, sermon the Holy Spirit speaking thru Dr.Hunter revealed to me His provision for coping with my chronic depression.  It was three short verses from First Thessalonians 5 that hit me like a thunderbolt: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 

Dr. Hunter emphasized that this was the God of the Universe communicating His will directly to us.  I took it as such.  There have been many sermons over the years which have impacted me, but that particular one was a watershed event in my life. I knew I had been given the key to my coping and I knew it was a truth I needed to communicate to others suffering from clinical depression. Presumably Dr. Hunter’s son Isaac heard the  sermon too but its impact was not life-altering for him as it had been for me.

Eventually I was led to start a ministry for the depressed at Northland.  Between 1998 and 2007, I facilitated a class initially called “Coping with Depression.”  However, after a few sessions we changed the name to “The Unwelcome Blessing” to more accurately reflect its focus.  And in 2005, I published a book with that same title.

I felt my book was unique because it dealt with the subject from three perspectives: clinical, biblical and personal. In addition to being a licensed counselor I was also a sufferer from the chronic depression called Dysthymic Disorder, and I am the child of two seriously bipolar parents. Yes, I  have been one acquainted with the night.  I’ve experienced the darkness of mood disorders up close and personal.

What I have Learned                                                                                                                     

We must start with the premise that God is Good. God is not mean; though at times it may feel like it, God is not torturing us or punishing us for sin with the pain of our depression. Goodness is God’s essence. In Exodus 33 when Moses asks to see God’s glory what he’s given is a glimpse of His goodness. God’s motives may be inscrutable but they are nevertheless GOOD, because HE is good.

2.   In every problem there is a provision. It is what has been revealed to me as part and parcel of God’s sacred economy.  Our problems, wounds and shortcomings become the channels for our personal ministry.  Celebrate Recovery (CR), AA and other 12-step groups were not founded by people who were paragons of equanimity and sobriety. They were flawed individuals who reached out in love to other imperfect people with similar issues.

At the very beginning of Second Corinthians Paul gives us a clue about the problem of pain.  He writes about the God of all comfort, the God who comforts us in our tribulations so that we may be of comfort to others.  So when we are handed emotional pain or any other unwelcome problem it contains a potential ministry.  In some sense it was given to us to share.  The insight that God gives us unwelcome blessings came to fruition in me over a dozen years of growth toward Christian maturity.  It led me to teach the class at Northland on coping with depression and it led me to write The Unwelcome Blessing.  

3. The pain we focus on increases. The more we think about how much it hurts, the more it hurts. Beyond praising God and giving thanks, the best antidote to the intense pain of chronic despair is found in actively loving others — getting busy as best we can in ameliorating the pain of others. Many times my own pain was put in perspective when I was actively trying to minister to another. Also, not allowing the vulture of unhappiness to build a nest in one’s thoughts is enormously helpful.  In other words, not allowing myself to obsess on my pain or what’s wrong in my life.  Again harking back to those verses from First Thessalonians 5, we must learn to praise God in all circumstances. We must be as resolute as Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. . .”

Our pain, our feelings, our emotions lie to us when we are depressed.  When we are depressed they tell us we’re worthless pieces of crap, that there is no hope, that life is too painful to be endured, and that our sadness and pain will last forever.  Feelings will tell us to give up and put the gun to our head. Our feelings/emotions may be valuable indicators but they are lousy directors. Clinging to God’s truth is our best hope. Our feelings will tell us there is no hope, but we must be intentional in seeking out the truth in scripture.

Taking it one step further, Dennis Prager states that we have a “moral obligation” to act happy even when we are sad or depressed.  Why is this?  Because when we go about looking and acting unhappy it affects the mood and happiness of others. Or in the parlance of the old kitchen wall-hanging: “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  And Prager also asserts that when the incentive is high enough even the most unhappy looking person can put on a brighter face.

4. Clinical depression and bipolar disorder are cyclical.  Every natural phenomena that can be measured has a rhythm — and depression ebbs and flows.  Most individuals have a somewhat predictable recurring rhythm in their moods. Thus, moods can be tracked and often anticipated.  Fortunately I tend to be what’s been termed a short-cycler.  Even my deepest depressions have passed in a few days to a few weeks — and sometimes my mood lifts within hours.  It is reassuring to me to know that my pain won’t last forever, and that even without any intervention one’s mood will eventually cycle upward.

5. We are all in a spiritual war with the relentless, implacable enemy of the Jesus residing within us.  Satan attacks the most vulnerable, and folks suffering clinical depression or bipolar illness, whether from the wounds of an unhappy childhood, a catastrophic loss like divorce, or a genetic predisposition, are ripe for his attacks.  Satan does not cause mental illness but he exploits it.  And so thorough grounding in Satan’s lies and tricks is helpful.  Understanding the nature of spiritual warfare can be important in overcoming emotional illness.

Pastor Jarrid

I do not know all the circumstances around his decision to end his life, and perhaps I’m giving myself too much credit as a healer, but still a part of me says I wish I could have spoken with Pastor Jarrid.  The loss to his family and the church leaves me immeasurably sad.  Each person and every depressive episode is somewhat different, but I wonder if what I have learned could have helped him.  I have had the loss by suicide of several clients and at least one close friend. Their decision to end their pain shook me to my core– and those left behind are forever left wondering and often plagued with guilt.

In spite of the pain endemic in our own lives, the lives of those around us, and in the greater world, we must remind ourselves unceasingly that the essence of God revealed in scripture, while often inscrutable and incomprehensible, is nevertheless that HE is good and that in every problem there is a provision for those who love Him and who are called according to his purpose.

 

 

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Free Will + Death = Love

This odd equation/proposition occurred to me one recent morning on my walk, and I wrote this little blog to help me clarify my own thoughts as much as anything. It’s content may be old hat to many mature Christians.

Agnostics, plus many folks who are not serious Jesus-followers — those sometimes referred to as baby Christians, often ask why God allows unspeakable tragedies and the mega-suffering that characterizes life here on planet Earth.  A fair question and one that often elicits a blank stare or a pained silence from all but the most articulate of Christian apologists.

Let me explain:

Love

That’s Love with a capital L — agape love

Love does not arise in a vacuum. We know Love because there is a divine Lover. The Victorian novelist and clergyman George MacDonald suggests that the Creator part of the Godhead made all of creation, including people, to give the Love part of the Godhead, Jesus, something to love. There had to be an object or a recipient of divine Love. This makes sense in light of the Gospel of John 1:3 and Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:16-17. So in a sense all of Creation including humanity is the result of the Divine Lover needing an object to love. When I read that in an essay by MacDonald about eight or nine years ago suddenly the great “why?” of all creation made sense. A question I’d been asking since around age twelve or thirteen.

And the Divine Lover wanted the love returned. He was jealous in that way, and in that way we are made in His image.

Free Will

There can be no legitimate Love without Free Will.  A coerced “I love you” is no real love at all.  And in a universe that often appears deterministic all Life begins with an “I Will.”  And in some sense Creation (and Eden) ends with an “I Will.”  Real Love can only be demonstrated through a Freedom to choose –the freedom to choose light and love, and the Tree of Life — or not –perhaps instead, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Death

SomeOne had to die for another, or for others sacrificially to make the power of Love real. It seems odd that One life had to end for another or others to live — or to be born again, but that’s the only way it becomes really real. We only really know that we are loved because SomeOne sacrificed immensely for us.

But, of course, Death can’t be the final word. Otherwise, what’s the point of anything. There has to be a Resurrection — a transformation into eternal life –life as it was before death and entropy entered creation thru the first couple’s exercise of free will.

And so it goes. . . Love and Death and Free Will in a recursive dance until, as T.S. Eliot pointed out, all things will be well in the end.

 

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