Friday, May 27, 2005
Love: duty or pleasure?
The last couple nights, I've been watching a mid-1980's version of the classic novel, Jane Eyre. Although I find that this great work of literature has much of importance to say to us, as a Bible-believing Christian I cannot subscribe to what seems to be its primary theme: that true love is based on passion that's sometimes so strong that it compels one to do what is sinful in the sight of God, thus making your passion to rule your life rather than God himself. Although in the character of Jane Eyre there is much that is commendable, she and Mr. Rochester erred in allowing their passions to rule them, especially in their hearts. On the other hand, Jane's cousin, St. John Rivers, a clergyman who felt called by God to become a missionary, saw marriage as a duty, an opportunity for service. He was in no way "in love" with Jane, but this didn't inhibit him from proposing marriage to her. In his zeal to do what is right, he'd lost sight of the reason why we ought to do what's right: out of love towards God and our neighbor.
I am persuaded that the Scriptures paint a picture of the marriage relationship that's rather unlike the two portraits painted by Miss Bronte so many years ago. According to the Bible, love is indeed a duty. In fact, the two greatest commandments are to love God and one's neighbor. A commandment tells us what we ought to do, and we are to obey regardless of whether we "feel like it" or not. However, it would be a gross distortion to paint this kind of love as cold and passionless. Instead, the kind of love we are to practice has everything to do with what is kind and compassionate. God would have us obey him, but with a cheerful and willing heart!
In Ephesians, Paul compares the husband/wife relationship with the relationship that exists between Christ and his Church. Don't tell me that the love of Christ for his Elect is cold or unfeeling! In fact, the very reason that he laid down his life for the sake of his people is his fervent, passionate love for them. It is this kind of love that ought to be found in every Christian home where a believing man and woman have become one flesh. Romantic feelings come and go, to be sure, but it is the husband's duty to his wife to love her at all times, even when he doesn't feel very romantic towards her. Not only is this good and right because it is God's command, but there's also a fringe benefit: as the husband strives to obey God's Word and love his wife as Christ loves his church, the "warm and fuzzy" feelings that all of us so covet will come in due course, perhaps not always as quickly as we'd like, but they come all the same. Since I'm not yet married, I must rely on the testimony of many of my godly married friends who unanimously attest that this is so.
On second thought, perhaps I'm being too hard on Miss Eyre. Perhaps she ought to have mastered her feelings better, submitting them to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, but she did at least do what was right in the outward sense--fleeing a bigamous relationship--and in the end, once her beloved was indeed free, she was quite willing to love him in spite of his many faults and shortcomings. Mr. Rochester was indeed no longer handsome and active in the end, but he had her heart all the same. May this be true for all of us who are presently married or who one day will marry!
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Addiction to ungodliness
However, let me suggest a different theory: rather than the brain's chemistry being the cause of the behavior, how about the reverse? Could it be that the brain's chemical balance changes as a result of behavior? With drug addiction, it's already known that the brain "rewires" itself in response to the incoming flood of chemicals--lest the brain be overwhelmed by a huge surfeit of this or that chemical--thus conditioning the brain to crave an ongoing supply of the chemical in order to feel normal.
Although it seems clear that drug addiction can cause changes in the operation of the brain--after all, drugs are themselves chemicals--the idea that there may be a cause-and-effect relationship between non-drug-related behavior and brain chemistry may seem less clear. It seems a stretch to compare homosexuality or other forms of sexual promiscuity with drug addiction, but think about it for a moment. Consider the common observation that homosexuals tend to persist in their sexual behavior. Very, very few homosexuals manage to change their behavior to conform to a heterosexual or celibate pattern. Also, what of those who practice heterosexual promiscuity? Isn't that lifestyle just as persistent as homosexuality? What of child molestors? Why do we force them to be registered for a lifetime even after they serve their sentences? How many, once they begin to practice any form of sexual promiscuity, ever manage to give it up?
In a nutshell, my observation is this: sexual promiscuity, whether homosexual or otherwise, not to mention all forms of what the Bible calls "sin", is just as addictive as drugs, if not more so. Also, it causes changes in the brain's chemical makeup in such a way as to reinforce the behavior and make it difficult to impossible to give it up. Rather than the brain's chemistry causing the behavior, the behavior causes the brain's chemistry to change, which in turn helps to perpetuate the behavior.
As support for my theory, I appeal to Romans 1. In this chapter, Paul explains how the wicked and ungodly choose their sinful behavior. In turn, God gives them over to their behavior, in effect saying, "If this is the way you choose to live, have at it!" In other words, God allows the behavior that began as a choice to become an all-consuming lifestyle. Additionally, consider how the whole of Scripture--preeminently Paul in Romans--demonstrates how the unregenerate man or woman is a slave to his sin.
Although science has done much good in studying the operation of the human body, in the process developing cures for many once-fatal sicknesses, I fear that by and large it fails to consider the very real effect that the depravity of the human heart has upon the physical body. We are not slaves to chemistry, but slaves to sin, and we drag our bodies into the muck and mire right along with our wicked hearts. Our only hope--and a blessed hope it is!--is that we find mercy before God through Christ's imputed righteousness, for it is only in Christ that we can be delivered from our slavery to sin and become the kind of slaves we ought to be: slaves to righteousness!
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Worldly thinking vs. righteous judgement
Whatever the cause of weight gain might be for an individual (whether its due to a glandular disorder, carbohydrates, high fat, or whatever), it's important to put the issue in Biblical perspective. The first Scripture which comes to mind is, "Judge not by outward appearance, but judge rather righteous judgement." Elsewhere we read that Christians ought to cultivate inner beauty over and above their outward appearance. This is not to say that it's wrong to take care of one's appearance, or to be attracted to certain "looks" more than others, but rather that if we are to act in obedience to God's revealed will, we are to treat the person's heart as being far, far more important than his/her physical appearance.
Among men, there seems to be a tendency to judge women by their physical attributes. If a woman looks nice, we want to get to know her, but if we think she looks unattractive, we steer clear of her. It's quite understandable if unbelievers hold to such a priority, but in view of the Scriptures which I cited above, it's not only shallow but outright worldly and dishonoring to God if Christian men put physical beauty above spiritual beauty.
Oh, some of us love to rationalize our worldly thinking. "But maybe her unattractive appearance is a sign of spiritual immaturity." Yeah, right. The fact of the matter is that too many guys, including Christian guys, don't bother to get close enough to women who don't meet their ideal for physical appearance to learn the least little thing about their spiritual lives. Judging righteous judgment involves getting to know the person well enough to make an accurate judgment of their character. If you write a gal off because she doesn't meet your physical ideal, you are in no position to judge her.
"Her appearance shows that she doesn't care about her health." Although we ought to be good stewards over our bodies, and bodily exercise profits a little, an extra few pounds isn't necessarily a sign of an early demise. Whatever the reason may be for being overweight, the fact of the matter is that once you put on the pounds, it's difficult for many (most?) people to take them off and keep them off. OK, let's say it's a sin to be overweight. Gluttony is certainly a sin (although being overweight is not always a sign of gluttony). Isn't it just as much a sin to judge a person by outward appearance? Shouldn't we be gracious and patient towards those who are struggling with sin? Is being overweight a worse sin than, say, adultery or covetousness? If it isn't, then why is a woman's weight so often an unforgivable sin in the eyes of men, men who themselves are struggling with sin of their own, often the sin of lust?
Having said all that, perhaps I shouldn't complain. Maybe, just maybe, God is going to give me a woman with a beautiful heart, one who has been overlooked by lots of guys simply because of some perceived fault in her outward appearance. Maybe she's been hurt many times by rejection for the most superficial of reasons. "Why would I want to give her a chance? She's too fat/skinny/ugly/homely." Guys, if you want to pass over a potential gem because she doesn't look like a movie star or fashion model, go ahead, 'cause guys like me who are determined to make God's priorities my priorities in finding a mate are going to end up the winner. Although it's not wrong to be attracted to the outer appearance or to prefer certain "looks", bear in mind that if you make the outward appearance your top priority, you are thinking as the world thinks rather than like a Christian. You may prefer a drop-dead gorgeous gal with a cold heart, but I'm going to go for the gal who has a warm heart regardless of whether that heart is in a plain package or not, not because that's my preference, but because that's what the Bible teaches.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Charismania is dangerous to your health!
Before I came to the Reformed faith several years ago, I'd spent several years in the Charismatic Movement. During that time, I suffered from a substantial amount of emotional turmoil. As I've grown in wisdom since leaving "charismania", it's occurred to me that the cause of many of these emotional difficulties may be laid at the doorstep of the Charismatic Movement so many have left or are striving to leave. Let's face it: as charismatics, we were led by our emotions to a far greater extent than the Scriptures. (In my case, the Scriptures were little more than a repository of prooftexts to lend a degree of credence to my precious spiritual gifts and revelations.) Besides that, many of us including myself brought emotional issues into the charismatic scene.
In my case, I brought sporadic depression and anxiety into charismania. Believe me, charismania left me worse off than I started, because it only encouraged me to rely more on my extremely fallible emotions. In no way did it teach me to rely on the Scriptures. Instead, I would pray in tongues or call on an "anointed" friend in search for a word of encouragement. Far from learning to trust in Christ alone, I learned how to depend on men and women who were no less fallible than myself.
For me, coming out of charismania took years. I had a lot of pride invested in my alleged prophetic gifts, so even after I'd come to despair of the charismatic church, I still held on desperately to the prophecies, dreams, and visions that I thought foretold great things from God in my future. Of course, since my hope was based upon the "gifts", and I could never be 100% certain that my words were from God, my hope was based on sinking and shifting sand.
What's more, I'd learned from the WoF that I didn't have to wait on God to answer my prayers as he saw fit. Instead, if I could muster up enough faith, I could demand that my prayers be answered immediately. Although this approach appeared to work well enough in my early charismatic days, it gradually dawned on my that my demanding and claiming and binding and loosing wasn't doing a single solitary bit of good. The believer's authority in which I'd put so much pride was proving to be a sham.
So, you'd think that with my source of revelation and my prayer method gone bust, that I'd turn in humility to Christ. Nope. Instead, I was angry, not at myself, but at God himself. Yes, since it was God who allowed me to become deceived, God was to blame, and I let him know that I didn't appreciate it one bit. "Why not?" I thought. "He knows my thoughts anyway, so I may as well express them." Needless to say, this, er, attitude problem was no help to my emotional, mental, or spiritual health, resulting in periods of depression punctuated by misbegotten hope. (I once went so far as to say, "I'd rather have false hope than no hope at all!") Incidentally, none of this was particularly good for my body. I was still clinging to hope in divine healing--blab it and grab it!--so I ignored the chest pains, intestinal upsets, skin problems, etc. as best I could. My body was reacting to my sinful attitude and false doctrine in all sorts of ways, but yet I clung to hope that I could take authority over it and make it go away.
So, what happened then? Nothing spectacular. At least, it didn't seem spectacular at the time. The best way I can put it is that I got tired of fighting against God and the universe, and decided to give up the fight. It wasn't until later that I came to be persuaded that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased, but for now I made a pragmatic decision: given all the turmoil my faith in the gifts was causing me, I was going to put them on the shelf--that is, cease practicing them--until and unless I became throughly persuaded through Scripture that they were from God.
From that point, my progress--thanks to God's grace!--was fairly rapid, for now I found that I was deeply suspicious of sensationalism and experience-based doctrine. Now at last I had to have facts--that is, Scripture--to back up whatever I was going to believe. If there was some belief or practice I didn't find in Scripture, I was going to toss it in the spiritual dumpster. Suddenly, I'd become a Reformation-minded believer, although it was going to be another year or so before I so much as heard of anything called Reformed theology or Calvinism. This change of heart was so quick and sudden that I can't possibly take personal credit for it. In fact, based on my rotten fruit, it may well be that I'd been a Christian in name only until God brought me to accept the Scriptures alone as my guide for faith and practice.
So what of my old emotional/mental issues? Admittedly, I still get the blues from time to time, but when that happens it doesn't last as long as in the old days, and when I come out of it it's always because I find a Scriptural answer to my unbiblical thinking. At least in my case, my mood and emotions invariably prove to be side-effects of my unbiblical thinking. As my thinking has become more Biblical, my body has suffered less. I am less pale than before, and I suffer from much less digestive trouble. (It also helped that I learned that I was lactose intolerant. It's amazing the difference that dietary changes and enzymes can make.) To put it another way, when I change my behavior and thinking with God's help, I find that my body's chemistry changes for the better as well.
Anyway, I just thought it may be helpful for me to share a bit about the spiritual journey I've taken from charismania to the Reformed faith. I hope it's been an encouragement to you.