I AM the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
The last week or so, I’ve been gearing-up to coach high-school cross-country (again) this Fall, praying for the girls whom I know will show up (e.g., our captains) as well as many I don’t yet know. I would covet your prayers for my being an effective witness for Christ in that role.
As part of that process, I’ve been delighting in a book graciously gifted to me by Catherine Boyle, an occasional reader/commenter here. It’s entitled ‘Hungry Souls, What the Bible Says About Eating Disorder’. I’m only a few chapters in, but as a former anorexic, I can recommend it with gusto, and not merely in the context of the malady on which she focuses.
She provides rock-solid Biblical insights into the much broader issue of how our sin nature distorts our self-image generally, leading us into fear of the future and distrust of God, thereby inciting us (often with great subtlety and what seems ‘common’ sense) to take matters into our own hands, trying to be perfect as God is perfect by the route of self-will, works and rituals.
At the beginning of chapter three (‘Body as Scapegoat’) she writes:
Contradictions to scripture bombard us from every conceivable angle from the time we get up until the time we rest again. The mental, emotional and spiritual drain is such a constant that it is almost unnoticeable. French author and philosopher Voltaire said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” When a woman believes absurd lies about her own body, the resulting eating disorder is no less an atrocity than crimes committed against others.
So too when any of us believe any lie about the proper use of our lives, including (scriptures says) our mind and heart, our time, our speech (tongue), our worldview (eyes, ears), our actions (hands, feet), and our other bodily members and natural appetites. In not submitting our lives to God’s truth, we repeat the scene in the garden of Eden, implicitly acquiescing to the serpent’s cynical challenge: Did God really say…?
Such internal and ‘vertical’ crimes are no less atrocities, and no less grievous, than the more instantly, outwardly visible, interpersonal (‘horizontal’) crimes which society recognizes more readily — the second half of the ten commandments.
(As an aside to reflect on if/as some of you watch the Olympics, it is ‘received wisdom’ among athletes engaged in solo, endurance sports, especially runners — and this is true to my own hard-won experience — that the violence done to one’s body is just as great as that of football or hockey, only it is self-inflicted and gradual, the process largely invisible. The discipline and over-discipline of one’s body can become no less an idol than the more common ways in which a lack of discipline begets sin.)
Now I’m going to appear to shift gears here, but I urge you to stick with me. The common thread is how believing absurdities leads to the commission of atrocities.
On Facebook, an old business colleague recently posted a link to a magazine article published this past Monday. I was intrigued by the headline:
Extremism normalized: How Americans are efficiently trained to acquiesce to ideas once deemed so radical as to be unthinkable
NOW, BEFORE YOU CLICK ON THE LINK, or roll over it to see where it’s from, take a moment to consider: What do you think it’s about?
Many of you will be wrong. I certainly was. Hint: It’s not about chicken.
Here’s an excerpt from the article, in Salon:
Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.
Allowing the president of the United States to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence is impossible to reconcile with the Constitution’s guarantee that a life will not be taken without due process of law. Under the law, the government must obtain a court order if it seeks to target a U.S. citizen for electronic surveillance, yet there is no comparable judicial review of a decision to kill a citizen. No court is even able to review the general policies for such assassinations…
The reason I mention all this is not to analyze or debate this particular political issue. Though I do think he’s right, I’d ask you to please direct comments to the larger spiritual issue. Nor is it my purpose to remark on or gloat in the irony relative to the whole Chick-Fil-A ‘thing’ (though it is thick… my former colleague lives within a literal stone-throw of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s office, on Beacon Hill, and agrees with him aggressively.)
Instead, I’d urge you to look at the Salon article as just another illustration of the same point we began with. How do extremist powers become normalized? We are trained — we become conditioned, accustomed, acclimatized — to believing a lie, to viewing the warped as normal, to disbelieving the Truth Himself, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Sin becomes our substitute standard, leading us to slowly kill ourselves — in no less potent and insidious a fashion as does the most determined anorexic. The things of God come to seem weird and wrong to those who have believed the serpent’s suggestion that we can’t trust Him.
With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
The Bible makes clear that we — individual human beings — are made in God’s image, but that sin disfigures that image. Scripture further makes clear that it is God’s desire* that none would perish, but that we would repent of our sins, turn to him and, trusting in Christ alone, grow up to be more like him. *(God’s desire is not the same as his compulsion. He allows us to exercise our own will within the bounds of time and so live by the consequences.)
The U.S. Declaration of Independence (though hardly a Christian document) validates this principle more than most: “all men are… endowed by their Creator…”
Many Christians, engaged in the culture wars, like to focus on the ‘Creator’ part, and that’s not wrong. I’d like to focus for a moment on the “all men” part (by which is surely meant all people, i.e., members of ‘mankind’). Note what the document doesn’t say:
Corporations are not endowed. International treaty organizations are not endowed. NGOs are not endowed. Branches of the military are not endowed. Partnerships and LLCs are not endowed. Charitable and other non-profit organizations are not endowed. Sports teams are not endowed. Social clubs are not endowed. Arms of government — e.g., Congress, the courts, and the office of the president — are not endowed. Committees (including the International Olympic) are not endowed. Government in general is not endowed. Even religions and religious denominations are not endowed.
Only individual human beings are endowed with anything from our Creator, YHWH. More specifically, only individual human beings are endowed with lives that carry the seed potential to grow into the likeness of our Christ. Our lives are a gift of God. As noted earlier: our mind and heart, our time, our speech (tongue), our worldview (eyes, ears), our actions (hands, feet), and our other bodily members and natural appetites.
That does not mean that we are to attempt to exist in some naively paradisical, self-organizing communality devoid of government or other institutions. Far from it. Romans 13 and Titus 3 make that much clear, as to myriad texts dealing with proper authority within the church.
What it does mean is that without explicitly God-fearing, Spirit-indwelt, Christ-following, Bible-believing individuals acting as ‘control rods’ to the powerful nuclear fuel of our sin nature, organizations of all kinds are liable to take on a ‘life’ of their own, wholly antagonistic to the purposes of God: Corporations. International treaty organizations. NGOs. Military branches. Partnerships and LLCs. Charitable and other non-profit organizations. Sports teams. Social clubs. Arms of government. Committees. Government in general. Religions and religious denominations.
And, like the meltdown of the nuclear plants in Japan seventeen months ago, there comes a point (and it is debatable, though likely in my opinion, that that point has already been reached in many organizations) that these Spirit-led, God-fearing, Christ-following, Bible-believing control rods are compromised or removed just enough that an unstoppable and deadly chain reaction begins. Much as happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
REVELATION 18:4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities…”
Beyond a certain point we are not to attempt to re-insert ourselves as control rods into the seething, melting, sin-spewing chaos, but to come out of the massive edifice of an organization which collectively makes up the local franchise of Babylon, whatever form that may take.
That coming out does not necessarily mean physical removal. Rather, it is meant in the opposite sense to which ‘going in’ is meant elsewhere in scripture, i.e., to engage in intimacy, pleasure and co-creation. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sacrificial return to Germany as a witness against the capitulating Nazi ‘church’ is a great example of how to interpret this passage.) In other words, we are not to fornicate with the world, but to stand as a witness to it.
In sum, the amazing mechanism by which God saves the world is not directly through organizations (which have no God-given life of their own) but through individual men and women devoting their entire, individual, created lives/selves to His service out of an overflowing, overwhelming gratitude for God sending His Son, Jesus to die the death we deserved for our own rebellion.
UPDATE: Regarding absurdities, I just received a phone call early this (Friday) evening, from a woman who gave her first name, asking if I would take a one-minute political opinion survey. I could hear the chatter of what I assumed to be her colleagues in the background so it seemed legit, but just to verify, I asked:
“OK, [name[, tell me: who are you working for?”
She: “We’re a third party.”
Me: “Yes, of course. I assumed that. But which one?”
(I used to do survey research. I was curious. And I’m skeptical of scam artists.)
She: “I can’t tell you that.”
Me: “Maybe you don’t understand. I know that I’m not allowed to know who your political client is, but what is the name of the survey firm you work for just so I can know you’re legit?”
She: “We’re not allowed to know.”
Me: “OK, maybe I’m not being clear about my question. Who signs your paycheck?”
She: “We’re not allowed to know that information.”
Me: “Seriously? Who paid for the telephone you’re calling me on?”
She: “We’re not allowed to know.”
Me: “Now wait a minute. Let’s try this again. What’s the name on your paycheck?”
She: “My name.”
At that point, I wished her well and hung up. It only occurred to me late to ask her if she had any qualms working for an organization whose aims she might disagree with. I.e., doing a task without having to know who was giving the orders or why. Or why folks like me should blithely respond to an organization that chooses to cloak itself in several layers of secrecy. This may seem a trivial thing, but it is precisely these kinds of issues which allowed the Nazi machine to do its evil deeds. Today we may be dealing with political surveys, tomorrow the orders and the identities of the players may be more sinister.