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I Might Be Insane: People Can Choose

March 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I have this thing that I believe about people that almost everyone agrees with. The weird thing is, when we actually start talking in depth, we come to this place where it seems we agree in principle but disagree when it comes to specific situations. I believe people have the capacity to make decisions about their actions. I believe people even have the ability to make really difficult choices. At this point, I’m assuming most of you are with me. I hope by the end of this some of you will disagree with me so I can gain a better understanding of why what I’m saying is disagreeable to others.

I think the ability of humans to choose was a deliberate design decision. God was particularly concerned with creating humans with options, the ability to choose different options, and more than that, the ability to examine decisions before making them. First man’s world was so simple, but God was sure to set it up with one complexity, an option with pros and cons depending on what was chosen. Eat and be filled with the knowledge of good and evil, satisfy curiousity, and die? Or refuse to eat and live, without knowing intimately the knowledge the fruit would provide? Choosing is central to being human, and, I suspect, a part of what it means to bear the image of God.

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had with a friend many years ago. He asked, “Why do you think that person is overweight?” I responded simply with an answer I still believe is quite true, “They consume more calories than they burn.” My friend went on to talk about how he thought this person’s past affected their self-perception and so they ate to blame their self-perception on their weight instead of their past. I’ve never been all that convinced one’s personal past is the problem. The problem with this way of thinking is it pushes back the problem to something that really isn’t the cause. The problem is not what occurred to someone in that past, their experiences never forced them to consume more calories, their daily decisions resulted in their weight gain. I believe that whatever someone’s past, they still have the capacity to make their own choices about their life. That’s one issue regarding choice I sometimes find myself in disagreement with others on.

Addiction is another issue regarding choice me and others don’t always see eye-to-eye on. I don’t know what the medical definition of addiction is. My functional definition of addiction is being addicted means it’s really hard for someone to stop engaging in a behavior. Sometimes we throw the label “addict” on someone and give them a free pass on their behavior as if they can’t stop. We also undermine their power over their own decisions. And it’s kind of silly when we act like an addict is unable to stop.

Let’s use a common example: Alcoholism. Alcoholics have a very difficult time quitting, but they are perfectly capable of doing so. After an alcoholic quits, starting up again is not some inevitability because they are addicted. It’s a series of choices: choosing to get the keys to the car, choosing to leave the house, enter the car, drive to a place with alcohol, grab some alcohol, pull out one’s wallet and purchase the alcohol, choosing to drive somewhere to drink the alcohol, opening the alcohol, drinking it, and then choosing to continue to drink it to excess. These behaviors don’t happen because someone is addicted, they happen because someone makes decisions they have control over. An alcoholic does not get drunk because they are an alcoholic, they get drunk because they choose to get drunk.

This way of thinking about choice is like a lot of things in the kingdom, beautiful and difficult. It’s difficult because every individual, including you and I, become completely responsible for our own actions and their effects. The problem with us is not that we can’t stop drinking, manipulating others, smoking, overreacting, eating, watching tv, looking at porn, etc, etc, the problem is we choose not to stop. We have no excuses. It’s a beautiful way of thinking about choice because in His love, YHWH has given us the power to make choices over our lives. We have power to break the negative cycles of behavior we are in. We have hope, which is far better than any excuse.

For the follower of Jesus, changing one’s behavior so that it honors YHWH is good start, but it’s not the end goal. The end goal is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The goal is to have all of ourselves in full obedience to YHWH, wanting what Jesus wants, feeling like Jesus feels, thinking how Jesus thinks, and doing what Jesus does. The ultimate goal is complete transformation so right behavior is a natural outpouring of our new self. However, even when right behavior seems to come unnaturally, it is still worth choosing obedience to our King.

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Faith, Responsibility, and Hope

January 14, 2011 5 comments

I was told I should blog about this, and since, as you know, I do everything that I’m told (and I don’t feel like writing about the other topic on my mind), I’m going to. Here’s the passage:

Luke 17:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against your seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

I was talking about this passage with some friends, then I went to the bathroom. As I was in there, I thought about this passage in a few different ways than I have heard it taught previously or than I had considered previously. Not that these are necessarily unique or new thoughts, just were both to me at the time. A lot of good thinking time happens in the bathroom, even when its only urine. My thoughts revolve around the Jesus’ last words and what they do in the context of the rest of the passage.

I think formerly when I heard these words, I responded to them much differently.

Strangely, I have always read this passage and thought about how I must have faith so small that it is tinier than a tiny mustard seed. But, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing. His disciples ask him to increase their faith in response to what he said about not causing others to sin and forgiving their brother regardless of the number of times he sins against them. In the face of these difficult insights and commands, the disciples felt like they could not live in step with the words of Jesus without more faith.

Jesus tells them that they already have enough. I think that while the disciples wanted their faith increased, they did assume that they had faith that was at least the size of a mustard seed. It’s one of the smallest everyday items that Jesus could have chosen. He didn’t use the mustard seed in his metaphor to tell the disciples that their faith was smaller than a mustard seed, but to communicate how much YHWH can do, even through an insignificant amount of faith.

So the disciples ask for more faith in order to live as their master lives, and Jesus tells them that they already have plenty of faith in order to forgive their brother. They try to place the responsibility for their inability to do what Jesus asks of them back on Jesus through their request for more faith, the implication being that they don’t have enough. Jesus puts the responsibility for their lives back on them and declares by implication that they are equipped already to humble themselves and forgive.

With that responsibility, he gives them hope. The Messiah informs them that they can do what He has asked of them in this area because of the significant power of the insignificant faith presently have. In that sense, Jesus also fulfills their original demand for more faith. The metaphor he uses functions as a faith increasing statement itself. By teaching them about the big power of small faith, they are encouraged to see their little faith as being more potent than what they previously understood. These are empowering words that promote having more faith in the power of faith.

Live empowered by faith. Take responsibility for your own life. Live with hope that, through faith, living out the life that Jesus asks of us, life that is truly life, is possible.

EDIT: Up next – A Few Reasons Why I’m a Jew

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