Friday, January 15, 2010

Looking Back

“There is nothing new under the sun.” One of the wisest men in the world uttered these words almost three thousand years ago; and while Space Shuttles, the Internet, and mobile phones might tend to offer evidence to the contrary in the physical world, where it comes to the characters of men, he remains correct. The same strengths, the same weaknesses; we are consistent creatures if nothing else. Perhaps better stated, he might have said … “people don’t change, they just get older.”

But if this is true then transformation of character is impossible, or unlikely at best. 12 step programs seem to support this idea – once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic (however in recovery). Most every addiction is considered a life-long condition or problem. Addicts may not use drugs or chemicals for decades of time but even then they are still considered “in recovery”. When an addict slips, they call it “relapse”, and this is even considered a part of the cycle these poor unfortunates go through.

That got me to thinking, what kind of self-destructive actions do we see ourselves commit over and over. When we repeat behavior we know to be self-destructive, is this not the definition of “addiction”. Sometimes we do things we know will hurt others, and ultimately ourselves, but we do it anyway. No I am not talking about drugs or chemical abuse. I am talking about bragging, arrogance, pride. I am talking about judging others, condemning others, and ridiculing others. I am talking about trying to “help” someone else get to heaven by making them drop everything they believe, and accepting everything that we believe, as if we had a complete lock on truth.

There are many ways to screw up your life and the lives of others. Not everything is drugs, murder, and theft. A lot of subtle words, behaviors, and attitudes are enough to mess things up royally, and what is more, we know it. We know it, when we do it, before we do it, and after we do it. Yet we do it anyway – could this be defective character addictive disorder? If you know you should not do something and you do it anyway, how do you rationalize it? Stupidity? Addiction? What?

The really interesting parallel between addictive disorders, and sins (the embracing of evil) we seem not to be able to stop doing, is the number of years we persist in doing them. This is NOT a one-time “oops”. This is behavior others begin to come to know you by when they know your weaknesses. If you gossip, trust me, people know it. You may think it is all innocent, all fairly quiet, etc.. But in truth there are those who know full well it is YOU that gossips. They consider it one of your faults. There are those that avoid you because they know this about you.

The same is true about liars. A liar thinks his deceptions hold forever, but they do not. Over time facts emerge, and their lies are revealed, sometimes faster than they imagine. Once this comes to light, most trust is gone. Why? Because most people think those that lie will do it again and again. This phenomenon holds for those who consider themselves the “cream of the crop”; those that consider themselves smarter, better looking, better educated, better informed. It takes much less time for others to see these traits in you and peg this weakness.

Then re-consider the idea – people do not change, they just get older. Why? Well, all these character deficiencies tend not to be life threatening so we do not treat them with the same urgency as a drug addiction. Just because I gossip, my life, wealth, and health are not threatened, so even though I know I should not, I do. The effects of gossip can be just as devastating to others as theft, or worse, but those guilty of gossip rationalize this fact. They do not seek treatment for the condition.

Liars are thought always to be liars, as history of dealing with people tends to prove this out. Suspicion remains high because no one believes this is a one-time phenomenon. And lies rarely place personal wealth, or health at immediate risk, so the liar does not seek any help to fix this condition. They believe they can simply work harder at it. They can quit any time they feel like it, even if they seldom ever feel like quitting.

How many defects could be described this way? Maybe all of them. And if living the Christian life is supposed to be better, what is the deal with Christians doing every single shortcoming non-believers do? Should there not be a difference between believers and not? How come they look so much alike? Could this be why non-believers refuse to accept the gospel of Jesus, because they see no difference between the saved and unsaved? And if the only difference between a believer and a non-believer after doing self-destructive behavior, is the guilt of the believer, logic would dictate – “why bother”.

The wounds are self-inflicted. And the cure is avoided at all costs. Transformation of character is actually possible. There are alcoholics who have not touched a drop in years, perhaps none before they ever die. There are those who used to be hooked on drugs to the point of death, and miraculously did not die, but changed instead. What is the commonality between those who are off of chemical addiction – they recognized their condition, it’s severity, and the need for OUTSIDE intervention to get over it. 12 step programs recognize the need and existence of a Higher Power.

Believers call that Higher Power – Jesus Christ, the only son of God. Yet most believers are comfortable living with every defect, every failure, every weakness of character they were born with. Instead of experiencing the transforming power of Jesus, our Creator God, the only entity in the Universe capable of transforming dust into man, and our worthless character into something useful; we sit complacent and therefore unaffected. There is no visible difference between believers and non-believers in general because neither one sees the urgency in fixing the defects in character that lead to self-destructive behavior.

While we know better, we elect to excuse our conditions rather than pursue changing them. This comes from life-long efforts to change ourselves by ourselves. Over time we give up, realizing we stink at changing ourselves. We come to accept that people do not really change they just get older. Instead of experiencing the transforming power of our Creator God, we assume His role for ourselves, and try to do the work on us. We refuse to surrender, and instead take the reins in our own hands. We want to be in control. We want to fix it. Just give us a minute and watch. Of course if you do watch someone trying to treat their own character defects what you see, is just like what you see when you watch a heroin addict try to fix himself – relapse.

The only real cure comes from outside of ourselves. It comes from the surrender of our will to our Higher Power. It comes when the God we serve is allowed by us, to fix us. When we see our condition, and surrender, NOT work harder at it. Surrender is the gateway to victory, much like admission of an alcoholic is the first step towards recovery. Giving up, and giving in, may seem counter-intuitive to real transformation, but this is where the real POWER of our God is revealed, and where the miracle really occurs.

The difference Jesus brings to your character is not some temporary abstinence that goes away on a whim. The changes are real. The transformation is noticeable. Those who know you will know you have changed. They will see it. They will be curious how it could have ever happened. And the beauty of the truth will be that you will not know how you changed, only that you did when you finally surrendered to Christ. This is what the world is waiting for. This will be the marker of a change in our time. When there is a noticeable difference in believers and non-believers, those who do not believe will seek out those who do, to find out how this happened.

The entire process can begin with you. You can change. You can be someone who suffers less, someone who is free from the pain that evil brings to your life. You can stop the behavior and actions that lead to your self-destruction, by simply putting the work of change into the only hands capable of carrying it out. Instead of beating your head against a wall that will not give way, give it over to the One who knows no walls. Transformation is the gift of Christ. It is just like the gift of Salvation, we transform into new creatures, by the regenerating power of our Creator God, there is no other way …

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