Alpha Ministries, Inc
All of us are confronted with a multitude of choices to make daily. Many of them seem small and almost inconsequential while others seem overwhelming and life threatening. What makes life so complicated and hard is not just the choices we make but often it seems we really have no choice at all. Much of our confusion and frustration in life comes from the fact that we are not sure what choices we have, if we even have a choice, and exactly what choice we should make in any given situation. Welcome to the world of a control freak!
Seeking to control the people and circumstances in our life comes from a deep need to make ourselves secure in an insecure world. There is no guarantee that we will be unconditionally loved, accepted, and forgiven in this dog-eat-dog and often hostile world. In fact, chances are that we will be neglected, abandoned, or even abused. Likewise, unless we can control the people and circumstances in the chaos of this world it is impossible to find a real sense of importance, purpose, and competence. Wrong or bad choices seem naturally to lead to a meaningless and unsatisfying life.
Underlying all other choices we must make is the most important and basic choice. It is the choice the Bible urges us to make daily and describes it in a variety of terms. Jesus invites us to take his “yoke” upon us (Matthew 11: 28-30). Paul urges us to “present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God” (Romans 12: 1-2). James tells us to ask for wisdom from above (James 1: 5). Peter calls on us to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5: 6). All these directives (and many more) have one thing in common…surrender. We give up trying to make it happen and let God do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
In the AA program of recovery the 3rd step describes this kind of surrender as deciding to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. Making the choice to surrender all our decisions as well as our very lives to the control and care of God is the foundation and start of a new and satisfying lifestyle of grace in which God, through his indwelling Spirit, leads us, guides us into all truth, comforts us in our choices, reminds us who we are, and produces the very character of Christ in us. As Paul instructed the Philippians 2: 12-13, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and do of his good pleasure. “
The fundamental choice we all must make each day is whether we want to let God control our lives. It is really a no-brainer since he is the sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe and loves us so much he gave his life for us. For me it boils down to one simple prayer each morning, “Lord please remind me of who you made me to be in your son and guide me in how you want me to love others around me today”. I really do not have any other choice that makes sense.
Am I Good or Bad?
|Posted on 31 July, 2014 at 10:40|
At the core of the identity question is the need to understand ourselves as being essentially good or essentially bad. Philosophers, theologians, and more recently psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists have long debated the issue of whether man is essentially good or bad. All religious systems seem to be divided into two camps on this question. There are those who believe that human beings are essentially good and focus on our innate dignity, while others see humanity as essentially evil and inherently bad. Depending on which camp we find ourselves in, we will naturally view ourselves as being either good or bad by nature. This fundamental view of ourselves is perhaps the single most important issue that determines a healthy identity. How we answer this question of our being essentially good or bad really determines how we will live and relate to others.
In order to answer this question we must have some sort of standard, a "ruler" if you will, against which we may measure ourselves and determine whether we are good or bad. Erich Fromm describes religion as, "any group-shared system of thought and action that offers the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion". This description lines up with Leo Booth's definition of religion as, "a set of man-made principles about God, focusing on a teacher or prophet, in contrast to spirituality, which is the process of becoming a positive and creative person." The Judeo-Christian faiths along with all the other religions of the world all depend on some "ruler" to determine what is good and bad and tell us how we measure up to that standard. But what is that ruler?
Christian groups refer to the Bible as their standard or ruler. But all of them run into the same difficulty of how to interpret the Bible. Generally there are two main methods of interpretation, the literal, historical, grammatical method and the allegorical, figurative method. The first takes the Bible literally while the second views it figuratively. Regardless of the method used, the interpretation of what the Bible actually says can be a long way off from what it really means. It is in the interpretation of the Bible that the Judeo-Christian faiths differ from one another about many issues including the essential nature of man as being good or bad.
The literal interpretation of the Bible would demand that human nature be viewed as inherently evil due to the original sin of Adam and Eve. This would agree with what Freud said about humanity being essentially evil and the best we could hope for is to return to some acceptable form of dysfunction. The allegorical interpretation of the Bible allows for a different view of human nature as being essentially good. It entertains the possibility that there is nothing inherently evil in human nature. Any references to original sin and the resulting guilt and shame, therefore, are a result of misinterpretations of the Bible. Which one is right? Am I good or bad?
Rather than choose sides and seek to prove one is preferable to the other, we need to consider the possibility that both are wrong and both are right. The literal interpretation of the Bible reveals that we are "born bad". Experience corroborates this view in as much as we do not have to teach small children to be selfish, intolerant, unkind, cruel, ungrateful or insensitive to the needs of others. They are born with a self-centered view of the world and immediately seek to manipulate and control people and things around them in order to satisfy their own needs. Likewise, we may observe the benefits of viewing people, especially children as having tremendous potential for good. Children who are taught early that they are basically a good person capable of caring about others and succeeding in life often behave much better than those who are expected to fail and deserve to be punished. The key to answering the question of am I good or bad, is not in a blanket judgment about human nature based on a literal or figurative interpretation of the Bible, but rather in the understanding of the central theme of the Bible being the good news of all that God has done and continues to do to make us like him (i.e. spiritual enlightenment).
Religious messages and teachings that say we were born bad but can make ourselves good by following the rules of God produce a negative self image in a variety of ways and lead to all forms of addiction to "take the edge off" the personal pain we feel. On the other hand, religious messages that say we were born good and, therefore, have the responsibility to act like who we are will simply shift the blame for our addictions away from the individual to the society or environment. The argument is that we are bad, not by virtue of the fact that we were born bad, but by the fact that we are taught that we were born bad. In other words, if we were not taught the concept of original sin and the total depravity of man, then we would not view ourselves as being bad and, therefore, act bad.
Both positions seem to miss the real point of the Bible altogether. The Bible does indeed tell us that all are "born bad", but it does not suggest in any way that we can make ourselves good by keeping the rules. In fact, it warns us that such a task is impossible for man to achieve since the ultimate end of all the standards of God is absolute righteousness which demands that we are not born "bad" in the first place. The Bible also recognizes the need to change the way we think of ourselves in order to be healthy and functional. We cannot think of ourselves as being essentially bad and expect to feel or act good. What is the answer then, are we bad or are we good?
The Bible tells us that we are born bad and, therefore, have the need to be born again in order to be good. Being "born again" refers to a radical change in identity that the Bible also describes as being done by God, himself, and not us. It further reveals that God has already done all that is necessary to make us good according to his standards so that all that is necessary for us to do is to believe it. Those who interpret the Bible as a revelation of God's grace in doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves will respond with an authentic faith that is focused on divine provision rather than self effort. Authentic faith will always be expressed in attitudes and actions of tolerance, compassion, and love for others. Those who interpret the Bible as a book of rules and standards by which we are judged and condemned by God will develop a toxic faith that is focused on self effort rather than divine provision. Toxic faith will express itself in fear, guilt, shame, manipulation, and control of others. It is from the latter interpretation that the various forms of addiction, including religious addiction, are generated. To avoid the pitfalls of addiction we must be able to see ourselves as good, not because we were born that way initially, but because God did all that was necessary to make us good.
Categories: Good vs Bad
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