To Live Freely: Part Six

Summary)

I have been discussing two examples of how we try to make someone’s life better by convincing them of a fundamental lie. I have attempted to refute both examples, and to illustrate how each ultimately causes further harm to the individual.

The first issue I have presented with “helpful” lies is that they disconnect the victim from reality, and if the person ever falls back to that reality by discovering the truth of the matter it causes them great pain. They have the pain of the truth now compounded with the fact that they were deceived and left to act in a way that was against their own wellbeing.

The second issue I presented is that someone lying to protect others from disagreeable notions is ironically reinforcing those same hated notions. If one has to lie to cover something unpleasant, it generates suspicion that the unpleasant thing is, in fact, the truth. Think of a suspect of a crime, giving an alibi that is proven to be false. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he committed the crime, but it definitely fosters suspicion that he has. A “protecting” lie only undermines itself in the long term.

The Human Desire)

In both of these cases there is a strong sense of lies getting in the way of the person being deceived. Let’s explore that a little bit.

When all is said and done, everyone is trying to live their lives and accomplish good things along the way. We all want to secure basic comforts, we want to belong to something greater than ourselves, and we want to achieve things that we can be proud of. And while these are simple criteria to list out, they are by no means simple or easy to accomplish! Life is genuinely difficult, and there are all manner of frustrations that naturally arise and must be overcome if we are to ever realize our deepest desires. In fact, we all need help if we’re to meet these ideals, and if someone isn’t able to help, then we at least expect them to stay out of the way!

Every distraction or confusion is an unnecessary hurdle, adding to the already difficult work of life, and a lie is certainly both distracting and confusing. By definition, a lie warps, obfuscates, or completely masks the truth. It makes the path ahead more difficult and sometimes impossible to perceive, thus increasing the chances of us stumbling along our way.

Consider that all of the offenses that we might commit against another person are, at their fundamental level, a frustration of the other person’s ability to achieve these core life desires. To kill, to steal, to abuse, to insult, to lie; all of these get in the way of life, comfort, belonging, and/or purpose. This is why these behaviors are considered antisocial. They are wrong to do because they unjustly take what matters most. Lying is often the most subtle of these aggravators, which is why we sometimes disregard it, but it still remains just as fundamentally wrong as all the other types of harm.

Self-Delusion)

In these most recent posts I have been arguing why it is wrong to set another person on a deceitful precipice, but it is also just as wrong to do it to ourselves. My core contention in this series is that we must recognize and overcome our tendencies towards self-delusion and self-minimizing.

There are hard truths that we don’t want to face, realities that we would rather pretend away, lies that we would prefer to live. And because we are the ones doing these things to ourselves, we somehow feel that it is okay. But as we’ve just discussed, living under this delusion frustrates our core desires, even when they are self-imposed. It’s never okay to stand in the way of our own dreams.

The thing about self-delusion is that only the self can choose to come out of it. Someone else can call you out on your folly, they can even stage an intervention, but none of that makes the real difference. You can hear everything that they say, you can even admit that they are right, but still go right on living detached from it all. Only you hold yourself prisoner, so only you can set yourself free.

Give Thanks- Passion

I am grateful for passion.

People have an amazing capacity for doing extremely difficult things, so long as they are motivated by a pure desire. While having a hardship imposed on us by another is a terrible thing to bear, imposing our own hardships to accomplish something we are passionate for is a privilege!

Our greatest desires are a joyful irritant, they constantly discontent us with things as they are and convince us that they should be made better. From this restless desire for improvement has come the idea that a country could be run by a democracy, that a better painting material could be derived from oils, and that people could fly in machines. And while these accomplishments were the greatest revelation anyone could hope for in their day, the next generations were restless again to improve on them.

And so democracy is extended to people of every race, hospitals develop better sanitation, and technology connects more and more people together. We take the good that we already have and are driven to push it farther. Just because we want to. Just for our own personal satisfaction. What a wonderful system has been written into each of us, that we make the world a better place just by pursuing the most genuine desires of our hearts.

#givethanks

Dealing With Failure- Matthew 26:41

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

COMMENTARY

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
If you’re like me, then this verse alone can describe the majority of your self-disappointments. It isn’t a question of not knowing what is right , or not wanting to do what is right, or not striving to do what is right. It’s simply that while part of me yearns for what is right, another part would rather be lazy, or sensually satisfied, or just revert back to what it already knows.
And I feel it is important to understand and acknowledge both sides of this. When I went to addiction recovery, I already hated my sinful cravings and I didn’t need to be taught to just hate them more. What I did need was to appreciate that I was already fundamentally good in my core desires, and now needed to learn to master the flesh.
And this was why my recovery program stressed the importance of making–and keeping–daily commitments. Even little things that were entirely unrelated to the addiction, such as brushing my teeth for a full two minutes or being to work on time. Because little by little I had to teach myself how to follow through and just do the things I already wanted to do. At last my flesh wasn’t overrunning my naturally good soul.

The Doing Muscle- Luke 9:61-62, Matthew 7:21

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

I will follow thee; but let me first…
I can certainly relate to this idea of “I’ll follow, but let me first…” I want to improve, I want to do right things, I am convinced in my head of what those right things are, but I am not yet converted to them in my heart.
And I think it helps to recognize and differentiate between these two stages of becoming an active disciple. It is true that before anything else, we need to be convinced of the truth. Before we can worry about the problem of not following our conscience, we first need to become sensitive to what our conscience is even saying. Simply being able to identify what is right and giving a name to it is an essential first step.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God

But having that knowledge is not enough. Intending to do good simply is not the same as doing good. As we see from this verse, intending to do good alone does not make one fit for heaven.
And it is important to understand that there is no hateful retribution in Jesus’s proclamation of one being unfit for heaven. This isn’t about punitive punishments. The simple fact is that God is a doer, He is a being that has intentions and follows through on them. His kingdom, therefore, is one of doing, one of following through on intentions. If we haven’t developed within ourselves the same trait, then we simply will not fit in with that atmosphere. We wouldn’t feel that we belonged.
So if we want to join the society of the celestial, we must learn how to be doers.

Active Discipleship- Zephaniah 1:12, Malachi 3:14

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.

Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?

COMMENTARY

The men that are settled: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither do evil
It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance
The only reason why any of us do anything in this life is because we expect to gain something worthwhile by it. The easiest actions to take are those that are immediately pleasurable, such as eating, sleeping, and pursuing entertainment. But we can even learn to endure actions that are momentarily inconvenient if they provide later benefits, such as exercising, gaining an education, or working a job. Even selfless acts of service still benefit us for the warmth of conscience we gain by them.
Indeed, we can perform any action and overcome any obstacle, so long as we are properly motivated by the promise of goodness afterward. But if there is something for which we see no gain, then we will struggle immensely to invest in it. The root of complacency then, is the lack of desire, the inability to see any reward in the striving. These verses I have quoted describe those that do not see the profit in following God. I have been in that state myself, where life seems pretty fine just how it is, so why should I distress myself with the difficult work of spiritual progression? Why should I lay up treasures in an unseen heaven, when there is mortal pleasure to be had in the here and now?
An object at rest will stay at rest. This is our natural and default state, it is the entropy to which all of us would be consigned if God did not come and disrupt our lives. But He does disrupt, and tomorrow we will examine how he puts the desire in us that we all need to push forward.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Luke 11:5, 7-9, 13

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

COMMENTARY

Because of his importunity he will rise and give him
The parable of the friend at midnight is somewhat amusing. A neighbor comes, asking for food in the dead of the night. At first the homeowner refuses, but relents after some persistence from the neighbor. It is very similar to the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18, who nags an unjust ruler until he gives her what she wants, just to finally be rid of her.
Now the point of these parables is not to suggest that we should pester God into giving us things that He does not want to. You cannot nag Him into solving your every problem like a genie. Rather, Jesus is saying that even if flawed friends and rulers can be convinced to grant a correct desire, then certainly God will be even more willing to do so.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
If ye know how to give good gifts: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

But even if God is willing, Jesus suggests that we still need to ask. I have found that God has had many spiritual blessings that He was ready to give me, but He wouldn’t do so until I asked for them. This is clever. For one thing, it fosters a relationship between He and I. To ask Him for something, I must be praying to Him, and thus I have a strong self-interest to talk to Him regularly, the very thing that He wants me to do.
Additionally, if I decide to ask Him for something, I often have a moment of checking in with myself. For example, if I am going to ask for a greater portion of the Holy Spirit, even before I get the words out I might realize that I am actively living in a way that offends it. Indeed, I have gone to God intending to ask why He was not manifesting Himself more in my life, but along the way changed it to asking forgiveness for shutting Him out myself.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Matthew 4:6-7, Matthew 26:39

And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

COMMENTARY

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God
I have just discussed how we are instructed to seek and knock, so that we may open and find. Yet in the past I always felt that it was too arrogant for me to ask spiritual blessings from God, and a major reason for it was this verse from the temptation of Jesus.
But I was misreading it. Yes, it is inappropriate to make inappropriate requests of God…but that does not mean that all requests are inappropriate. Jesus knew that casting himself down and demanding a miracle, just to prove a point, would be disrespectful of His father. It is one thing to humbly ask God if He will grant us a portion of the Spirit, and another to demand miracles on a whim. If you are asking for something you should not have, then there is no promise.

If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt
Jesus shows us the proper way to ask for something that God may or may not be willing to grant. The thing to note is that he is asking and not telling. He does not say that he will withhold faithfulness unless God meets his terms, he does not give God a deadline to answer him by, he just expresses what he desires…and commits to abide by whatever his Father chooses.
It is perfectly acceptable for us to ask God to relieve our trials, and even to grant us a miracle, but only if we do so while emulating the obedience and humility our Savior exemplified. We may ask, but we must be content with whichever answer we receive. In the end, God will not necessarily grant every request that is brought to Him, but He will grant every one that is right.