Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Essence of Human Behavior

Throughout the ages very smart men and women, from Plato, to Augustine, to Sade (okay, he wasn’t so smart) Freud, Nietzsche, Maslow or Skinner have attempted to define what it means to be human and the quirks that guide our behavior. These theories are well thought out, and some are extremely complex . . . while others are simple.

In my quest to understand what went wrong in my own Evangelical “mishap” one part was to honestly dig to the deepest part of the forces that determines our behavior. My theory would have to make sense, and be consistent with scripture.

I finally concluded with the simple principles: 1) We were created (originally) with personal worth . . . in the image of God Himself. Unlike the thinking of some modern (and historical Gnostic) Evangelical Christians, God doesn’t make junk! He looked at all of creation (including man) and concluded that it was “good.” 2) The Fall of Adam of course changed every thing . . . with original sin destroying all sense of worth, both in reality and in our personal perceptions of ourselves. This Fall was comprehensive, but not exhaustive. It pierces every cell of our being, but every cell isn’t totally decimated but still carries a smidgen of that original glory. 3) Our Christian theology is very clear that in Christ’s redemption, that worth is once again restore . . . with our devalued-self being totally restored to its original value under Christ’s blood. When God looks at us, he sees Christ’s perfection and infinite worth and can not see our sin. 4) Generally we have a very hard time comprehending this re-evaluation/ restoration.

There is a knife-edged ridge that we must walk as Christians were the narrow path along the edge is having a true command of the theology of the work of Christ and living at peace with our redemption. However, falling deeply to each side are the abysses of; a.) Being self-made people, where our accomplishments give us a sense of value or b.) Glimpsing our un-restored failures and feeling totally inadequate. Both positions put us on very insecure footing.

I believe that all human behavior can be defined by the influence and tango of these dynamics. Of course, non-Christians only have the two abysses to contend with, unless they have some second-generation “memory” of redemption, passed down through a Christian family. In other words, they may “feel God’s forgiveness” at times, even though they don’t believe in Christ anymore (or maybe never did).

The Donald Trumps of the world, live in the abyss of security in personal accomplishments. The agoraphobe, self-doubting, person with the inferiority complex lives in the other abyss. Both are very insecure because their footing is not in the reality of God's justification. If you don't think the Donald is insecure, look how he handles threats.

I don’t believe that people can be easily categorized into the group that tends to fall into Abyss A. or B. Most of us bounce between the two, occasionally and briefly standing on the narrow, but correct, path along the edge. Certainly, due to genetics, family upbringing, experiences some do favor one abyss over the other. A few, being so fortunate, can stand in balance on the edge much longer than the rest of us. I’ve met these wonderful people at every Church I’ve attended, but they make up the small minority.

To carry this further, every part of day to day behavior is motivated by us either positioning ourselves to “earn” more of God’s pleasure and valuation or hiding more from Him and others because we are so acutely aware of our inadequacies. Almost everything we do, everything we say can be defined by these terms. Yes, we do occasionally have the proper perspective, allowing the opportunity to “earn value” slip by and allowing our vulnerabilities to surface. In these cases we may briefly trust God’s acceptance in Christ, but that is the knife edge.

Now that is simple enough and few Evangelicals would disagree with those points. But as I meditated on this further, I found the real problem.

The real problem in modern American Evangelicalism is first the misunderstanding that we were created in an inferior state. You can read some of the Protestant writings going back for three hundred years (even Calvin himself) making comments that even if the Fall had never happened, humans would still be disgusting worms. This is a Dualistic (extra-Biblical) concept and False. I think C.S. Lewis had some glimpse of the glory in which God has created us, and it is not a form of arrogance to celebrate that glory.

Secondly we don’t fully understand the Fall, how it is comprehensive but not total. We still do have some of that original glory in our native state. Even un-restored (non-Christian) men and women still have some of that glory.

Then, in Christ that glory is fully restored. God isn’t always watching us, like Santa, always considering if we have been naughty or nice . . . rewarding us with “blessings” if we are nice. We have to accept his coverage of our failures in their entirety or not at all.

The next great error of Evangelicals is a misunderstanding of sanctification. They first assume that at the point of becoming a Christian, all the old (including the psychological baggage and dysfunctionality of our personalities) is erased . . . when it is not. So we start to live in a denial of our baggage, covering it up with smiles and “spiritual” words. Then Evangelicals believe that by following techniques they can rid themselves of their remaining sin. Since this is not true, to make their “reality” reflect their false beliefs about sanctification, they must then pretend.

I will have to get back to this subject later. Here I've mostly spoken of theory, but I hope later to describe how this thinking works itself out in every day life. This was just the begining of the conversaton.

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