Friday, January 22, 2010

More on Self Denial

As I thought about this more, I was looking for that line of demarcation between Biblical self-denial and that which takes a life of its own, and can be used to make our lives more miserable.

I really thought (like in most of these things) that the answer would not be black or white. What I mean is that I did not anticipate that the resolution would be either self-denial is not a Christian concept at all or it is a proper concept just the way it is taught and lived out with Evangelicalism. But the true answer would be that there would be a line between Biblical self-denial and the abuse there of.

Sometime your mind finds the handle long before the language area of your brain can find the words to express it. That seemed to be what was happening this week. Then this morning I had an epiphany of sorts. I was crossing our high bridge that goes from our little island to the mainland. In the East the sun was rising brilliantly over the jagged and snow-capped Cascade Mountains. It has always been one of the favorite parts of my commute and a common place where answers come to me.

It isn’t a magic place. I think a big part of it is that I work on problems during my sleep (and often periods of insomnia). Every night for a week I have been waking up at 2:30 AM and am meditating on how to dig people out of earthquake rubble. I usually have to get up and check the Internet to see if I’ve heard from my friends working in Haiti. Then in the mornings, after a cup of coffee, and about the time I am getting to the bridge, my mind becomes clear enough to think clearly.

The line of demarcation between self-denial, as expressed by Christ and further in the New Testament, and the abuse of it comes down squarely between ourselves and God’s will. What I mean is, if our self-interest goes against God’s will (including the love of our fellow humans) then we must deny it. I know that is a no-brainer . . . but it may not be that simple.

The example of the Biblical self-denial is from giving up our seat on the bus, to allowing someone else to take the glory for things we have done or even dying for someone else (jumping in front of a bus to save them). It is putting the desires and needs of others on at least the same footing as ourselves if not above ourselves.

Of course, our self interest should not stand between us and God’s will. This is the rawest from of Biblical self-denial. But this is where it gets very tricky. The reason is the concept of “God’s will,” in m humble opinion, is grossly abused and is often used to manipulate and control people and excuse ourselves.

God’s true will must be explicit. It is the commandments and the clear instructions of Christ. I is not that subjective feeling I get in the morning, and it is never “God’s will for my life” imposed on me by someone else . . . including a pastor or Christian leader.

For example, a beautiful woman makes advances on me (only in my dreams). It is explicit that to follow her lead for me is sin. I am a happily married man. So this is the simplest example of self-denial. I say no to the biological and possible psychological self in the face of God’s will (not to mention putting my wife ahead of my self). But this is obvious.

But I want to move this discussion to the less obvious and into that gray area.

I will end with a story that illustrates the abuse or misunderstanding of Christian self-denial.

In Frank Schaeffer’s book, Crazy for God, he tells very candid stories about life at LAbri Fellowship. I’m in this strange opinion that I have a lot of respect for Frank and I believe that what he writes is true about LAbri, yet I still have a great respect for his parents, Francis and Edith. If anything, seeing their human side makes them even more of heroes to me.

But during his early years at LAbri (as a young man) he tells of a big bosomed lady who was a successful opera singer. But when she met the Lord, she gave up that career because it was for “her glory.” She wanted to sing only for “God’s glory,” (can’t remember the exact language used). This lady understood that it was part of the Christian concept of self-denial to give up the career that made her so happy. The thinking was, if it makes me very happy, then it is selfish and I must give it up. This is where Evangelicals get so screwed up.

The narcissistic (not truly narcissistic as a mental diagnoses but who are behaving in narcissistic ways) Christians, always do what they want, but they are very cleaver in wrapping God’s will (as an illusion produced by them) around that behavior. The simplest example I can think of was a . . . can’t think of a better term . . . horny friend who became a Christian. Soon after giving up women, he felt that “God had called him to minister to sorority girls.” Hmm. But he was convinced of that and told many people that God had spoken to him on this level. In Evangelicalism all you have to do is say, “God told me” or “God led me” and no one questions you motives.

I’ll be back with some final thoughts.


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