As much as I find therapy helpful, I process my life differently most of the time. I always have. Sometimes I want to describe myself as a theist. It’s easier because the term “Christian” or Jewish means different things to different people. To some people, the term Christian=Westboro Baptist Church. And Jewish? Well, that’s just full of history that I needn’t explain. I can try to explain that I’m nothing like the Westboro Baptists until I’m blue in the face, but it will make little difference. In their mind, God=Westboro Baptist Church=hatred. It’s very reminiscent of how people have associated Islam with terrorism. There are a plethora of wonderful Muslim people in the world who love their families and communities and renounce what was done on 9/11. They can stand on the roofs of their homes and shout, “I am nothing like that!” What good would it do? To many Westerners and more specifically Americans, muslim=terrorist=Middle Easterner.
For some people, Christian=smarmy and dishonest. I’ve written about Ted Haggard before. I think he should have been treated differently, but, at the same time, he was the face of evangelical Christianity not only to American Christians but to Americans in general. There are long-lasting consequences when a public figure who associates himself with virtue and faith turns out to be dishonest. It’s a betrayal of huge proportions.
For some people, Christian=pedophile, and we can really thank the Catholic Church for that.
I could go on with this word association, but it’s clear that the one word I historically used to describe myself in terms of my faith is laden with meaning most of which is entirely negative to some people, justifiably so. And, I must say, I’m so weary of it sometimes. I do understand why people are suspicious. I’m suspicious. When I meet a new person who shares with me that they are a Christian even I ask myself, “What kind of Christian are you?” I find myself paying attention, watching, listening for markers of religious judgment. Are they safe? Do they really follow the teachings of Jesus? Or, do they love being right? Are they so steeped in politico-religious ideology that people aren’t to be cared for anymore? In those moments, I become guilty of the very thing that I have come to resent in the culture, but I find myself justifying it anyway. What are my options? Christians are notorious for laying aside the fruits of the Spirit when they get their back up. The worst treatment I’ve ever experienced in terms of abuse came at the hands of Christians. Why is this?
I have a working theory. Keep in mind, it’s just a theory, but I’ll lay it out there. Here goes…
Many of my friends are secular humanists. Their worldview is consequently very different from mine in terms of the Divine. I believe in a personal God who intervenes in the affairs of humanity to bring about the highest good. We see this in the Tanakh with the Hebrew people. In the New Testament, we also see a picture of a deeply personal God who isn’t just involved with people groups and world affairs but also with individuals and destinies. A vital point to remember, however, is that Jesus was Jewish. He was part of the Hebrew people group. The entire Bible was written by Jews with a Jewish audience. This helps immensely when reading it. That being said, when I interact with my agnostic friends, many of them have a certain quality in their lives that many of my Christian acquaintances lack save a few. The agnostic people that I know are willing to take risks and are open to change when it comes to their lives. They are also very self-motivated. Why? There is no one else who is going to do it for them. If they have a problem, then they have to solve it. There is no room for passivity if you are your own god. Who is going to save you? You.
Many of the Christian people I meet are the opposite. They seem to possess an expectation that God is going to do everything for them. They will just pray and wait. Nothing changes. When asked why they are not pursuing an action plan, they say, “I’m praying.” They expect God to do their work for them. God will help them with their rage issues. God will help them with whatever issue they have be it addiction, anxiety, depression, bitterness, unforgiveness, melancholy, or whatever else is contributing to their malcontent or bad habits. So, if one has even been abusive towards someone, one can justify it because, while they have prayed for help, God hasn’t come through. It’s really God’s fault then. Not their own. When one reads the Bible, however, God is not characterized as a personality that intervenes like this. He does not usurp our will nor does He take our problems away. He does quite the opposite. He told Moses to go to Pharaoh. Moses didn’t want to go. He hemmed and hawed, fussed, and gave Him all sorts of reasons why he couldn’t. He told him to go anyway and empowered him with a companion, Aaron. What about Gideon? Did Gideon want to fight? No. Could Gideon fight? Gideon described himself to God as something of a dwarf! He, too, didn’t want to deal with God’s request. “Go anyway,” God said. Did God make it easy on him? No. Did God take his anxiety away? No. Did Gideon while the weeks away praying? He tried. Did he try to get away with being passive? Sure. Did God allow this for a little while? Yes. In the end, Gideon had to step into God’s vision of him–a mighty warrior. What about Mary? A teenager mysteriously gets pregnant before she’s married, and the trajectory of her life is changed forever. She could have decided to hide in her room. She could have chosen passivity. There are a buffet of choices set before us on any given day. Why do so many Christians expect God to do their work for them when the God of the Bible has never shown Himself to be that Person?
In the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, “choose” is used over 300 times. That’s twice as many times as ‘repent’. Even Jesus had to choose in the end whether He would submit to the crucifixion. He chose according to the existing texts. He collaborated with God. God did not make Jesus do anything. This is exactly what I think we all need to internalize. We choose. We choose every single day how we will behave. If we can’t choose anymore because there is something within our genetic make-up that is limiting our ability to choose, like an inherited illness, then we must choose to get help if we can. Diabetes, for example, limits one’s ability to choose at times because it does affect cognition particularly during times of low blood sugar. One must be sure to be followed by a physician. One must be sure to seek the help of trained dietitians. One must be educated on how to care for one’s body, how to make good food choices, how to administer insulin, and how to measure blood sugar on a daily basis. The same is true for disorders of the brain. The brain is an internal organ. When the brain experiences illness or malfunction, there are symptoms ranging from pain to behavioral manifestations. We see this in people with Alzheimer’s Disease. What appears to so often be a cognitive and/or a behavioral disturbance is actually entirely rooted in the brain. A person’s ability to choose for themselves is vastly limited in this case. Others must choose for them in order to properly care for them.
These things are understood by most people. Why then do so many of us struggle with personal responsibility and choice? Perhaps because it is, in the end, easier to blame someone else for our state of misery than to do something about it.
As I have come to see it, however, it usually comes down to choice. I am not responsible for you. I am not responsible for a lot, but I am responsible for my choices, my behaviors, my own happiness, and the impact that I’m having on the environs in my sphere of influence. When I engage in life with true intentionality, asking God what His intentions are, choosing to step into agreement with that, then there is a tremendous empowerment that overtakes my circumstances. Momentum increases. I move forward. Things change. I change. Good choices are made. Passivity is eradicated. Hope expands. And, the renewal of my mind is finally made possible. True repentance, the act of thinking differently, is not possible without choosing. We choose first before we ever think differently, and this is not dependent upon God. It’s dependent upon us. This is why God is looking for collaborators. For partners. It is one of the reasons why, in Christian tradition, He calls the Church the Bride of Christ. A bride, a wife, is a partner in life. Not a passive victim waiting to be rescued from the tower. A spouse walks with you in step, sharing the journey. At its best, the marriage relationship is one of the most empowering and intimate relationships we’ll ever know, and marriages begin with a choice.
I have lived in places where I have not wanted to choose. I have wanted rescue. I have wanted an easier road. I have disdained the smell of my life. I have resented my own personal responsibility and marinated in blame. This is the Land of Magical Thinking where the inhabitants make declarations like:
It is interesting to observe that choosing to do nothing is still choosing.
This is what startles me the most. I choose every day. Every day is an opportunity to grow. Every day is an opportunity to experience the generosity and loving-kindness of God. Every day is an opportunity to extend that kindness to others. Every day is a new opportunity to choose and make new discoveries. Every day is a day to choose to be astonished.
And, I can’t help but wonder what might change in the Christian Church if Christians just stopped for a while and chose to be astonished by the very God they claim to love and, hence, themselves. They might choose differently…
“If you are learning to have a great opinion of yourself in Christ, why not extend that privilege to lots of other people?”–Graham Cooke