Powerless

 

Will

Will – as in choosing to do something, is where crime and charity – justice and injustice – love and hate collide.

The issue of personal power as the ability to control what does or does not happen to an individual is central to all human experience. People are happy and content when things go the way they want them to go.

Fear – Anxiety – Pain – Comfort – Peace – Happiness – Virtually everything that happens to us in life is related to our will and whether things are going the way we want them to.
 
There are places where cliffs drop straight down into deep water. Certain people want to leap or dive off the cliffs. They’re permitted and even encouraged to do so. It is considered a sport and they are very happy when they can do it. Drag most people to a cliff and throw them off against their will and you will find yourself with jail time.
 
People are often driven to work long hard hours doing jobs too numerous to mention. To use yourself up in working because you want to, for what you believe in, is considered a good and satisfying use of time. Taking another person against their will and forcing them to work is slavery.

 

When a man walks up to a stranger on the street and begins to hit and abuse him, we know that a crime – a wrong – an injustice – is taking place. Reasonable people demand that it stop, and we are ourselves upset if the victim falls wounded to the ground. We individually and collectively spend a great deal of money to stop the perpetrators of such acts. However, if two men chose to get together for the sole purpose of beating each other senseless, it is called sport and otherwise reasonable people will pay to watch and cheer when one of them falls senseless to the floor.

The crime of child abuse is the imposing of the will of the adult over that of the child and the best interests of the child.

This very much describes the nature of crime and injustice at every level. It describes sin. There is a very real danger for the Christian to see situations as political because political groups identify with policies designed to address social issues. Sin and injustice are not political issues, they are addressed by moral and Biblical mandates.

The often violent collision of our intuitive demand for self-determination being violated by some “other” is our greatest existential and spiritual crisis. The toddler who wants “that,” whatever “that” is, must have his will defied for his own good, and yet he rages against the perceived injustice. The teen who “knows” better than her parents or the civil authorities becomes in her own mind a victim because she feels unable to make her own free choice.

Real injustice

The harsh brutal reality is that there is real injustice all around us. Understanding when it is appropriate to take a stand against it is a responsibility we must not ignore. What kind of human being would render a fellow human being unconscious, cut them open and remove living parts? These are the actions of either a dangerous, murdering psychopath or of a skilled and compassionate surgeon. We only know if it is a crime when we know the freely formed intentions – the “will” of both. If both the surgeon and the patient are operating out of free will, it is to be encouraged and commended even at great expense.Jesus was willing to give up control and accept total injustice to accomplish the greater good. Philippians 2:5-8. Through His example we see that self preservation is not the highest good. There are peaceful demonstrators today who choose powerlessness to confront injustice.

Safety

People simply want to feel safe, and that safety depends on our being able to control our immediate world. Jesus made it clear through a parable that it is also our responsibility to sympathize with the powerless and come to their aid. Luke 10:25-37.We know that “someone” should have helped George Floyd.

The experiences of those who suffered at the hands of the German Nazis provide insights into the psychological and spiritual realities of powerlessness.

Jean Amery describes his first experience at the hands of the Nazi Gestapo and presents an accurate view of the loss of self-determination – the inability to will that should cause all of us to cry out STOP!

I am certain that with the very first blow that descends on him he loses something we will perhaps call “trust in the world.” The boundaries of my body are also the boundaries of myself. My skin surface shields me against the external world. If I am to have trust, I must feel on it only what I want to feel.

At the first blow, however, this trust in the world breaks down.

In almost all situations in life where there is bodily injury there is also the expectation of help; the former is compensated by the latter. But with the first blow from the policeman’s fist, against which there can be no defense and which no helping hand will ward off, a part of our life ends and it can never again be revived. At the Mind’s Limits pg. 28-29

Amery attempts to describe in this passage the psychological impact on those crushed by the Jewish Holocaust, a monstrous crime. But in so doing he also describes the reality of a child sexually molested by a priest or relative. The fear and powerlessness of the college coed raped at a fraternity party. This powerlessness and the relational brokenness it creates brings unknown numbers to divorce lawyers, family court and counseling sessions.Amery said,

“The experience of persecution was, at the very bottom, that of an extreme loneliness. At stake for me is the release from the abandonment that has persisted from that time until today.” At the Mind’s Limits pg. 70

There are awful facts that are disturbing and clearly wrong. The incongruity between what should be and what is serves to reinforce distrust and loneliness. The spiritual implications for the ethnically persecuted as well as for the adult living with the powerlessness of their childhood experiences and all victims of injustice run parallel as well.

Simon Wiesenthal related the following while in a concentration camp.

“Very few of us still prayed. He who is incessantly tortured in spite of his innocence soon loses his faith.” The Sunflower pg. 80

 

Life through powerlessness

A child who rages against his loving parents and tortures himself with his loss of control can become wounded by the loving guidance of the parents. Many who claim Christ as Lord rage against the realities of life. They feel wounded instead of being healed in submission to a loving God. The world is evil because of sin. When we accept that we are powerless over sin in our own lives and in the world around us, we are freed to truly embrace the healing God offers through faith.

While we live with the wounds of living in a fallen world we are “incessantly tortured” by our past. Jean Amery, as an agnostic who survived genocide, took his own life by suicide in 1978. He believed that the lessons of the Holocaust would enlighten and change the world. He was powerless to overcome his past and the endless injustice he saw in the world.Jesus embraced powerlessness. Jesus chose the cross and became powerless and set us an example. Great power and true liberty are obtained only by freely and actively willing to embrace our powerlessness – in saying as Christ did (who really did have power) when he said – “not my will but thy will be done.” Jesus demonstrated the power of helplessness in the physical world and power in the spiritual world. The single, greatest, most powerful act ever achieved occurred on the cross. That willful act of powerlessness gives every person power over the one thing every person is truly powerless to change – sin.

God’s commands and the realities of life require that we fight against all injustice to maintain our own moral sanity. It is truly heartbreaking that so many people live in a powerless reality and are “incessantly tortured” (Jean Amery) by both their personal experiences and the suffering of others. By saying to our heavenly Father “not my will but yours,” we choose service to the only One with true power and enter a life of unstoppable spiritual power in the kingdom of God. It is that power that guides us to a constructive physical response against injustice in a broken world.

Our response

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

The current situation in our country requires wisdom. Standing against injustice also means standing against injustice done in response to injustice. Attacking people for taking a stand is more injustice. Looting and vandalism are another form of injustice. People are frustrated and angry because the progress against prejudice and discrimination really are too slow. It should stop. Now. “Equal justice, land of the free….” become meaningless soundbites and empty promises to far too many people.

We must pray for the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others who now must live with very real, unnecessary pain and loss from injustice.

Our country is led by wounded people operating in a broken political system that makes promises and breaks them. There is no excuse. We should pray for our leaders, police, and law enforcement; let’s also hold them accountable and know that they will all answer to the one true and righteous judge-as will we.

The Church of Jesus Christ is led by our righteous and holy God. It is in His name that we pray, especially for the powerless, that they would know the Savior who gives us our peace.
 
 
 
 

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Change

Change

The ground is shifting daily. Endless experts are at hand with their opinions and predictions. Possibly the greatest challenge of the current pandemic is the fact the the Read more…

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Musts

Optics and focus
In this time of pandemic and quarantine a lot of people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress. The government has placed a lot of restrictions on the entire population. These restrictions and even the justification for them is a subject of considerable debate. Is COVID as bad as they say? The governmental response may cause even bigger problems than the pandemic. What about our constitutional rights? It seems that just about everybody has opinions. Some have very strong views and opinions are voiced very forcefully, friendships are strained and tempers can flare.

 

In last week’s post we considered the importance of using the correct optics. Life is full of pleasure and pain, dreams and disappointments, priorities and distractions. We will not experience the joy of the Christian life unless we clarify the summum bonum in every situation according to scripture. It is so important to make sure we view things through Biblical optics. Building on that, this week we will consider the power of rigid, out-of-focus thinking and how it is the source of anxiety, fear and stress. It is because of losing our focus that we are held by unhealthy and self-destructive beliefs.

 

A cognitive approach 
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy calls rigid thinking a “must” or a “have to.” The renowned psychologist Albert Ellis wrote that emotional disturbance is caused by 

“irrational beliefs or dysfunctional attitudes (that) have at their core explicit or implicit rigid, powerful demands and commands, usually expressed as musts, shoulds, ought tos, have tos and got tos, such as “I absolutely must have my important goals fulfilled.”

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic we have heard from the authorities all of the rigid “requirements” necessary to slow the spread of COVID. This has become an extensive list of things we have to and/or cannot do. As the days and weeks have passed we have begun to hear comments such as –  “The government has to stop the virus.” “We must open the economy and get people back to work.” “We have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.” These expressions have begun to show up in the news as confrontations in stores and armed citizens in government buildings.

 

Identifying the error
So – when are these rigid ways of thinking rational and consistent with our values? Albert Ellis suggests…human disturbance occurs when…people act on irrational beliefs in a self-defeating way, until they arrive at a new set of rational beliefs….. For example”I’d prefer to succeed and be lovable, but I don’t have to do so.”

 

There was a lot of debate in the culture and in the church not that many years ago about the use of violence against abortion providers and facilities. Consider a Christian who feels very strongly about stopping the  violent murder of the most innocent and defenseless members of humanity. That is a defensible Biblical position. When one is consumed by this issue it can morph in the mind to a rigid “I must/have to stop abortions ” and one has murder in their hearts and  becomes capable of doing things that are irrational for a follower of Jesus. A properly focused Biblical optic helps us to think and behave rationally consistent with our Christian worldview. Using Ellis’s model. “I must stop abortions” becomes “I’d prefer to stop abortions, but I don’t have to do so.” It’s important to remember that God also says “You shall not commit murder.”

 

 

Right thinking 
Albert Ellis said “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” It is worth considering the extent to which these are the very musts that cause us stress. Looking at these through the optic of the words of Jesus gives the right perspective.

 

I must do well – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24-26 

 

You must treat me well – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19 

 

The world must be easy – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

 

For the Christian, right thinking is always Biblical thinking. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul said “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 

Now look at some of the issues that people are passionate about in this time of pandemic and consider how to keep them in a healthy perspective as those who want to act as Jesus would if He were faced with these issues.

 

“The government has to stop the virus.”

Becomes 

“I would like it if the government could stop the virus, but if they can’t or won’t I will still pray for them and trust God.” 

 

“We must open the economy and get people back to work.”

Becomes 

“It would be good to open the economy and get people back to work. In the meantime I will look for opportunities to help those who are impacted.”

 

“We have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.”

Becomes

“We would prefer to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus. If that doesn’t happen I will trust God and do my part to show Jesus to others.”

 

 

Right Living
We started out stating the obvious. The pandemic is a source of stress. The next obvious fact is that God’s people should act like God’s people. As individuals and as a church we want to think and act in appropriate ways. It isn’t a question of God’s love and faithfulness. God’s people have always found reassurance, peace and the strength to do right in difficult times. Many of us at Townsend Church have personally experienced God as our rock and our deliverer in the past and we will take every thought captive and watch with anticipation for what God will do!

 

 


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