Friday, December 12, 2008

I Am The Face of Persecution

Not that I have been persecuted for my faith, but rather I persecuted you because I lacked faith.

There is freedom in Christ.

I have hindered you from developing in your own personal relationship with Him, because I--much like the Pharisees-- have held you to an unattainable standard, one in which I, myself, have not and cannot attain. There is no good in me, save the promise, which Christ has given freely to all who believe in Him.

I am at fault. I have fallen short. My shortcomings are realized. I confess it and trust that God is working it out for His good.

I used to believe adamantly that each of is faced with the freedom of choice: God, or the world. Good or evil. Now, I understand that I don't freely choose God. In fact, I don't freely choose anything at all. God alone elects, as we are by nature scandalously incapacitated in the realm of free will.

First, Paul explains in the first chapter of Colossians, verses 15 through 20 that God has reconciled everyone and everything to Himself. He chose us because He is, Supreme.

What follows in verses 21 through 23 demonstrates my inadequacy all the more:
        This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

        But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.
The Good News is that righteousness has been imputed to me. Any good that I have done is simply an extension of a Supernatural Line of Credit (if you will). The power of the Holy Spirit working through me.

I ruminated over this and other insights gained from two completely different sources this week. At first glance, the two laws seemed to be at odds with one another. However, after careful reflection, the principle of each highlight some fundamental truths.

I stumbled across the first article in Science News entitled The Decider. In it, scientists assert the nihility of free will, affirming that it is an "illusion", and that the complexity of decision making is veiled. The prospect of rewards and the anticipation of reprisals, send neurological signals to the brain triggering our decision making. Our brain, which essentially is subject to the same programming that enslaves a computer, makes choices based on receptivity and biochemistry. In other words, our will is less characterized by the notion of freedom, and more distinctively reduced to a conditional expression, or an if-then construct.

Initially, I rejected this position, in part because much of the arrogance of religious thinking is based on the idea of free will and one's ability to choose between good and evil. However, truthfully speaking, all decisions that I make -- by virtue of human nature-- are at the core selfish, and therefore evil.

As a Christian, my faith was rooted in the misconception that humans have the freedom to choose right from wrong; to bring forth good or evil. However, after careful consideration, I have come to realize the truth. Free will is indeed an illusion. I do not posses the faculty of volition. I am confined by my brain which is constantly networking with my body proliferating evil. The complexity of this "decision making" can best be summed up in the seventh chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans.

In verses 21-24, Paul writes:
        I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Here, Paul illustrates the end to which we are bound to the mechanism of choice-- to the extent of reprobation-- whereby even if I will to do good, my actions indelibly fall short. I might erroneously point to my good deeds and argue, "I have proof that truly I can choose to do good." But the truth is that the good that emerges from my actions, emerges not as a result of my choosing to do what is right, but rather it is evidence of the Holy Spirit working in and through me.

Jesus clarifies this reality in his response to the "Rich Young Man", who refers to Christ as the Good Teacher in Mark 10: 18: "And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'"

I once vehemently believed that the persecution of the church referred to throughout the New Testament, resulted when the world rejected Christians who choose to separate themselves from the sin of the world. However, clearly, the face of persecution is found in those who repudiate the freedom that is in Christ, crush people with unbearable religious demands, and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

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