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March 11th, 2012

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10:12 pm - God knows our weaknesses (Lenten post #2)
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

God knows our weaknesses.

More than that, he knows which ones are unique to each of us. For example, I have chosen to fast from alcohol for Lent this year. I miss it, but it's not nearly as hard for me to abstain from wine and cocktails as it would be to give up coffee, which I have done in years past. Caffeine is the thing I find difficult not to abuse.

For one person, a weakness might be the urge to cut someone else down to size. It might be the easy path of cheating--on your work, your art, your taxes, or your spouse. It might be caving to pressure from friends to skip prayer to go party... or, for that matter, to skip a communal celebration and isolate yourself in the name of spirituality. It might be proud unwillingness to listen to others, or cowed fear of speaking up when you need to.

God knows your weaknesses. Most of the time, so do you.

You know the things you want in ways that make you vulnerable to doing anything, right or wrong, to get them. God can give you grace in those weaknesses. He can save you, defend you, heal you and others if you allow him to.

The logical extension of this is that because we each have our own weaknesses, we don't need to let the weaknesses of others lead us into fear.

It's easy, as a new believer or as someone raised in the church, to give a lot of weight to the teachings of those who have been in the faith longer. Like a child learning from its parents, we listen, and skip having to learn some lessons the hard way.

New believers are often taught a sort of list of things they're supposed to stay away from so they won't sin. They're taught to “flee temptation,” to exercise discretion rather than thoughtless valor. That's wise. A maturing person needs guidance to start discerning God's voice for themselves.

Older believers can tell you their stories, and what tempted them. If they know you well, their advice may be exactly what you need to hear. But just because something tapped their personal weakness doesn't mean you are vulnerable there. Your weaknesses are uniquely yours.

I grew up in a household without alcohol. My parents were not aggressively teetotal, but they had both been raised in Baptist homes, so drinking simply wasn't part of our lives. I didn't start drinking socially until I moved to Los Angeles.

Even though my parents had not told me it was wrong, and I quite liked the taste, I was afraid to have more than one drink. In vino veritas, said the Romans: “in wine is truth,” and I feared that alcohol might loosen my carefully learned self-control, or uncover horrible, unknown desires in myself.

I distinctly remember the first time I got tipsy, because the effect surprised me. I found myself laughing more than I ever did, talking without second-guessing every word, and enormously pleased to be in this room with my friends, playing games and talking. It didn't reveal anything I didn't already know, except that I didn't often allow myself to really be myself.

Some people should never drink alcohol. It would undo the hard work they've done to learn good new behaviors, or would itself be their worst temptation. But I found that this isn't true for me.

Some people shouldn't be alone with a person to whom they are sexually attracted. I once had a crush on a married man. But even when that was a temptation, it wasn't a strong one. God showed himself mighty to save, if you will.

Some people should not work in Hollywood; the lure of celebrity and the drive to succeed at all costs can overwhelm the best intentions. But that isn't mine, either. If anything, mine is the opposite: I too often don't put myself where I need to be, because I lack enough of that drive.

This truth casts an entirely new light on two concepts that I picked up fairly young: first, that we must be very cautious around sin, and second, that we ought to avoid even the appearance of evil.

The first comes from Paul's letter to the Galatians, which he wrote to demolish the teaching that salvation could come through observing the Jewish law, and to explain instead the Christian freedom to love. After finishing his argument, he cautions his audience not to use their freedom selfishly, which leads into this passage: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

But Paul isn't saying that we should regard ourselves as terminally weak, or that sin is a taint that spreads from person to person like plague. He's just spent an entire letter telling us that in Christ it no longer works like that. It's simply a reminder that we all have our weaknesses, and that pride is the quickest way to give them power over us.

He is saying, “Stand firm in your freedom, and don't condemn others when they are weak—instead, restore them gently, knowing that you can also be weak.”

The second stems in part from our desire to be holy, and in part from a mistranslation in the King James version of the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 5:22--“Abstain from all appearance of evil”--is part of a series of instructions and encouragements. The Greek word translated “appearance” (as in, what something looks like to the eye), is better translated “form” or “type,” and other English translations have “avoid every form of evil.”

It's very easy to make this mistake. Anyone who wants to be good has the option of at least trying to look good--to avoid appearing to sin. It's also not hard to go from “don't do evil” to “make sure you don't do anything that might be construed by someone else as evil,” particularly in our society, which is so sensitive to offense.

We can even start to think that by avoiding this supposed appearance of evil, we'll become better at avoiding real evil. As if making our boundaries wider can keep us “safer” from sin.

But think about this: Jesus went to parties, enjoyed eating and drinking, and hung out with people who did legitimately wrong things (including collaborate with Rome, steal, and commit adultery). The religious people of his day called him “a drunkard, glutton, and demon-possessed.” They assumed he was guilty by association. But Jesus didn't care what his actions looked like to them. He didn't stop loving people where they were, not where others wanted them to be.

My point is that our weaknesses are ours. Knowing them should allow us to venture into places where others might not be able to go. We should not be afraid of our strengths, or at least where we know ourselves not to be weak.

Be boldly yourself, even if others think you unwise or too reckless. God made you for a purpose, and nothing puts a halt to that more quickly than letting the expectations of others terrify you where you don't need to be afraid.

Where you are weak, act with the wisdom you have. And trust God to be mighty to save.

Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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[User Picture]
Date:March 12th, 2012 06:10 am (UTC)
It is all very well said, bar one bit:

‘Collaborating with Rome’ was not ‘legitimately wrong’. Jesus Himself told us to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and he was referring, in the immediate instance, to the literal Caesar in Rome. The Zealots repudiated Jesus, or at least quarrelled with him, specifically because He did not preach that cooperating with the Romans was wrong. Tiberius was the ruler of the land, no more or less legitimate, sub specie aeternitatis, than the Maccabees or Solomon, or for that matter, Saul. The God of Hosts warned the Israelites of Samuel’s time against having a king at all, and a thousand years later, His Son did nothing to provide the Jews with a Jewish king. For as He said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’

Pray forgive me for going on at such length about this one point. But I am inordinately saddened whenever I see someone weave a fallacy into an otherwise sound argument, and thereby weaken it without need.

Edited at 2012-03-12 06:11 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Well, I am inordinately saddened to see that you got nothing else out of a piece I worked on for about 3 weeks. So I suppose we are even.

Also, I don't agree with your conclusions. "Rebellion" isn't the only alternative to "collaboration." Not rebelling in violence and paying one's taxes is not the same thing as collaboration, either. (Perhaps as an American, I am more sensitive to this stuff?)

And once Christ's message spread, it became clear that even though Christ's message was not "of this world" in terms of being a power play within our political structures, it *is* in opposition to most political lordships, including Caesar. The early Christians died rather than call Caesar their lord (although they did not rebel, nor stop paying their taxes).
[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2012 05:32 pm (UTC)
Word. And thank you. I need good stuff to read right now.

My ancestors threw out art because they felt it had led to pride and idolatry. Which, when the local bishop is taxing the peasants to death to build his fancy cathedral, is probably true. But such a blind rule ignores all the people whose spirits are refreshed by art, or who find making art to be an act of profound worship.
[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome.

And I like your example, here... especially since I am a writer and know so many artists, and have seen the effect of beauty (human-created as well as "natural") on so many.

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