Posts Tagged 'judging'

Asceticism

The Buddha as an ascetic

This post has been sitting in my drafts box for some time. I thought it was unfinished. In fact, I thought I’d barely started it and so had been ignoring it. Today I was moved to click on it, intending to see if there was something here I could develop, or if I should just delete it and move on.

Instead I was surprised to find an entire post, finished but for the final editing. And, oddly enough, it ties in to what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately in regards to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The original date on it was March 18, 2011, a kind of prologue thoughtwise to more recent ruminations. Here’s what I was thinking last year:

Most Christians are aware of the fact that they still have a fallen nature even after having believed in Christ. But how many of them have considered what this fallen nature is like beyond “bad,” “evil,” “selfish,” “prideful”  and “something that sets itself against God?”

My pastor has considered what it is like and taught us a number of things as a result of his studies. One of the big things about it is the fact that it has an area of strength (most of us have certain sins we’re not even tempted to commit) and an area of weakness (sins we fall into all the time). I think the area of weakness is pretty well-known, but the area of strength is something that doesn’t get as much attention. The area of strength is often the source of human good, which of course, is disgusting in God’s eyes, but often very attractive in people’s eyes.

In addition to an area of strength and weakness, the sin nature also has a trend, either toward lasciviousness or asceticism. Or, put more simply, some people trend toward self-indulgence and others toward self-denial and self-discipline.

Examples of the latter include the Flagellants I just posted about, as well as fasting, vows of silence and poverty, dietary rules, and one I find most amusing, the stylites… Eastern orthodox monks who lived on small platforms atop long poles for years, fasting, praying, and preaching, they believed that the mortification of their bodies would ensure their salvation.  Many Eastern religions embrace ascetic practices as well, with followers vowing never to use their left hand or right foot, restricting their diet, wearing neither clothes nor shoes as they moved from place to place, not staying in any one place so as not to get attached, etc. Clearly there is a strong tendancy in some sin natures to be abusive of self in the name of “holiness,” or just in the name of getting something they might want.

Few people in our day practice the type of asceticism I’ve just described (at least in the United States) but that doesn’t mean they don’t practice it in some other form. Exercise regimes, abstaining from certain foods or drinks, supporting “green” practices, abstaining from smoking, card games, dancing or watching movies, even practices associated with Lent all have to do with denying self certain pleasures in the interest of achieving “holiness” by our own efforts.

Unfortunately holiness is far from the result of asceticism. What it leads to is moral degeneracy, a state wherein a person is moral and often religious but thinks far more highly of himself than he ought. His self-denial and self-discipline,  his avoidance of the lascivious or self-indulgent sorts of sins (drug addiction, fornication, etc) make it seem that he is a better person than say, the woman working the corner down in the ratty part of town. Which is, of coures the point: to make of oneself a better person, a more spiritual person, purer, more enlightened than everyone else.

I’ve recently read several articles noting how self-righteous and holier than thou some people in the global warming/environmental movement are, how it has, in fact become a religion in itself to those who follow it. Michael Crichton was one of the first, or at least the most famous first, to point this out in a speech he gave to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 2003.  (Read it here) Ditto vegetarians, the defenders of animals and even those who eat only organic foods, pr so  claims an article on MSNBC titled “Does Organic Food Make People into Jerks?

In addition to the holier-than-thou syndrome, ascetism leads to legalism — not only in the sense of judging others, but of judging self. Not the judging of self where you confess your sins to God, but where you come up with a set of rules you have to follow so everything will turn out right; or so someone will be pleased with you or happy or at the very least not displeased; or perhaps a set of rules to follow so God will be pleased,  or so you can gain health or wealth or success or …  the list is endless.

And once you have your set of rules in place, you’ve created a launching pad for guilt and worry. You have these rules!  And you have to follow them; if you don’t, disaster will ensue! If you don’t, you can never have any peace. Who cares what God’s word has to say? You have your rules of what it means to be good or successful or responsible or compassionate or whatever…

Which means now you can also worry you might not follow them all, and then beat yourself up when you don’t.  And if there’s someone around who fails to follow them even more than you do, then you can focus on that person and beat them up instead of yourself for their infractions.

And it can all look very nice on the outside, while inside it tears you apart.

What a contrast to the life our Lord intends for us to live. A life of peace and rest, confident that we don’t have to follow our silly little rules, because in Christ we’ve already been made holy. By His work, not ours. There’s not one thing we can do that will make us one ounce holier than He’s already made us the moment we believed in Christ.

All we have to do is keep learning His Word which, if we believe it, will slowly transform our thinking into His.  Our new life in Christ is one that offers tremendous peace and freedom; why would we not want to live in it?

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Avoiding Manholes and Other Musings

This morning as I lay in bed, reflecting and praying, thinking of all the thoughts I should be avoiding, an amusing analogy came to me. Some of you may recall the story of the girl who was walking down the street texting when she fell into an open manhole. Well, as I considered my situation today, it seemed that I was walking down the street of life and needed to be alert and observant so as not to fall into any of the open manholes that unquestionably lay before me, holes of thought that would drop me suddenly into the sewer of my flesh, unpleasant, painful, and often difficult to find my way out of. I have to grope along in the dark for a while, it seems, until I find a not very obvious ladder to freedom.

I think it’s a matter of volition on some level. I can know the doctrine I need to confront the thoughts, recall it and even believe it so much as I’m able…and yet not seem to be able to turn off the negative thinking. Sometimes I think I only want to believe the doctrines, but am not yet totally convinced they are true. Oh, I’m convinced the Bible teaches them, but when I’m down there in the dark and the stink, they don’t seem so real and compelling as they do when I’m topside. [hmm. Could that be because when I’m in the sewer I’m not filled with the Spirit and the flesh is NEVER going to believe the truths of the word of God? Have to think on that… ]

Anyway, I do have to say that applying the concepts of being dead to the sin nature has helped a lot. So has recognizing a lot of the sins that start driving me. It’s only been recently that I’ve become aware of the subtle  self-righteousness that lurks in being “right”. For the sake of argument here, assume I am right in a situation and the other person is wrong. Part of why some things/thoughts are so hard to let go is because “I’m right!” Thus I feel justified in the thoughts that I’m having. When really, I’m not. I’ve fallen into self-righteousness. It’s not up to me to make an issue of who’s right or wrong, only to make sure I remain in fellowship with my Lord.

More and more I’m seeing that for us as Christians it’s hands off. Hands off the details of life and hands off other peoples’ lives. Prior to the trip to San Diego, there were many, many uncertainties as to logistics, timing, how we were going to do some of the things we were being called upon to do. Just thinking of it would make my brain cramp, so I just put it all in God’s hands. He’d handle all the details, as He assured me through many different avenues last week. Of course on the trip everything continued to shift and change and I never really knew what was going to happen until it did. Trust Him to handle the details doesn’t mean handle them so that things work out the way I think they should. Trust Him to handle the details means He’ll handle them so that things work out as He’s decreed (which means all works out “perfectly”) and I’m not to obsess and fret about them. It’s a lesson I have to continually repeat.

But there are other ways we’re to be hands off as well, and that’s with regard to others’ lives. As I’ve grown more and more aware of this concept and the breadth of it, I’ve found in myself a certain resistance. It is so against the ways of the world. And the ways of man, I think… Many of us seem to be natural busybodies, looking at what others are doing and pronouncing a form of judgment on them. Our news does this, the entertainment industry, the sports world, politics… it’s everywhere. Being right seems very important, and making sure that we point out others’ wrongs is almost a duty. There are whole websites devoted to pointing out the errors of various pastors and teachings. We can tolerate maybe toning some of that down, not gossiping about others, trying not to be too critical or critical at all… but still, the idea of completely ignoring someone’s wrongdoing?  That can’t be right, can it? Shouldn’t we go and help them? Point out their error?

Mostly I think not. Yeah, there’s the verse about the brother caught in a trespass and all that, but there are also the verses about “Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls and stand he will for God is able to make him stand.” And, “But you there, why do you judge your brother? And you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God…so then each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.”

As believers we’re all royal priests, we all represent ourselves before God and need no one  to stand between us. Not only that, even God Himself doesn’t judge us, having passed all judgment to His son. And the Son didn’t come to judge the world but to save it and will leave the judging to His Word. So it’s really the Word that does the judging. And even if there weren’t all those verses telling us to beware stepping into the role of judging another person’s life, it’s still pretty arrogant to think we really know what’s going on with a person or in a person’s life, seeing as how we don’t have all the facts.  But it’s so easy to think we do. From just a few facts, we construct a narrative and voila: an explanation. Usually not a very complementary one to the victim.

I wrote about it, even constructed a scenario using this propensity in Return of the Guardian King. And still I want to think I really know. When more and more I think we all know very, very little about anything. Including ourselves…


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