Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) May 25, 2020

Stephen_W_Hiemstra_20200125b
Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on identity. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) May 25, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Ready_2020

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Prayer for an Identity in Christ

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the one outside of time that created all things.

We praise you for providing the bread of life and well-spring of everlasting life which is your son, Jesus Christ—our redeemer, the author of our faith, and our only true friend.

We thank you for simple things, like family, bread to eat, clean water to drink, work to do, and friends in Christ.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to share our physical and spiritual gifts with those around us—first our family, then our friends, and even those we do not know well so that your name would be praised among the nations.

Forgive us when we play the fool out of pride, not for you, but out of our own ignorance.

Humble us that we might become worthy servants of your church and not ourselves.Help us to find our identity in you— not in our friends, nor in our wealth nor in our accomplishments, but in you—so that if we play the fool, it is for you and you alone.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for an Identity in Chris

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Ready_2020

 

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Fools for Christ

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong.You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst,we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure. (1 Cor 4:10–12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What are you willing to suffer for? What is your passion? (Matt 6:21)

Apostle Paul’s passion was the Gospel and he lived the life of an itinerant evangelist. Paul never married nor had any children and, in spite of being highly educated, gave up a priestly or academic life. When Paul described himself as a fool for Christ (2 Cor 12:10–11), his Jewish parents probably agreed.

Imagine attending your thirtieth doctoral reunion and rising to address your fellow graduates, saying:

I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23–28)

Unlikely to have been church leaders, Paul’s classmates were more likely to have been synagogue leaders, high priests, government officials, and college professors. Unlike many of these, Paul hungered and thirsted for righteousness, treated his suffering like a resume, and refused a salary at one point to maintain the integrity of his Gospel message (1 Cor 9:4; 2 Cor 11:7). Like the one who sent him, Paul strived to live life righteously.

No doubt, Paul’s life of integrity also put him in tension with God. For example, God’s answer to his prayer over a thorn in the flesh—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)—likely caused Paul much anguish before he developed the serenity to boast about God’s object lesson.

Another such object lesson is the Eucharist which reminds us of Christ by focusing on objects of hunger (bread) and thirst (water/wine), much like several of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1–10) while others involved multiplying bread and fish (John 4:32, 6:11). The transformation of simple things like food and water into sacred objects must have perplexed the Greeks who looked down on the physical world (earth), but looked up to the spiritual world (heaven).

The sacraments and Jesus’ miracles point to a simple but important spiritual reality: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4; Deut 8:3) Just as a sacrament is an outward sign with an inward meaning, physical things and circumstances have both outward and inner meanings associated with them, which, for example, leads Paul to describe the body as the temple of God (1 Cor 6:19). If the physical body can become the temple of God and mere food and drink can be sacraments, then food and drink stand at an important boundary between the physical and spiritual realms where spiritual transformation can take place and God’s love can be expressed as care for the poor and hungry.

For example, God identifies himself directly with the poor and hungry in the final judgment, as we read: Then the righteous will answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? (Matt 25:37) Here, attitude and actions regarding the poor and hungry directly identify Christ’s followers, modeled on the charity of Christ himself: “And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev 21:6)If Jesus practices charity, then we should too because our charitable obligation depends, not on the good behavior of the recipients, but on our own identity in Christ:

if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Matt 5:43–46, Rom 12:20–21)

Our identity in Christ leads us, not to judge the sinful, but to help the needy, as we read: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) Living in a wealthy nation, our charitable obligation—providing for the physical needs of those less fortunate—is bigger than most.

If the first sin of the Bible was to lust after a tree fruit (Gen 6), then the mark of the disciple would be to model Christ’s abundant provision (Rev 21:6) and to defeat the urge to sin.

Fools for Christ

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Ready_2020

 

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Tension and Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) April 13, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Tension and Identity. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Tension and Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) April 13, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

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Resolve Tension into Identity

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101But the meek shall inherit the land and 

delight themselves in abundant peace. 

(Ps 37:11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One resolution of life’s tensions is that they are absorbed into our identity, defining our self-image, relationships, and expected actions and reactions. A pastoral identity, for example, implies spending time with God, interpreting scripture, praying with others, preaching the Gospel, and offering comfort to everyone; these activities are expected of pastors and are an essential part of pastoral training. Likewise, training in humility makes us meek, part of our identity as disciples of Christ.

Meekness is Unique

The Third Beatitude is unique to Matthew: “Honored are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5). Meek means to: “…not [be] overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble,  considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like applied humility (poor in spirit)—a character trait of being  humble (Guelich 1982, 82), suggested by at least three verses in Matthew:

1. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt 11:29)

2. Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. (Matt 21:5)

3. And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent. (Matt 26:62-63)

In these three events—Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, his humble parade into Jerusalem, and his silence while on trial—Jesus exhibited his meekness. Sedler (2003, 92) observes that “anything Jesus said [at his trial] would have been twisted, turned, and rejected.” Jesus’ meekness is also observed in the writings of the Apostles Peter, James, and Paul (e.g. 1 Pet 3:13–17, Jas 1:21, and 2 Cor 10:1).

Honor and Meekness

In his writing, Neyrey (1998, 181–182) describes honor in meekness in these terms:

It can indeed be understood as grounds for praise for refusing to be a victim…according to the choreography of honor challenges, the ‘meek’ person could be one who makes no honor claims (e.g. Matt 21:5), or, more likely, one who does not give a riposte [response] to challenges and does not respond in anger to insults. In this light, a ‘meek’ person disengages entirely from the typical honor games of the village…failure to seek revenge.

The implication here is that the meek person choses wisely to remain silent, especially when speaking would escalate conflict with another person.

The problem of escalation is referenced in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said:

1. Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:22)

2. Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matt 5:37)

3. Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matt 5:39–41)

Meekness as a Strategy

Savage (1996, 57–61) suggests a strategy of not resisting evil, “fogging,” that involves finding something in the criticism to agree with to frustrate the attacker and to avoid becoming defensive, as when Jesus responses when asked about taxes (Matt 22:17–22). More generally, the meek person will refuse to pursue vindication, offer no response when baited to act imprudently, or just make peace. We are to preserve a humble identity by refusing to argue, belittle, or engage in a response to harsh words. In other words, defend your meekness with silence and humility.

Ortberg (2012, 107) illustrates Jesus’ meekness in imaging a pep talk that Jesus might have given the disciples:

Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in. We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.

Meekness is a strategy, not a weakness, that identifies us as Christians, advances the kingdom, and steals the thunder from our adversaries.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Ortberg, John. 2012. Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Resolve Tension into Identity

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

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Grief Defines Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) April 6, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Grief and Identity. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Grief Defines Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) April 6, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

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Grief Defines Identity

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101My Father, if it be possible, 

let this cup pass from me; 

nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. 

(Matt 26:39)

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The emotional tension within ourselves is never greater than when we mourn, which requires a decision: do we turn into our pain in self-pity or do we turn to God in faith? Standing in the shadow of the cross at Gethsemane, Jesus turned to God when he faced this decision.

The decisions we make and the pains we bear shape our identity because they are both unavoidable and costly—we do not normally choose to experience pain. Pain and grief transform us and the only emotion that appears in the Beatitudes is grief.

We grieve when we lose something important. In writing about the second Beatitude, Evangelist Billy Graham (1955, 20–26) identified five objects of mourning:

  1. Inadequacy—before you can grow strong, you must recognize your own weakness
  2. Repentance—before you can ask for forgiveness, you must recognize your sin;
  3. Love—our compassion for suffering of brothers and sisters takes the form of mourning and measures our response to Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbor,
  4. Soul travail—groaning for the salvation of the lost; and
  5. Bereavement—mourning over those that have passed away.

These objects of grief can also be categorized functionally, as:

  1. Material loss;
  2. Relationship loss;
  3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream;
  4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy;
  5. Role loss—like retirement; and
  6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (Mitchell and Anderson 1983, 36–45).

Each loss is unique and must be separately grieved which takes time and energy. When we neglect to take the time to grieve our losses, the grief does not magically disappear; it can come back in the form of sudden outbreaks of anxiety or depression without obvious explanation—emotional hijackings. We try to avoid grief because it reminds us of our mortality and, in doing so, frequently challenges the flawed assumptions that we prefer to live by.

Loss and grief were not always ignored, as my grandfather taught me when my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of being over one hundred years old, my grandfather expressed his love by caring for her at home and set an example of sacrificial love and faithfulness that I will never forget.

Saint Francis of Assisi said it best:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather

To comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved; For it is by giving that one receives,

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life (Graham 1955, 24).

The griefs we bear and the choices we make strengthen our faith, define our character, and temper our relationships, working in us like the refiner’s fire (Mal 3:3).

Jesus teaches: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4)

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2010. Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York: Image Doubleday.

Grief Defines Identity

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

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Fukuyama Understands Identity

Fukuyama_review_20191025Francis Fukuyama. 2018. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. New York: Macmillan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The issue of identity is on everyone’s lips today. In the absence of the unity provided by Christian faith, American lives are shrinking into ever-smaller communities of self-interest facilitated by media-friendly cell-phones and social media. As day-to-day, face-to-face interactions, our kids’ social skills leave them ill-prepared to deal with the normal ups and downs of life that threaten their self-worth. Without a solid identity, they are anxious and often leave adolescence with more pills than their grandparents. When I found out that Francis Fukuyama had a book on this subject, I snapped it up.

Introduction

In Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment Francis Fukuyama writes:

“In this book, I will be using identity in a specific sense that helps us understand why it is so important to contemporary politics. Identity, in the first place, out of a distinction between one’s true inner self and an outer world of social rules and norms that does not adequately recognize that inner self’s worth or dignity.”(9-10)

In a world where the poorest of the poor anywhere on earth can turn on a television and see how the rich live anywhere else, the sense of what’s fair and what’s not becomes immediately obvious to everyone. Those disrespected through circumstances, law, or persons no longer can be told that that is just the way things are. Dislocation, war, and conflicting demands make it even hard to realize a stable identity and sense of dignity. Fukuyama concludes that the “Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unified much of what is going on in world politics today.” (xv)

Origin and Organization

Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama (1952-) is an American political scientist, political economist, and writer. He is best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the spread of liberal democracies and free-market capitalism of the West could end sociocultural evolution. Fukuyama earned his BA at Cornell University, studied at Yale University, and received his doctorate from Harvard University. He is currently on the faculty at Stanford University.[1] Fukuyama writes in fourteen chapters:

  1. The Politics of Dignity
  2. The Third Part of the Soul
  3. Inside and Outside
  4. From Dignity to Democracy
  5. Revolutions of Dignity
  6. Expressive Individualism
  7. Nationalism and Religion
  8. The Wrong Address
  9. Invisible Man
  10. The Democratization of Dignity
  11. From Identity to Identities
  12. We the People
  13. Stories of Peoplehood
  14. What is to be Don? (vii)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes, a bibliography, and an index.

The Dignity Problem

The visibility of inequities has become more obvious. Fukuyama writes:

“Between 1970 and 2008, the world’s output of goods and services quadrupled and growth extended to virtually all regions of the world, while the number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries dropped from 42 percent of the total population in 1993 to 17 percent in 211. The percentage of children dying before their fifty birthdays declined from 22 percent in 1960 to less than 5 percent by 2016. This liberal world order did not, however, benefit everyone. In many countries around the world, and particularly in developed democracies, inequity increased dramatically, such that many of the benefits flowed primarily to an elite defined primarily by education.” (4)

Economists talk about the law of one price—with free trade, the price of a good or service should be the same everyone, adjusting for shipment, storage, and other costs.

Fukuyama notes the tension created, writing:

“Huge new middle classes arose in countries such as China and India, but the work they did replaced work that had been done by older middle classes in the developing world…women were displacing men in an increasingly service dominated new economy and low-skilled workers were being replaced by smart machines.” (4)

Inequities create indignities because no one enjoys change and we have seen massive changes. Fukuyama notes: “economic grievances become much more acute when they are attached to feelings of indignity and disrespect.” (11) He sees issues like the #MeToo movement and gay marriage as being driven by the desire, not for economic equality, but the desire for equal respect (19).

The Identity Connection

Fukuyama develops his concept of identity writing:

“The modern concept of identity unites three different phenomena. The first is thymos, a universal aspect of human personality that craves recognition. The second is the distinction between inner and outer self, and the raising of the moral valuation of the inner self over outer society. This emerged only in early modern Europe. The third is an evolving concept of dignity, in which recognition is due not just to a narrow class of people [like soldiers and first responders], but to everyone.” (37)

He sees this question of equal dignity motivating the French Revolution and resent uprisings, like the Arab Spring. He tells a story:

“On December 17, 2010, police confiscated the produce from a vegetable cart of a Tunisian street vendor name Mohamed Bouazizi, ostensibly because he did not have a permit. According to his family, he was publicly slapped by a policewoman, Faida Hamdi, who confiscated his electronic scales as well and spat in his face…Bouazizi went to the governor’s office to complain and to get his scales back, but the governor refused to see him. Bouazizi then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, shouting, ‘How do you expect me to make a living.’” (42)

Bouazizi was not a protester or political prisoner, but had been abused and his story set off an uprising—The Arab Spring—that spread across several continents. The problem of indignities of this sort struck a nerve.

Assessment

Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment pictures our current political climate with rare clarity. He writes with philosophical and historical precision and tells a good story. I enjoyed this book; perhaps you will too.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Fukuyama.

Fukuyama Understands Identity

Also see:

Vance Chronicles White Poverty in America

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/ID_2019  

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Transcendence and Identity, Monday Monologues (podcast) 20191118

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Transcendence and Identity.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Transcendence and Identity: Monday Monologues, November 18, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/ID_2019

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Transcendence and Identity

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“Then God said, 

Let us make man in our image, 

after our likeness…

So God created man in his own image, 

in the image of God he created him; 

male and female he created them.”

(Gen 1:26-27)

 

By Stephen W. HIemstra

For us as Christians, our identity is secure—we are created in the image of God. If you want to know who you are, look at Jesus, God’s son and our role model or, as I have said colloquially, Jesus is my denominator. Jesus is the measure of all things human.

So why the interest in identity?

If God the father seems illusive and Jesus is just a man, then the whole denominator analogy falls apart. Like it or not, Americans have a problem with the transcendence of God. The fascination in the identity question is therefore a mirror image of God’s evaporating transcendence or, in other words, if God is not real, neither are we.

The Problem of Dysfunction

Being created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) may sound quaint to postmodern ears, but it becomes terribly important in understanding the implications of idolatry, the worship of images other than God. Think of idolatry as a hierarchy of priorities. 

The First Commandment makes this point: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3) The Second Commandment reinforces the point of the first one (Exod 20:4-6). Centering our living on the one who made us gives life meaning and stability. Not doing so, leads to many flavors of dysfunction.

Idolatry and Priorities

The focus on carved images in idolatry suggests pagan temple worship, as the Psalmist makes light of:

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. heir idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Ps 115:3-8)

The key verse here is the last one: “Those who make them become like them.” Image theology implies that we grow to become like the god that we worship, even if we worship idols. Our number-one priority, which is a question of identity and attitude, is effectively our god (Hoekema 1994, 84). Giglio (2003, 13) writes:

So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy. You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne; and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship.

Idol worship threatens all that we are because over time we become like the god that we worship.

Idolatry Hampers Spiritual Formation

Focusing only on time, how much time do you spend each week in activities contributing to your spiritual formation as compared with other activities? 

Many men spend much of their free time in shoot-them-up video games, often developed by the armed forces for training soldiers. Is it any wonder that, in spite of the fact that automatic weapons have been available since the 1920s, it is only in the last decade that we have seen a rise in mass shootings in public places in the United States unrelated to any political or economic agenda? Intensive activities form us and become part of our identity—spiritual formation is not the only formation that takes place.

Poor formation leads us to worship idols that let us down. When our idols crash, we experience an existential crisis because we must completely reorganize our priorities, which is never easy (Hos 8:4).

The Problem of Suicide

Consider what happens if your number-one priority is work and you lose your job. In spite of record low unemployment, anxiety, depression, drug addiction, and suicide are at record levels in the United States, and have contributed to a decline in life expectancy (Bernstein 2018).

Amidst the high level of suicide (Tavernise 2016), two age groups stand out: young people under the age of thirty and older white men, a group not historically prone to suicide. Among young people, the typically reason for attempting suicide is a broken relationship (idolizing a person); among older men, the typical reason is a lost job (workaholism). Both problems suggest a tie to idolatry.

Death by suicide is just the tip of the iceberg according to Mason (2014, 28):

Based on large national surveys, for every fourteen suicides per hundred thousand people each year, approximately five hundred people attempt suicide and three thousand think about it.

If psychiatric problems, such as addictions, anxiety, and depression, have a spiritual root, then talk therapy and medication can only ease the pain; they cannot solve the problem. A solution requires dealing with the root cause.⁠1

God’s Love

Because we are created in the image of God and are commanded to love him and only him, God’s jealousy is part of his care for us. The Jewish daily prayer, known in Hebrew as the Shema (the name), goes like this: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5) Loving God above all else serves to vaccinate us from some serious problems.

Reclaiming Lost Transcendence

The problem of lost transcendence arises because the world screams at us and attempts to drown out the still, small voice of God. Although God has created us and, in sending Jesus Christ to die for ours, has saved us, we need to make room in our lives—both mind and body—to hear God’s voice. 

The whole point of the spiritual disciplines is find space in our lives for God. It is possible to “fake it until you make it” with spiritual disciplines, but this is actually a fool’s errand because God stands outside of time and space—he can approach us but we, being limited in time and space, cannot bridge the gap on our own. Bridging the gap is the work of Christ.

In some sense, our faith in Christ gives us the strength to pursue the spiritual disciplines. The Apostle Paul writes:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

When we express faith in this way, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and bridges the gap through out faith in Jesus Christ. Transcendence becomes a reality when we experience salvation and we find a firm identity in Christ.

Footnotes

1 May (1988, 14-16) defines addiction as: “A state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire” and specifically relates it to idolatry.

References

Bernstein, Lenny. 2018. “U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I.” Washington Post. November 29.

Giglio, Louis. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers.

Hoekema, Anthony A. 1994. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Mason, Karen. 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

May, Gerald G. 1988. Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High.” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

Transcendence and Identity

Also See:

Value Of Life

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