Oppressive Christianity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAm I the only one who questions the motives and truth of their Christianity constantly? Not that I don’t believe I’m saved, and not that I even necessarily question my love for God. It’s just, well, you’ve probably heard me say it. Did I respond the right way? Did I fail Jesus? Sure, He can work without me, but am I allowing Him to work through me?  Do I know God intimately? Why do I keep disobeying?

I’m not perfect. Jesus love is not conditional. Those are the two refutations I tell myself. See, as usual I know the answers…in my head. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty, not at all. One thing I’ve found: guilt and joy don’t mix. So I beat myself up because I want to live for God. And, you know all my discussion about teachers lately? Well, even after the good teachers I feel guilty. The list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots grows longer as we examine each verse deeper, and I am responsible for disobeying when I know the rules.

Maybe I shouldn’t examine situations too hard. It’s the motives that count, right? But the truth is, I question the godliness of my motives too.  Maybe you’ll say “Christ’s blood covers all.” I know that, and I believe it to be true. But I don’t want to disappoint Him again. Every one knows guilt based relationships aren’t healthy, me included. But I can’t stop. Every book, every verse, every sermon makes me question more. It hurts. I see the joy in the  new Christians’ eyes, and I envy them. I used to have that. I didn’t used to question what it meant to be a Christian. It used to be so simple.

One thing I know, Christianity isn’t supposed to be like this. It isn’t supposed to be oppression by questions, and it definitely isn’t supposed to be a struggle to be good enough. Am I doing hard things? Am I a follower or a fan? These are good movements, but when I have (or even feel vaguely as if I might have) the wrong answers to those questions the cloud of disappointment haunts me. I know  I can’t change those answers by myself.  I know I’m supposed to lean on Jesus, but that’s easier said than done. See why I feel unfit to minister?

I know the truth, but I want to really know the truth. I want to know it fully enough that it sets me free. Head and heart knowledge differ vastly. I want to know truth in my heart. I want to feel joy again. So, I’ll selfishly (Sigh, I’m examining motives again.) ask you to pray for me. I feel like I’m suffocating in disappointment and failure, and I want to breath the fresh air of redemption.

Categories: My Life, Ponderings, rants | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Oppressive Christianity

  1. I agree with you and see the struggles you are going through. It helps to see what God has actually done for us first, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. It is God’s grace that helps me see the joy in life and see the beauty of our redemption..

  2. Martin luther said “Grace is freely given to the most undeserving and unworthy, and is not obtained by any strenuous efforts, endeavours or works.” You have been covered by the grace of God, and though it may be hard to feel at times (I certainly know so often that it is hard) it is true! No matter how it may be, our sin has been covered by the overabundant power of him that works in us, Jesus Christ. Paul tells us, that there is “no condemnation for those who are in christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

    May the peace of Christ rule in your heart, that peace, not as the world gives, but from him who is the source of true peace.

    • Thank you so much for your encouragement, it means much to me. And thanks for visiting my blog. I hope to see you back here again.

  3. I wrote all of this was extreme haste. Some coherence may be lacking as a result, with ideas handle in an incomplete manner, and various odd grammatical and spelling mistakes. If anything is utterly confusing or if you would like to follow up on a point, please do. But as it stands for the moment…

    I must preface my comments by saying that your post remarkably articulates a lot of what I struggle with, so my response to you is not as someone speaking from “the other side” who has conquered the things you wrestle with. Rather, what I have to say is from someone who is right down in the trenches as you are. If me having it all together and feeling all the right things at this moment was the prerequisite to me ministering to you, then I would have to keep my mouth shut. But God gives grace, and so I will speak from my brokenness, and you can too.

    I don’t think there is a neat little answer which you can grasp which will resolve all of this for you so that you can, as it were, “get on with your life.” But I do think it is a good issue to think about, wrestle with, and talk about, so I will gladly share my thoughts in response to you sharing yours. I think to a large extent what you articulate is the struggle of life and while maturity will temper it, and spiritual growth will give you a greater sense of freedom, you will not be rid of it this side of glory. There is a reason we groan in these bodies. That is a strong term. Think about that. What kind of emotional state does that bring to mind? Does that convey how you are feeling right now? Paul uses the term repeatedly to speak of our present state in these bodies (Rom. 8:23, 2 Cor. 5:2,4). It is a reality that cannot be escaped. It would be dishonest to pretend that you were not groaning, and it would be wrong to stifle your groaning as if it were somehow an unnatural thing. Groan, and long for your new body and the new creation.

    Am I the only one who questions the motives and truth of their Christianity constantly?” This is a common struggle for anyone who takes seriously the words, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) The reality of this can be incredibly dismaying. I find it very discouraging.

    Of course, it is also said, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” The end of the matter always rests in the Lord’s hands, and that is very, very, important, as we shall see.

    Paul puts an even finer point on the manner when he says,

    “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

    Meditate on that. It is such an easy passage to read over, and yet stop a moment. I do not judge myself, Paul says. What? Say that again–This is one of the most spiritual men to walk the earth short of Jesus himself and he says, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” It doesn’t? Come on, man! You’re the apostle Paul. If your conscience isn’t grounds for you to feel good about yourself, what about the rest of us?

    Exactly the point. If Paul says that about himself, one of the greatest and wisest and most mature followers of Christ, what should we conclude about ourselves? Our judgment, perception, and conscience are a poor measure to determine the matter of our standing with God. We want to have the inside scoop, but Paul tells us that is reserved for God to reveal at His coming. We do not, ultimately, commit ourselves to our conscience, but rather to the mercy, grace, and perfect judgments of God.

    Based upon what Paul has said, we can conclude that chasing the tail of our conscience is ultimately a fruitless exercise. If we ever reach a place where we finally feel utterly good about our conscience–that doesn’t make us any less guilty than the man wracked with a bad conscience. This doesn’t mean we should ignore our conscience, but it does inform on what basis we stand in that regards. When we deal with our conscience (whether it is feeling particularly good or bad in any given day) it should be on the basis of who God is (merciful, compassionate, loving, faithful) and not on the basis of who we are in ourselves, or what we think about ourselves.

    not that I even necessarily question my love for God” To give a small personal digression here, the issue of love is where I took the blow. It wasn’t all at once that it coalesced–perhaps it was over the course of several years–but the end result was an overwhelming sense of the hypocrisy of my love. That is my current battleground. (Or one of many, I suppose.) I think there are a number of reasons, and aspects, that could be focused upon. Pertinent to the current discussion, I think I had grown comfortable in my love. Perhaps proud. Of course I didn’t think that, but I think God saw into my heart and allowed me to be assailed with this sense of the hypocrisy of my own love wherein everything that I told myself was the product of my good love appeared to me as the product of nothing more than my self-gratifying, self-interested, self-serving, and self-centered love. The epitome of idolatry.

    Now if you had quizzed me at any point prior to this, or during this process, I could have given you all the right answers about how there is nothing good in any of us, and all good things come from God, including love, and we cannot love of ourselves but only God in us. And so on. I had all the right facts in my head, but I think often it is when we rest so confidently in the facts in our head that our feet become most ready for the snare. I could have told you all of the right facts like a great theologian, but in the deepest black little part of my heart there was growing a seed of pride and confidence in my own love. Sure, I wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes. But I loved. In some deep recess of my being, denied even to myself, I compared my love to the world–and I patted myself on the back. I thought I had standing with God because of how much I loved.

    And that wasn’t good. So God, in His goodness, brought discipline in to my life.

    The sense of the hypocrisy of my love (my conduct, my thinking, my motivations and desires–it cuts to the heart of all life) was overwhelming, staggering. To look around at what motivated me and seeing only the basest motivations was shattering, and provoked the most intense and wrenching feelings of self-revulsion, disgust, and sickening self-loathing. It was spiritually devastating, and still have not put the experience behind me. Without love we are nothing (1 Cor. 13:2) and I felt like nothing. It is a horrible, alienating feeling–worse because it feels like an alienation from all that is God, all that is good. If my love was hypocrisy it was all that God was not. I had nothing left. Without love, every deed, every thought, every motivation became but corrupted filth. Instead of the pure love for God, it was the corrupted love of self, the heart of idolatry.

    I am not saying that my sense of the hypocrisy of my love was entirely correct. If you recall the first part of what I have said in this comment then you remember Paul’s admonishment that our judgment is not the final or accurate one. God in His infinite wisdom and mercy knows what in my life has been motivated by His love, and what has been motivated by my sins. I am not able to sort it all out and tally it all up. But there is one perspective in which the vision of the hypocrisy of my love was entirely correct–and that is my love, and my conduct, apart from Jesus Christ working in me. Apart from the Spirit of Christ in me, all of my love is the very vile thing that I beheld. I can bring nothing to the table, and have no grounds for confidence or boasting in myself. It is the love of Christ poured out in my (our) heart(s) that makes all the difference. Then we act not in the confidence of our love, but in faith in God and His love working through us.

    But this perspective isn’t comfortable. It doesn’t allow one to rest in oneself. Faith, as we know, is not sight. My eyes see the rank sin of my motivations and I cannot–by some mighty effort of self-will–make my motivations and person better. But faith says “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philp. 2:12-13). At the end of the day it is not supposed to be a matter of my confidence in myself and who I am in myself, but rather my confidence in God, and who He has declared himself to be, and what He has promised.

    I’m not done with this struggle, not by a long shot. A bit of distance, much prayer, and God’s gracious work has given me enough to share the above insight, but the learning is not done. I still shudder when I view my life from the perspective of my own motivations, and wrestle with the whole wanting to walk in the self-congratulatory sense of my own great love. But at least I think (I hope) that I am coming to a better realization of resting in the love of God–not only for me personally, but also as working through me. And recognizing the integral part of faith in that–stripped naked of all that I think I have–and also the reality of in all things “walking humbly before my God” (Micah 6:8). I am sure I will stumble in this way many times yet but as God has been with my I trust He will be with me and will work the things in my life for His glory.

    Okay, end of digression. Perhaps you can see some parallels with your own struggles.

    Did I respond the right way? Did I fail Jesus?” Based on some past comments you’ve made, I think you and I share a personality trait of wanting to get every answer right on the test. (In fact, if my memory serves, the very first comment you left on my blog was on a post regarding that issue.) Not only do both of us have the perfectionist attitude of wanting to get everything right on the test but we also want to know exactly what we got wrong (if–heaven help us–we get something wrong!) and why we got it wrong so that we can marshal our resources to get it right next time. I think in our better moments both of us probably can take a step and laugh at ourselves and our psychotic nature in regards to those every day (and ultimately not very important) tests of schoolwork. The thing is, that same attitude carries over into spiritual matters. I think you, like me, go over the events of your day, or week, and try to “grade” yourself. Did I get an 85 on today? Or was it 95? And why did I get that part wrong? Which part did I get wrong? How can I do better? Why didn’t I do better? And on and on it goes. Not only do we want to know how good we did but we want to know exactly what we got wrong, and how to fix it. Do better on the next test, and all that. I want to be able to finish out my week and hike up my pants, smack my lips in self-satisfaction and say, “Whelp, I got a 95 on this week, which wasn’t too bad, but I’ll try to get a 100 on next week.” It’s embarrassing because when put in black and white terms its so blatantly wrong–and yet I have to admit it is precisely how I feel. (Except, I never feel like I’ve actually managed anything close to a 95 on a week, much less a day!) I want to get 100 on the test of life! I want to know exactly how well I did, I want to do perfect, and I want to feel good about it. And if I don’t do perfect I’ll feel ashamed and guilty because I didn’t live up to that perfect 100 on the test.

    But, as I have already pointed out, God (through Paul) has made it clear that He isn’t revealing the “grading” for anything before the end of the “school year.” So you’re not going to know exactly how well you did on the “pop quiz” also known as Wednesday the 26th of June 2013. This isn’t by accident. Not knowing is intrinsically part of the walk of faith. Yes, it is. The snare in me rested in my own sense of my love. When that shattered I felt destitute, but God reminded me that resting in His love was my place. But I still wanted for Him to show me exactly where my sinful false love was, and where His pure love was. I wanted things laid out clearly. But God reminded me that it was not for me to know and judge all, but to trust Him with both the work and the judgment. So I can’t rid myself of hypocritical love, nor know precisely the currents of God’s gracious love working through me in spite of my sin. It is by faith we live, and that means surrendering such things into the hands of God.

    Did I fail Jesus? you ask. He is infinitely holy God. If you’re going to place him on one side of the table and you on the other–then yes, you’ve failed. Your ability to measure up to the standards of an infinitely holy God is so bad you can imagine, you can’t even begin</em to conceive of how badly you've blown it. But the reality is that you are never sitting on one side of the table and Jesus on the other. The glorious hope of the gospel is Christ in us. So it is, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13)

    am I allowing Him to work through me? Do I know God intimately? Why do I keep disobeying?” I struggle with this also. You ask rhetorical questions, so obviously I’m not intending to answer these directly. Somewhat the answer to the issue behind these rhetorical questions would depend on the nature of the disobedience you wrestle with. Wanton major sin as the background for this question would get a different response than if such was provoked by the fact that you snapped at your brother this morning, or were grumpy when you got out of bed. There is a difference (though it can be hard to see sometimes) between living a life in open rebellion against God, and (on the other hand) being His less-than-perfect servant. In a sense repentance and faith is the answer in either case, but the application would be slightly different. But in any case, the chronic, sometimes daily, failures and sins of my life provoke these very same questions. And, I suppose, in a certain measure it is good they do. But we shouldn’t stop with those questions, but rather continue on to Jesus. More could be said.

    I’m not perfect. Jesus love is not conditional. Those are the two refutations I tell myself. See, as usual I know the answers…in my head. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty, not at all.” Part of the issue here is that the two refutations you give–as true as they are–do not, in themselves, offer any basis for not feeling guilty. You’re not perfect and Jesus loves you unconditionally–so why not sit at his feet all day bawling your eyes out from the guilt of not being worthy of that unconditional love? As far as you’ve carried the thought–in this writing–that seems like a perfectly logical and acceptable conclusion. To address the issue of your guilt (or whatever is underlying it) I think you need to grasp some further truth.

    One thing I’ve found: guilt and joy don’t mix. So I beat myself up because I want to live for God. And, you know all my discussion about teachers lately? Well, even after the good teachers I feel guilty. The list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots grows longer as we examine each verse deeper, and I am responsible for disobeying when I know the rules.” It is almost staggering how closely your articulation here mirrors the very mindset I struggle with. I know that mindset isn’t right, you know that mindset isn’t right. So here is some of my thinking on the topic:

    I think we both know there is a distinction between Godly guilt (the conviction of the Spirit) and worldly guilt (the accusation of Satan). The former leads to repentance and life, the latter leads to despair and death. An important question is certainly which type of guilt we are talking about. If it is the latter type from Satan, then the scripture from Roman’s referenced by Hutima in the previous comment is very pertinent. One could go on at some length down that trail but for this present comment I’ll leave Hutima’s mention as sufficient.

    But let’s look at it from the perspective of guilt as accurate (ie, Spirit’s conviction). While you are quite correct that guilt and joy don’t mix, they are (when Spirit fueled things) both rightfully part of the same healthy life. Guilt proceeds joy. For the Christian it is first we experience guilt, then we experience repentance/forgiveness, and lastly as a result of that we experience joy. So while you are right that guilt and joy don’t mix, they do have a right and proper relationship. This side of heaven I think our daily reminders of sin/repentance/forgiveness are reminders and sweet refreshers of our joy at the forgiveness and cleansing we have in Jesus.

    All of that is true, but it is looking at the matter from perhaps a bit of an “abstract” perspective. It is also possible that a more immediate issue is that the teaching in question is a bit off kilter so that your thoughts are directed in a wrong direction. By this I mean it is possible for someone to teach true things about God, but present them wrongly so they come to their listeners as duty rather than delight–which then translates into guilt rather than joy. So it is possible than these good teachers are teaching true things in a poor/bad way and so causing what should be delight to instead come as guilt–or it is possible they are teaching true things well and it is your ears that need to be “improved” in their hearing, so to speak.

    In either how the teacher is presenting the material, or how you are hearing it, something definitely seems to be amiss because the language you used to express the matter is classically the language of legalism and law, not grace. “The list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots grows longer […] and I am responsible for disobeying when I know the rules” Now in my fleshly nature I am inclined to be a self-justifying law-keeping legalist so those words and ideas seem like old friends. I will say that going deeply into Scripture and drawing out and meditating upon the awesome holiness of God is a wonderful thing–and guilt can be a very appropriate part of that. In some sense one might say that any presentation of God in scripture should lead us through guilt-repentance-joy. So being faced with guilt in a study of scripture is not a bad thing. But if you find yourself perennially stuck on the guilt note, something isn’t right.

    I smell a rat.

    Since I don’t know the teaching in question, nor how you are hearing it, I cannot comment on particulars. I will say that in general the language of “list-command-rules” is typically inappropriate for speaking about the life Christians ought to live. That was the language of God’s relationship with the Israelites who in their covenant were under law, not grace. Yes, I am aware of occasions where Paul might use the word “command” or some such but I am speaking about the general tenor and flow of NT teaching. To sum up in quick form Paul lays out two contrasting ways: The old way was Law –> Guilt –> Death and the new way was Love –> Joy –> Life. Looked at from that perspective, not only do joy and guilt not mix, but they are part of two entirely different paradigms. Christians should not teach (nor should they be taught) from a “thou shalt / thou shalt not” paradigm of impetus by law. Rather, Christians should teach and exhort one another from a paradigm and impetus of love; it is in love for Christ and God, for what they have done, that impels us, with great joy, to live in the likeness of our Heavenly Father and His only begotten son. It is in revealing who God is and what he has done that a good Christian teacher stirs up the hearts of his listeners to hunger and thirst with great joy to be like their Abba Father. If you do not find the teaching causing your heart to well up in joy and gratitude then either there is some problem with your hearing, or the teaching, for the gospel of God in Christ Jesus is not rule on rule, but love and grace over-abounding.

    “Doing” by our efforts is ultimately a destructive approach. As Paul puts it so powerfully,

    For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philp. 3:3-9)

    The translation of this passage is (unfortunately) softened in the English from its original. The term here translated “rubbish” is in other translations retained as “dung” which is more correct but the full flavor of Paul’s emphasis is most forcefully conveyed with the equally accurate translation of “shit” which in our modern parlance conveys most accurately the utter worthlessness Paul was seeking to convey. (Other words are substituted for the delicate sensibilities of modern readers). Paul is telling his readers that he considers all his perfect keeping of the law to be no more than shit. It’s a hard, shocking, statement–and deliberately so. Paul lays it out so forcefully to show how radically different his position is from those who advocated keeping law with confidence in the flesh.

    Until we consider all our striving, efforts, and law keeping to be no more than shit we haven’t reached the place we need to be. We must cast off what comes from our efforts as so revolting and worthless as excrement and cling to a righteousness not of our own that comes through faith and depends on faith–and that not of ourselves but a gift from God! It upends the paradigm in a way that 1st century Christians struggled to grasp–and we still struggle to grasp even today.

    Maybe I shouldn’t examine situations too hard. It’s the motives that count, right? But the truth is, I question the godliness of my motives too. Maybe you’ll say “Christ’a blood covers all.” I know that, and I believe it to be true.” I think it is not how hard you examine the situation which is the problem, but your motives and your end goal in the examination. If you examined the situations in such a way that caused you to recognize afresh your own inability to see and do rightly and that caused you to rejoice in God’s mysterious work through your brokenness and imperfection–I would say that such was good. But if you are constantly examining things in a quest to justify yourself–conduct, motives, attitude, whatever–that will forever be terribly destructive. It’s not so much what you doing as why you’re doing it.

    As far as the motives being what counts . . . I have shared my struggles to highlight how bad that line of reasoning can become. It seems like such a nice balance to say “Well, I wasn’t perfect but my loving motives are what counts” until the sin of your motives comes to light. Then the house of cards really starts to fall. The conclusion (the right conclusion) is not to try to do more or try harder but rather to surrender–surrender to God. Acknowledge that you cannot do all right, nor even know surely what all right things are, or if you personally have all right motives–but by faith accept that God is faithful, and powerful, and mighty to save. It is believing that in taking these things to Him in prayer He will do right because He is faithful–not in ways you can always see, but you believe anyhow.

    But I don’t want to disappoint Him again. Every one knows guilt based relationships aren’t healthy, me included. But I can’t stop. Every book, every verse, every sermon makes me question more. It hurts. I see the joy in the new Christians’ eyes, and I envy them. I used to have that. I didn’t used to question what it meant to be a Christian. It used to be so simple.” Yes, it hurts. It hurts so bad. But the path to go is not back toward immature joy, but rather forward toward mature joy. Growing hurts. And though it may not be pleasant, it is important to question what it means to be a Christian. The questioning isn’t the problem, so don’t stop that. Don’t ever stop.

    One thing I know, Christianity isn’t supposed to be like this. It isn’t supposed to be oppression by questions, and it definitely isn’t supposed to be a struggle to be good enough” Right. Taking the issue narrowly, I think humility/humbleness with the attendant resting on God allows one to ask questions without being oppressed by them or being dragged into a struggle to be good enough. Simply said, so much more a struggle to do.

    See why I feel unfit to minister?” Yes, I do. And I feel unfit to love, because I see it all corrupted by the hypocrisy of my selfishness. How I shudder, how I tremble. And you know what? You are unfit to minister and I am unfit to love. But God isn’t. And “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” so prayerfully, humbly, you minister and I love, not by our strength or sufficiency but God’s power. Believing that in the face of our insufficiency requires faith.

    Remember the words, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philp. 3:12-14). See, it is Jesus who took hold of you first, and he won’t let go.

    I think, in the end, the answer of how to recapture you joy always, always, will come back around to fixing your eyes on Jesus. So long as your eyes are fixed on what you are doing–or failing to do–despair, depression, and failure will haunt you. But if your eyes become fixed on Jesus and what he is doing–in the world and in you and through you–and if your confidence is not in what you know or have done, or how good you are–but is in Jesus and what he knows, has done, and how good he is–then, and only then, will joy overflow in your life. I struggle with that, but it is the answer and how sweet an answer it is.

    So may you be set free from the suffocating disappointments and failures that come when your eyes are fixed upon yourself. May you come to know the truth, really know it, that you might be set free in redemption and true unspeakable joy that is found in what God has done in Christ Jesus, who is our only hope.

    I say that not only for you on your journey, but also for me on mine. May we both come to know more and more the Joy of Christ. And I will pray for you.

    Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:16).

    I hope some of that was of encouragement to you. I know it is very easy to read what I have written and feel suffocating guilt yet again. Satan waits ready at every opportunity. But if God is gracious you will find something more, something better, in my jumbled words. That is my prayer. It kind of ended up that I wrote all of that for myself as much as for you–to express and coalesce things that have been swirling about in my own mind. I certainly haven’t come to the end of the matter, but that is some of where I am at. I certainly am not fit to minister to you, but–as I said–Jesus is quite fit to minister through the weakest of vessels. And so I have hope. For you. And for me.


    • Yes, of course there is no pat or pretty little answer. Almost no questions worth the asking are easily answerable in my opinion. Groaning is a good word to capture the oppression, and of course I will always groan on this side of Heaven.

      The verses you quote about Paul not judging himself are interesting. I had not pondered that, and it does have merit. As I stated I judge myself far too often. Your comments on conscience are also fascinating to ponder. I have often heard it said that what we frequently call our conscience is the Holy Spirit, or is at the very least used by the Holy Spirit. Your view stands in contrast to that, so it takes a bit to adjust my thinking in order to consider it.

      Now you’re making me question the motive behind my love for God? Ahh! Oh well. What you say is interesting. Thank goodness God hasn’t led to me examining that yet, though I’m sure my motives aren’t entirely pure. Your struggle is interesting, another thing I haven’t considered before. Something to ponder.

      You’re test metaphore is interesting (and utterly correct). What you say regarding the not knowing is true, I’m sure. As I’ve said before, it’s the not knowing that kills me. When should I speak up? When shouldn’t I? I should have said more…but, maybe not.?! That’s the one that’s plaguing me today. I just need to let go, I know.

      I think we both know there is a distinction between Godly guilt (the conviction of the Spirit) and worldly guilt (the accusation of Satan). Yes, but sometimes it is difficult to define that difference. Your note on them both being a part of a healthy walk is valuable. Though my walk is probably off balance to the negative. But then, I’ve always been a pessimist. By the way, it’s not the teacher’s fault the guilt befalls me. It’s just where I am. They are, as I said good teachers, and they are teaching the Bible correctly, but you can turn most anything into a millstone if you try hard enough.

      I think it is not how hard you examine the situation which is the problem, but your motives and your end goal in the examination. This sentence is very true, and is something to think about.

      Thank you for the encouragement. Despite what those foul judgmental (haha, I can question other’s motives too) others say, you’re long post was encouraging. You’re welcome to sort out your thoughts in my comment section any time, just beware that I may return the favor. 😉

      • You’re always welcome to reciprocate . . . you seem pretty good at surviving my pot shots 😀

        I have often heard it said that what we frequently call our conscience is the Holy Spirit, or is at the very least used by the Holy Spirit. Your view stands in contrast to that, so it takes a bit to adjust my thinking in order to consider it.” Yes, though my statement shouldn’t be taken to extremes. It is easy to slip into dualistic thinking, whether it be that intellect is good and emotions bad, or the idea that our conscience is the work of the Holy Spirit while our thoughts are not. I agree wholeheartedly that the Holy Spirit can work through our conscience–but so can Satan. Since so many people seem to have a hard time with that second idea–as if our conscience could only be the ground of the Holy Spirit–I emphasized the point of how very flawed our conscience can be. But that point could be taken to a bad extreme as well. Still, it is amazing how prevalent the idea can become that if your conscience feels it then ergo it must be Spirit sanctified when that isn’t true. The conscience, twisted by sin and our fallen state, can become a horrible form of bondage.

        I think we both know there is a distinction between Godly guilt (the conviction of the Spirit) and worldly guilt (the accusation of Satan). Yes, but sometimes it is difficult to define that difference. Your note on them both being a part of a healthy walk is valuable.” I think you may have simply used that one sentence of mine to quickly reference the larger topic I explored, but as your comment stands it seems to appear that you think I am saying that the accusation of Satan (worldly guilt) plays a part of a healthy walk.

        My larger point was that the accusation of Satan, while a reality we must face in this life beset by sin, is not healthy but rather destructive. By contrast, the conviction of the Spirit and the guilt that brings is a healthy part (and necessary part) of the Christian walk, in conjunction with joy. I read your comment as understanding that distinction, and that you simply were elipictically leaping from one idea to another. But just thought I’d claify.

        You are right it can sometimes be very difficult to define the difference between Spirit’s conviction and Satan’s accusation. I think a growing ability to understand and perceive the difference is part of growing in maturity. So often a mark of an immature Christian is a person wracked by conscience and an inability to see the whispers of Satan for what they are.

        But then, I’ve always been a pessimist.” Me too.

        you can turn most anything into a millstone if you try hard enough.” So true.

        Glad you found some encouragement! And as for those other stalker-ish philistines who question my epic comments–they are motiviated by a compelling need to pick on their brother, which I’m sure you can understand. 😉

        It’s funny, I mentioned to Teman on Saturday the very same thing you said (before I saw your comment response). I told him that if he thought this particular comment was epic he should have seen the ones I left on your post about the role of Women in the Church. That thread will probably be the high water mark in blog comments for awhile….but maybe not forever 🙂 (And it may be that the paper letters I have sent were longer than that comment thread, but who knows…..)

      • lol, we are very judgmental! 🙂

  4. (Good land, Rundy. . .)

    I wished I could link you to the actual song, because I listen to it frequently for comfort. But here’s a link to the lyrics, anyway:


    It’s from Sandra McCracken’s album Feast or Fallow, and it’s called I Glory In Christ. It soothes me.

    • Way to say more in (many) less words.:)

      Seriously, though that song is very encouraging. I have gone back and reread the lyrics several times since you posted them. Thanks for sharing the encouragement!

  5. I came here because I had heard that Rundy left a 11 page comment on a blog post. I suspect that ranks somewhere in the top 10 of his longest blog comments but I can’t be sure. Somebody really should be keeping track for historical purposes.

    Given that Rundy has said enough for 22 normal commentators, I ought to stay silent. But some of the things that you said touched on problems that I have with way that many Evangelical churches do things.

    They always talk about the need to have faith and about the unconditional love Christ, but they tend to neglect….

    For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?

    Evangelicals make such a fetish over the emotional response of those who have been “saved” that they forget parable of the sower. If you remember the parable it was not all those that received the word with great joy that were considered saved. Rather, it was those that bore fruit.

    But all to often it seems as if Evangelicals judge the work of the spirit by feelings they happen to be feeling. When people are happy and the music and preaching really has them worked up, they tell each other that they can really feel the spirit moving. They forget that we are told to test the spirits and not merely feel them. They forget that we are told by Peter that trials come so that our faith might be proved genuine. And of what need to have our faith proved if faith was made up of great joy and good feelings?

    All to often we think that trials and tribulations that occur only in our mind are not real tests but some kind of special manifestation of our own failings. We think that the only trials that count are the ones where we are the victims of other people. But it was not only David who said “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me.” If we participate in the sufferings of Christ (as Peter tells us that we will) we must expect to feel the feeling of abandonment as well as well as the nails.

    We often fall prey to the gnostic idea that metal anguish is somehow in a different category then bodily suffering. But what this idea really says is that we must rely of God to take care of our body but we should be able to handle our thoughts. You don’t really know the meaning of Peter’s command to rejoice in a our suffering until you realize that we are called to rejoice even in our despair. The joy is is found in the fact that our faith is sustained by God even when our feelings cannot sustain it. If our faith relies on our feelings, then our faith is no more than clapping to try to make Tinkerbell live. It is an effort to save ourselves by squeezing our eyes shut and wishing really hard.

    I say these things not because I disagree with what Rundy said per say. At the same time, I think what he said could be taken that the lack of joy is related to failing to keep your eyes on Christ. But it needs to be kept in mind that suffering is an integral part of walking in the footsteps of our Lord. Christ shed his blood by weeping before he shed his blood to the nails. Good feelings are no more a sign of God’s approval then wealth is.

    Speaking of my own life, I have had joy and happiness. And I am grateful for them because I don’t think I could go through life with out them. But joy and happiness only allowed me to rest, they have never caused me to grow. All the growth in my life has been accompanied by pain.

    • Oh, I don’t know if that even makes the top ten. We had a series of post type comments a while back on the role of women in the church (I think there were four-ish?) If you ever decide to keep track, I think that one may be top o’ the list.

      Your exposition on the Evangelical church has merit, though, of course overgeneralizing anything is dangerous. The one time I failed to mention that my feelings don’t make truth any more or less real, and that faith is not based on feelings will be the time someone is looking, and the time it really counts so I appreciate your kind of correcting me on that account. I do usually try to add that disclaimer of sorts to my posts.

      “We often fall prey to the gnostic idea that metal anguish is somehow in a different category then bodily suffering.”
      Hmm, I think I have fallen into that without even realizing it. I’ve never thought of it any other way. Of course I know that all committed Christians feel abandoned sometime, but your dialogue on that is particularly fascinating.

      And finally, your speaking of growing through pain reminds me of your essay The Aesthetic of Despair which Rundy introduced me to. Thanks for writing that excellent piece of literature! Rundy will be getting my response to that soon; if you plead long enough perhaps he will let you see it (I told him he ought to). But for now suffice it to say that it closely explored some subjects that I often explore in my thought life so to speak, and prompted those thoughts to expand. I would be interested to know how you came up with the topic. It is quite unique!

      • I am happy to hear that you appreciate Rundy’s preferred writing style. I can’t help but think of Rundy as being like a large friendly dog on the internet. His good intentions do not stop most people from perceiving him as being threatening when he really gets going.

        The ironic part is that I take how people react to him more to heart then he does. There are several people who have black marks by their names in my little book because of how they reacted to him. I know I should not feel that way and I try not to hold on to those feelings, but even though the bitterness goes away the black mark remains.

        As to your question, there is a simple answer and a complex answer for how I came up with the topic of the The Aesthetic of Despair.

        The simple answer is that I was washing supper dishes and the phrase “Despair has a beauty all its own” popped into my head while I was pondering my life. At the time I was trying to make a habit of writing an essay every month or so (originally goal was every week but I could not hack it). So I decided to write a stream of consciousness post based around the idea that “Despair has a beauty all its own.”

        Obviously the real story is a little more involved and complicated. At the time I wrote “The Aesthetic of Despair” I was going through the worst episode of depression of my life. I was disgusted with my life, disgusted with myself, and I wanted so badly to be disgusted with God.

        I wanted to doubt God’s existence, I wanted to doubt my salvation, and I wanted to doubt that I was where I should be in life. Yet even to try to form these thoughts I would appear ridiculous in my own mind. Even though I was in such a grip of depression that I would sometimes be crying at night for no real reason (and I am not normally prone to crying for any reason) I could not shake the sense of God’s presence. In that presence, the idea of doubting him or the fact that I was where I should be in life seemed ridiculous no matter how much I wanted to salve my depression by being angry with him.

        It was really weird to be strongly aware of God’s presence at the same time as feeling emotionally destroyed. It is not an experience that I think I will ever be able to accurately convey.

        And so I was washing dishes thinking about how I could not express what I was going through to any secular person because all their ideas about curing my condition would revolve around pursuing forms of happiness that had no value to me and could never really address what I longed for. And I really could not express to them the idea of feeling of God’s presence in that kind of despair because to most people despair is something that refutes the idea of God.

        At the same time, I knew that I could never express these types of things to most Christians that I knew. For them, despair would be proof that I needed to change how I was living my life as well. I could not help but feel some bitterness at the idea that most Christians seemed to have the same idea of how I should live my life and what kind of “happiness” was worth pursuing as secular people. The only difference being that they dressed it up in biblical platitudes.

        Lurking in my mind was the irony of the fact that the reality of the presence of God was something that I never felt as clearly as I did in the midst of despair. My personal explanation for that irony was that the sense of presences was there all along. When I was in a better emotional state it was obscured by general sense of well being. It was only with complete destruction of my emotional state was it clearly revealed that my faith was not being sustained by myself. It was not the first time in my life that I experience this phenomenon, but rarely was the example so stark.

        It was while thinking about this while washing dishes that the thought “Despair has beauty all its own” first popped into my head. I tried to shake it at first, as it did not seem quite right. It was what despair revealed that was beautiful, not the despair itself.

        But I could not shake the phrase out of my head and came to the conclusion that all things were ugly unless they revealed the one who is the source of all beauty. And given that Bible often speaks of things as being tested in the flames to reveal what they are, I made the association of despair with flames. And who can deny that flames have beauty all their own? At any rate, that is how I justified a phrase that I could not get out of my mind.

        I will not bore you with a blow by blow account of how I came to write the rest of the essay. It is sufficient to note that unlike almost all my other essays (My Apology being the only other exception that I can think of offhand) I did not start writing it with a clear idea of where I wanted to go or what I wanted to say. My only real goal was to express what I was feeling in an honest way without being open and to express myself in such a way that secular and Christians alike could understand it.

        When I was done with it I half felt like it was my best writing to date and half felt like everyone who read it would find it ridicules. I almost did not even put it up on the web as I had formatting issues and I did feel like fighting with them for something I did not think would be read. But Rundy took the time to resolve all the issues (I don’t remember how long it took him for sure, but I know that at the time it seemed like a lot of time to spend to me).

        Rundy was also the one that found out that the essay had acquired me my 15 minutes of fame. It is silly to think that something that trivial was enough to lift my depression, but it did me a world of good to find out that a lot of people read the essay and liked it. To be sure, a lot of people did find the essay silly, but enough people liked it and read it to make it one of the most popular things I ever wrote. That appreciation came at a good time in my life as you might imagine.

        In spite of the slap dash way that the essay was written my only real regret is the ending. I had a headache when I was finishing the essay up and I was just trying to get it over with. Looking back, I wish I had made the ending more explicitly Christian and I had quoted directly from J.R Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Tales.” The way the ending reads now, you could think that all the stuff I was saying about J.R Tolkien’s works was my own opinion instead of simply putting into my own words to things that he said in that essay. And also, if I had quoted from Tolkien’s explicitly Christian conception of art and what it was supposed to do as he laid it out at the end of “On Fairy Tales” I could have easily lead that into a more explicit expression of my point at the end of the essay.

        Sometimes I think about going back and fixing that, but I think that would probably do more harm than good at this point. It was written at a particular point in my life and it would be like trying to change history to change it now.

        Well, that was a longer explanation then I think you wanted. But the fact that Rundy and I are brothers is not something that can be obscured for long. Even when all you have to go by is writing styles.

      • Well then, I’m quite glad that I have no black mark by my name.

        Your story is amazing and unique. Thank you for sharing!

    • Regrets are so hard to deal with. If only . is something that I can’t seem to stop mylsef from thinking of. It’s so easy for other people to give advice when they have found a way to get over their regrets. But it’s harder for some of us to do. What works for me, once in a while, is when I think about the choices I made that actually turned out okay. I try to focus on a time that I had several paths presented to me and I took the right one. That seems to be the only way I am able to get over some of the things I did or didn’t do and choices I made or didn’t make. I don’t think the guilt ever goes away, it just gets dimmer in my memory.

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