Saturday, February 04, 2012

Faith, Passivity, and Self-sufficiency

Psalm 23 is a favorite for many.  It paints a vivid picture of the Lord as our Shepherd and us as His helpless, dumb sheep.  He leads us.  He protects us.  He guides us.  He cares for us.  Beautiful.  Comforting.  Calming...

I remember listening to a lecture by a Christian counselor who used what he called the "anti-Psalm-23" to illustrate our sinful tendency toward self-sufficiency.  "I am my shepherd... and I shall want..."  It didn't sound too good.  It sounded very painful.

Yet I have learned much in the past years.  Troubles in life are great teachers.  I have learned that just as it is painful to try to be your own shepherd and take life on by yourself, it is also painful (and disillusioning) to live passively -sitting there in a slump, begging God to break in and do something, to change something, to make all the bad things go away, to clear up all the dysfunctional situations, and to zap me and make me feel like a strong, able person with hope.

What I realized is that both avenues are really attempts to control things, and both are destructive.  The self-sufficient person takes everything he wants and lives as though there is no god.  He sacrifices his heart and becomes a narcissistic despot of his own realm.  This is pretty easy to see, especially for Christians.

But the passive person appears more "spiritual" while treating God like his mommy.  He takes no responsibility for his life.  He sits back and sucks his thumb, waiting for God to make everything better, secretly demanding that God take care of it all, and resenting God when God doesn't fix everything... or even seem to answer at all.  He lives in doubt, wondering if God is even there, wondering how to piece reality together, wondering how God could let his life get so bad.  He gets to blame God while avoiding making difficult decisions and living with the consequences, good or bad.  He gives up life in order to live in a prison of his own making and secretly blame God and others.  It is his veiled protest of rage against the life he has, which he cannot control in all its deep pain and trouble, and it is ironically his curse.

Could it be that what we need is both prayerful, trusting dependence on God and an active stance towards life an people -like Jesus, *"taking this sinful world as it is", and yet taking responsibility for our life and decisions and facing life as autonomous creatures in this world, yet knowing that we do not face these things alone and that one day all will be made right?  Yes, I think so.  Self-sufficiency is not the answer.  It is foolish to live like there is no God.  Yet passivity is not the answer, either.  It is just as foolish, and defeated, to live as though we can abdicate responsibility for our lives to our big Mommy in the sky.  God wants us to be prayerful, trusting creatures who also stand on their own two feet and take life as it comes to them.

*from the "serenity prayer"

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