Thursday, October 18, 2012

SINS AND ADDICTIONS...notes to Edward Fudge Dec 1, 2009...edited Oct 18, 2012

This is an essay regarding the topics of  'Sin' and 'Addiction.'  I am responding to my friend's effort to be of email help to a person who is experiencing being very trapped is some behavior that he cannot overcome. This essay touches on very sensitive areas of  personal life and religion. I suggest the reader first read the two statements of Edward fudge at the end of the blog before reading my responses. I know this is not an easy read but it is about something that effects all of us and our pursuit of happiness.

Edward, I know you have more to say but you begin by assuming the man has not done what you suggest. He seems to be telling you up front that he has. This very kind of  problem is faced by untold numbers, including sincere Christians. They need to be given something different than 'if you sincerely pray ENOUGH  it will go away?'  I wonder about the strategy of trying to help him without even knowing what specifically he is dealing with. To tell him he is not yet repentant enough is very likely inappropriate or he would not be consulting you. There is a very good chance, as a religious person, he may be experiencing a part of his humanity that is not actually sinful, but God made, but which his religion has misinterpreted. You know the chance is very high he is dealing with some sexual issue. Orthodox Christianity  has an absolutely horrible record in this area, even to the point that many are driven to suicide feeling such a failure at getting God's help.  I'd say the sexual experiences that  Christian influenced men suffer with most commonly are pornography, so called 'adultery of the heart' and homosexual thoughts or practice. These people need far more accurate psychological/spiritual information and  very different advice than agreement with their sinful self diagnosis. They do not need to be told  they need to try harder or pray longer.  Edward, the ship is in the harbor and some traditional Christian  teachings are at a total and  fearful loss I think. *

 I agree with  the appeal to God,  ' You must empower me for I cannot  alone take control of myself.' This is in line with Jesus suffering prayer of ,'Take this cup from me yet your will, not just mine, be done.' But the question is what exactly is the form and avenue of such power? And How does one actually best cooperate with it?

I nearly want to say 'How dare you?'  to this statement. “All you need to do is to bring the temptation to God and submit your will to his Holy Spirit with a prayer that he take control...When followed, it is always effective.” This potentially sets him up for unending repeated failure. Even an animal will quit pulling the chain that offers no food. It tends to be extremely condescending and I would think you would know this man may be far more spiritually sincere, honest and heroic than many who do not have his issues. But again my hunch is  that he needs to get a straightened out definition of exactly what is sin and what isn't in his own situation. That is the place to start with a person who has become this neurotic and desperate. Can the traditional church help him at all is the question he brings to you or any who hear him.

Please do not misunderstand me. I actually 'believe' that your instruction is true at a profoundly deep level. But as a formula it becomes a much too simplified instruction and likely of little help.( In many settings the surrender can be to some one else's religious belief which does not empower the person but adds another dependency. But such a spiritual surrender is potentially  the strongest statement of human independence and empowerment imaginable.) ** By making it a one size fits all  formula it oversimplifies what such a direction will entail for any given person. It may involve them outgrowing old beliefs that are keeping them guilt-bound but which they have felt before were 'God's law or God's judgment.' To be of help to some people the 'helper' will need to be willing to support them in such changes. Often 'helpers' must have a maturity that sets aside or is willing to question their own imperfect beliefs if they are to be an actual help to the person who is opening themselves up to a purposely 'indefinite' higher power. This 'undefined higher power' of Alcoholics Anonymous is a very important and intentional concept. When you suggest for a person to 'submit to the Holy Spirit' it opens up the possibility that one will discover in their healing process a quite different definition of God and of interpretations of scripture etc. than was, unconscious to them, supporting their addiction. Any such change requires significant courage and it requires coaurge of any one who would 'help' them as well. It very likely may lead the person to some kind of professional counseling support and possibly the monitored use of some medications. Surely the Holy Spirit has a an unlimited repertoire of tools for the trusting person to discover. If the path is truly successful it will likely involve their learning much more about their inner life and finding some meaning as to why they were prone to falling into some destructive addictive behavior. I'm convinced that many addictions are only the symptom  of some who are destined to greater spiritual growth than ordinary. Growth that others who never get disenchanted with life enough to be pushed to find deeper levels of spiritual awareness. So neither condemnation or sympathy is  what the addicted person needs. H/she may be far ahead of the rest of us in ways we may have not  imagined. We should be ready to be humbled if we are going to know well the world of an addict.

My greatest fear is that you are unintentionally  teaching him about a very 'works', self-will, rational , religious approach to the most real and irrational spiritual issues of his life. He is at a cross roads. You and I both believe  God's grace is the only answer. And I do believe it is available.  But in our desire to help with problems that are beyond our actual understandings we are  always at risk  of resorting to a  'works' program.  I do not question for a moment your loving desire to help answer this man's question. It is a daunting one for anyone to approach.

I follow your intent, appreciate it  and actually agree with it but in a more indirect way. I  have had times when circumstances intervened to keep me from breaking a moral law and even make it easy for me to do the right thing and I attribute that to the Spirit's guidance. But that is not always the case with any of us. There are some observations I would add.  I used to work with alcoholics and problem drinkers in a DUI  program.  We all agreed that we did not want them to continue to suffer the downside of  alcohol abuse.  Some were able in  a very rational way to decide on their own will that it was in their best interest to  simply never take a drink. And then they began to find ways to cope when that urge or temptation appeared. But for many a more spiritually based approach is needed to overcome an addiction. And for them they are likely to begin the spiritual quest of their lifetime. I personally experienced  a combination of self will and a surprising  unaccountable, to me, success at not smoking  a first whole day  on my way to  becoming a non smoker. I also used the knowledge and technology of  nicotine patches.  But what was most important I did not do any of it with the idea that  as a smoker or non smoker I was more accepted by God.  It all came down to a kind of self interest  and desire to not have the down side  effects of smoking and a confidence that I would be 'helped from within'  to stop the destructive habit .  I was dealing with the facts, the biological facts regarding smoking, what it did and didn't do and the theological facts( as I understood them) regarding the security of my standing with the ultimate Sacred.  This way if I failed it was not the end of who I was or of my integrity before God.

In matters of 'sexuality and love' it becomes far more complicated. In fact many who become addicted to drugs or food  or work etc. are dealing at a deeper level with love, intimacy and sexuality issues. Here the Real Facts are totally essential or one stays lost. That is why I've said that often times  our religious interpretations have played a terrible trick on us by our not being clear about the facts. One needs to know what in their thought and behavior is actually sinful (harmful to self or others) and what they have simply been falsely educated to believe is sinful. I find that many things have been interpreted as sinful that simply are not.  An example is the forbidding of young people to dance. I would have been a much healthier youth if I had been taught and encouraged to dance, dance dance. 

 Basically where I have come to  regarding the sexual  and love issues is  that 1. No sexual fantasy is sinful. In fact to play life honestly one needs to clearly  know and own his/her sexual fantasies with nothing forbidden, enter into them and know that all such thoughts and images are very naturally human, thus have come from the ultimate God. If such fantasies acted out would bring harm to  oneself or to others than such fantasies need special attention but not to be denied or condemned.  A common addiction today involves obsessively  viewing pornography. One common scenario is that a man has been taught so strongly that inner sexual fantasy and imagination is sin in itself. Carrying that erroneous belief unchallenged his interest in pornography becomes compulsive and obsessive. That is when his actual problem began. Now he has lost all sense of inner freedom and autonomy for his life. He was trying to deny as sinful  something that is a natural harmless human experience at the start.  For him a serious objective  look at the meaning of natural, and not in themselves sinful, fantasies can release him from such obsessive behavior.  2. One has to be willing to run the risk of breaking  conventional moral law. Pauls 'living by faith not by sight or flesh alone'  requires such a drastic and courageous disposition. Fear of doing wrong is not a good enough reason or emotion to embrace if we are to  actually use our 'issues' as stepping stones to spiritual growth. Martin Luther once quipped , “ Pray and sin on bravely.' We need to have the courageous attitude that  if being labeled a 'sinner' or heretic is what is required of me than such a sinner or heretic I will humbly be.  Jesus is depicted on numerous occasions breaking the conventional religious rules of his community. We speak of Jesus being 'sin for us.' Sometimes we need to realize that we may have to take on the consequences of  personal 'sin' if we are to in the end be whole  and complete. Please understand, never should breaking any social or religious code be taken lightly or without a willingness to bear the consequences. This is perhaps the heaviest of all genuinely religious conversations for it has to do with the meaning of spiritual freedom and responsibility**  that Jesus said he 'indeed' wanted for people to experience. This is truly an adult conversation.

What I've said in the above paragraph sometimes comes across as somewhat heretical to the typical religious person who is so protective of his/her own moral state that they are unwilling , if necessary, to have the stain of sin on their own hands. This easily results in a dishonest evaluation of oneself and a superior attitude toward ones who are considered 'real' sinners. I know of persons who having taken on the willingness of being 'sinner' if required and who claimed such responsible 'freedom from rule' regarding complicated issues of love and sexuality. They have reported instances of being  'rescued' by circumstances  from  destructive sinful behavior  by an unexpected path simply  opening up. This was when they honestly and courageous followed life, not by moral effort  or loyalty to arbitrary law, but from genuine personal meaning and responsible honesty. So if they had not been willing to be 'marked as a sinner' they would never have experienced such amazing grace.  Now you can see that such an approach to the personal sin problem is very hard to teach  and is open to much misunderstanding in the typical religious/social environment.(This is the kind of misunderstanding Paul speaks of when he says he knows he will be accused of  saying , 'Let us sin that grace may abound.' Such ground regarding personal  moral issues must be tread if the teaching is to be adequate and effective.) I strongly believe that such spiritual attitudes urgently need to be taught in the post- modern church and culture. I would be prepared to offer such thought to your  questioner, if I sensed he was at that stage of spiritual need and preparation to responsibly consider such 'radical' freedom, which I understand to be at the heart of gospel 'good news.'**

Does this make any sense to you? It is simply what  I understand  as the practical path to what you are saying about the overcoming of sin and how God helps the mortal with that process. Without genuine risk there is no genuine growth is how I might say it.   Spirituality is not about being safe , it is about being  honest, and whole or as Jesus said in King James language 'perfect.'   Blessings, Jim

On Tue, 1 Dec 2009 19:40:57 -0600 "Edward Fudge" <> writes:
I think honesty is very important.  I don’t know any way to think that committing sin (whatever it  might  be, but something clearly such) is a good thing.

Thanks  Edward for the response. I fully agree. Sin is not a good thing. It is bad. But evil is so intrinsically a part of  ALL of creation that simply being against sin is not sufficient, not in our day.  We can't get by with only 'safe', and what easily become dishonest, ways of approaching it. It just seems to me that Good is not able to show itself without its contrast to evil. So good is in a sense dependent on the reality of evil in order to be recognized, just as darkness gives all meaning to light.  This all implies that being fully and keenly  aware of real evil turns out to be more important than the battle to defeat it. This reality needs to be a part of our strategy, of Christian strategy, for overcoming evil with good. We simply do not get to have 'clean hands' while letting only others be the 'real sinners' in this world.  My words before are my effort to explain what the practical meaning of that looks like in human life.  That view is not , on the surface, pleasant or pleasing or clear.  But it is more whole and complete than the typical dualism in which Western people have learned to live. It is simply not as simple, as dualistic, as Christian theology has generally presented  it. The Christian mystics, even Origen who I think escaped church persecution,   through the centuries have tried to give a more  honest view of these matters and often were persecuted for heresy.  Another way of looking at this is that we are likely  more sinful than we are aware, yet some  good comes from us. I'm only suggesting that we truly be more aware of our own sin and how we do not escape it more than others and then a more high and  healthy good will come from us by God's grace.  The Eastern idea of  full 'mindfulness' is the spiritual discipline that I am stressing, honest mindfulness.  Mindfulness embraces more fully the inconsistencies and  imperfections and sin that is a part of life, not denying anything is its goal. This simply has not been stressed in Christian orthodoxy.  Denial of evil  and a 'split view' of reality have often been the standard and norm.  I think the emphasis I'm suggesting  is contained in the Biblical Christ story. But it has not yet been fully seen and realized. The time has come for a more complete view of who we are as individuals and as a nation or culture. If the Spirit of Jesus is living, which I as a Christian believe, he is always becoming something more and different than what we have seen so far. Religion, like science but in matters of faith, is  primarily about seeking seeking truth not defending it.   Blessings, Jim

The reader may  be interested in the blog posts:
*Whatever Happened To Sin:;postID=8185071423540450018
**Responsible Human Freedom:

> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
> When we stumble in our struggle against sin, it is frustrating,
> demoralizing and  ineffective for someone to tell us to "try
> harder." Our problem is not lack of effort but lack of will. It is
> easy to say No to something we do not desire. God is able to change
> our will, to make us want to do what pleases him (Jer. 31:31-34;
> Psalm 110:3; Phil. 2:13).
> When we want to do what is wrong, our best course of resistance is
> not to grit our teeth, tighten our muscles and try harder. It is to
> surrender our will to God, asking him to make us want to do, at
> that moment, what pleases him. As we do that, God fulfills in us the
> righteous demands of his law -- not through our own resolve and
> effort but through his Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).
> The prayer in the previous gracEmail is one way of surrendering our
> will to God when we are tempted. It is not a magic formula, and its
> precise wording is not important. It is merely a device to help us
> put solid biblical principles into actual practice.

On Sun, 29 Nov 2009 05:06:01 -0500 "Edward Fudge" <> writes:
> (gracEmail list) our struggle with sin (1)
> Edward Fudge
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
> A  minister writes that he has struggled many years to overcome a
> particular sin. "I have read, prayed, confessed, wept bitterly, and
> even shared it with a close brother," he writes  -- "all to no
> avail." Finally, he resigned his pulpit and found other employment.
> Can I offer any encouragement?
> *          *         *
> Jesus died for sinners. I am very thankful for that, because I am
> one of those sinners. Jesus died, not only to forgive us, but also
> to liberate us from sin's power and to deliver us from its
> practice. Yet I have found it impossible to resist sin by my own strength.
> Like quicksand, sin seems to increase its grip the more I struggle.
> But God can do what I cannot do. All I need to do is to bring the
> temptation to God and submit my will to his Holy Spirit with a
> prayer that he take control. Such a prayer goes something like
> this, on a repeated basis, as often as needed.
> "Lord, I have this struggle against [name the sin involved]. I
> cannot resist it in my own power. No matter how I determine in
> advance, when the moment comes, I find myself wanting to do the
> forbidden thing. I cannot desire to do the right thing myself.
> Lord, I honestly do WISH to DESIRE to do the right thing. I am WILLING to
> desire to do the right thing. But you must empower me to have a
> godly desire when temptation comes. I yield my WILL to you. At this
> moment, please give me the desire to do what pleases you."
> This approach involves trusting, not trying -- and, when followed,
> it is always effective. This request expresses God's will for his
> children, and he will always respond to this request with
> supernatural strength and grace. For "though the body is dead
> because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness."
> And since "the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells
> in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to
> your mortal body through his Spirit who indwells you" (Rom.
> 8:10-11).

The reader may  be interested in the blog posts:
*Whatever Happened To Sin:;postID=8185071423540450018
**Responsible Human Freedom:


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