Putting Anxiety in its Place

May 16, 2014 § 2 Comments

As my own anxieties are uncovered lately, I’ve been trying to uncover what really makes me worry, aside from the circumstances of life that at times can seem very heavy. What exactly puts me in a position where I feel I must worry about them? This thinking has resulted in the discovery that, for me, my thinking informs and dictates my emotional response to life’s trials.

Chewed Pencil with path

There’s a lot to be said about the important roles of both your head and your heart and the connection between the two. But what has really helped me is the understanding that what I feel ultimately comes from what I think, so what I think about a situation critically determines whether I will worry about it or not.

Living as a Christian, I have a responsibility to think differently about anxiety than the world does. The world shares certain Biblical principals about anxiety, such as the wisdom of Jesus in Matthew 6:25/Luke 12:25, asking, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” In a practical sense, worrying never helps anything, and most people can get their minds around this.

But what the world does not readily consider is the role of God Himself plays in our anxiety. We have promises in Scripture that speak directly to our worries: The Psalmist wrote “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you…” (Psalm 55:22), and Peter later taught believers to Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Considering that God wants us to trust Him with our anxieties, I have to humbly consider that my anxious self is not giving Him my trust. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel His presence at times. And if I don’t “feel” God, I need to examine how I “think” about Him. He hasn’t gone away and I know this. If I get my thinking right, I can let what I know about God’s control over this world direct how I feel about my control over the world. If we know God is there and cares about us, that should steer our emotions. If our mind is preoccupied with God and less on our own problems, our attention will be on God and how He promises to deal with our problems.

That’s what we can know about God, but what can we know about our anxieties?  “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus promises we will have trouble in this world, but thank God, they are isolated and temporary. We only deal with them “in this world,” a natural world reeling from the corruptive effects of Adam’s sin, effects that are both physical and mental. There will be no trouble in the next world for those who claim Christ as Lord, so take heart. God is bigger than whatever you are facing. Our anxieties will not win; they lie in defeat at the foot of the cross. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (See the rest of 2 Corinthians 4).

Garden_called_Gethsemane_Wallpaper_gs7a2We don’t ignore our problems, but can look at them through God’s eternal lens. This doesn’t mean we completely detach our emotions from responding to the present reality of trouble. God doesn’t even appear to do that. The man Jesus knew anxiety, revealed in His appeal to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion: “’Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:42-44)

Sweat blood lately? The stress Jesus felt was real, but even more real was the knowledge that His Father’s will in saving us from all that is wrong in the world must be done. His anguish and death would, after all, make life and peace available to us all.

Everyone’s anxieties are different, and getting to the right understanding of our worries in light of God’s sovereignty won’t look the same for everyone. For many, medication and counseling are necessary steps. The destination, ultimately, is our right thinking about God and His control, which determines whether anxiety will control us. The culture we live in often confuses thinking with feeling, but we need to be clear about the distinction, and that what we know ultimately guides how we feel. And know the truth: Whatever our circumstances, God knows, God cares, and God rules. That should help us put our burdens in their rightful place, on His shoulders—not ours.

(Related post: Whoa, Feelings! Are We Losing Our Minds Over Emotion?)

 

How Could Adam and Eve Sin Before ‘Knowing Good and Evil’?

September 25, 2012 § 28 Comments

Genesis 3 says that Adam and Eve didn’t know good and evil before they sinned. How could they be held morally responsible for sin without the knowledge of good and evil?

The text in question is from Genesis 3:22, where, following Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, “the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.’” (NIV)

The Hebrew term for “knowing” in this verse (also in verse 5) is not unique to this passage or chapter; it’s the same word “yada” used elsewhere, some 960 times in the Hebrew scriptures. “Yada” can mean to learn, to perceive, to discern, to distinguish, to know by experience, to recognize, to consider, to be acquainted with, and other fairly ordinary definitions of the word listed in Hebrew lexicons (Strong’s #3045). But, there is no particular sense of “knowing” indicated in Genesis 3.

So what meaning of “knowing” is intended? I think the definition “to know by experience” best fits this usage of “knowing”. Imagine what life would have been like for Adam and Eve. At the end of the description for each day of creation, God’s calls His creation “good” or “very good.” (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18,25,31) Adam and Eve knew the “good” that God had made for them, but they would probably not have had the mindset to identify it as good. God knew good and evil; Adam and Eve knew only good, because they had experienced only good. For Adam and Eve to say “all that God has made is good” might mean they would have to understand a distinction between good and evil. They had witnessed or practiced nothing with which to contrast good. Before their own sin, no evil had been known to them in the experiential sense.

Does this mean they didn’t know right from wrong before they sinned? I don’t think so. God tells Adam in Genesis 2:16-17: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” God’s command no doubt informed Adam that there was a specific standard and that a deviation from the standard was possible. He would have been innately aware of God’s moral law, being created in His image, but here he received a specific moral directive. He was also taught about the presence of something called “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Adam may have inferred the existence of “evil” as 1) something that was tantamount to deviation from God’s law or directive, and 2) something he was to avoid knowledge about. (Related: Good Ignorance: Handling the Knowledge of Evil)

From that deduction, Adam would have known of evil only as a vague concept, or a theory. Similarly, the consequence God warned Adam about—“you will certainly die”— for disobedience wouldn’t have been fully understood without experiencing death in any of God’s creatures. But he would have perhaps recognized it as a potential ending to what God had provided, a consequence Adam naturally would want to avoid.

I suppose before the fall Adam would have knowledge of evil as someone like myself has knowledge of the President. Do I know the President? Well, I know who he is, and I know about him, but I don’t know him personally. If I met the President, I would know him in a very different sense than simply having heard of him or read about him. When Eve and then Adam in turn disobeyed God’s command, they came to know sin first hand. They had experiential knowledge of both good and evil.

I think it’s fitting and nothing approaching revisionism to say that Adam and Eve knew good because it was all they truly knew, and that they knew only of the potential of evil at Creation, but came to know evil by experience when “their eyes were opened” (Gen. 3:7) following their acts of disobedience to God.

From Circular Reasoning to the Gospel

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Presuppositional apologetics acknowledges that its arguments (and ultimately every argument) are circular. At its most basic and foundational level, every belief is taken on faith. Starting with this fact, here’s how a defense of Christianity might move on to account for the “preconditions of intelligibility” while exposing that contrary worldviews cannot, and then lead into an evangelistic opportunity.

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Skeptic: Any argument for the truth of Christianity is a circular argument. Instead of appealing to reason, you are appealing to your own conclusion as your premise. You are saying the Bible is true because the Bible is true.

Believer: Arguing for the existence of God is a circular argument, that much is true. But any argument for ultimate commitment is circular.

Skeptic: But I argue using reason.

Believer: So do I, but reason is your ultimate commitment. Your defense of reason by reason is circular. You and I both hold to circular arguments in supporting our ultimate commitments. The difference is that Christianity provides a basis for the reason we both use in the argument. The eternal and all-knowing God described in the Bible is a God of reason, who created man in His image. We can reason because God endowed us with it and invites us to use it. But without appealing to God, you can’t account for your use of reason.

Skeptic: I can account for reason by the fact that there is knowledge.

Believer: If the universe is basically matter in motion, how can your worldview account for knowledge? If knowledge is your ultimate commitment, your ultimate authority, then your use of knowledge to explain knowledge is still circular. What can knowledge appeal to? God has a mind and we’re made in His image, according to the Bible. Christians can actually make sense of knowledge.

Skeptic: I don’t have to explain why there is knowledge and reason. There are plenty of phenomenon left for us to discover, but it will be discovered through science, not religion.

Believer: In order to do science, we presuppose predictability and uniformity in nature. Why do you assume that you can expect certain results from experiments based on what happened in the past? There’s no scientific basis for uniformity that other than past experience of uniformity, but the Bible explains uniformity and predictability (for example, see Genesis 8:22).

Skeptic: That is simply a bad explanation. Science is and always has been the right way to figure out the universe.

Believer: When you talk about good and bad and the right and wrong way to do something, you are presupposing universal and objective moral absolutes that determine good and bad, and right and wrong. Moral sensibilities can’t be accounted for on any belief system that excludes a moral law giver. All that can be said is that rightness is justified on the virtue of rightness. (or “Be good because it’s good to be good.”) The God of the Bible is a moral Being, and “good” is a part of His very nature. His moral law is written on the hearts of His creation (Romans 2:15), and He offers a solution for our falling short of the requirements of the law in the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.

Good Ignorance: Handling the Knowledge of Evil

April 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

G&N Gauge“Knowledge is power,” a thought popularized by Sir Francis Bacon,(1) is echoed by humanity as a whole. People have always placed a high value on knowledge. We laud intelligence and academics, and God Himself regards knowledge, having given us a brain with which to learn and reason together.(2) Still, I’m convinced that there is a certain level of ignorance people, particularly Christians, should have. I think it’s clear that there are some things we simply should not learn, and those things are for the most part represented in the knowledge of evil.

The Bible describes the beginnings of evil on earth in Genesis 3. After Satan lied to Eve about the consequences of sin, he told her a very significant truth about the fruit of the aptly named Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: “…for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) After Eve and Adam had both sinned, “the Lord God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'” (Gen. 3:22) Adam and Eve knew good from their creation, but from this we see that Adam and Eve knowing about evil fell outside of God’s original plan.

Why did God want to preserve our ignorance of the presence of evil? We learn best by doing, which was the case with Adam and Eve, and it’s also true with us. But at least some knowledge of the act of original sin preceded the act. Eve was tempted, but ultimately she made a free will decision to do what God had said not to do. Disobedience was evil. Knowledge led to the act of sin, which in turn led to an awareness that there is the choice to do evil as well as good. That is the specific knowledge that we would have been better off without. (See also How Could Adam and Eve Sin Before ‘Knowing Good and Evil’?)

It’s true that now that sin is in the world, there are certain evils we have to know about in order to protect ourselves, our families and to help others that may be struggling with the same evil. Lawyers, counselors, law enforcement officials, therapists, doctors, pastors, teachers and others would not be able to battle evil and equip others to do the same without knowledge of it. Really, any human being is irresponsible without some knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong with the world—a parent needs to know how to protect their children, and every individual needs to guard their own heart. But some knowledge of evil is useful only because others have sinned and experienced evil, not because there is anything inherently good in evil—that would be an absurdity. Knowing some evil is simply a necessary evil.

How do we treat knowledge that is only there out of necessity? Carefully. We should either value the knowledge of our own experience with evil, or intentionally educate ourselves about evil, with a great deal of caution. Real world examples are the dangers of sexual abuse, teaching our kids prudence around strangers, the hazards of drugs and alcohol, wisdom with money and relationships and the reality of temptation. Always on the other side of teaching the good things we should do in the world are the ways those efforts could go horribly wrong. When self-educating about evil, the best approach is a minimalistic one, learning only what we think we need to know and no more—until we find we need to know more to protect ourselves or help others. Then we can move forward, but again with caution. It’s foolish to think that the evil we study to better equip ourselves and others will never ensnare us because of the knowledge we have about it. This reality is played out all around us, and I can think of many times I would have avoided a fall simply if I knew less about sin and evil.

Christians are called to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”(3) There’s a balance we need to maintain between beneficial knowledge and harmful knowledge. Paul writes in Romans 16:19, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” John Wesley paraphrases this verse: “But I would have you – Not only obedient, but discreet also. Wise with regard to that which is good – As knowing in this as possible. And simple with regard to that which is evil – As ignorant of this as possible.”(4) I think Paul is cautioning us not too be too well versed about evil, to be ignorant to a certain extent.

What does this look like in our real world experiences? Consider a couple more passages from the Bible.

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. (1 Cor. 10:23)

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Does this warrant thinking through many of the entertainment choices that we assume we can “handle”? To consider that it may be “permissible” for a Christian, but ask ourselves if it’s “beneficial” or “constructive”? Thinking of the amount of violence or vulgarity we tolerate in some movies, is it outweighed by the nobility, rightness and purity found in it? Does exposing ourselves to knowledge of evil acts honestly serve a higher purpose? Of course the Bible itself is violent in parts (i.e. war, Jesus’ crucifixion, etc.). On that we can argue for a “beneficial” and “constructive” aspect of scriptural depictions of violence because it turns us toward an awareness of God, specifically His holiness and His sacrifice for us in response to the introduction of sin into the world. Violence in entertainment is harder to similarly justify.

Apart from Biblical revelation about our tendencies toward evil, we can look to secular scientific research to find links between knowledge and harmful behavior. We know of an undeniable link between violent video game play and violent, uninhibited behavior.(5) We also find strong evidence for a preoccupation with pornography leading to pedophilia.(6) There’s no doubt that in many cases, thinking leads to doing in terms of deviant behavior.

A common Hebrew verb for sex is yada, which literally translates as “to know” (“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived…”, Gen. 4:1).(7) Knowing sexually is both good and bad depending on the context: Are the participants husband and wife? So obviously who and what we are seeking to know makes a difference on whether it’s good or bad to know it. I don’t believe there is much benefit at all for a Christian to study up on sex in preparation for marriage, at least in great detail. On the other hand, a lot can go wrong if he does. God made the process a pretty simple one without any real need for advance training.

I’ve wondered if it’s problematic to have certain honest discussions on the subject matter of sex. Is it beneficial or constructive for a Christian author to discuss the question “Can We ____?”, as Mark Driscoll does in his book Real Marriage on the topic of sexual practices that many married couples consider deviant? (8) I don’t mean to unfairly judge the book as I’ve only read 2 chapters from it, one being the one mentioned above. There may be circumstances where the question is necessary (past experience with sexual abuse, for example), but I think the question “Can We ____?” always needs to be accompanied with “Why do we need to know?” Wisdom and caution in how much we know about certain activities is called for and whether the knowledge is needed. Curiosity by itself is not sufficient reason; Eve was curious about the fruit of the tree, and that didn’t end well. Talk of sex can make us blush or feel uncomfortable. Those responses may be a way our God-given conscience telling us that now is not the right time to pursue particular information. Depending on the information, the right time may never come.

While it is by knowledge that humanity has survived, flourished and known God, knowledge may also lead to a fall. We need to be careful about what we allow into our heads because what we know can obviously harm us. Christians have a guide in God’s word to seek balance and a principal that says at least some ignorance of evil is a good thing. Life experience corroborates that. The knowledge of evil that we do seek out should be by way of a conservative, careful approach, realizing that we should only know enough to help us avoid it. Avoiding evil, after all, is a calling against which few can argue.(9)

1. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Francis Bacon (http://www.iep.utm.edu/bacon/)

2. Proverbs 18:15 “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge…” Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Isaiah 1:18: “Come, let us reason together…”

3. Matthew 10:16

4. Explanatory notes upon the New Testament, Volume 2 by John Welsey (http://bit.ly/Jm6sp0)

5. ISU study proves conclusively that violent video game play makes more aggressive kids. Study by Craig A. Anderson, PhD (http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2010/mar/vvgeffects)

6. A profile of pedophilia: definition, characteristics of offenders, recidivism, treatment outcomes, and forensic issues. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17418075)

7. Lexicon Genesis 4:1 (http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=knew&t=KJV&sf=5)

8. Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, by Mark & Grace Driscoll (chapter 10)

9. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 “Avoid every kind of evil.”

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