I’ll be honest. People that have the strength of character to avoid the dessert table simply annoy me.
I’ve never really understood self-control from a spiritual perspective. I know it’s a “fruit of the spirit” and that we have a spirit of “power, love and self-discipline” rather than timidity. But it just seemed to make the list with patience, another character quality I seem to lack, as a good suggestion for an easier life. Not a command with an actual bearing on life outcomes. But for some reason, Peterson’s paraphrase began to set it into new light.
I generally like to skim through the passages that were real pointy-pointy on “issues”. Like 1 Corinthians. But yet, here I am today in chapters 5 & 6 with some very blatant opinions by Paul. These kinds of chapters are hard for me not because of generalities but because of specifics. We’re not talking about what does “love your neighbor” mean… he’s talking about a specific man and his specific affair with his specific step-mom which brought on a whole soapbox of scorn. But it’s hard for me to completely understand because I didn’t know the man, or the situation, only that Paul is none too happy with the hanky panky. And I’m trying to lessen my practice of making life principles out of specific instances. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, that although I’m about to make some observations about this section, there’s a lot I don’t know about this passage and it’s context, or what I think of it.
So, things started getting interesting in my brain when I read: “Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get away with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” (6:12). What a great paraphrase of the ol’ “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”.
I think this whole idea of living 2 steps below the line is foreign in our culture. I put that passage in my FB status and as I refilled my coffee, I thought about my FB friends who don’t necessarily strive for the “christian life” and what they’d think about it. (Yes, I’m vain enough to think it – and honest enough to admit it. I think about what people think about me, even in terms of FB image). I’m prone to think the idea of living on whim is somewhat appealing. I mean, we only live once, right? Bon Jovi certainly endorses it: “it’s my life, it’s now or never, I ain’t gonna live forever… it’s. my. life.” (The implications of this song as a way to understand our culture is a whole other blog post).
And there’s a part of me that agrees with it, especially when brownies are involved. Who wants self-control when you can have chocolate? Why deny yourself the pleasures of the world? What good is it to miss out? What do you gain? And I can even give spiritual justification: God created it and said it was good. “Eat and enjoy.”
But the idea of being a slave to anyone, or thing, is not as appealing. I do things that are “not beneficial” all the time, but when put into the context that I do those things not because I choose to, but because of an unseen inability to choose otherwise…. well, no one likes to feel powerless. It’s one thing to live on a whim, but another to become a slave to it. But it’s not the obvious masters that we really have to worry about in life, like my boss; it’s those that exert control over you when you don’t even realize it that should make us squirm. Like abusive boyfriends or bossy friends.
But like abusive relationships, we’re convinced we can’t live without it. It might be misery, but it’s familiar misery (I think I just read this in A Million Miles). And who knew that food or sex or anything that indulges us with a sense of feeling good could do that?
This all makes me want to reread The Screwtape Letters in its opposite/hidden nature of it all. I’m also quite astounded by the fact that I didn’t even touch on another aspect of this section, the bodily life and how it interplays with the spiritual side, which is quite entangled in the topic and actually jumped out at me first, but apparently a completely different post because this one is running long and I’m starting to ramble.
But back to my point. If I can find one. Yes. Self-control does seem spiritual. Because according to this section, something is always controlling you, be it the Spirit, or your whims. I think Screwtape would agree that the key to controlling a person is to fool them into thinking that they’re actually in control. We say things like “I can do this!” But perhaps… we can’t. But Another can. It’s not so much self-control as selfless-control. That I can take myself out of the equation to look at what is right and good, and with eternal perspective I can make decisions.
There were a group of people back in Jesus’ day (and before. And after. And now, I suppose) that believed that anything of the physical nature had no bearing on the spiritual and should be avoided. I can’t get behind that (see above reference to “another post”, forthcoming). But I also can’t live on brownies alone; I need substance. Sustenance. Living based on whatever I want at the given moment isn’t going to fulfill any more than living a life with nothing of pleasure. I will always continually want more and crave to satisfy in ways that simply won’t meet expectations.
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