It began with a strife in Eden. Husband against wife. Wife against husband. Satan against God. Satan against humanity. Humanity, in its infancy, united against God. Fear. Distrust. Lies. Loss. All tragic and immediate effects of giving in to the devil’s deception that makes one think less of God and more of oneself. Is there more to us than what God made us believe there is? wondered Eve, echoing Lucifer’s old concern. Is God enough for me if I lose Eve? questioned Adam. Can He help me? Will He help her? Or should I just share her fate? And shared their fate was. A fate riddled with grief, sorrow, and regret. A fate ending in death.
With the next generation of humans arrived on the scene, we insert murder into our story. Cain against Abel. Brother against brother. Why should Abel be favored? Why can’t my offering be accepted? I earned it with the sweat of hard labor, thought Cain. And when God’s choice implied that human efforts are not enough, jealousy burned in his heart. He could have had what Abel had. He could have had God’s favor. But you see, that is not what his heart really desired. His heart desired independence from God. Just like Lucifer. And when that independence was not blessed, blood was spilled.
I could go on with many stories. Stories of times past and stories of times present. Stories of strangers I may never meet, and stories of folks I know too well. Fast forward to Minneapolis, May 25, 2020. Another day in human history. Another death in our story. Another man taking the breath of his brother. The breath that God breathed into us—to gift us endless LIFE, and abundant JOY, and eternal TIME, and selfless LOVE. That is, until someone decides against this. And for now, God allows it. And right now, the “why” doesn’t matter. Right now, we are just witnesses. Angry, sad, crippled witnesses of an unfolding tragedy we can’t seem to be able to stop. And with our powerlessness compounding into the rhythm of righteous anger, we either raise our voices higher, or we tune out and fade, numb.
Numb and tired of confronting the reality. Tired of having to repeat over, and over, and over again that Each Human Life Matters. That Each Black Life Matters. Tired that this repetition is triggered by a senseless loss. Tired of having to state the obvious—that every female and every male, every black and every white, every married and every single, every straight and every gay matter equally. Tired and discouraged by victories that seem too small or too short-lived. Weakened by the wind that blows too strong and too long against our hopes.
In a recent conversation, a friend mentioned that he hopes to see a female GC president and a black GC president during his lifetime. I was intrigued at his bold statement, and asked what factors played a key role in shaping this perspective. The answer was nothing I expected. Because, you see, I was expecting a list of factors that helped shape the perspective against what I assume to be the norm in thinking. It turns out, he grew up with this view. This was his normal. This thinking was the heritage of an entire culture, an entire nation that has been promoting and practicing equality for a long time. This realization made me turn inwards and ask myself: what is the heritage I received from my culture and my people? It is not the first time I consider this, but for some reason the precise contours of this question made the process of answering it feel more real than before. It also left me in distress as I began to list all the things I inherited that I have to unlearn rather than pass on to others. It was a grim stare into my reality – a history that is part of my story, whether I want it or not. Yet history does not have to determine destiny.
This thought process led me to wonder about the heritage of the Christian culture. What values have we learned in our Christian walk up to date? What is the “normal” that we live and pass on to the next generation? What do we think about human life and its value? Is there anything that makes one person more valuable than another? The race? The gender? The financial status? The level of education? The nationality? The number of children they have in the church? The position in society? The physical appearance? The power of influence? You see, good values are taught by valuable people. But bad values are taught by valuable people, too. And that is a huge part of why it is so difficult for us to break destructive bonds.
We may know better. We may have grasped a superior way of thinking and acting. But we revert into familiar patterns—healthy and unhealthy patterns—because there, tangled in them, are our bonds with important people in our lives: parents, grandparents, teachers, preachers, mentors, close friends, maybe political figures, or even celebrities. I can illustrate this with the confessions of a recovering alcoholic who realized that he got into drinking because it was the only thing he did with his father. It was what brought them together. Without realizing, he formed a destructive habit and held on to it, because that habit fostered connection with his father, and after his death, memorialized that bonding. This is a true testimony to the human need for connection—a need so strong it may even entangle one in sin, crime, and tragedy. This is the very definition of broken love. And, as sinful humans, whether we want to or not, whether we know it or not, we all participate (to some extent or another) in the perpetuation of destructive patterns of thinking and acting, through our relationships with others.
So, I invite you to ask yourself: what are your thoughts about the value of human beings? Do you have a hierarchy in your mind, and if yes, who passed that on to you? Now, think about what holds you hostage into that pattern of thinking. The need for connection? The need for acceptance? The fear of rejection, abandonment, or loss? The worry that, if you stand up for what is right, you won’t fit in any longer? Indeed, doing the right thing can sometimes be a lonely path. There are quite a few examples of that in the Bible. What is it that makes you hold on to a destructive pattern of thinking?
Vices passed on to us by valuable people make them a huge part of us, precisely because they are validated by important figures in our lives. To accept that a pattern of thinking we (often unconsciously) associate with love and valuable individuals is wrong, is to accept that someone important to us is “less than.” And we resist the shattering of ideals as much into adulthood as in our teenage years. We resist it because this means that we cannot rely on humans. It feels like deception. It implies that we have to step onto a new path. And who knows what the new territory feels like, and where that road leads? Indeed, destructive patterns of thinking and acting seem almost indestructible trajectories when the new road appears to be a tangled mess of confusion. How do we travel on a new path as we choose to break the bonds of broken love?
A Promising Path
In truth, the anxiety begins to dispel when we realize that the path we need to take is not one flattened by human feet, but one traced by a cross dragged uphill. When we understand that our connection to God needs to overpower all other bonds, and that our parent, our teacher, our mentor, our figure of authority, our most beloved and influential being in our lives should not be any human, but God Himself. And as our mind is illuminated with this new consciousness, we find that He has been available to be all this to us all along. That, all along, His light has been shining a path forward with clear sign posts. Signs that read:
- The value of every human being is the life of God.
- The greatest power is the power of love.
- The proper use of power is revealed in Jesus’s life and death.
- The right way to treat each other is abundantly illustrated in the Bible.
- The Trinity shows us the creative value and power of other-centered equality.
The process of spiritual, intellectual, and emotional maturing is a process of growth in our dependence on God. It is a paradoxical trajectory, for the more we develop and learn to rely on our skills, the more easily we are tempted to think we are self-sufficient. Yet the farther we fall into this temptation, the clearer we realize that it is just another satanic deception, and that the path to true fulfillment is one of deeper and deeper dependence on God.
Indignation. Rightly felt, and rightly stated. And I think about all those who were victims of abuse—women by men, men by women, black by white, white by black, a race by another race, a group by another group, a nation by anther nation—many unseen and unheard, countless human beings sacrificed on the altar of deception. Deceived by Satan. Deceived by those who hate us. And, it turns out, deceived even by those who love us. The idols we allowed ourselves to worship may be more insidious than we might have conceived.
But what if we learned again to worship the only true God? What if we built a stronger connection with God than with any human being? What if we cultivated a relationship with God deeper than with any creature? What if our patterns of thinking were sewn into our brains by the very One who created us with this incredible gift—our minds and the amazing capacity to choose? What if we made a choice to learn from God, walk with God, be like God, act like God, and love like God, and didn’t wait for that blessing to unfold in eternity, but pursued it here and now? What could we, individually, become? What could the human race become? What would our story be? And what part would you play in that story that will never be forgotten by anyone crossing into eternity?