Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Not for Our Own Righteous Living

"The Law of Attraction" has entered the lexicon of phrases that everyone recognizes and many treat like a creed. At its most extreme, the concept regards positive thinking as magic and human beings as gods. That in terms of the general population, the confident and cheerful are healthier and more accomplished than brooding pessimists is hard to deny; that you must therefore bring on yourself literally everything that happens to you seems a bit of a leap in logic. Nonetheless, the idea has its own attraction, especially for people who have never suffered any real tragedy and like to think themselves safe as long as they keep thinking positive. If Job were alive today, his "comforters," rather than assuming he was being punished for some active evil, might well seize on his statement that "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me" (Job 3:25, NIV) and tell him that it only happened because he dreaded it.

It isn't only neopagans--those who believe that all physical aspects of the universe, including us, are simply manifestations of one central energy source--who think in these terms. Many people push the same idea in Christian dress: didn't Jesus Himself say many times, "Your faith has healed you" (e. g., Mt. 9:22); didn't He say that faith could move mountains (Mt. 21:21); and isn't it true that the reason He performed few miracles in Nazareth was "their lack of faith" (Mt. 13:58)? So doesn't it logically follow that a lack of faith can block God from doing the good He wants to do for us?

Well, no, it really doesn't, unless we throw out much of the rest of Scripture. If God "can do all things [and] no plan of [His] can be thwarted" (Job 42:2); if "nothing is impossible with God" (Lk. 1:37); if He created the whole universe from nothing and will someday defeat all evil forever and give us a new heaven and earth--it's more than a little ludicrous to think that a single human being could generate enough bad attitude to paralyze Him. Especially since the whole human race together hasn't even figured out how to build a cost-effective automobile that runs without waste or pollution.

Still, we all love our delusions of personal grandeur. We hate to let go of them even when we mature enough to realize that faith is more than a tool for gaining earthly health and wealth; when it comes to genuine spiritual growth, we tend to assume God wants us to get rid of all our own shortcomings overnight. I, for one, know well the "guilt fallout" from doing the same wrong thing for the ten-thousandth time; the discouragement of living with a brain that seems determined to consistently steer my thoughts away from wholehearted worship and into trivial daydreams; the despair of longing for a personal "spiritual progress" yardstick to reassure me I've grown even a little in the past few months; the impatience of wanting to see a few major growth spurts right now; the frustration of not even knowing whether I'm really coming up short or simply expecting too much of myself.

Ultimately, that's where most of our problems lie: ever since Eve fell for the line about a quick bite of fruit bringing omniscience, we've expected too much of ourselves because we've considered ourselves God's equals. John 15:1-7 is worthwhile study for those of us who think we can perfect our own lives (in terms of either worldly success or spiritual maturity) with maybe a little help from God. To paraphrase: first we give ourselves to Christ and let Him cancel the eternal penalty of our sin; then we concentrate, not on making ourselves perfect, but on staying close to Christ and getting to know Him. Then He will do the work of perfecting us--providing we don't forget that we are literally helpless without Him, providing we don't unplug ourselves from our only Source of power by wandering off into self-generated attempts at "making things better." If we let our own plans and ideas usurp His place at the center of our lives, we risk becoming spiritually useless; if we make Him all that counts, then we can pray in faith and see great results. But we must never forget that "asking for whatever we wish" is to be saved for after we submit ourselves and our wishes to His authority.

We all like to think that we can find a way to put God in our debt. But since He owes us literally nothing, shouldn't we be all the more thankful that He gives us so much?

Not for our own righteous living,
Not for good deeds we have done,
But in His own love and mercy,
God sets us free through His Son.

We, who dare think ourselves worthy,
We, who dare call ourselves good,
All are the filthiest sinners--
Not one has done as we should.

Helpless to be our own saviors,
Nor can we, working alone,
Grow into Christlike perfection:
All of our strength is His own.

Even in glories eternal,
Even when sin is no more,
All of our power will be from Him,
He Who our every fault bore.

Trust Him to keep you from sinning;
Trust Him to guide all your days;
Trust Him to hold you forever--
He Who alone earns the praise!

1 comment:

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Hi Katherine. I share your skepticism about "the Law of Attraction" so I read your post with interest.

Thank you for your comments on my blog. Being a freelance writer is a difficult life at times, isn't it? I've been through so many ups and downs since I wrote the post you just read. My husband and I are both writers, and we just went from having two full-time assignments to one of us having a half-time assignment and the other searching for work. So we are going through anxiety again.

And my most recent post is also about the ups and downs of this way of life. If you have a chance, here is the link:

Living on Manna

I'll say a prayer for you to find some work soon and also to receive speedy payment for past assignments.

In the meantime, may God's peace fill your heart.