Halloween season has just come and gone in the US. It’s a time where ghosts and zombies and other other-worldly bad guys get their airtime and are erected on stakes in town centres across the country. Creepy! Horror shows and haunted houses proliferate, daring us to be lured into their self-created world of the supernatural.
Spiritual Addiction, Part Two
This is not a post about Halloween and what I think about it. Suffice to say, it’s definitely my least favourite American tradition, and I’m being deliberately moderate in my comment. I bring up Halloween because I want to make a connection between the surreal world of Halloween spooks and what it does to the gullible, and the diseased world of distorted theology and what it does to the spiritually addicted. What we believe to be true solidly impacts our behaviour whether it is actually true or not. Last week I described spiritual addiction as the inability to feel good about my relationship with God unless I ritually fulfill certain spiritual practices. If you need to catch up with this post, please read Feeling Guilty, Feeling Good.
A little child who through Halloween propaganda begins to believe that spooks could live under her bed, that headless horsemen may ride through the woods on a blustery night, and that dead people arise from forgotten graves will demonstrate changes in her behaviour. Bedtime will be frightening instead of comforting, a moonlit stroll among the trees will be a walk of terror and backward glances, and nighttime graveyards will be zealously shunned for the unspoken horrors that lie there waiting to drag her in their nightmarish underworld. All these terrors are almost laughable to a rational, educated adult. We know that the ghouls which frighten her are only in her imagination. But the child experiences sweaty palms and heart palpitations and manages her actions carefully because she truly believes the bad guys will get her if she doesn’t watch out. Similar terrors afflict those whose understanding of God, self and Christian living has been twisted by distortion of true theology. Here are some of the distorted spiritual concepts that hold spiritual addicts captive:
1. A distorted view of God. Spiritual addicts worship a god who withholds his approval unless certain criteria are met. I’ve heard more than my fair share of sermons from “fundamental” pulpits that either imply or state outright that certain kinds of surrender or behaviours “make God happy.” The huge unspoken implication in those statements is that God is not happy unless we meet a set of performance goals—church going, personal ministry, devotional goals, etc. We misrepresent the gospel by presenting a god who scowls and crosses his arms waiting for us to prove ourselves to him. On the contrary the gospel clearly teaches that Jesus Himself already satisfied the wrath of God for those who believe. The God of the true gospel is the Father who ran to meet the prodigal, swept aside the son’s offers to pay his own way back into the family business, and showered him with the garb and feast of an honoured guest. Why are we still trying to appease him by all our exhausting self-exertion? By doing so, we reject His grace and love. Jesus says to the weary, “Come and rest.”
2. A distorted view of ourselves. Spiritual addicts are deceived into thinking that their worth lies in what they do. They knock themselves out trying to win approval by their spiritual performances. The liberating truth is that our worth lies not in what we do but what has already been done for us. “He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). The word “accepted” can also be translated “lovely”, and the entire statement is plainly in the past tense. Because of Jesus Christ the Beloved One, we are already lovely in His sight. Our worth rests in His loveliness and perfection; we have nothing to prove. Cease striving and believe.
3. A distorted view of Christian living. The idea that we can satisfy our souls by doing the right stuff drives spiritual addictions. “If only I could pray enough . . . if only I read my Bible more . . . if only I can be involved in more ministry. . ,” we lament as we strive to reach spiritual maturity. But Jesus cries out to us, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, asthe Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38) By soaking our souls in His person, we position ourselves for genuine growth not guilt-driven rituals.
Dear thirsting soul, if you are addicted to the broken cisterns of spiritual performance that can never quench your yearning for spiritual authenticity, open your eyes like Hagar of old and see the well of living water that can deliver you from dehydration of the soul. Refuse to entertain the never-satiated ghouls of trying harder, and rest in the Lovely One. Step back from your spiritual compulsions and take time to bask in the fullness of His unconditional love and mercy. When you have drunk long and deep from the One who freely offers Living Water, then the liberating satisfaction of your soul will spill over, blessing others with authenticity and grace.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38