Wednesday 8 May 2019

If you think you are good - you are probably evil; if you know your own evil - you are probably good

William Wildblood has set of a train of thinking with his latest post.

He highlights that there is a spiritually-lethal moral self satisfaction among the mass of (mostly) well behaved people; and he discusses how genuine Christianity is attacked so viciously, and in ways that are hard to resist - probably because there are important lessons for us to learn from overcoming such attacks.

This paragraph, in particular, provokes me to ponder:

You may have been told that you only have to believe in God and your salvation is assured. It's not that simple. Belief without inner transformation is nothing. After all, as James famously says in his 2nd epistle, even the devils believe. You have to convert that belief, which can be likened to an architect's blueprint for a house, into the actual building and you must construct that yourself. So, belief is something that must be constantly tended and deepened.

I have a somewhat different way of thinking about this, because it seems to me that there are some people - perhaps many people - who are constitutionally unable to make solid progress in their behaviour. They are maybe impulsive, maybe addicted, maybe over-influcned by others - but for whatever reason they are repeatedly backsliding, to the extent that they make no overall spiritual progress.

Such people are no use, indeed dangerous, as spiritual or lreligious leaders; and they are probably people that we would be happy to avoid; yet they are nonetheless, 'saved' so long as they believe and follow Jesus - at least, that is my understanding of what the Fourth Gospel tells us.

One common pattern of this is repentance. If such a backslider knows that it what they are, if they acknowledged that they are of this nature - if they repent their weakness and wickedness and remain followers of Jesus (and do Not deny, excuse or advocate their sins as virtues - so common a practice in modern mainstream culture) - then they are assured of resurrection to eternal life - every bit as solidly as a lifelong saint of exemplary behaviour.

It is even possible that such a chaotic and badly-behaved person may learn more, in a spiritual sense, from his mortal life; than does one who is (apparently) blessed with steadiness of purpose and absence of temptation.

(This could, presumably, be why such pre-mortal souls have chosen such mortal lives; and why our creator has provided such lives. For instance, these may be souls that most need to experience repeated failure.)

But this positive outcome would only be the case insofar as he genuinely acknowledged his own problems and failures and continues to aim at the highest ideals.

As always, it is what we learn from experience that is primary: no experience has value in itself (after all, Judas Iscariot knew Jesus personally); any experience may have value when learned-from.

Note: As always, it is he inner motivation and the world of thinking that is primary; and the observable world of behaviour and language is secondary. 

Yet - despite this inwardness of reality - we must each and all judge and act-upon the spiritual state of others, in order to navigate through life. 

And although we cannot infer from his behaviour and language alone, the state of another Man's soul; we can (to the degree necessary, and insofar as our own motivations are honest, and truth-seeking) intuit that state: we have (if we can locate and acknowledge it) the knowledge we need.


William Wildblood said...

In saying belief without inner transformation is nothing I probably went over the top. I should have said something like, is not enough. I agree that sincere belief, if coupled with genuine repentance, will always find favour with God even if there is backsliding. After all, we all back slide! But I was really referring to the almost nominal belief I often come across among people who say they believe in God but whose attitude to the world is not affected much thereby. Even Jesus said that "“Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Yes indeed. That's what I was trying to address in my Note. What people *say* (including what they say about themselves) is a type of external 'behaviour'; and what matters is inner, motivational, thinking.

I am not at all convinced/ impressed by the great majority of people who 'call themselves' Christian - because I regard most/ nearly-all of them as being dishonest with themselves and/ or other people (for whatever of many reasons).

On the other hand, 'denying Christ' is more likely to be associated with genuine unbelief - yet, even there, people can be pressured or intimidated (or 'controlled' by various means) into such declarations; and if such people sincerely inwardly repent (which God will always allow and enable them to do - we can be sure), even this may not be decisive.

As usual, we are being thrown back onto our own personal and intuitive discernments.

I should re-clarify that this does Not apply to things like 'church order' or other similar types of religious leadership - where there is a common sense necessity for high mimimum standards of behaviour, including speech. But church order type issues, while vital to the operation of not-corrupt groups in this-world, is not an ultimate matter of salvation.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I'm one of those people who seem to be constitutionally incapable of improving their behavior -- but now I feel as if saying so will be interpreted as a covert claim to be good (because only good people know they are evil)!

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Two things I believe are wrong is that 1. A real Christian is well behaved, his life is transformed for the better. and 2. It does not matter how people behave (especially wrt to issues approved by the Sexual Revolution) because Jesus forgave sinners.

I think it is perfectly reasonable, and indeed necessary, to demand behaviours from priests that are higher than for laity (for Mormons this means pretty much all men; for Catholics it means men ordained in a lineage going way back).

This is not really a matter of salvation, but of church order. All institutions that have no special selectivity for leaders will be corrupted, and will essentially dissapear in functional terms; all churches that ordain other than men and are morally lax about it, have already or will rapidly cease to be churches (i.e. in this world, here and now - this is not proposed as a law of the universe).

But Christianity as such (which does not require churches); should not be allowed to become about behaviour. It is about (in some inner and real way, motivated by love) following Jesus through death into eternal, resurrected, divine life.

And as such salvation is open to everybody - albeit some people don't want it, some people are dispositionally inclined to reject it. But in a strict sense, external behaviour is completely irrelevant.

Nonetheless, in actual practice, this crystal clarity is blurred by human psychology! In this mortal life (presumably by design, not by accident) people are experiencing, developing, always changing, for better or for worse. We can only, therefore, know about here and now, and not about what will be.

But I think love is what smooths-out all these changes. (Real) Love is far stronger and more permanent than generally realised; and it is the way in which people provide real and divine help for each other. But we must, of course, 'consent' to love, to being-loved - for love to help us.

Nothing in this 'scheme' is compelled.

Andrew said...

I think it is important for Christians to want to change, to want to be transformed by God. God knows we can't transform ourselves in our own power. God has to do it, and He will if we ask and pray for Him to. This, I believe, is the purpose of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and, particularly, the Baptism of Fire.

-Andrew E.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Andrew. Yes, want to change. Wanting is the key. Attaining is a different matter altogether, and often more to do with personality and circumstances than anything else.