Back to the Garden

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24 NIV

As I have mentioned previously, I grew up during the 1960’s. It was a turbulent and often violent time. The war in Vietnam intensified throughout the decade, as did the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies. Peaceful protesters of the Civil Rights Movement were often attacked and sometimes killed. At Kent State University, protesters against the Vietnam War were shot at by the Ohio National Guard and four were killed. Accusations of police brutality, and the frustrations of years of Jim Crow, poverty, and second class citizenship for African-Americans led to race riots in virtually every major city in the country.

But the violence of the times helped to fuel various movements to counteract it. The peace movement sought to bring an end to the Vietnam War, and to all war. Related movements tried to bring about an end to nuclear proliferation. Coalitions of people of all races formed to oppose segregation and discrimination of all kinds. Some groups sought to spread the “sexual revolution” with slogans like “Make Love not War.”

One of the groups that comprised what became known at that time as “the counter-culture” was the hippie movement. The hippie movement was very popular and very influential within the youth community, despite the fact that the actual number of “full time” hippies was relatively small.

The reason for this popularity and appeal to the youth was simple. It offered a lifestyle that seemed to be liberating and free of responsibility. Drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD, were consumed in copious amounts. Sexual liberation and communal living were other hallmarks of the movement. Rejecting straight society, with its rules and “hangups” was de rigueur. A saying to come out of the movement, popularized by LSD advocate and guru Timothy Leary, was “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

As mentioned above, communal living was a big part of the hippie philosophy. The idea behind communes was to create a perfect society within, but sealed off from the corrupted prevailing society, where individuals could pursue, unhindered by that corruption, their own course to enlightenment and perfection. In essence, create paradise and allow man’s better nature to prevail within it. The famous, or infamous (depending on your perspective) movie Easy Rider has a scene where the protagonists, two biker buddies played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, visit a hippie commune where the lifestyle described above is portrayed.

The idea, though, of transforming individuals by transforming society, was not just limited to the hippie movement, but gained widespread acceptance in society in general. Many people began dedicating themselves, through political activism mainly, but also other means, to transforming society to some idyllic, pre-fall Eden. This was, and still is, believed by many to be an achievable goal. A popular song at the time, Woodstock, captures this idea:

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere was a song and a celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes
Riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

For the complete song, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: C, S, N, & Y Woodstock

Or from the composer, Joni Mitchell: JM Woodstock

These attempts at regaining paradise have a long history in America and the world. They usually involve some form of socialism, and they have ultimately ended in failure. Why? I believe it is because they end up encouraging the worst aspects of human nature; selfishness, laziness, theft, envy, and more. A prominent example of this is Plymouth Colony.

The Pilgrims, like the Jamestown Colony before them, had agreed together to a communal, even socialist, style of living. Everything was held in common and food was kept in a common storehouse. The result? Some people worked, others did not, and there was theft of food, often from the crops in the field, even before it was fully ripe. Those who produced resented those who did not, food production was inadequate, and they almost starved to death, until they abandoned their “communal” lifestyle for one which allowed every man and woman to keep the fruits of their labor.  For a first hand account, see the first Governor’s, William Bradford’s diary.  William Bradford’s Diary (See pages 234-236 in the linked edition)

There are other examples in American history of attempts to create some sort of paradise on earth, to go “back to the Garden,” so to speak; but of course these efforts did not start here. In a previous post, The Era of Big Government, I wrote about man’s attempts from the beginning of history to nullify the consequences of our first parents’ decision so many years ago by banding together in large numbers and unifying around certain principles and projects. The Tower of Babel being the first recorded effort.

These efforts continued throughout history, right up through the terrible Marxist and fascist movements of the twentieth century, to today’s efforts by many to enforce their political and religious views on the rest of us through violence, coercion, and conquest.

All of these efforts at regaining paradise, to this day, have one thing in common, and that is they have ended in abysmal , and often tragic, failure. Throughout the centuries, empires, and their associated dreams and visions, have risen and fallen. From Alexander to the Caesars, to Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, they have all ended badly, with the blood of hundreds of millions on their hands.

Why are these experiments doomed to failure? William Bradford, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, determined that it was at least in part due to man’s fallen nature. Not a surprise, given that he was a Christian, but maybe he had, and has, a point.

What is man’s “fallen” nature? What does it mean to have a fallen nature? We see from the story of Adam and Eve, that after they disobeyed G-d by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were banned from the garden for fear that they would partake of The Tree of Life, and thereby gain eternal life.

What is interesting about the story is that prior to their rebellion, they could have eaten of The Tree of Life at any time. It was only afterward that they were barred. The implication of this is that something about them had changed, and because of this, they were barred from eternal life. It is good here to remember that G-d had told them that the consequence of their eating of the forbidden fruit would be death.

There is a relevant story in Acts 5 that tells of the early church in Jerusalem. Out of their love for one another, in G-d’s Spirit, they willingly shared their material wealth, and often donated the proceeds of sales of their property to the church leader’s, who would then distribute them to the needy.

One couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold some property, and donated the proceeds to the church, but they held some back while claiming to have donated all. When confronted with their lie and hypocrisy, they both died on the spot. For more information on this, see Story of Ananias and Sapphira .

Now some have tried to use this story to justify socialism, the argument being that if a form of socialism was good for the early church, it should be good for us. The problem with this argument is that the early Jerusalem church was a relatively small group who voluntarily shared their wealth. This idea has carried on to this day by various religious orders in which members take a vow of poverty and live a communal lifestyle. Modern socialist movements, on the other hand, are extremely coercive, and as has been noted, have been responsible for more death and destruction than any other movement in the history of the planet.

The story, though, would also seem to support Bradford’s contention that man’s fallen nature is the heart of the problem. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to participate in the communal giving and sharing, but not willing to give all. This would have been fine, as nothing in the story suggests that they had to give all, so it would seem that they were concerned with appearances. They wanted everyone to think that they had given all, so they held back some, and lied.

It shows that even in small, voluntary associations, problems arise when people feel, even if only from their own inner desire to be recognized, compelled to share what they have worked for. This is just as true in religious orders, where members who break the rules will eventually be expelled if they continue to refuse to conform.

So what is man’s fallen nature? Years ago, a well-known secular psychiatrist and author, Dr. Karl Menninger, stirred up some controversy when he published a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? The controversy over the book at the time – this was 1973 – demonstrates how unpopular the concept of personal responsibility had become, and the idea that there is an immutable moral law that man has violated and continues violate. That in fact, there is something wrong with man that has put him at odds with G-d and his fellow man, and that compels him toward rebellion.

Keep in mind that this is a secular book, and it is not written from a religious viewpoint, but a clinical one. Therefore, there is much for a Christian believer, for example, to disagree with in the book; but the idea that any kind of healing or redemption for an individual is only possible when that individual accepts personal responsibility for themselves and their actions, is completely consistent with Judeo-Christian scripture, and is in fact foundational to religions based upon that scripture.

This idea that man exists in a state of sin that inclines him away from G-d and His laws, and toward disobedience, is still very unpopular today. Society, ones parents, bad teachers, the church, even G-d Himself, are all blamed. But the evidence is all around us, even in young children who, arguably, have not yet been “corrupted” by any of these things. Don’t believe this? Then ask yourself the question as to why “reverse psychology” works so consistently well.

How often have we experienced telling a child not to do something, only to have them immediately do it? “Don’t touch that dial” (on the television set, yes TV’s used to have dials), you admonish , and of course he touches the dial. “Don’t pick up that candy from the ground”, and then what happens? Not only does he pick it up, but he will put it in his mouth. When my daughter was young and had a miserable face, we would say to her “don’t you smile,” and of course she would inevitably smile.

OK, well this is all innocent enough when you are dealing with young children. But what happens with adults? No need to answer this, just look around you and at thousands of years of history. Now, you might say, well, yes, but not everyone is like that, and if you mean that not everyone commits horrible acts and heinous crimes, you would be correct. Most people do not do these things because we have been conditioned by parents and society to believe that they are awful things, and for us to do them would make us awful people, so most of us refrain from these  reprehensible acts.

There are, though, lesser “evils,” which all of us, at some time or another, do commit. Lying, unfaithfulness, gossip, unjust anger and hurtful words, and many others. The list is actually quite long. In addition, we all seem to have at least one “sin” that we just can’t seem to control, whether it is one of the above, or maybe an addiction, such as to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, money, power; again, I could go on.

So what are we to do? As has been indicated above, some analyze the problem and propose that its source lies outside the individual, for example in society. There is inequality and injustice in society, the story goes, and so people have the above mentioned problems because of this. The solution, then, is to remake society and rid it of its injustices. Once this is done, man will be free to do the right thing and will become perfect.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We are not responsible for our actions, society is! “Remake society the way I want it to be, and I’ll be good. Just you wait and see.” Hmm, what is wrong with this picture? Well, for one thing, the biblical paradigm, as proposed by William Bradford. If it is true, then this “solution” cannot work and could lead to much trouble – and it has!

Just take a look at the carnage that has been left behind from attempts to regain paradise! In the twentieth century alone, there was death, destruction, and suffering on a previously unimaginable scale. Just maybe the prophets, Jesus, William Bradford, and even Karl Menninger were on to something, when they claimed that the problem lay within the individual human heart.

So, if that is true, and it does seem that the problem does not originate from outside of man, then what are we to do? Of course, scripture has an answer! I’ll leave you with the following quote from Isaiah, 45:22:

Turn to me and be saved,

all you ends of the earth;

for I am God, and there is no other” (NIV)

Too simple, you might say? Well, sometimes the simple is sublime, but most importantly, true.


The Era of Big Government

Seems appropriate to reblog at this time…

The Chrysalis Paradigm

“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  Genesis 11:4 NIV

Big Government is not a modern creation, at least according to the book of Genesis.  It first appeared in ancient Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago.  The first Big Government program, as related in Genesis, was the building of the Tower of Babel.  The project was undertaken as a means of uniting the people and preventing them from spreading out across the earth. Strength in numbers, I suppose.

The problem is, they had been specifically commanded by G-d to “fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1).  So it would seem that the first Big Government was formed, and the first Big Government program was undertaken, as an act of rebellion against…

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Food for Thought

For the kingdom of G-d is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” Romans 14:17 NIV

I went on a diet a little over three years ago. I lost some weight, which is good, but what was most astonishing to me was how much better I felt, and within only a few days.  But I didn’t just feel better; I felt years-younger better, I felt no-more-heartburn-indigestion-acid-re-flux better, and I felt more-energy-needing-less-sleep better.

The diet is a relatively new, high-protein, low-carb regimen that attracted me initially by its simplicity.  No calorie counting, no points to worry about or weighing food; not that there is anything wrong with those kind of diets, it’s just that they’re not for me.

As I progressed in the diet though, an odd thing began to happen.  The above verse of scripture began to come to mind, and the better I felt, the more frequently I would think of this verse.

I finally had to face the fact that G-d was trying to tell me something, and after some thought, I realized what was going on.  It seems that as I felt better, I was actually beginning to think I was better.  That feeling better, because I was eating better, was actually making me a better person.

To be sure, there were improvements in my behavior.  Since I needed less sleep and had more energy, I began getting up earlier on weekends and taking on a bigger share of the housework, for example.  With far fewer aches and pains, I began exercising more and took up running, something I hadn’t done in years.  Also, feeling better physically helps me to feel better emotionally, and I generally have a better attitude and outlook.

The point is, if I wanted to make a case that in fact I was a better person, I could do it.  The problem is, I would only be looking at one side of it.  While I am not going to list my current personal failures and weaknesses, if for no other reason that I don’t have the time or space, I can, in an honest moment, admit that I am still the same person I was before the diet.  I am sure my family would attest to that, as well!

OK, I lost weight, I feel better, I have a better quality of life, so what’s the problem?  So what if I’m not intrinsically a better person, what’s the big deal?  Honestly, there is really no issue here, is there?  I’m not perfect, I should just get over it!

But, of course, for me things are never that simple.  Earlier in life,  and for a number of years, I had gone on a self-improvement binge.  I read all the self-help, self-improvement, pop-psychology books I could get my hands on.   Some of them were pretty good, others, not so much, but they all seemed to have one thing in common,  they all required that you take control of your life and change it in some way, and by doing so you could achieve health, wealth, happiness, long life, etc., etc., etc.

Sounds great, right?  Do this, do that, and voila, the new you!  Now, some would tell you – look, this isn’t going to be easy, but you can do it, anyone can, and here’s how.  Just a little effort, a little willpower, and you’ve got it made.

Oops, what’s that?  Effort, willpower?  Uh-oh!  This could be a problem.

Let’s take a look at effort first.  Effort requires motivation.   People are simply unwilling to exert any effort whatsoever, for anything, without motivation.  But what does motivation require?  Motivation requires a need.  Oh, what’s that, you want to eat?  Well then, you’ll have to work.  Now that’s motivation!

Willpower, on the other hand is a little harder to define, and I think the reason for that is that there really is no such thing, at least not in the popular sense.  You may disagree, and I have had this argument before, but I just do not believe that there is any such thing as willpower as the term is commonly applied.

Let’s break it down: will – power of choosing one’s own actions; power – ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.  For the record, the definitions are from dictionary. com, and were chosen from the many definitions for each word to fit the present context.

Both words imply action, but “will” is about choosing to act and “power” is about the ability to act.  Willpower, it would then seem, is the ability to choose and to act upon one’s choices.

So far, so good.  Everybody can make choices, and everybody can act on those choices – or can they?  If I choose to walk from point A to point B, but I am incapable of walking, then I can’t act on that choice.  I may have other options for getting from A to B, but walking isn’t one of them.  Will power has nothing do with it and in fact it would be more than a little cruel to suggest to me that if only my willpower was stronger, I could walk from point A to point B.

The above illustration begs the question:  If it would be cruel to suggest to a person with a disability that they could walk if only they had the willpower, why do we think it is OK to suggest to a smoker, for example, that they could quit smoking if only they had more willpower?  Or to suggest to an obese person that they could lose weight if only they had more willpower?  Might this be just as cruel?

One might point out that the person who can’t walk has a physical disability that prevents them from walking, but the person who smokes or who eats too much is choosing to do so, and that would be correct, but let’s expand our illustration a little.

The disabled person wants to walk from point A to point B, but they can’t, so they lift themselves into a wheelchair, and wheel themselves from A to B.  They have accomplished their goal, albeit not by walking; and again, willpower has nothing to do with it.

Now, what about the person who smokes, for example?  I have had experience in this area, having smoked for 23 years.  I stopped, by the grace of G-d, over 26 years ago, but not after a long struggle in “trying” to quit.  In fact, the more I “tried” to quit, the more I smoked.  Right before I stopped, I was smoking 3 packs a day, and had been for some time.

So what happened?  Before I answer that, let’s take a quick look at human nature.  People, in general, don’t do anything without a reason.  The reason may be rational, or irrational, but they have to have a reason. Secondly, they require motivation.  A reason, and motivation are related, but in the end very different.

Let’s look at the reasons for quitting smoking: smoking shortens lifespan, smoking degrades the quality of life, smoking can harm others, smoking costs a lot of money, and you could probably list others.  I had all of these reasons to quit, yet could (would?) not.  Why?  Because none of those reasons were enough to counteract the fact that I enjoyed smoking, and in fact, rightly or wrongly, I believed I was actually getting some benefit out of smoking.

Therefore, none of the listed  reasons motivated me to want to quit.  I enjoyed smoking and I was willing to take the risks.  The problem, however, is that I have a wife who wanted me to quit, and society in general was bringing more and more pressure on smokers to quit, and still is.

So what to do?  This is where “trying” to quit smoking comes in.  Let’s face it, if you’re trying to do something, you’re not doing it, but to others, it looks like you’re doing it, right?  At least you’re trying.

“Where’s Bill?”, someone might ask.

“He ran out to have a smoke.”

“Bill smokes?”

“Yeah, but he’s trying to quit.”

“Oh, well at least he’s trying.”

I’m not saying that my efforts were deliberately insincere, but as I said, when you’re trying to do something, you’re not doing it, you’re just trying.  At best though, I was deluding myself into thinking I was quitting smoking when I was really just trying.

So reasons do not,  in and of themselves, provide motivation to quit. And honestly, having someone nagging you to do it or being pressured from society only makes things worse.  Our fallen human nature automatically rebels against any pressure to do anything, let alone something we have no good reason to do.

What I’m getting at here is that we human beings do not do anything  unless we want to do it.  This is  much more profound than it may appear.  It is profound because it is so simple.  When we want to do something, like the person who can’t walk from A to B, we just do it, we don’t try to do it, we do it!

So this was my dilemma:  I enjoyed smoking, but I was under pressure from my family and society to quit.  The more I viewed things in this way, the worse things got.  Periodically, I would try to quit, not because I thought quitting would be beneficial to me, but because of the pressure to do so.

The problem is, each time I tried to quit, I would end up smoking more. At least the pressure to quit would let up somewhat, and as an added benefit, each time I tried and failed, I got a certain amount of sympathy.  “Poor Bill, he’s really trying to quit [I was], but he just can’t seem to do it”.

But I did quit, eventually, so how did I do it?

As a Christian, I believe that all things ultimately come from G-d, including the ability to quit smoking.  In one of my more objective and honest moments, I said to Him, “Look, I know that I should quit smoking, but I just don’t want to [this insight also came from Him], so I’m going to have to turn this over to You because it’s just not going to happen if left up to me.”

I would like to say that at that moment I quit and never picked up another cigarette, but alas, that is not what happened.  The reason is that I still wanted to smoke, and G-d will not directly interfere with our will.  Whenever Jesus cured someone, He would often say “Your faith has healed you,” and there is at least one passage that refers to the fact that Jesus could only perform a few miracles because of the relative lack of faith of the people in that particular area.

What did happen though is that things just kept getting worse until I was, as I said earlier, smoking three packs a day.  As things got worse though, some other things began to happen: like the commercial said, I was “smoking more and enjoying it less”.  Even those times when I normally enjoyed smoking, I was not.  I also started to see just how destructive smoking could be, and not just to my health, but potentially to my family.  After all, I was an example, and I really did not want my children to smoke.

There was the financial damage.  I had a wife and two children, with one on the way, and I was spending almost $100 a month on cigarettes.  That does not seem like much now, but in 1988 it was almost a car payment!  What was I thinking?

Also very important, I started to realize that my rebellion was misplaced.  Instead of rebelling against G-d and man, I should rebel against smoking and my desire to smoke because that is what enslaved me, not G-d and my family or society.

What was happening over a period of months, is that my heart and my mind were being remade in a way that, in the end, I wanted to quit smoking, and I finally said to the Lord, sincerely and from my heart, “I want to quit smoking.” It was from that moment on that I have not smoked another cigarette.

I still get uncomfortable, to this day, when people hear that I quit smoking after 23 years, and they say “Wow, how did you do it”?  The fact is, I didn’t do it, I just put it in  the Lord’s hands and He did it.

And willpower had nothing to do with it.

So, what are the lessons I learned from my smoking and diet experiences?  First, it all starts with G-d.  Any power we have to do anything comes from Him.  Even that act of turning to Him in faith comes from Him.

Second, we have to have faith that G-d can address our problems, if He chooses to do so.  When He chooses not to for a time, we have to have faith that He has His reasons for not doing so.  This faith also comes from G-d.

Third, we have to want to resolve the problem.  This is a statement, or assertion of will, not a passing fancy or simple desire. Wanting to resolve the problem also comes from G-d.

The fourth step is relatively easy because once we want to do it, we don’t try to do it, we just do it.  Does this guarantee success? No, because the outcome is in G-d’s hands; but we still, in faith,  do all of the things necessary to accomplish our goal.

As for being a better person, simply quitting smoking or losing weight does not make us better people, but it even goes further than this. None of our efforts can make us intrinsically better people; but G-d, when He chooses, and in response to our faith, can not only make us better, He can and will, in His time, make us perfect.