Playing Spiritual Whack-a-Mole

It’s been an interesting week, and this is most certainly not the blog that I had planned to write for ESI. For much of this week, I had planned to write about a great book I recently read but somewhere along the way I tripped and fell flat on my face, spiritually speaking. More to the point, the Lord was gracious enough to show me something I had been tripping over more often than I’d wanted to see. Well, this week I was given eyes to see it, and the net effect was to greatly humble me. Hence, the blog I didn’t think I was going to write.

The post I thought I was going to write had to do with foolishness. Earlier this week, my husband (working from a text written by biblical counselor Lynn Roush) wrote a post about wisdom and foolishness (Wisdom in the Face of Folly: Part 1 of 2) and I have been thinking I would dovetail with his topic and write a review of a book we recently read together. That book, too, focused in on the biblical definition of foolishness; how to understand and identify foolishness in your own life, and how to deal with the biblically-defined fools around you that are making life unnecessarily difficult.

I tried. I reviewed the book, sat down at my computer…and stared. Even after staying up late last night – and then falling asleep in front of my computer – a post on the subject of foolishness simply would not emerge from me. So, that book review is going to have to wait for another week, I’m afraid.

Many people would call it “writer’s block.” Not me. I would call it something else. I would say that the Lord would not permit me to write on that particular subject because that’s not what is primarily simmering inside of me these days. What is rattling around inside of me is, instead, the realization that decades-old sins – ones that I thought I’d dealt with – are still knocking around within me, causing here-and-now problems in at least a few relationships, perhaps more subtly than they used to, yet still wreaking havoc and and dishonoring the Lord. To put it another way, the scales fell from my eyes and I really did not like what I saw.

For me, the issue at hand is “maintaining forgiveness” and offering unconditional love to someone who has wronged me. If it weren’t so serious, it might be amusing in an ironic way as my husband and I facilitate DivorceCare at The Crossing, a video series that, among other things, emphasizes the importance of wrapping our hearts and minds around forgiveness and acceptance. I have had several close friends describe me as a loving person, but what I see so clearly now is that my love tends to be conditional, far more conditional than I had wanted to believe. Sure, all of us, this side of heaven, offer love that has its limits and is therefore at least somewhat conditional. For example, the wife who chooses to forgive her husband an act of unfaithfulness may decide, after multiple infidelities, that she must now protect her heart and withdraw her love at the man-wife level. (After all, biblical wisdom and discernment must enter into the picture at some point, obviously.) But “withdrawing trust” and “deliberately withholding love” are two very different things. While we may indeed be wise to stop trusting someone, we are never counted righteous in a decision to withhold the agape love Jesus commands (Matthew 5:43-45).

We are all helpless to overcome our own besetting sins, absent the work of Christ. I’ve believed that truth for many years now, but this week provided me with one of those amazing moments when Christian doctrine came alive for me in the flesh-and-blood realities of my life. It’s one thing to sit around with other women in a Bible study and talk about having your sin revealed to you in a moment of insight, but it’s something else entirely to walk right smack into it as you’re trying to live out a life of faith. It can be highly discouraging to be confronted with the fact that you know the truth…but you aren’t living the truth.

If you have accepted Christ into your life, He has promised that you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). You will have new desires, along with a new strength to battle old desires. But Paul also makes it evident that, until our dying day, the battle against the sin within is just that – a battle (Romans 7).

As part of Christ’s patient and merciful plan for my life, I have been graciously shown – once again – the tension between those two truths. I see Christ’s redeeming work in my life regularly. I also see the truth of Romans 7 regularly. God continues to mercifully show me that there are some previously-defeated enemies still “alive and well” within my own heart, sins that I thought I had beaten down and put aside, offenses that I “didn’t need to worry about anymore.” Of course, I know my reformed theology well enough by now to know that this can never be absolutely true, but I think I had also managed to convince myself that some of the old ways of my flesh – the selfish, ungodly ways in which I can sometimes behave in relationships, especially ones I find difficult or potentially painful – had been set aside. But just like a persistent ant problem in my home, I’ve found that I had really only been successful in keeping the ants from coming in through the kitchen window. In other words, even though I was diligently protecting my heart from one form of ungodliness, another one sneaked in through the unguarded back door.

As Christians, the battle against sin can be, quite frankly, exhausting. It’s like a never-ending game of Sinful Whack-a-Mole. You smash one down with a hammer only to have another pop up someplace you were not expecting. Just like everyone else, I confess that it can be exhausting to be constantly working to live a life that is more pleasing to Christ. In those moments of spiritual fatigue – “Am I ever going to get any better at this?” – I think it’s critical that we remember the alternative to a lifetime of battling against the sins of the flesh. God is showing us great mercy by revealing our failings one after the other, and we should be grateful for being given eyes to see where we continue to offend Him; the alternatives (as I understand them) are perpetual blindness (Matthew 23) or worse, being “given over” to the sins such that they no longer bother us (Romans 1:18-25). I’ll take “spiritual exhaustion” over either of those choices any day.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (ESV)
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

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