Prayer or Prescriptions?



So I’m reading Esquire at work one night, right? I ran across their monthly segment called “A Thousand Words About our Culture”. It was a writer by the name of Stephen Marche, and he was talking about how our culture has taken bad behavior and, instead of attributing it to the corruption of human nature, rebranded it as a symptom of ever more prevalent psychological disorders or pathological ailments. Our newfound fascination with t.v. shows about people with personality disorders and poor coping skills “[blur] the line between what is sick and what is bad”, Marche said. “For millennia”, he continues, “Western culture had a very simple system for dealing with bad actions. You sinned, you recognized it, you decided you wanted to change, and you were redeemed. This neat little system was called Christianity. Now “sins” are called “bad choices,” and for the price of a stay at Hazelden or Pine Grove, redemption comes in the form of rehab.”So when did we get this crazy idea that pills were better than prayer? And why are Christians buying into it?

The real question is, what are we being taught about how to live our faith? As Christians there are things we’re taught that we ought to do. There are obligations that we ought to fulfill. We ought to pray, we ought to tithe, we ought to go to church, we ought, we ought, we ought.

As a teenager I learned that when ‘ought’ is put up against, well, just about anything, it’s gonna lose about seven times out of ten. If there’s a strong desire to do the right thing present within us, then we’ll do what we ‘ought’ with a bit more consistency, and if we fear the ostracism of a group, then we’ll stay on the straight and narrow even more. Those two things, a desire to do the right thing and a fear of ostracism, are constantly battling in the heart of every human being, but especially the Christian. Many of the things that the Christian life demands of its adherents are demanding, strenuous and unpleasant. Someone might get through them, might abstain from an easier path, through sheer determination to do what he ‘ought’. But in my humble opinion, this isn’t the way it ‘ought’ to be.

As Christians, we believe that Christ died as an atonement for our sins, and that through Him we are justified before the Father. We believe that, when God looks down upon us, He does not see our brokenness, our illnesses, our weakness before temptation, et cetera, but instead sees the righteousness of Christ, because we believe in Him.

So, given this, what ‘ought’ we do? What did Christ himself have to say? When the crowd, still full from the miraculous provision of bread and fishes, asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So what exactly does it mean to believe? Well, it’s pretty simple, really. You sorta gotta buy into it. And the craziest thing happens when you do that. It’s not so logical or rational a thing, but no less real for all that. You begin to change from the inside.

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2: 4-10, NLT

That last part gets me. We are created anew, so that we can do the good things that He planned for us to do. The problem is, it’s a two step process. If we’re not cooperating with the execution of these good plans, then there’s not gonna be a whole lot of transforming going on. Maybe that’s why we hold out against forgiveness, and continue to sit in judgment over ourselves. Maybe we don’t want to owe anyone anything. But the truth is, we’re never gonna break free of the mire we’re so firmly lodged in unless we reach out and accept the helping hand.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you’re saved, and experience that transformation within yourself, then ‘ought to’ becomes ‘happy to’, because they’re now acts of loving gratitude.

Just something to think about.


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Variation on a Theme

A little more on the previous theme.

The self fears annihilation above all else. But what does Christ promise first and foremost but the total annihilation of everything contrary to the will and glory of God within us? He promises that it will be gradual and bearable, but eventually complete and all encompassing. The fear, then, comes from the self having knowledge of his own demise. We anticipate the things we hold most dear being systematically demolished by the One we hold most dear. The part of us that fears, the mortal part, is slated for execution, and he knows it, and he is determined not to go quietly into that good night.

Psychological pain is one thing that sets we humans apart from what Aristotle called ‘the balance of the animal economy’. A dog suffers when it it struck, but since it’s capacity for language and reason are limited, it can’t anticipate events in the future; but just tell someone you’re going to hit them and they will suffer, even though you haven’t done anything. A person’s status as res cogiton ensures that knowledge of future suffering can be as bad as the suffering itself.

“I’m going to give you a cookie tomorrow” yields a momentary smile, laugh, or feeling of well being. But “I’m going to hit you tomorrow” is much more disruptive. Hope isn’t as potent as dread, I think.  Or perhaps it is, but only after one has trained oneself, and taken one’s thoughts wholly captive.  For what better news can we get than “Someday, and it might be very soon, you will say goodbye to all pain, fear, and suffering, and assume your role as a beloved child of God, basking in His loving presence forever”? But it’s disrupted so easily that if we don’t meditate on it constantly, it’s quickly forgotten.

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Fear and Trembling

I’ve been down in Georgia for several days, luxuriating in the hospitality of my family. The busy of the workaday life seems far away, but not the worry that so often accompanies it. Worry has become entrenched in me, the way rain washing even over the hardest rock will eventually wear grooves, and with enough time and pressure, those grooves can become rivers, set in deep canyons while the waters flow toward the source.

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. 
      Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? 
      And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
      When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. 
      When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 


One night, the sea nearly destroyed the boat of the apostles, until the Lord said “Peace, be still-” but only at the last moment. Or, what appeared to be the last moment. He appeared to be annoyed that the disciples thought it necessary to rouse Him. What if they hadn’t? Would the storm have abated of itself, or would he have arisen by Himself and rebuked the sea?

The image we are supposed to take is that of the sea quieting down. What strikes me are the horrifying minutes on the boat during which the disciples said, “Christ is here with us, and yet we founder.” The idea that the saviour is among your midst and yet the storms not only come, but come stronger still. When the idea that our own pleasure and security, while they are our own greatest aims, are not God’s, and that we must abandon our plans for His, really sets in, there is a period of darkness. One is not afforded the luxury of agnosticism, because one knows full well what he believes. One must go on in the face of the terrifying thought that our worst fears are not incompatible with God’s plan.

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