Friday, January 24, 2014

The Passions in Christianity

When you throw the two words--Christianity and passions--together, many people will get varied images. Victorian morality, contradictory, hypocrisy, legalistic, Manichean (oh, okay, maybe not too many on that one), among others. To put it mildly, there is a checkered past on how to understand it and deal with it. But it has not always been so.

Indeed, a proper understanding of passion from a Biblical perspective will unlock the first and major means of managing the passions in a productive manner that is beneficial to all involved. Including when the passion of lust drives a spouse to cheat.

Before we go further, however, if you've not read the first article in this series, The Fire of Passion, I highly recommend you do so before reading this one. This article assumes the context presented there in understanding what the passions are.

To my non-Christian readers, let me relate these thoughts if you've come this far. The following is going to be related from a Christian viewpoint, if that hasn't been obvious to you by this point. For you, I'll sum up the main point you need to take away from this article. Take the principle and apply it in your faith or agnosticism/atheism as the case may be.

Successfully managing the passions requires a power beyond ourselves.

A higher power, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it. Or more generically still, a purpose and cause beyond yourself. It is the focus on self that feeds the passions. To reach the place of self-denial, to starve the negative passions in our lives, takes a focus, a purpose, and a motivation beyond ourselves.

For the Christian, this goes deeper than merely a focus beyond self, and includes the power to do the above and the tactics we'll discuss in the next article. We'll be exploring that in the following paragraphs, and you are welcome to read on, if for no other reason than to gain an understanding. Because I can just about promise you this will be nothing like your parent's Sunday School class.

Now back to what passions are understood to be and its solution in Christianity.

If there is one Biblical passage that sums up the Christian understanding of the passions, it is the following:

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
(Php 4:11-13 KJV)

There are three points to notice here.

1. Avoiding pleasure is not the answer. Paul states that it is not whether one is experiencing a passion or the fulfillment of a passion that trips us up. We need to know how to handle both: when we get what we want and when we don't, in a healthy way.

2. Controlling the passions through contentment is the answer. That is, a particular passion does not control us to the point we have no choice but to fulfill it. Rather, to be content is to remain unmoved by a passion. Sure, we'll feel it. But we are able to ignore it if it isn't proper to fulfill or the timing isn't right. We have the ability to say, "No" and mean it.

3. It is the energy and grace of union with the life of Jesus Christ that gives us contentment. Phil 4:13 is one of the most taken-out-of-context verses of all time. Paul is admitting that within himself he doesn't have the ability to manage and control the passions. Contentment is nigh impossible. But with Christ, he is able.

Why is that the case? It goes back to the Fall of man.

Genesis 1 is not intended to be a list of steps God took to create our world in a series, but in parallel.

Many people don't realize this, but once you look at it, it is obvious. Notice how day one speaks of light being created in general, while day four talks about creating specific lights in the sky. Then on the second day, God creates the sky and waters, and on the fifth day He creates the birds and fish that populate those environments. On the third day, God creates the land, and on the sixth day, He creates the animals that populate the land.

But that is not all that happened on the third and sixth day. On the third day, God creates the plants. On the sixth, man. This comparison is key. For as plant life is the bridge between inanimate and animate life, man is the bridge between animal life and divine life. Thus the divine life inhabits the animals and world through this link, bring it all into harmony.

The divine link in man is described in two ways.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . .
(Gen 1:26 KJV)

God created man both in His image and His likeness. In His image, because we are created to live with His life in us. In His likeness, because God infused His life in us at creation.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
(Gen 2:7 KJV)

Note the two sources of the creation of man. The dirt of this world, linking man firmly to it as are the animals who were created from the earth, that is, dirt, by God calling out for the earth to bring forth the animals. Gen 1:24 In this respect, man was created in the same way the animals were.

But unlike the animals, God breathed into man the breath of life. The word for breath is also translated spirit. In essence, God breathes His own spiritual life, and filled man with the Holy Spirit, which is His likeness.

Man was created to operate as an animal given divine life. A more intelligent animal, perhaps. But it is this divine life in man that gave him complete control over his passions which are inherent from the animal nature.

But as most know the story, that changed. Note what God tells man or Adam (same word, translators arbitrarily pick when to start calling him Adam instead of man).

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
(Gen 2:16-17 KJV)

Note what God says here: ". . . for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." God didn't say eventually. He didn't say in 900+ years. He said on the day he ate of it, Adam would die.

Yet, you know the story. Eve gets tempted, ends up having a passion for the fruit of the tree, saw that it would make her like God, and ate of it. So did Adam.

Memo to Christians: if people living in Paradise, with all they could want and need freely provided for them, with divine life coursing through their soul, can give into a passion, rationalize and justify getting what their passion wants, who are you to think you are immune? I used to think my marriage was immune to infidelity. It wasn't. Neither is yours.

Yet, Adam and Eve lived on for hundreds of years after this day. What gives?

The truth is they did die that day. The divine life departed from them, for if it had stayed, they would have been physically destroyed. But spiritually, Adam and Eve died that very day. They lost the divine life that they were created to contain.

The result, as the Church Fathers commonly write, is Adam and Eve are left with their animal life. The power to control the animalistic passions diminished with the passing of divine life. They lost the power to control them as before the Fall. Like the animals, we are more often controlled by them than us, them.

This points to what we mentioned in the last article. Just because one has a passion, a desire for something, doesn't mean it needs to be fulfilled in order to "be who you are created to be." Our current passion-dominated lives are not how God created us to be. Our passions don't dictate who we are. Rather, it is a tool to be used for our and others' benefits. In our fallen state, we tend to be driven to live according to our passions. This is not who we were created to be. It is an unnatural fallen existence that will, unchecked, eventually kill us.

The only solution to this dilemma is to unite your animal life to the divine life found through Jesus Christ.

The route to obtaining this life in evident through Scripture:

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. . . . For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(Joh 3:5, 16 KJV)

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. . . . For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
(Rom 6:3-4, 8 KJV)

It is the Spirit who makes alive; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
(Joh 6:63 EMTV)

Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
(Joh 6:54 KJV)

To summarize, if we unite to Him in faith, that is believing in Him, trusting Him, and obeying Him; if we are baptized into the likeness of His death and raised to new life in Him, known as being born again; and partake of Him in the Lord's Supper, our soul will be filled with His Spirit, His divine life as we were created to exist. The only difference between us and Adam is we still live in a fallen world. But thanks to Christ, we no longer need be controlled by the animal-like passions. We no longer need to live as fallen people, even in this fallen world.

With His life in us, we now have the ability to feed the right passion:

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
(Gal 5:16 KJV)
 In the last article, we will investigate the tools we can use to walk in the Spirit--the practical tactics we can use to manage the passions using contentment. Naturally, to do that, you first have to have His Spirit, full of His life, breathed into you once again. It gives you the power and ability to operate the tools effectively. Without it, your chances of effectively controlling the passions are greatly reduced.

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