Psychological and physiological deterioration in the constant presence of life threatening conditions is well documented. When we are subjected to an environment of fear, uncertainty, hostility and aggression over a prolonged period, defense mechanisms come into play that are not exhibited under “normal” circumstances. In war, we see human beings on the edge. From battle fatigue to vengeful atrocities, the human system succumbs to numbing disconnection or reveals its darkest regions. Concentration camp behavior often reduces us to animal instincts. But not always. Victor Frankel’s powerful insights into the strength of the human will still hold up a torch of humanity even in the most hideous circumstances.
Our greatest problem in these conditions is not survival. Like all living organisms, humans have an intense desire to survive. Our biggest problem is awareness. What I mean is that in some forms of combat we are often unaware of what is happening to us and that fact alone makes us vulnerable to abnormal behavior. It is awareness of the enemy that keeps me from acting with survival responses or disintegrating into psychic numbness. In order to be a fully functioning human being in these situations, I must be mentally engaged at a higher level than normal, not a lower reactionary level
We are quick to acknowledge the need for higher awareness in the face of the visible stress of war. But we rarely think of our ordinary lives in terms of high stress combat. That is a grave mistake. It is a mistake that comes about because we are unaware of the scope of the battle. The result is that we are often confused, disoriented and off-guard when we are suddenly confronted with enemy action. We did not realize that we were in combat until the attack came upon us. But we should have. Our leader made it very clear.
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘ A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you;” John 15:20
“An hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think that he is offering service to God” John 16:2
“I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world” John 16:14
The early generals heard the battle plan and gave us their orders.
“to those who reside at aliens” 1 Peter 1:1
“since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same purpose” 1 Peter 4:1
“do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you” 1 Peter 4:12
“Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God” 1 Peter 4:19
“Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm” Ephesians 6:11
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12
“But remember the former days, when after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of suffering” Hebrews 10:32
The imagery is clear. We are at war. It is not simply a declaration; it is a real time battle. To forget that we are engaged in this moment-to-moment conflict is to fall prey to enemy propaganda. The soldier is lulled to sleep when he does not perceive the imminent threat. In this world, “normal” life is enemy dis-information.
This is what Paul has in mind when he exhorts us to “not be conformed to this world”. We are still in the world. In fact, we are called to be in this world as beacons of light in the dark. But we are not to participate in the patterns of this world. We are not to be suschematizesthe with this world. If you look carefully at this Greek word, you will see the English word “schematic”. The word means, “to be fashioned together with”. That’s it! Don’t be cut from the same cloth. Don’t follow the same plan. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Don’t come from the same mold.
We tend to interpret this as morality issues but there are a lot more patterns in this world than just moral rules. Paul is calling us to become aware of the deep values that infect our thinking. Renewal of the mind is much more than changing moral behavior. He wants us to challenge, question and pray over those ordinary assumptions about life that guide our behavior. Life’s true value patterns are found in God’s Word. But unless we understand the patterns of this world, we will unintentionally and unconsciously adopt them in spite of these strong warnings. Why will we do that? Because the patterns of this world are such “common sense” things. Unless we base our deepest commitments and guidance on these patterns, we will simply absorb the enemy’s dis-information. We will be soldiers asleep on duty.
So, the first step is an examination of the “normal” assumptions. Patterns are subtle ways that the world captivates our thinking and replaces God with ego. They are far less obvious than debates about abortion or gay life styles. And the less obvious ones are far more deadly.
For example, consider the New Testament view of security. Paul commands us not to place our security in the uncertainty of wealth. Adeloteti is the Greek word for “uncertainty”. The root behind this word describes things that are covered up or not revealed. Security placed in wealth is security that stands on something hidden. We all know that this is true. No matter how much money we have, it provides no real protection in life. Cancer, calamity, natural disaster, accident and death cannot be thwarted by wealth. Neither can divorce, despair or depression. Robin Leach’s version of the rich and famous hides lives of desperation. We all know this, but we all act as though money is the answer to life. More people believe they will find happiness by winning the lottery than by working where God has placed them. Here is a pattern of this world that destroys every particle of peace with the life God gives. Paul reminds us that riches are the least tangible of assets. They are a vapor of economic agreement, subject to every kind of market, social and political pressure. Paul says nothing more than Jesus. Real treasure is what God values, not Man.
This pattern is so difficult to counteract. We see its simple truth and yet we all tend to view our lives on the measurement scale of buying power. That leaves us in a constant state of fear, far from the God of peace. In order to let God remove this pattern, we must believe what He says, not what we see. But isn’t that what faith requires? His word is certain. The rest is only false “common sense”.
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some important questions about other patterns we seem to take for granted. Perhaps the questions are actually more important than the answers (for the time being).
1. Is life really about being “balanced”? Do you think that Paul and Jesus and Jeremiah and Moses and David were “balanced”? Is the Greatest Commandment myopic in its focus? If we agree that God is to be the absolute priority of life, does that commitment have a direct and immediate bearing on every other aspect of living? Is God the active agent in my work life, my family, my leisure choices, my investments, my buying decisions, my emotional attachments?
2. Do you really feel free? Or do you just feel that your sins have been forgiven but the rest of your life is still a heavy load? What does it mean to be “free indeed”? Does the freedom of Jesus liberate you from your past? Does it free you from your desires that oppose God’s wishes? Does it release you from ego issues like power, money, influence, status and reputation? Are you free to be nothing so that God can use you for anything?
3. Are you aware of God’s immediate, intimate, active presence in everything that you do, even the “bad” stuff? Or do you think that God just shows up when He wants to or when we call Him or on Sundays in church? Do you “feel” God’s presence in your life no matter where you are and what you are doing?
4. Do you hear God? Do you have the calm and quite center that is tuned to God’s whisper? Do you practice solitude?
5. Are you confident that you are living God’s agenda? Or do you wonder if you aren’t trying to get God to help you with yours?
6. Do people actually experience the presence of Jesus when they are around you? If they don’t, what can it mean to say that Christ lives in me? Did you miss something?
7. Are you afraid? Why?
8. Are you anxious? Why?
9. Do you think that you need to be in control? Why?
10. Did Jesus rescue you from a horrible, traumatic, self-destructive death spiral? Or did you only need him to fix a few things? Do you serve a Redeemer or are you on an Emily Post Better Life program?
11. What is the difference between repaying someone who saves your life and tipping someone who helped you make better choices?
12. Does God scare you? Do you tremble in terror before Him? Or do you treat Him more like your grandfather? Why do Isaiah and Peter and John and Saul quake in fear if God is so kind and friendly?
The Word of God addresses each of these questions. It suggests that God’s perspective is not at all similar to the commonsense perspective that typically guides our decisions. The combat picture of the Bible is like this:
1. You have been rescued from behind enemy line where you were a prisoner bound for destruction
2. As a result, you are now an alien in foreign territory, assigned to your station by God, intended to carry our your mission as part of His purposes
3. The territory you occupy is hostile, filled with the enemy’s weapons, the most devious of which is mis-direction and dis-information
4. The game plan of the enemy is to convince you that you are not in a combat zone and to persuade you that the things you see around you and the behaviors that are touted as important are ordinary, normal and acceptable goals for living. This enemy propaganda is designed to weaken your diligence and resolve
5. As a soldier, your first task is to become aware of the enemy and the threat
6. God has provided you all the intelligence information necessary to keep you aware, equipped and ready
7. You bear the responsibility of operating at a distance from command headquarters, but you are never out of contact with the Commander
8. God guarantees your victory if you follow His strategy. He does not guarantee a life free of attack, injury or hardship but He does guarantee that He completely controls the level of combat and will never allow it to overwhelm your devoted reliance on Him
9. Every time someone appeals to commonsense as a method of convincing you to act, you must examine the appeal for its real source.
10. Every time you overthrow a piece of the enemy ideology, angels cheer, God is elated and Jesus applauds. This action causes turmoil in the territory, not least of which is the accusation that you are strange, a fanatic, mistaken or wrong. But Jesus has bound the strongman and therefore the strongman’s house is open to plunder
Here are typical propaganda messages found in the hostile territory.
1. The American Dream is the true meaning of success
2. Freedom is the inalienable right of human beings
3. The goal of life is to be happy
4. Following God will result in a better life
5. Suffering is evil
6. What I choose to do with my possessions, money and relationships is up to me
7. Hard work pays off (I must earn my own way)
8. Life must be lived by the rules
9. There is always someone to blame
10. I can never undo my past
Following Jesus is an invitation to think deeply about life. Simple faith is far from simple-minded. Combat without thought is pointless reaction.
The next time you turn to the Word of God, look for His combat instructions. Lock and load.
THINGS TO DO IN COMBAT
1. Celebrate those who do the right thing no matter what the results
2. View the field of battle only from the eyes of the commander; don’t get distracted by the propaganda
3. Serve to please the One in charge
4. Measure victory only in terms of revealed values, not in terms of apparent changes