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When you are not the one who has been assigned the task of finding and stopping a serial killer who is on the loose, then it’s very easy to see where the moral lines of interrogation tactics lie. But when it’s your friend’s wife who just got raped and slaughtered by some psycho on a bender, and you are now in a room with a smart aleck who obviously knows some critical information that could help you find and stop the killer, suddenly it seems totally justifiable to start putting the screws to him. When it’s your city that has been chosen for a terrorist attack and you’ve been told that it’s on you to keep the people safe, it suddenly becomes very hard to keep your cool when you’re questioning a known member of the terrorist cell. When it’s your officer who is being held hostage, or when it’s your soldier who is getting tortured somewhere, then suddenly time becomes something that you can’t afford to waste. And since it is a well-known fact that pain is a very useful way to extract information from people, suddenly you see yourself crossing lines that you never thought you’d cross. In the heat of the moment, you’ve got the moral excuse to justify your merciless behavior. But once the crisis is resolved and you have time to think about the depths to which you sank, suddenly you start feeling really disturbed about who it is you became.
When the pressure is bearing down on us, it is extremely easy to justify the degradation of other human beings. Sometimes we play games with numbers. Your gut tells you that your prisoner has information which can help you save ten other lives. Ten is greater than one, so you decide that your prisoner just became expendable and that you are going to sacrifice him for the greater good. The problem is that your definition of the greater good is more than a little biased. God says that all lives are precious, but we get into political wars with each other and use irrelevant details like ethnicity, clothing, gender, nationality, and religion to pretend that it’s alright to treat some humans like trash. The American soldier is taught to treat American lives as more valuable than non-American lives. If two soldiers are gunned down on the battlefield, the Chinese soldier is taught to try and save the one who is wearing the same uniform as he is, and abandon the other guy simply because he’s wearing different clothes. Clearly such a moral code does not fly with God, but God’s opinion tends to hold very little weight with us in the crunch moments. Instead, we get consumed with what our human supervisors are telling us to do. We fixate on the immediate goal of winning that battle, saving that hostage, locating that bomb, identifying that killer, or cracking that code, and we give ourselves permission to use any means necessary to accomplish our mission. It’s only after the adrenaline rush is over that we start seeing the flaws in our priority system and realizing how wrong our judgment can be. By the time you realize that your prisoner was telling the truth about not knowing anything, you’ve already done irreparable damage to the man’s body. So now what?
Sometimes it is a simple overload of stress that causes us to go into monstrous meltdowns. After watching helplessly while your buddies are gunned down on the battlefield, you grab a gun and start mowing down innocent women and children in a fit of rage. When we’re reeling with grief and shock, humans quickly morph into symbolic targets which we then unload on. The kids who are playing in the street weren’t the ones who tortured your commanding officer to death, but they have the same skin color as the creeps who assaulted your boss, so you let them have it. When we’re put in positions of power, we don’t stop being fragile humans. But when we flip out in uniform, we often end up using the tools which our rank gives us access to—tools that allow us to do more damage than we otherwise could.
So what happens after you’ve seen yourself turn into someone who scares you? What happens when those moral fences that you always thought would be there get flattened? Who is going to reel you back in the next time you start spinning out of control if you can no longer count on yourself to keep yourself in check? When we’re first starting out, we swear that we’ll take a higher road than the guys who stumbled before us. We feel repulsed by the immoral things that others have done and it’s so easy to condemn what we don’t understand. But once we morph into monsters ourselves, suddenly everything changes. We now understand things we never wanted to understand, and we’ve crossed lines that we said we’d never cross. So what now? Do we spend the rest of our lives trying to use drugs to put distance between ourselves and those awful memories? Unfortunately, this is the road that many choose to go down: they try to escape and hide instead of choosing to confront and grow. But as a Christian, you need to decide that you’re not going to waste this experience. Whenever we find ourselves sinking to new depths, there is an opportunity to spring back up to even greater heights. But before you can lean into God’s redemptive lessons, you need to understand some basic principles about the point of your existence.
WHY YOU EXIST
When you wallow in perpetual shame and embrace the identity of a major loser after you make some really wrong move, it’s like you’re saying that the point of life is to be a good person. The Christian’s call is to be someone who walks a higher moral road than most—this is what many Christians think. And once they decide that God is handing out the gold stars and punishments based on our behavior, it’s easy to spiral down into hopelessness after one major blunder. After all, if not messing up is all that counts, then once you morph into some cruel monster and do unjustified damage to other people, then it’s like you’re the runner of a race who just fell down on his face. By the time you get back on your feet, everyone else has gained such a huge lead on you, that there’s simply no point in trying anymore. When this is your view of life, then it makes sense to sit on the sidelines and try to drown your sorrows. It makes sense to shut down on relationships and become some brooding zombie because it’s obvious that you no longer have any shot at being any kind of victorious. Of course the problem with this entire stream of logic is that it’s based on deceptions. Life isn’t a competition in which you are striving to keep up with the moral models around you.
The apostle Paul referred to life as a race in his letters, and since then Christians have really jumped on this analogy as being a great depiction of how things are. And yet in reality, it’s a lousy analogy, because a race is about humans competing with each other. A race is about winners and losers and everyone anxiously keeping tabs on everyone else. None of these elements have any place in the committed Christian’s life.
If you want a more accurate analogy of life, then picture you and God walking alone together down an endless path. God isn’t running, nor is He in any flaming hurry to get somewhere. What He’s interested in is communing with you. His entire purpose in creating you was to invite you to be His walking partner. He didn’t create you because He was lonely and in need of a friend. He didn’t create you because He was bored and couldn’t think of anything better to do. He created you because He found the idea of building a personal bond with you very pleasing. But He isn’t interested in a peer bond, which is why He didn’t make you anywhere close to His equal. This relationship is one in which you are the dependent creature who desperately needs a needless God who thoroughly enjoys taking care of you.
God isn’t looking for your help. You’re the one who needs help and perpetual propping up, because you are a mess. This is how God likes it. When He designed humans, He wasn’t going for perfect, powerful, intelligent creatures. He was going for delicate, flawed, weak, and foolish. We humans really aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box. We’re extremely shortsighted, we have backwards priorities, and we’re notorious for making bad judgments and wrong interpretations. Without God constantly intervening to save us from ourselves and each other, we’d last as long as a baby crawling through a minefield. And yet we are exactly what God wanted, because God is not a human, and He doesn’t think like humans think.
While humans quickly tire of taking care of someone who can do nothing for themselves, God thrives in the role of constant Provider. While there is a limit to how much another human wants to get involved in the mess of your life, God loves being in your business. While other humans are only interested in relating to the pleasant parts of you, God embraces everything about you with great enthusiasm. So you see, relating to the non-human Being who created you is an entirely different thing than relating to other humans. And relating to your Creator is the entire point of your existence. God made you for the primary purpose of having you pursue a personal relationship with Him—everything else is a side detail compared to that all-important goal.
Now once you understand that the true purpose of your life is to pursue a relationship with your Creator, you can start to see your current mess as the fabulous opportunity that it is. You see, your life is not a series of random events. Your life is being very purposely directed by a God who is constantly opening and closing doors of opportunity in front of you. You didn’t just stumble into a military career—God intentionally opened that door for you to go through. Plenty of people want to join the military only to have God close the door of opportunity in their faces. Plenty of people want to work in law enforcement and never make it. The ones who do make it only make it because God gives them the opportunity. And once a man enters the military or law enforcement system, he quickly realizes that promotions are not distributed fairly. Those who deserve promotions are often blocked from obtaining them while others are pushed forward. How is it that you found yourself in a position to do harm to another? Pull up a mental image of yourself in the situation in which you lost it and realize that you didn’t get into that situation by a series of freak coincidences. God has been intimately involved in every detail of your life since your conception, and nothing has happened to you by accident in this world. But while God has been so purposefully arranging your life to unravel in a certain way, everything He has done has been with one main purpose in mind: to lead you into an understanding of why you exist, and to motivate you to embrace the purpose for which He created you. That purpose has nothing to do with other humans—it’s all about you pursuing a relationship with the One who made you.
Here’s how you waste your life as a human: you refuse to pursue God. You refuse to think beyond your immediate circumstances and see the big picture. Okay, so you crossed lines that you shouldn’t have crossed. You acted like a monster, you wrecked lives, and perhaps it all turned out to be in vain because you weren’t even able to accomplish your one good goal. Well, all of this is an incomplete thought—it’s like the first half of a sentence that ends with a comma. What comes next is what determines if what you did was truly terrible or not. If you’re going to finish out the thought by saying, “I totally messed up, therefore I am now going to wallow in the past forevermore,” then yes, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs. But God has a better ending in mind. He sees all of this as a grand opportunity for you to grow closer to Him, and if you follow His lead in how to respond in the aftermath of what you did, then no matter how much of a mess you’ve made, you will end up better off for having gone through it.
Two women lose their husbands unexpectedly and tragically. One woman decides to perpetually wallow in grief and embrace a victim mentality for the rest of her life. The other woman listens to God and ends up greatly maturing through the experience. The first woman says, “I died the day my husband died.” The second woman says, “By going through that terrible time of sorrow and grief, I have grown closer to God than I ever thought was possible.” Which woman should you feel sorry for? Only the first one, because she made foolish choices and totally rejected a prime opportunity for growth. But you should be happy for the second woman, because she has gained more of God, and communion with Him is the treasure that makes all other treasures seem worthless by comparison. If you were to say to the second woman, “I wish you had never lost your husband,” it would be like saying, “I wish you had never gained this new intimacy with God that you now have.” The two events are linked: the negative trauma set up the opportunity and stresses needed to push the second woman on to a better spiritual place with God. It is the same with you now: the negative trauma you’ve been through is not an isolated event. It will result in consequences, and the choices you are making now are determining what those consequences will be. Wishing you could undo the past is a rejection of the fabulous growth opportunities that this whole mess has brought you. When we keep mentally replaying past events and wishing we could go back and make different choices, we’re like the man who moans about wanting a vegetable garden while he throws away every packet of seeds that people bring to him. You aren’t going to get a garden if you never plant anything, and you aren’t going to benefit from the mess you’ve gone through unless you decide to be receptive to the positive lessons God wants to teach you.
THE PURPOSE OF TRIALS
There’s no such thing as a useless trial or pointless suffering. Every misery that God brings into our lives is loaded with the potential to benefit us spiritually. Trials only become pointless when we refuse to make wise spiritual choices in how we respond to them. Suffering only becomes useless when we refuse to learn the lessons God is offering to teach us. We choose to waste our lives by rejecting God’s many invitations to turn our worst moments into fabulous spiritual gains.
Victorious living has nothing to do with never making a mistake. God wants you to stumble. He wants you to make bad calls and wrong judgments in life. He wants you to get blinded by wrong loyalties and have moments when you’re so high on adrenaline that you do things which you later sorely regret. Being morally perfect and never making any mistakes is simply not an option that God gives you. In this life, you will mess up. And if you don’t chase after trouble intentionally, God will make sure that trouble finds you, because it is only by going through crises and stresses that we get forced to wrestle with concepts which are critical to growing closer to God.
STRENGTHENING THE BOND
God isn’t interested in some mediocre bond with you, He wants something dynamic and deep. A critical part of strengthening your bond with Him is for Him to cultivate certain soul attitudes within you. There are many soul attitudes which greatly benefit your walk with God, but some are particularly foundational. Submission and dependency are two of those foundational attitudes, and morphing into some moral monster sets you up to make major gains in each of these areas.
Earlier we asked the question that frequently haunts souls in your position: now that you’ve crossed the line, who will keep you from crossing it again? You can’t keep yourself in check in life—you’ve already seen how easily you can lose a grip on right and wrong when the stress becomes too much. And yet bumping up against the limits of your own strength is vital to you realizing how dependent you are on God to keep you close to Him in life. Without His help, you are sure to make a mess of things. Without His empowerment, you are sure to go astray. God is the One who gives you a desire to do right in the first place. It is His convictions which teach you right from wrong and help you discern wisdom from foolishness. You desperately need Him to intervene and keep you from totally squandering your chance to grow close to Him. He is quite willing to give you such help, but only if you agree to fully submit to Him.
Submission is vital to succeeding with God. In this relationship, all of the power and authority are on His side. He won’t let you be His partner—He insists on being the Alpha. He insists on His opinion being viewed as the one that trumps yours. He says that you must surrender yourself to the idea that pleasing Him is more important than pleasing yourself. Most Christians don’t come anywhere close to giving God full submission. They just give Him enough submission to acquire salvation, but then they spend their lives trying to keep Him at arm’s length by ignoring Him as much as possible. Decide that you’re not going to be just another fool who refused to pursue what really matters in life.
You were brought into being for the purpose of pursuing a personal relationship with your Maker. Sinking to new depths of immorality and being shocked by the discovery that your potential to do evil is far greater than you thought—these things should not be viewed as reasons for despair, but instead as priceless opportunities to move much closer to God. Ask Him to help you learn everything that He wants to teach you and to make you all that He wants you to be. Such a focus will not only steer you away from despair, but it will set you on a new course in life: one that involves the pursuit of what really matters. In the end, it really isn’t going to matter at all how many battles you won or how many bad guys you arrested or how many wars you helped to prevent. All that will matter is how well you know your Creator and how pleased He is with you. God often uses traumatic experiences to motivate us to correct our priorities in life. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
The Great Gift of Sin: Why Our Depravity Gives Us Hope
How long will God punish me for the past?
Understanding the Love of God: The Five Versions of You
Relating to God: Pursuing the Right Dynamic
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You