Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Depression is Sin

Depression is not sin. That's what my wife told me in response to a statement I made during my sermon this past Sunday. I should not have categorized depression as a sin behavior. 

My wife was right. Depression is not sin. But it is often accompanied by sin. Just as it's difficult to masturbate without lustful thoughts, it's difficult to be depressed without self-hatred, mistrust, or fear.

I had been giving a talk about the negative mood cycle. For example, if confronted with a difficult writing assignment, every fiber of our being resists putting words on the page. In order to address our negative mood, we lust after some kind of solace, some chemical boost that will give us the energy we need to start working or avoid thinking about it altogether. From there, we pursue self-medicating behaviors - eating, social media, TV, pornography, video games, substance abuse, etc. Some of those behaviors are overtly sinful (porn, substance abuse) and some are only sinful when consumed as as a means of salvation. 

Depression can be, paradoxically, a type of salvation. The feeling of being depressed can act as a form of avoidance or self-medication. It is often a by-product of a certain pattern of thinking. I understand depression can have a biological/chemical foundation (ex. post-partum depression) but what we do with  our thoughts is our responsibility. We own our thoughts in the same way we own our actions.

Dan Allender, in his book The Wounded Heart, addresses adult victims of sexual abuse: 
Abuse provides the raw data that seems to prove that God is not good [emphasis his]. . . The abuse victim's fundamental enemy then, is sin: the fearful refusal is to trust a God about whom she is deceived. The Spirit of God is hard at work in her to reveal God's true nature and confront her fear and mistrust, but His work is a battle that requires her cooperation. 
Depression, like abuse, is not the fault of the victim. My aim is not to make people feel guilty or ashamed about depression. But in a similar way to abuse, depression provides the raw data that seems to prove that God is not good. That raw data can arise biologically or as a by-product of our mistrust of God. Either way, the negative emotion tempts us to turn away from God. 

I'm convinced that most types of depression are sustained by a pattern of thinking that does not acknowledge who God is and who we are in Him - new, righteous, and beloved children. 

We battle against depression, like all sin, by opening our eyes to the reality of God's nature and what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. The broken crust of wilderness is not of our choosing but where we place our trust is.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Emotional Bandwidth

Having the emotional capacity to focus on something besides one's own needs. In a social interaction, emotional bandwidth is the ability to divert attention away from how one is being perceived (and one's interests) towards attending to the other person. It means feeling secure enough with who you are that you can focus on another person's verbal and non-verbal language. In a conversation, it's crucial to have enough emotional bandwidth to observe the other person objectively. 

An example: Although Victor is a perceptive person, he doesn't have the emotional bandwidth to notice whether people are interested in what he's talking about. If he felt more secure as a person, he would be freed up to listen empathetically to others.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Time Management = Emotional Management

Time management help: For as long as I can remember, I've struggled with procrastination, lack of focus, and the inability to complete tasks. As the latch-key kid of Chinese immigrant parents, I knew the drill - come home from school, have a snack, and then do homework and practice violin until dinner. 

Yeah right.

Instead I would lounge around, snacking and imitating the moves I saw on MTV (my generation learned dance from music videos not Youtube). I would try to start an assignment only to be distracted by something going on outside. My friends would come over. If we had social media, it would have been game over.

I always believed my problem was time management. If I could only organize my time more efficiently, I would be far more productive. If I could only set up a plan where I  allocated a specified number of minutes to important tasks, I would be able to get things done. 

It never worked. 

No matter how well I planned, the boost in productivity might last a day or two (or an hour or two) and then I would lapse back into frittering away my time.

It's easy to observe that I lacked discipline, perseverance, and self-control. These qualities compose the foundation of effective time management. It takes discipline to hold to a schedule.  Perseverance helps one stay focused on tedious assignments. And self-control gives one power to refuse the temptation of distractions and impulses.

Amy Chua and impulse control: Amy Chua understands this. In her book Triple Package, impulse control is one side of the cultural success triangle. She writes:
But study after study— and there’s been a prodigious amount of research— confirms that overall, Chinese immigrants parent far more strictly than non-Asian Americans, making discipline, high expectations, perseverance, and self-control part of their children’s daily lives.
And Chinese parents enforce these values with their kids in several tangible ways: 
Chinese American preschoolers and kindergartners engage in a “focused activity” at home about an hour a day, compared to less than six minutes per day for white American children the same age. Chinese American children watch about one-third less television than white Americans.
And look down on American parents who don't: 
In a nationwide Pew survey, over 62 percent of Asian Americans agreed that “most American parents do not put enough pressure on their children to do well in school.” In fact, Chinese (and other Asian) immigrant parents sometimes perceive American parents as lacking in the very work-ethic and diligence they are trying to instill in their children.
This is not news to anyone who grew up with Chinese immigrant parents. Chua devotes an entire chapter to the psychological problems that impulse control can wreak on a person's self-esteem. She cites dress designer Vera Wang's sentiment that growing up in a Chinese family felt like a prison - where you never meet your parents' approval.

After all, Chinese culture basically negates the role of a person's emotional life. Emotions, especially negative ones, are distractions from the ultimate goal of hard work and success. They should be suppressed as much as possible for the sake of group harmony and focus. I've worked with so many Chinese American youth who, as they mature into adulthood, feel emotionally stunted by their upbringing. They are extremely competent in almost all areas of life but lack vulnerability and emotional vibrancy and expressiveness.

Time management is emotional control: The better you can manage your emotions, the easier it will be to exercise discipline, perseverance, and self-control. Perhaps it's even more accurate to describe self-control as equal to emotional control. Basically, you work hard and focus when you feel good. For example, while doing a tedious homework assignment, you can medicate boredom one of two ways - 1) give in and find something more interesting to do (Facebook, video games) or 2) suppress the pain of boredom, buckle down, and get through it. The first approach does not foster discipline, perseverance or self-control. But the second approach is soul-numbing and can threaten autonomy, self-reflection, and creativity. 

This is pretty much the East-West cultural divide. Eastern culture places high value on impulse control by suppressing emotional life. Postmodern western culture minimizes impulse control by elevating the emotional life over everything else. Chinese culture says it doesn't matter what you feel. Western culture says what you feel is the only thing that matters. 

Christianity has a third way - your emotional life is vital but it does not control you. Christ set us free from the tyranny of the negative mood cycle. . We are no longer prisoners to depression, guilt, shame, insecurity, and worthlessness. Boredom is painful but it does not have the power to dissuade from what is most important. Emotions are a window to the soul and negative emotions indicate areas where we need to experience Christ's victory over sin and death.

What does this mean practically?

1) Receive God's abundance of grace in regards to emotional management: Your worth is far more than how we use our time and our emotional highs and lows. Find people who would give you encouragement in how express your emotional life - people who will listen to you and empathize with how you feel.

I have to continually remind myself when I feel like I completely wasted my day surfing on-line, that my worth is not in what I do. It is in these moments where the high expectations of Chinese culture are not my friend. But high expectations are not the enemy - it's the shame, guilt, and insecurity that results when we fall short. 

2) Respect how God uniquely constructed your emotional temperament: Cultivate awareness concerning your impulses and evaluate them. God gives us impulses for a reason. As an extrovert, I have an almost constant impulse to be around other people. I need to respect that by putting appointments in my everyday schedule. I like variety and I need to change up my routine and/or reward myself when I complete a task.

If I could do it over again and advise my parents on how to raise me, I would have told them to customize tasks according to my emotional temperament.  I would have them build time into each day to do something different, spontaneous, and unexpected. I would affirm the value of those moments of "distraction". I would give a child like me space to indulge my curiosity without feeling guilty or ashamed about wasting time. I would offer encouragement that although not all my impulses were good, the power of my impulses were a blessing. God made me a passionate and curious person and these qualities have both fleshly and spiritual aspects. At the same time, I would put boundaries in place to help me develop self-control, discipline, and perseverance. I would give myself encouragement and tactics to help me stay focused and work through obstacles.

This has great importance when I consider two of my sons, with whom I share a similar emotional temperament. I want them to know that their emotional life is a tremendous gift from God, that they have freedom in the Spirit to express their emotions, and that there is abundant grace and forgiveness when they do not. And I begin by receiving grace for myself first.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Did Jesus show favoritism by choosing twelve disciples?

I spoke about favoritism at UC Davis' Asian American Christian Fellowship a couple weeks ago. Campus Christian organizations tend to be quite insular and Asian groups are no exception as our need for belonging is great. Nevertheless, everyone wants to be around people of a similar life stage, background, ethnicity, educational level, etc.

I spoke from James 2. The author exhorts believers not to show favoritism, particularly with regard to the rich. I encouraged students to take advantage of the summer and get to know people who are different from themselves.

We all know favoritism is unhealthy. And my talk probably made a number of students feel guilty about the preferential treatment they exhibit in their relationships.

I asked (but didn't answer) an important question that evening: If favoritism is wrong, didn't Jesus show favoritism when choosing his twelve disciples?

1) Favoritism is preferential treatment based on worldly values
James 2:3-4  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
In this situation, believers decide to give preferential treatment to a man based on the quality of a person's external appearance. He looks rich and a worthy target to curry favor from. This is discrimination based on a worldly value system. The nicely dressed person is treated as more valuable than someone who has little. We pay special attention to those whom we have much in common with or whom we stand to benefit the most from. It is so tempting to view others from a self-centered perspective.

This happens all the time in the church. It is rarely a secret which church members are the largest givers and this group is often given additional deference. There are other more subtle variations of favoritism. Insecure people in search for approval will demonstrate favoritism towards those who flatter them and express the greatest need. It's the classic "squeaky wheel gets the grease" mentality. Often the people who need the most help won't ask for it. And yet we tend to show to show favoritism to those who are most vocal, visible, and able to get our attention.

2) Favoritism <> preferential treatment

Preferential treatment is not the same as favoritism. After all, we could not develop nor sustain friendships without some kind of preferential treatment. We choose to invest in certain people over others. We choose which friendships we want to nurture, who we want to keep in touch with, and who we want to avoid. Some of it is based on simple things - being neighbors, sharing the same workplace, attending the same church, etc. Showing preferential treatment is not, in itself, wrong. The values that inform our preferences is what matters.

3) Discipleship is preferential treatment based on kingdom values
James 2:5  Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
Jesus gave preference to twelve disciples. He spent almost all his public ministry with these men. And even within the twelve, there were three - Peter, James, and John - whom he gave even closer attention. What was his selection criteria?

The twelve disciples were largely poor, uneducated men of low social status. There was nothing outwardly attractive about them. And yet Jesus saw in them tremendous potential as church leaders.

Where others saw poverty, Jesus saw riches. Where others saw outcasts, Jesus saw insiders. James hates favoritism because it values the superficial and outward. Jesus chose the twelve based on invisible, internal qualities. That is what James is exhorting believers to do. Don't value people the way the rest of society does. Rather, look for the opposite and look deeper.

This has important implications for Asian American Christians. We have ethnic-specific churches because we feel disenfranchised from mainstream Western society. These ministries are important because we are exiles in search of home. And yet it is a deep strain of hypocrisy if we, the disenfranchised, exclude others based on outward qualities.

Lastly, we shouldn't be afraid to show preferential treatment towards people who have kingdom value and potential. That's not easy to assess but it is our calling and the Spirit of God equips us.  If someone is particularly teachable or uniquely overlooked, that's where our attention must go. That's the kind of preferential treatment Jesus had with his disciples. It is not favoritism at all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

3 Myths about Mourning

I share the following in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara killings and the loss of George Chen, a former member of our church. Here are a couple misconceptions that the enemy uses to distance us from God, each other, and ourselves.

Myth #1: Mourning is emotion-driven

2 Samuel 1:11-12  Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them.  They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

David should celebrate Saul's death but he weeps instead. 2 Samuel 1 depicts David's response to the deaths of both Saul, the king of Israel, and his son and David's best friend, Jonathan. Since Saul has attempted on various occasions to take David's life, including slaughtering an entire village, David has no reason to mourn and every reason to celebrate Saul's death. If you think about David’s predicament over the last couple years and the last 10 chapters, or 1/3 of the book of 1 Samuel. He is being chased by Saul. He’s had spears thrown at him, Saul has killed an entire village looking for David, and pursued in the hills and the deserts with 1000 of Israel’s elite soldiers. If you were in David’s shoes, and you heard that Saul was dead. You would celebrate. You would be so incredibly excited and relieved. The man who wants to kill you is dead.

Mourning is emotional. Grief is emotional. It is not a sign of weakness. In Chinese culture, public expressions of grief like crying are frowned upon. You’re supposed to stop doing that. I’ve heard Chinese parents comment “Oh the woman at the funeral didn’t cry for her husband who passed away. She was strong” That’s not the biblical way grief is expressed. It is always emotional and emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. Sometimes I I wonder if we understand what grief is about. I certainly don’t understand grief and loss but I do know it’s good to cry. David is a real man and real men weep.

But what if you don’t feel sad? What if you don’t, as David and his men, weep? Can you still mourn? It’s easy to get angry at yourself, to face at certain condemnation when it comes to grief because you’re not sad like everyone else. You don’t tear up like everyone else. But obsessing over our emotional response is not the point of mourning.

Mourning expresses loss from God’s perspective. We tend to only be sad when someone we know personally dies. I don’t know that David  spent that much time with Saul but he deeply understood Saul’s importance to the nation of Israel. He understands how precious the title is. He also lost his best friend. He understands the impact on the community.

David's men likely hated Saul but grieved in solidarity with David. I wonder what it was like for David’s men to see David’s pain at losing Saul and Jonathan. I’d be willing to bet you that many of those men hated Saul, especially Abishai, who was perfectly happy to drive a spear through Saul’s head while he was sleeping (1 Samuel 26). Anyone who wanted to kill David, his lord, was an enemy. But I bet you Abishai grieved like everyone else. I don’t think he was necessarily sad but I think he grieved because he felt David’s pain.

The king mourns when any of his people perish. Jesus understands the loss of every person. Luke 15 contains three parables that demonstrate the heart of the king towards his people – the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son – each loss tears at the heart of the king. You mourn not because you’re emotional, you mourn because you love people and the loss of even one person pains you.

Mourning is perspective-driven – to express grief over loss. In grieving George Chen, you don’t have to feel sad about them. I can understand if you don’t because you may not have known him at all. I do because I think about his mom Kelly and I remember how she brought George to our church so that he could make friends and she was so intent on doing all these different things for him. And I can only imagine how much pain she’s in at losing him. It pains me to think about that. 

David understood how much Saul meant for Israel. He’s also mourning the loss of his best friend, Saul’s son, Jonathan. David doesn’t just think about the death of Saul from his own perspective, he thinks about it from God’s perspective, from the perspective of Israel. That’s one way to think about George Chen. He was Chinese American, he came to our church, he lived in Almaden, we lost one of our own. You don’t have to be sad but it’s important to recognize the impact of this loss to our community.

Myth #2: Mourning should end quickly
2 Samuel 1:17-18  David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan,  and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):
We should move on: Our culture today has a very short attention span. We move on to something new in a matter of seconds, much less minutes or even days or hours. We get tired of certain things and probably what our culture tires of most quickly is sadness. No one wants to be sad for a long time. When Zuckerberg invented Facebook, he was very perceptive – he wanted the social media platform to be relentlessly positive so he made sure his design excluded the “dislike” button. Youtube has thumbs up and thumbs down. Facebook doesn’t. Our culture wants us to go back to taking selfies, playing Mario Kart, and watching X-Men – don’t think about what makes you sad, just keep doing something else.

But David never wants to move on: David writes a song and he teaches all the men of Judah, his tribe to sing it. When you teach a tribe a song about a person, you are memorializing that person forever. You are saying this person is so important that I want everyone to know about it, I want to be passed down from generation to generation. Whenever you sing it, you will think of this person or in this case, both people.

Mourning is private, personal, and inward: Mourning is indeed public and a matter of the community. This song is presented to all of Israel; it’s not just David that mourned Saul but all of his men. But David is the one who wrote this song. David is the one who wrote the Psalms. I highly doubt it was a team effort. If you want to remember someone and what they meant to; write it down. Write a poem for that person. Yesterday I wrote some thoughts I had about George and it felt so good – the writing itself ministered to me. It was like God was speaking through what I wrote.
2 Samuel 1:22-27  "From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied. Saul and Jonathan-- in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.  O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.  "How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.  I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!"
David memorializes God’s perspective of Saul and Jonathan: He ignores the bad stuff. That stuff will be recorded but this is meant to honor both Saul and his best friend. They are united in life and death. And he will not think of his best friend without thinking about his dad and the man who wanted to kill him. He celebrates what Saul meant to Israel. Jonathan’s love was better than the love of any woman.

David valued God’s anointing of Saul that it over-rides his personal feelings about Saul, and the personal evil. This is how he describes them: Love and gracious, swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.

Mourning memorializes God’s gift of a person: You can mourn by recording your thoughts about a person and sharing it with others. Read it aloud, sing it, make it happen face-to-face. We continue to live after we mourn but grief is unpredictable. Sometimes the loss isn't felt until much later.

I remember the memorial service of an infant son of two good friends. The father said "LORD, thank you for the gift of seven weeks of my son. I look forward to seeing him again in heaven." Wow. He and his wife will never forget the gift despite the tragedy of the loss.

Myth #3: Mourning is preventable

David does not question God's character in this tragedy. The text does not indicate that David questioned God after Saul and Jonathan's death. The scripture not record that he asked God “Why do you allow this kind of suffering? How could you allow this tragedy to happen to Jonathan, who was an amazing person and did not deserve to die?”

The war is real. The reason he didn’t ask is because the nation of Israel was at war. Israel had been at war with Philistines and other nations like the Amalekites since before he was born. David was born into a time of war. When there’s war, people die. This is not a news flash for David. It says in v12: “because they had fallen by the sword.” That means they died in battle. Battle is nothing new for David. Battle isn’t new for us either.

The problem is we read about tragedies on-line. But it all feels like a far away world and we become numb to the ravages of war. So Nigerian Muslims kidnap a bunch of girls. So a train crash in India kills 70 people. That’s not where I live. We’re completely here and now so it doesn’t affect us. But this tragedy hits close to home because 1) the nature of his death was horrific and 2) George came to our church.  We have an association with him. We went to Leland High School. He lived down the street from Tammy. He was just like many of us. The child of immigrant parents. And when these kinds of things happen, we wonder how could this happen? 

Did you think we live in Disneyland? 

Did you think Silicon Valley is the happiest place on earth? 

Getting us to ignore the war, minimize it or pretend we can stop it is precisely Satan’s ploy. If he can just get you to think wherever you live, in your little life, everyone is happy, people are good, and bad things only happen to bad people far away, then when something tragic happens, your faith is torn apart because you thought God guaranteed you a world of peace. God, after all didn’t promise you this world is Disneyland? We think mourning shouldn’t be necessary because we’re supposed to live in a peaceful world. Think again.  

Recognize who the enemy is. I’ve bought into this lie. Sometimes I come to church and I think I get to play church today, give a nice little message, go home, take a nap and play with my kids. But events like this, wake me up. If we lived in Disneyland, I never would have become a pastor. I had a job that paid twice as much with half the stress of what I do now. I did it because we live in a war zone. And I’ve been called to fight. 
People's souls are at sake.

Don’t believe me?

Have you read what Elliot Rodger wrote? 

You can say he was crazy and there’s certainly mental instability in what he wrote, but I was talking to friends and many of us agreed that we could have been him. I mean, it is unlikely any of us will become mass murderers like Elliot Rodger because we more social skills, strong friends, and a different personality. But much what he wrote was not crazy at all. 

How many of us have experienced fear, loneliness, depression, jealousy, bitterness, and self-hatred at being part/fully Asian? 

How many of us struggle with addictive behavior, family break-down, neglect by fathers, rejection, bullying and isolation from others? 

He was angry at how quickly his white father found a girlfriend after he divorced his Chinese mom. He was angry about being rejected by white women. It wasn't just misogyny, he hated everyone. There’s literally millions of people who wrestle the same feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness. You think Elliot Rodger is the first guy to believe that about himself? There’s not a person in this room who hasn’t believed a lie about God and themselves. But Elliot Rodger believed lies about himself – that he wasn’t lovable, that no girl wanted him, that losing his virginity was the only thing worth living for. 

Lies. 

David understood the power of truth over lies.
2 Samuel 1:14-16  David asked him, "Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?"  Then David called one of his men and said, "Go, strike him down!" So he struck him down, and he died.  For David had said to him, "Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, 'I killed the LORD's anointed.'"
David recognizes his enemy and it is not Saul. The battle is for truth. See there’s this weird plot line going on here. There’s this Amalekite guy who comes bringing this report and it’s particularly strange because in the previous chapter, the end of 1 Samuel, ch. 31, tells the real story of what happened. Saul was getting pressed on every side, asked his armor bearer to finish him off, but the armor bearer refused and so Saul fell on his sword and died. And when the armor bearer saw this, he did the same. 

The point of all this is that this Amalekite is telling a lie – he’s telling a competing version of the truth. He’s lying because he wants to curry favor with David. And Satan is using this opportunity to tempt David even after Saul is dead. David is supposed to be happy that Saul is dead! Saul wanted to kill David. The Amalekite thinks David should be thinking that Saul is the enemy so if he claims to kill Saul, then he’s David’s friend. 

Live by the lie, die by the lie. But David, the future king of Israel, recognizes that Saul is not the enemy – that’s the lie. That’s the lie that keeps coming back to tempt him, every time Saul is delivered into David’s hands, he has the chance to kill him. The lie is there – kill Saul – he’s the enemy. But he’s not. David recognizes God's truth is that the LORD's anointed is meant to be celebrated and anyone who bears malice towards deserves death. So he has the liar killed. If you live by the lie, you will die by the lie. Unfortunately, others died with Elliot Rodger in his lie. But that's what happens in war.

There’s an enemy today and it’s not crazy people who stab and wound others. Even Buddhists agree with that. During the candlelight vigil, a representative from a Buddhist organization said that Elliot Rodger suffered from a confused mind. He could not be more correct. The question is – what is the truth? Buddhism and Christianity offer competing versions of the truth. Everyone in the media is offering different versions of the truth. The narrative war rages about the true cause of his rampage: #YesAllWomen (misogyny), Asian discrimination, bullying, white privilege, mental illness, bad parenting, etc. There's validity in each of them but I'm focused on a bigger narrative - the truth vs. lie. Buddhism says loss is preventable, people are fundamentally good, and we can change the world with love and care. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We are fundamentally flawed and self-centered and we have no hope without the specific divine intervention of Jesus and his death and resurrection. Only that truth saves and sets free. We serve a king who became man who will one day return and end all suffering and death.

When people believe lies about themselves, they believe lies about God. That is the battle. That’s where the war is. It’s a spiritual battle for people’s hearts and minds. I don’t pretend for a second that anyone could have made a difference in Rodger’s life but believe me, the hearts and minds of people is a battle worth fighting for. 
There’s a battle for your hearts and minds today – don’t be deceived by the nice house you live in, the nice cars your parents drive, and the great colleges your peers get into. My calling is to destroy lies with truth; my weapon is the word of God. If you haven’t considered ministry until today, consider it. The battle is real. The enemy is real. The losses are real. And we need soldiers to fight.

Mourning recognizes the war is real. The battle is truth vs. lie. If you’re on God’s side, get your battle gear on because we live in victory against the forces of darkness. We are ambassadors for the victory of truth. We serve the king who was slain for us and was raised to life. We walk in victory today by proclaiming truth  over lie and will reign with Him forever when He returns.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

If there is no God, how would you live differently?

I talked with a lapsed Catholic who doubts the existence of God and believes all religions are the same. He asked some good questions and it got me thinking.

If there is no God, how would I live differently?

If I had grown up without believing in the existence of God (which I did until I was 13 years old), what would my life look like? 

It's a more of a practical question than a philosophical one. I thought about it for awhile. It felt a little strange to imagine life without God. 

But then I decided my life would not be that different. 

I would have gone to college. Probably the same school. All my friends from high school went to college. I would have chosen the same major - business administration - because I didn't like math but needed a technical-sounded field that brought honor to my Asian-ness.

I would have a job. Of course I wouldn't be a pastor but I would probably work in high-tech. After college, I would have gone into management consulting because I like travel, meeting new people, and learning new things. I likely would have parlayed my consulting expertise and connections into an industry position and sought a management role because I'm ambitious and enjoy leadership.

I would be married with children. I probably wouldn't have gotten married so early but I would have decided at some point, that marriage is good for companionship and an indicator of social status (social status is important to me as a Christian and I don't see why that would change if I didn't believe in God). Even as an atheist, I always wanted to be a father so I would probably have at least two kids but definitely not four, because I would be unable to invest at least the same amount of time and money that I myself received as a child into my own children (which I believe is the prevailing thought calculus among my peers). 

I would own a home. Home ownership is a badge of status and stability among my peers. And my parents and in-laws would have pressured and helped my wife and I to buy a home.

I would still love people and have good friends. You don't need to believe in the existence of God to be a moral person. You don't need God to love people. 

The fact that my life would look pretty much the same externally doesn't bother much as much as testify to the power of our culture. We are launched in a certain trajectory from our parents and we more or less follow the arc of our peers. You're not different because you went out of state for college. I'm talking about a radical shift in the way we live - like coming from an overachieving Asian family and not going to college at all. I wonder if there are zero major decisions that Christians can point to and say - "Yes, I did that because I believe God exists".

The externals might not change but what would my internal life look like? That's where it becomes more blurry. I pray, journal, and read the Bible today. I wouldn't read the Bible in a world without God but I would certainly read other books. Would I pray and journal in a world without God? 

Perhaps. But I would probably laugh it off as talking to myself. I doubt I would be a self-reflective as I am today but I could be wrong. There's aspects of my character that have changed drastically for the better since I started following Jesus but obviously people can change for the better without believing in God. So as far as the life transformation comparison, it might be a wash.

Without God, I would still hunger for meaning but it would derive completely from my interaction with the visible world. I would find meaning in my relationships. My wife, my children, my work, and my friends would define meaning for me. The things that I see would be the sum total of where I would find value, worth, and significance. If there was no God, this would be enough. But somehow I wonder if I would have hungered for more. I mean, I believe in God and I still hunger for more.