Monday, April 3, 2017

Resisting change

It is human nature to react defensively when a long-cherished belief is challenged. Jesus ran into that defensiveness and in the end it got him crucified.

Luke 5:18-25
18 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;
19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.
20 When he saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you."
21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, "Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?
23 Which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, "Stand up and walk'?
24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the one who was paralyzed—"I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home."
25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God.
In this context, it was commonly understood that only God forgives sins (Psalm 130:4; Isaiah 43:25); but this understanding was an interpretation of the pertinent verses. It was a long-held understanding. Thus, the scribes and Pharisees reacted quite negatively to it. This reaction common among Christians when long-cherished beliefs are challenged. It is quite common in the wake of such a challenge to go to the Bible and seek out proof-texts that validate the cherished beliefs and refute the challenge. Sometimes, the challenge needed to be refuted; but sometimes it is a good challenge. When the "proof-texts" are offered, they fail to refute the challenge. Please understand, it is perfectly normal to try to refute challenges to long-held cherished beliefs. It is, however important to catch ourselves doing it and give ourselves time to properly consider the possible validity of the challenge. If we hold on too tightly to a suspect but cherished belief, we can cause a lot of damage to other people. In Jesus' case, he was crucified. In the Reformation, people were unjustly burned at the stake or put to death by other means. In the church, people are unjustly censored and spiritually crippled.

Another lesson from the above text is noted by the fact that there are some scriptures that seem to support the view that only God can forgive sins; but if they were to read them carefully, the verses don't really support their view. Many Christians cannot tell the difference between what they believe and what the Scripture says. They think the Bible and their belief system are the same; or, "I believe what the Bible says." If I say that, I need to be ready to modify my beliefs (after careful consideration) when the Bible is shown to say something different. Inability to tell the difference between one's own belief system and the Bible is a special kind of dysfunctional thinking for which I have no answer. Do any blog readers have suggestions?

Luke 6:7
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.
At this point, the scribes and Pharisees were no longer interested in debating or studying with Jesus. They wanted to catch him in a "got-cha." A natural response to a challenge to a long-held belief system is to accuse the challenger. Just because it is natural does not mean we should be doing it. These Jewish leaders did not care about real guilt. They just wanted something for which they could accuse him.

Luke 10:10-11
10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,
11 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
In this little snippet, Jesus is giving instructions to the 70 missionaries. If they encountered hostile resistance upon entering a town, the townspeople probably had good Biblical reasons to resist the teaching of the missionaries. It was pretty clear in their own minds (probably)―as clear as it would have been in most of our minds if we lived in one of those towns. Here is a Bible passage they could quote to justify throwing out of town a missionary that teaches about Jesus.

Deuteronomy 13:1-15
1 If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents,
2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, "Let us follow other gods" (whom you have not known) "and let us serve them,"
3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.
4 The Lord your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast.
5 But those prophets or those who divine by dreams shall be put to death for having spoken treason against the Lord your God—who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery—to turn you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
6 If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father's son or your mother's son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, "Let us go worship other gods," whom neither you nor your ancestors have known,
7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other,
8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them.
9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the Lord your God is giving you to live in,
13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods," whom you have not known,
14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you,
15 you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword.
In this text, prophets are able to do convincing signs; but if, after the signs they teach about a new or false god, they are supposed to be put to death. In Jesus' day, they may have believed the closest equivalent without attracting the Roman radar is to throw the false prophets out of town. The townspeople believed the missionaries were teaching about a new or false god; but what the missionaries were really teaching is something different from the townspeople's perceptions of God.

When we respond with hostility or ire when our cherished beliefs are challenged, we ought to recognize the naturally human reaction, take a few breaths and give ourselves a chance to honestly consider the merits of the challenge.

Myers & Briggs have identified two different character types for processing data. The processing types are sensing and intuition.
Sensors want lots of information and from that information they draw conclusions.
Intuitives draw conclusions and then collect data that supports those conclusions.

Neither type is a character strength or weakness. Knowing that there are two types ought to help us to try to cross the bridge to the other side in order to have reasonable conversations with people who are oriented the opposite way from ourselves. Read about the Myers-Briggs processing types.

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