[Added December 17, 2010]
Are You Reacting to Side Effects?
This one really eluded me for more than a year, and I am grateful to the Holy Spirit for eventually helping me understand what was happening to me. However, like everything else that I document on this website, this understanding was the result of grasping and understanding more fundamental concepts that were relatively obscure to me due either to being unstated pre-assumptions that needed to be surfaced, or which were not grasped due to holding unwarranted and incorrect preconceptions that needed prior debunking. This process of unlearning and relearning accounts for the slower production of essays during 2010. Happily, these more fundamental concepts do not as much affect the findings of essays written prior to December of 2010 as much as they would have dictated a different approach and order to the essays that would have considerably simplified the presentation.
Fortunately, one of the concepts is simple enough to present in a short paragraph, and eventually led to this debugging tip: Manipulation is both the initial and core methodology whereby the Godhead interacts with the Believer. Recall that Manipulation is the interaction of the Holy Spirit with the neurons of the believer (within whom He dwells) at the neurotransmitter level. Suppression is the interplay of the stimulated neurotransmitters with the ones being secreted during temptation that prevent the thoughts that we call temptations from proceeding from the Heart of man to the Inner man. Illumination is the situation where the stimulated neurotransmitters generate thoughts that (seem) to proceed from the Heart of man to the Inner man. However, if the person in whom the Holy Spirit is manipulating neurotransmitters is not saved, then the generated thoughts are intended to lead that person to salvation, which Jesus called Conviction.
What is necessary to understand about this debugging tip is to grasp that Holy Spirit does not suppress the thoughts of temptation directly, but indirectly through stimulation of neurotransmitters that naturally counter the neurotransmitters that underlie the thought of the temptation. The previous debugging tip about getting enough sleep addressed the problem of running out of those counter-neurotransmitters. This debugging tip is to handle the fact that those counter-neurotransmitters themselves have side-effects beyond the effect of counteracting the neurotransmitters underlying the thought of the temptation.
I will explain this by citing recent experience with suppressing my pornography compulsion. By my estimate, 80% of my temptations regarding pornography are handled by direct suppression, making sure to get enough rest so that the Holy Spirit has plenty of counter-neurotransmitters to work with. I further estimated that the next 16% (80% of the remaining 20% using the 80/20 rule) were handled by rebuking and binding any demons powering those temptations. There was always a residual 4% of temptation that I was having trouble with, but the problem was "low level" because 4% is a low failure rate. However, since one sin sank the human race, I continued to strive toward "perfection".
Unfortunately, I began to detect a higher rate of failures that seemed to indicate a failure rate of roughly 15% that was trending upwards since October of 2010. This was definitely not a good sign and thus had to be addressed. On the positive side, the higher failure rate meant that the amount of information regarding the failures had increased, making the task of diagnosis easier.
In analyzing the failures, I began to notice that sucumbing to the temptation almost always happened after an extended period of time seesawing between successful suppression followed by a mild-to-medium case of the "blues" that seemed to re-provoke the temptation. Since "joy" is one of the fruits of the Spirit, the lack of "joy" that would counteract the "blues" after successful suppression was a real puzzle: what was happening that the Spirit was not coming through for me? I say this because this seesawing between temptation and suppression would not occur if suppression was working continuously. Put another way, the temptation came back only because the Spirit stopped stimulating the necessary neurons to secrete the necessary counter-neurotransmitters.
What was happening was that the "blues" that followed a successsful suppresion of the temptation were also being caused by the counter-neurotransmitters whose secretion was stimulated by the Holy Spirit to counteract the temptation! The strategy underlying this most recent phase of temptations thus became clear: push the temptation long enough and hard enough to require such a high level of counter-neurotransmitter secretions to counteract that the counter-neurotransmitters themselves would cause the "blues"! This "ju-jitsu" style induction of the "blues" had two downsides, the first being that I always associated the "blues" with being forsaken by God, and the second being that I always "cured" the "blues" by (you guessed it) resorting to pornography.
The best analogy for this is the plight of the "double" addict, who is addicted to amphetamines and alcohol: to "get themselves going" in the morning for work, the addict takes amphetamines (a stimulant). However, by overindulging in them, they remain "high" when they come home from work, and thus resort to alcohol (a depressant) to calm them down and enable them to sleep. However, the effects of the alcohol last longer than the night's sleep, so the cycle is repeated by the addict taking amphetamines to counteract the effects of the alcohol from last night that was taken to counteract the effects of the amphetamines taken yesterday morning. If one classifies the neurotransmitters being stimulated by the temptation as stimulants, then the counter-neurotransmitters must necessarily act as depressants.
Once I recognized the side-effects of the counter-neurotransmitters, the strategy for countering the new temptation strategy was quite obvious, and is exactly similar to how a patient must necessarily handle the side-effects of any medications they are taking, which is to "roll with the punches", with the understanding, brought by the greater insight that such knowledge brings, that the side effects are not due to the disease, but due to the cure. Just as a seriously sick patient is always told the side-effects of the medications they are taking so that they can handle the side effects with the thought of "the stuff is working, even though it sure doesn't feel like it", so I must handle the "blues" with the thought of "The Spirit is working, even though I feel God doesn't care about me at all".
I grasped this concept during a bad bout on the 14th of December and immediately put it into practice by reassuring myself that "The Spirit promised to be with me forever, so these blues are not evidence that He has abandoned me, but rather evidence that He is working for me!" The see-sawing immediately stopped, but only because the blues ceased to go away, indicating that the Spirit had been backing off suppressing the temptation because I was reacting "inappropriately" to the counter-neurotransmitters. Once I accepted the responsibility to "hold rock steady" in a firm belief in His continued presence and goodness, He was able to "pour it on" and put the temptation away for good. Although it took something like 24 hours for the "blues" to dissolve, I find myself much more resistant to temptation since then, although I am sure this is due to residual levels of the counter-neurotransmitter still in my brain. (While writing this paragraph, I got a very pleasant image of the Spirit slugging Satan while I was holding Satan's arms behind his back. The Spirit was holding back since I was yelling "ouch!" when the blow he gave Satan also hurt me and I took it personally. Once I realized that the Spirit's punches were hurting the devil more than me, I gritted my teeth and said "Go for it!", allowing the Spirit to "cut loose", confident that I was aware that He was for me and not against me.)
It is too soon to tell if this restores my success rate to 96%, or whether this helps reduce the residual 4% by a further 80%, giving a success rate of 99.6%. Nevertheless, it does work for me, so the negative trend I was experiencing has been reversed and the margin of success at least restored if not improved further. Because it is human nature to prefer "highs" to the "blues", one should not expect the devil to as successfully counteract the Holy Spirit induced "high" of Joy that is a fruit of the Spirit with his own version of the blues. Rather, the real danger is that he would subvert it in the same way that he subverts the innocent pleasure of a High School Prom into a sexual license in those who are immature and unaware of the danger.
A troubling question that must be addressed is why the Spirit "backed off" suppressing the temptation in the first place when the "blues" arose in me. The answer I got when I asked the Spirit was extremely illuminating: The downside of not believing God loved me and cared for me that was stirred up by the "blues" was greater than the downside of sinning through pornography! The Spirit reminded me that Jesus "paid it all" when it came to sin, past, present, and future, but that payment is good only if you believe that Jesus did "pay it all". Jesus died to deliver us from all our sins. He did not die to deliver us from unbelief, since it is by belief that we are delivered. In John 16:7-10, we find Jesus "redefining" sin as being a refusal to believe in Him, mainly because (after his death) all other sins are covered through our belief in Him and His sacrifice for us. Thus, when I misinterpreted the message that I thought that the "blues" was delivering, the Spirit was faced with the choice of continuing to suppress the temptation to keep me from sinning with the downside of having me doubt His love and comittment to me, or stop suppressing the temptation, let me sin, but also let me continue to believe His love and committment to me. It's clear that backing off was the lesser of two evils, since the belief He wanted me to continue to hold would also fix the side-effect of sinning by way of continuing to believe in Jesus' atoning sacrifice for that sin. Of course, the very best option, and the one I finally figured out, was to continue to believe in His love, care, and comittment despite how I felt, and overcome the temptation and not sin. A story from the Protestant Reformation may help clarify this. Martin Luther was invited to a debate that was clearly a trap to capture him. A co-worker, friend, and prominent reformer, Philipp Melanchthon, volunteered to go instead. At the debate, Melanchthon got thoroughly smoked and came back in a deep depression from having let down Luther and the reformation movement. Concerned about his friend, Martin Luther did two things to try to remedy the situation. The first was to start on a book to repair the damage of the debate that eventually became "The Bondage of the Will". The second was to tell Melancthon to "go out and sleep with a whore or something!" Melancthon was shocked and asked the Reformer why he was being encouraged to go out and sin like that. "Better to go do a sin that you know will be forgiven than do a mistake that you believe never will be!" Of course, Melancthon didn't go out and sin, but he also got the message that it was unreasonable to treat a mistake or a shortcoming as if it was an unforgiveable sin when real sin was forgiveable. While we should hope that we get the "blues" or feel bad if we sin, not every instance of the "blues" or feeling guilt actually comes from sin or is evidence of sin or separation. "What is the truth?" is a far more relevant question than "How am I feeling?", as would be the answer to the former than the latter.
What I now see, and what I hope you will see as well, is that the priority of God is not results but relationship. We must simply stop believing that God's highest priority is us behaving well by not sinning, and we must vigorously correct and oppose the legalists who insist that it is. Indeed, it would be a strategic mistake to justify or advance Symbiotic Christianity on the grounds that "it helps people stop sinning and master temptation better," and I now regret the times where I justified it in such terms in the past. "Symbiosis" is just a concept that I have found helps technical and scientific people buy into and accept the reality of God's internal and intimate comittment to us that helps us commit to Him. Sin is definitely an obstacle to any internal comittment since the Holy Spirit's presence would kill the host, and we need only look to what Jesus did to comprehend what God was willing to do to remove that obstacle. Are we so foolish to believe that God would balk or be stumped by any lesser obstacle that would require far less of Him than giving up His Son to die for us? (Granted, God has His own way and timing for taking care of such obstacles, as was shown when He addressed the obstacle of sin. He has His own quirks, mannerisms, and preferences like everybody else, and if you can't handle that, then you shouldn't make any human friends or bother to get married either. Heck, even our pets have quirks. Trust me when I say that the very best analogy of this relationship is marriage: my boys can't stand my wife's quirky laugh, while I go out of my way to crack jokes because I love hearing her laugh. Some of God's quirks you'll learn to love, and the ones you have problems with you learn to accept with a knowing roll of your eyes because you're in love.)
An aside. I mentioned in the second paragraph that Conviction is the set of thoughts generated by the Holy Spirit in the mind of the unbeliever that are intended to convince him to be saved. When coupled with the doctrine of Total Depravity, we see the impossiblity of the mind of the natural man to generate the thoughts that represent true conviction. This should lead us to abandon the delusion of our being able to "debate" or "convince" people to be saved, as well as disabuse us of the delusion that we "convinced" or "won" repentant sinners to Christ. This understanding necessarily dictates a change in our Evangelization strategy to one more along the lines suggested by Blackaby and King in their book "Experiencing God", who suggest that one "experiences God" and discerns His Will by looking for evidence of God's working in the natural world that matches certain criteria outlined in scriptures. If we liken the Church to an army and our current situation in this world as a war, then our task is not to "independently launch sorties" against the enemy by proactively witnessing and preaching. Rather, we should wait for promptings from the Holy Spirit and "run to the sound of the guns" when someone formerly resistant to the Gospel and who knows we are Christians suddenly starts talking about God and religion in a receptive way. The latter case is clear evidence that the Spirit is working in the heart of the atheist, and our confidence in being able to "help birth" a new believer will be directly proportional to our relationship with the Holy Spirit as He works with us. This is not to say that evangelists are obsolete, but should be viewed in the "army of God" as "Special Forces" units that create the situations and opportunities that we "regular grunts" exploit. It appears that our current post-modern world resists attempts by men to sell them God, but is incredibly receptive and appreciative if informed that God Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is miraculously interacting with them at that very moment. We need to adopt the strategy that Philip adopted when he told Nathanael about Jesus being the Messiah, and who, when met with skepticism, invited him to come see Jesus for himself: If Jesus/God cannot sell Himself to someone, then what hope do we have of succeeding where God fails? In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Paul's advice to Timothy with regard to evangelization talks about meekness while trying to help those who oppose themselves and are taken in the snare of the Devil. This meekness is not toward the sinners Timothy is trying to reach, but toward God who, in response to Timothy's work with the lost, "peradventure give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and recover themselves out of the snare of the devil." Paul is clear about his view of the process of salvation: He (and Timothy) are to preach without any delusions of their ability to convert any hearers, but meekly submits to the timing and will of God for the necessary impartation of repentance to the wicked that comes from God alone. When they acknowledge the truth and are saved, they obtain the Holy Spirit which brings the authority to cast out demons. They then "recover themselves ouf\t the snare of the devil" by "casting the rascals out" as the first "miracle" that they work as believers. Our job is to tell them that they can do it and are supposed to do it.
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