Abuse of Authority

Limits of Authority

The last two articles on this subject covered the issue of the Biblical basis and nature of authority, and how we see that modeled in the Trinity itself. In the first article, I promised to try to answer a very difficult question, and that is how we deal with the inevitable abuses of authority.

I say “try to answer” because it is indeed a very difficult question, dependent on many circumstances. Hopefully this will be helpful.

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Most Marriages are Salvageable


The good news is, most marriages are salvageable.  This is when you are talking about believers, of course.  When it is unbelievers, then things get harder.  But if we’re talking about believers, then the power of the gospel is sufficient, more than sufficient, to save even the most difficult of marriages with the most intractable, dug-in problems.  And in fact, marriage is a wonderful opportunity for this to occur, because marriage is an environment that makes it hard to accommodate your own selfishness.  It forces you to face it.

The bad news is, we’re all sinners.  That’s why the first point is such good news.  But for the good news to be the good news, the bad news has to be understood well.  We have to face squarely the way our own sin distorts the way we look at marriage problems, in our own personal life and as church leaders.

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Scapegoating, Victimhood and Abuse

*Updates below

Rene Girard died a couple of days ago.  I’ve read one of his books, “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning From Heaven”, and it was incredible.  It showed how ancient religions all heavily depended on the scapegoating mechanism, the random selection of some sacrificial victim on which to place the blame for the problems of the community, and lynching him.  This lynching has a powerful effect on making the community feel like their problems were ameliorated and thus creating catharsis and solidarity, that the problems of the community really do feel like they are solved, and thus the lynching was justified.  So this lynching over time takes on mythic proportions, and are reenacted in sacrificial ritual.  Very interesting.  Girard shows how Christianity upends the whole scapegoating mentality, showing that the problems of the community are not due to evil outsiders but the sin in our own hearts.  The envy and covetousness that rules in all our hearts and causes our communal conflicts escalates and escalates, until it’s all located on one bad person- usually some victim already culturally accepted as a suspect- a creepy old woman, a foreigner, a Jew, a homosexual, etc, and sacrifice him.  It’s a bit beyond the scope of this post to do justice to Girard’s insights, but I highly recommend his books.  Girard really should be viewed as one of the seminal thinkers of the 20th century.

What Christianity points us to is the problem of sin and covetousness in our own hearts which feeds the conflict in our communities and the scapegoating mechanism that keeps it at bay.  God takes the side of the victim, shows him to be innocent.  Christ Himself is the ultimate example of this, the truly innocent victim that by His sacrifice takes away the sin of the world, and fully exposes the scapegoating mechanism in the process.  The result has been that Christian society, unlike other societies especially of the ancient world, has always been intensely concerned with the innocent victims of society- the poor, the slave, the woman, children and the like.

I raise this because of the way I see a lot of people talk about abuse and victimization today.  Girard points out how the devil’s tactic, his own scapegoating mechanism having been thoroughly exposed by Christianity, is to try to use Christianity’s very concern for victims to create a new set of scapegoats.

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Cracked: Putting Broken Lives Together Again
Cracked: Putting Broken Lives Together Again

I’d mentioned earlier that I had bought Cracked by Dr. Drew Pinsky of “Loveline” fame. I’ve read most of the book now, and I have been thinking a great deal about what it says. In particular, the issue I’ve been most interested in is how his view of the causes and cures of addictions intersects with the Reformed view of sin.

Dr. Pinsky is not a Christian. He is not even sure if he believes in God at all. But there are a lot of things said that a Christian couldn’t agree with more, or at least this Christian. For example, from p. 222, dealing with an alcoholic patient:

“For a moment, I can picture her fifty years earlier, a spry young woman at a cocktail party holding a martini glass and a cigarette. The early 1950s. A whole generation of women like her defined themselves by their freedom to smoke and drink. The next generation would partake of drugs and sex. If a show like

Sex and the City is any indication, the current generation is defined by a desperate inability to maintain a genuine relationship. I’m reminded of the old Virginia Slims cigarette slogan: You’ve come a long way, baby. But is this progress?”

Dr. Pinsky’s main point is about human interconnectedness. He says that chemical addiction is the combination of two main factors- a genetic hardwiring for abnormal sensitivity to the effect of chemicals, and childhood trauma. The trauma causes a person to not trust other human beings. This creates an inability to form normal human connections, which is how most people regulate their feelings. In times of highs and lows, we turn to other people. We turn to memories of loved ones, or we talk to someone, call them on the phone and share our joys and our pain. The trauma victim can’t do that. So they use something else to regulate their feelings, which will be chemicals if they have that genetic hardwiring.

So, what the addict needs is first of all the detox, of course, being brought off the chemical effects of their addiction. But that’s just the start. After that, they have to face the trauma, and all the trauma they’ve suffered since then as a result of their inability to deal normally with people. They have to feel feelings, and they have to come to be able to accept their life. This is where the “higher power” of the 12 steps comes in. They have to come to accept that there’s a reason for things.

Now, how does this compare to a Biblical understanding of sin?

1. We have no control over our sin.

To interpret Dr. Pinsky’s book through the Biblical understanding- it is because of our cursed, fallen nature that we rebel against the reality of the world, and use drugs or alcohol or sex or money or whatever to try to control things we have no control over.

The trauma victim will blame himself for sexual or physical abuse, or all sorts of other terrible things that happen to him, because to admit that he’s not to blame is to admit that he’s not in control. We all do this in one way or another. The one thing nobody wants to be is helpless, and we’ll do or say practically anything to avoid saying that.

Dr. Pinsky says that people, especially of the older generation, are very unwilling to admit that there isn’t any problem that can’t be overcome by sheer willpower. Christian people often talk this way. Alcoholic? Well, just stop drinking. But the Bible is clear- we have no control over our sin. If we did, we wouldn’t need Jesus.

2. Trust in God is the only way out.

Dr. Pinsky doesn’t say any different. He’s oddly (perhaps not so oddly) reluctant to definitely say it’s God, but he’s also unable to say what makes the difference between patients who “get it” and ones who don’t. But he does know that whatever it is, it’s entirely internal. It has nothing to do with the treatment, the doctor, the medications, or the program. He views all of these elements as absolutely necessary, but not sufficient. There’s something else that comes along that he doesn’t understand. From p. 88:

“It is a complex and mysterious process, so much so that most of my patients who get it attribute it to divine intervention. They say God steps into their lives, which explains the spiritual component of recovery.”

The heart of it is, only by accepting that things happen for a reason, and that there is a benevolent power in charge, can one accept the reality of one’s life and stop trying to control or change things over which we have no control. That is to say, in Christian terms, we have to start trusting God and stop rebelling against Him. This is why the fifth Commandment is so important, and for adults even more so than children: “Honor your father and your mother” means that I have to accept that God gave me my parents for a reason, and that to hate them or be unable to deal with what my parents are like is to rebel against God, which will simply continue the cycle of destructive behavior, as I try to control things I have no control over.

3. Love your neighbor as yourself.

The whole of the law is, Love God and Love your neighbor. That’s just another way (a better way) of making Dr. Pinsky’s point about human interconnectedness. Once we learn to trust God, then forming human connections is the way to live a normal, functioning life. That is, we need to love our neighbor. Not because of some arbitrary law that God created and needs to have obeyed, but because God created us that way and it’s the only way for us to work the way we’re supposed to work.

Dr. Pinsky makes the point that most of us are happiest when we’re with other people. Our fondest memories are of times spent with family and friends. I know mine are. Nobody’s ever going to get to the end of their life and say, “I wish I spent more time at the office”. They’re also not going to wish they spent more time alone.

It’s fascinating to me that Dr. Pinsky, with the truth staring him in the face every day, still cannot accept that it’s God that makes the difference, preferring to call it “a mysterious process” that everybody just calls God because they don’t know what else to call it.

That being said, though, this is a very good book, engagingly written and emotionally honest. There are a few places where he leaves stories unfinished and the reader confused about what happened. And the stories are heartbreaking, and really tough to read a lot of the time. But to anyone interested in how addiction really works, I’d recommend Cracked.