Thursday, 23 November 2017

T To Your Health

Freedom’s Just another Word for Nothing Left to Gain

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Jonathan Left Too Soon

I was sitting in a deer blind in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on a cold afternoon in late November 1978, searching my Bible for something to help me understand the events of the previous few months. In early September, our three-year-old son, Jonathan David Biebel, had been stricken with an undiagnosed illness that took his life on October 5th. My first son, he had been the light of my life. I had loved him more than my own life; his loss left me lost in an uncharted, bewildering wasteland of grief.

This young pastor needed his own pastor to bring the comfort of God, but I was the only pastor in that little town, so I tried to let the Lord shepherd my wounded soul through his Word. That day my personal search for meaning brought me to Isaiah 61, where I found the mission that would make sense of my suffering, and bring me out of the darkness I was in and back into his marvelous light:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV).

There was no instantaneous heart mending. In fact, things would get worse before they got better. But there was this one message, and it was very clear: “I am sending you to bind up the brokenhearted and to set captives free in my name. What you are experiencing in the wilderness now will prepare you to lead others out of it in days to come.”

One of my friends, philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft has written, Love is Stronger than Death. I agree. Love is also stronger than guilt. But guilt is like the sea lampreys that nearly wiped out commercial fishing in the Great Lakes in the 20th Century, slowly sucking the life out of their victims.

Guilt lampreys from hell affixed themselves to me not too long after I learned my true mission in that deer blind. This happened as a result of Jonathan’s autopsy report, provided by the Mayo Clinic, where he had died, which suggested his “expiration” was due to sludging in the blood from dehydration.

 

As a result of this letter, one scene became etched indelibly on my mind. I had gotten up with Jonathan in the early morning hours of September 1, 1978 as he struggled with nausea for the fourth straight night. Standing at the bathroom sink on his little stool that said “Jon Jon” on it, he vomited again. After the nausea had subsided, he asked me for a drink.

I told him, “No, son. It will only make you throw up again.” I didn’t know that one small drink every half hour might protect him from dehydration. I didn’t even know he was becoming dehydrated. I thought that his taking in anything right away would only make him worse. He believed me. He trusted and obeyed me, although his body was undoubtedly begging for water.

The Mayo Clinic report was my indictment: PARENTAL MALPRACTICE. In the courtroom of my own mind, where the court was always in session and the prosecutor, judge, jury, and defendant were all one and the same—me-the verdict was pronounced: “Guilty. Guilty as charged.”

Ignorance was not an ac­ceptable plea. I was guilty, and I could not forgive myself. Nor could I deal with the guilt emotionally, since the one I had wronged was gone. I bowed my head in shame as the sentence was passed: LIFELONG UNHAPPINESS.

It might have helped if my case had been closed. But this court never adjourned. Again and again the scenario replayed itself, on a seemingly endless loop. And as weeks turned into months, I transferred my deep sense of guilt to other areas of my life. In the process, I tried and convicted myself many times. Relentlessly I pursued myself, a prosecutor bent on the de­struction of the defendant, dredging my memory, dragging into my consciousness numerous wrongs I had committed, some of them years earlier. Without doubt, I became both prisoner and servant to my guilt, a slave to the past, and unable to allow even the slightest snippet of happiness to penetrate the cold darkness of the cell in which I lived.

Theologically speaking, I was subjecting myself to law, whether God's or my own. In doing so, I found that I was not as merciful, compassionate, understanding, and loving as God is. I also discovered why the law is such a "millstone" around one's neck. It simply cannot be kept perfectly. And even when I did manage to survive a day without “sinning” in my actions, I knew that to be proud of that would just start the cycle again.    

I was becoming a practicing Pharisee, especially as I fo­cused on actions rather than on their cause—a heart not right with God. Once in a while I caught a glimpse of this truth, yet for several months I would not relent. In my own mind, I deserved whatever punishment came my way, whether inflicted by others or by myself.

The truth was, I needed to punish myself in order to atone for failing Jon Jon. Trust me - this is the hard way to learn that atonement is always one more good deed beyond your reach. You can never do enough, because, as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer says, "We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone those things which we ought to have done. And there is no health in us."

I was sick – mentally, spiritually, relationally unwell. I began to develop obsessive-compulsive behavior. My mind was obsessed with my guilt, and my compulsive actions reflected my inner turmoil. I became neurotically concerned with cleanliness. Like Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, I began to wash my hands many times daily. Sometimes I even would wash doorknobs and faucet handles I had touched, not so much to avoid contamination as to avoid con­taminating others. I tried to avoid breathing on children or having them come in contact with my face or mouth. I worried about germs and cleaned already clean eating utensils and dishes, morbidly preoccupied with the need to never again contribute to another person’s illness.

Another thing that ensnared me for a while was the goal of responding immediately, positively, and per­fectly to the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit. My mind whispered that I could escape future "guilt trips" if I could only learn to do the will of God on a moment by moment basis. My failure at perfectionism in this arena came because I could not easily differentiate between the promptings of the Spirit of God and the impulses of my own demented mind.

The following is but one day’s example of the way it was:

Driving back from a city approximately thirty-five miles away, my passenger and I had passed a motorist possibly in need of help. The impulse to stop passed through my mind, but I continued on. After dropping off my passenger, however, I drove all the way back, only to find the motorist gone.

 

As I returned home, I passed something lying on the shoulder of the opposite side of the road. Thinking it might be a dead deer, I continued on for several miles. Then I turned around again, reasoning that perhaps the meat could be saved. I would feel guilty if it were wasted and I could have prevented that. The object was only litter.

 

A few miles farther, I noticed what I thought was an ab­normal amount of smoke rising above a house. Was the house on fire? I turned around again and drove by twice just to be sure it wasn't. I didn't want to read in the paper of a fatal fire that I might have failed to report. It would only add to my load of guilt.

This is how my many, many compul­sive actions fueled by an intense internal conflagration. First the impulse, then the rejection, then the reconsideration, then the return; this was the typical progression.

I was constantly apologizing, incriminating myself whether guilty or not. Long afterward, I realized that one reason I was doing this was so people would constantly be telling me that I was okay, not guilty, forgiven. I needed to be absolved. I needed that over and over again, because guilt had permeated my entire being, to the degree that it even affected my dreams. It seemed there was no escaping its destructive effect. Whether waking or sleeping, the declara­tion of my guilt echoed persistently in the courtroom of my mind.

Theology was helpful, but at times inadequate to offset the intensity of my emotions. I knew God had forgiven me in Christ. But that wasn't enough to combat the waves of guilt that crashed relentlessly upon my shipwrecked soul. While the knowledge that I was safe helped me weather the storm, its breakers took an awful toll nonetheless.

I knew my guilt did not originate with God. It came partly from my own need to make myself pay. It also came from the evil one, Satan, whose goal was that I become an inef­fective Christian or even, if it were possible, that I deny my faith.

During the spring of 1979, the issue of guilt brought a crisis in relation to my continuing in the pastoral ministry. In the process of fulfilling the final requirements for ordination in the denomination with which I was affiliated, I repeatedly asked myself the question: What qualifies me to be a pastor when I know I'm so much like every­one else, and in some ways, perhaps even worse?

The answer, which came in several ways and from several sources, is that I really was no more qualified than anyone else. In terms of sinfulness and utter, absolute dependence upon Christ's work for the forgiveness of sin, all humans are equal. What did qualify me for ministry, however, was God's claim on my soul and his calling in my life.

"He is guilty . . . disqualified," says the accuser, night and day before the throne of God.

"He is guilty . . . yet forgiven," says the Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous One. “It is for freedom that I have set him free! He need not be enslaved any more to the yoke of your slavery!”

Love really is stronger than guilt. In love, Jesus set me free from the bondage of sin and all that goes with it. In this freedom, there is much to lose (for example, all the energy that is sapped by guilt, remorse, obsessions, and compulsions). But there is nothing left to gain, because the God who loves me has given me all things in Christ, and nothing I might ever do or say could make Him love me more…or less.

Columnist: Dr. David B. Biebel

DBiebel headshot

 

Dr. Biebel has authored or co-authored twenty books, including one bestseller: If God Is So Good, Why Do I Hurt So Bad? and the Gold Medallion winner, New Light on Depression. His recent releases include Making God Visible and Away in a Manger: The Christmas Story from a Nativity Scene Lamb's Point of View.


His goal is to help people attain and retain optimal physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational health (personal wholeness) so they can love the Lord with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. He founded Healthy Life Press (www.healthylifepress.com) to help new authors with something to contribute in this arena to get their works into print.

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        To Purchase these or any other of Dr. Biebel's titles click HERE

 

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