Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Way of Escape & the Two Options of Choice

Linda, in Yellow Springs, Ohio
(What follows is experimental theology in the area of spiritual formation.)

An MRI produces a powerful magnetic field. Metal objects are not to be brought close to it. For example:

"Metal objects in the vicinity of a MRI can be dangerous. In 2001, a six year-old boy was killed when an oxygen tank struck the child. When the MRI magnet was turned on, the oxygen tank was sucked into the MRI, and the child was struck by this heavy object. Because of this potential problem, the MRI staff is extremely careful in ensuring the safety of patients."

When I was a campus pastor in the 1980s at Michigan State University we had a number of medical students in our ministry. One day a few of them told me about two med students who flirted with an MRI. They took a ten pound dumbbell and held it closer and closer to the MRI until they could feel the gravitational tug. Closer. Closer. How strong was the pull? How strong were they? Suddenly the dumbbell ripped out of their hands and flew into the MRI, causing much damage. A costly, foolish thing to do!

They could have chosen not to do this. But they gave in to temptation's drawing power. Paul would have told them they had a way out of this. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul writes: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

What is this "way out?" The "way out of temptation" is: "choice." And "choice" has two options: one verbal, the other physical.

The verbal choice is the word "No!"

The physical choice is: get your butt out of there and "Run!"

"No!" must always be accompanied by "Run!" "Run!" need not be accompanied by "No!" One could just run!

Anything less than "No!" + "Run!" is flirting. Those who flirt, lose.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee... (1 Cor. 10:14)

Is it that simple? Yes and no. Yes, it is that simple. Check it out for yourself. Today, if you are tempted to do something God would not want you to do, such as eat that extra oreo cookie, you can choose to leave the room. Note: obviously, you can do this. It is possible. Is it easy to do? No, not if you see how close you can get the dumbbell to the MRI without getting sucked in. Not if you flirt.

When the addict utters one "No!" and chooses to "Run!" a new neural pathway begins to be formed in her physical brain. Choose "No!" + "Run!" enough times and the old neural highway becomes as pot-holed and unused as a Michigan back road, while a new neural highway [a new behavior] is morphing into I-75.

Am I kidding? Philosophically and theologically, see here the extant and ongoing work of Dallas Willard, J.P. Moreland, and N.T. Wright. See Wright's After You Believe, Ch. 3, "The Transformation of Character." Wright writes: "Learning results in physical changes to the brain, and these changes are unique to each individual... Contemporary science is actually able to study and map the way in which lieflong habits come to be formed."
Try this little essay "The Human Body and Spiritual Growth" by Willard. And here's a teaser by Moreland - "The Bible and Neuroscience on Promiscuity."

Where does God fit in? God provides the "way of escape." God gives us the word "No!" and the ability to "Run!"