One of my life goals is to help people navigate the aftermath of their own failure. My hope is that in doing so, I’m also giving the people around them some tools to reduce the risk of being spiritually damaging.
I think that people forget that the spiritual battle is a real one. Much like a first time pregnant mother can be aware that there is a child inside her belly. She can know it in her head and even have obvious signs, but it’s not quite as real to her until the child is born. There really is a baby in there. When the child is born, it’s no longer a concept that one tries to imagine.
Spiritual occurrences are similarly out of intellectual reach. You can imagine the concept of the spiritual life, but not understand it fully until the spiritual experience drowns out the physical consciousness. That is, when something so powerful happens in your spirit, it takes the primary position in your awareness. Because of the power of that kind of shift in consciousness, the experience changes the physical life, to a relative degree, forever.
Albert Maslow is the creator of a psychological theory called The Hierarchy of Needs. It is illustrated as a pyramid with basic needs at the base and purpose at the tip.
From base to tip, the needs are listed as follows:
- body: food, warmth, air, rest
- security: safe from threats
- social: companionship, relationships, love
- ego: identity, sense of value and belief in self
- actualization: sense of life purpose
It’s not an order of importance, it’s an order of development. The theory is that a human cannot focus on the needs above (the higher numbers) if the needs below (the lower numbers) are not being met. For instance, if you are starving, you are not concerned about your safety. Survival comes first. If your basic needs are met, then you can focus on cultivating relationships, obtaining knowledge and fulfilling your purpose. Going along with the theory, a man can be in the top tier of needs, fulfilling his purpose, and then become the victim of a brutal mugging. Suddenly, he is plunged back to the basic needs and his life is thrown off until he feels rested and safe again. This is the reason that relationships suffer when someone goes through a traumatic event. Going through a traumatic event can also have a deep adverse affect on the man’s sense of value because things of value do not get abused. After a period of healing, the man could have a drastic switch in his sense of purpose. Many people become victim advocates after having been victimized themselves.
In the life of a Christian, God clearly meets all of the needs in the theory’s pyramid. God takes care of our basic needs, He provides our security, He (Holy Spirit) and His Body (the church) provide our relationships knitted together with Love, He gives us our identity and value, and He reveals our purpose. The believer has a bit more resilience amid life upset than the non-believer. Here is a list of scripture verses to illustrate what I am talking about:
Body – God takes care of your basic needs:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” -Matthew 6:25-26 ESV
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28 ESV
Security – God will keep you from being overcome by evil:
“…he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” –1 John 5:18 ESV
Social – the indwelling ‘Friend’, the constant relationship:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” –John 14:15 ESV
Ego – finding your identity, or life, in Christ:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” –Matthew 10:39 ESV
Actualization – your most important purpose as a believer (your life story):
“…they [believers] have conquered him [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” –Revelation 12:7 ESV
If you believe that you lose your relationship with God when you sin, then your sin has the power to destroy you. We make the mistake of believing that God’s love and who He is to us is based on our ability to keep ourselves upright. The logic, when made plain, is: “My sin cannot destroy me if I do not sin.” To be more explicit, “God’s word is only true if I give it the power with my abilities.”
If you believe that God only keeps His word if you keep yours, then you have no reason to believe that He will provide your basic needs, keep you safe, never leave you, save your life, or give your life a purpose. Grief will steal your sleep. God will leave you for the vultures. He has removed His Holy Spirit from you. Without your identity in Christ, you don’t know who you are anymore. You’ve ruined your life’s purpose, your “testimony”, with your sin. These are all lies designed to destroy you. It’s not the sin, it’s the belief of the power of sin. When sin has the power, there is no hope.
I was one of those people. I believed that my sin removed God’s hand, presence, protection, attention, love, and grace from my life. I was raised in church that way. The response from my religious community solidified the belief and the lack of evidence (in the religious culture) otherwise convinced me. Because of my belief, I had no hope, no purpose, and wondered if Hell was having to live as a wanderer with no home. I did not belong in the world that did not acknowledge Jesus, because I knew He was real. However, I was no longer welcome in the world that does acknowledge Jesus, because I did something horribly immoral.
When you have all of your needs met by God and are convinced that is the only way to live, then believe that all of those needs are no longer provided, it destroys you. You cannot go back to living as though you never knew God, taking care of yourself and finding your own identity and purpose. It’s impossible to not believe what you believe. Therefore, when you misunderstand grace, it plunges you into terrible despair. The kind of despair that stretches through eternity. Hopelessness unending.
To those of you who are connected to someone whose life has been wracked by sin: You must convince your friend that God remains faithful even when we don’t. His word never changes, so what was true before is still true now. You have to take care of the core of who they are so that they can stop fighting for survival and begin the process of breaking in the presence of grace. If there is no grace, then they will never stop trying to survive. It is only when they lose their life that they find it. It’s not about their sin, it’s about their faith. It’s about the spiritual battle that is very real.
To those of you who are in that hell: The fact that you cannot shake the still small voice that refuses to leave you in your despair is evidence that you have not been left. On this side of healing, I see where you are as a ‘threshing floor’. It’s a period of time I barely made through, but I did and others have and you will, too. One day, believe me, you will see the amazing beauty out of the fire you’re in. I wish I could offer you a place to rest, but I can’t. I wish I could hush the demonic voices ripping at you, but I can’t. I can just tell you that you’re going to make it. Others may be using scripture to destroy you, but I promise, there’s more there that saves you than condemns you. Scripture will save your life, Jesus is your advocate, and I am your crazy little friend in the cold world of the aftermath of sin.
“…sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” -Romans 5:20-21