Do Not Be Deceived: Hell Is Real

Last Judgment – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1541)

There is a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews that deserves attention because it is a more common problem than many imagine:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

When most of us read a text like this, we think only of obvious and dark cases. For example, someone’s tendency to lash out at others leads him to increasing violence and cruelty, or someone’s desire for possessions leads him to increasing stinginess and unkindness, or someone’s lust leads him to sexually promiscuity that is more and more debased and perverse. However, there are less egregious versions of what this text describes that can lead even religiously observant Catholics to become hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

An example of this is the outright, almost categorical denial of the doctrine of Hell by a large number of Catholics, even ones who attend Mass faithfully each week. Although Jesus taught it consistently, many today firmly resist the biblical teaching that many people are in significant danger of going to Hell.

It can be argued that 21 of the 38 parables have as their theme the warning of impending judgment in which some are judged unable or unwilling to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For example, there are sheep and goats; wheat and tares; those on the right and those on the left; wise virgins and foolish ones; those who accept the invitation to the wedding and those who refuse; those properly dressed and those who are not; those who are told, “Come, blessed of my Father” and those who are told, “Depart from me.” This is not the place for me to give a full teaching on these doctrines. (I have posted in more depth on these topics previously: here and here and here.)

Many today, even among the religiously observant, do not take these consistent teachings seriously. “God wouldn’t do that because He is love and compassion,” they say. “There aren’t many people in Hell, except maybe Hitler.” Most people are quite “hardened” in this “deceitful” view, to use the language from Hebrews. Even when presented with verse after verse from Scripture—most directly from Jesus’ mouth—many still stubbornly persist in rejecting what is clearly taught, saying: “Yeah, I know, but He didn’t really mean it. He won’t really do that.”

To illustrate, some years ago a woman confronted me after Mass objecting to my sermon, which included a warning about Hell for those who refuse to repent. (The Gospel for that Sunday included Jesus’ sad warning that the road to Hell was wide with many on it, while the road to salvation was narrow and only a few were walking its way and would find salvation). She said to me, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your sermon about Hell today.” I replied, “But ma’am, I was quoting Jesus!” She did not miss a beat, saying, “Oh, please! We know He never really said that.” This reply indicates a hardening by the deceit of sin on several levels: she rejects the revealed Word of God in favor of her own views, she rejects the doctrine and warnings of Hell itself, and she remakes the Lord so that He conforms to her notions and can be worthy of her credence and worship. (We used to call this last thing “idolatry.”)

Listen again to the words from Hebrews: See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. This refers to more than just wicked behaviors. Sometimes the hardness is a refusal to believe revealed doctrines or to accept the Lord’s serious warnings. A world hardened by the deceit of sin will not accept that there are lasting consequences for the refusal to repent. Many have allowed themselves to be influenced by it, setting aside God’s Word in favor of human ideas and preferences.

Beware of this tendency, which is so common today. Study the doctrines. Read the warnings of the Lord in Scripture. Ask questions about things that puzzle or trouble you; pray for insight—but do not be misled into sinfully and stubbornly rejecting what is revealed.

The reading for Wednesday’s Mass contains a salutary warning:

Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart. Say not, “Who can prevail against me?” for the LORD will exact the punishment. Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” for the LORD bides his time. Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day; For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed. Rely not upon deceitful wealth, for it will be no help on the day of wrath (Sirach 5:1-10).

The Lord says these things because He loves us. He does not want us to be lost. In the end, though, God respects our freedom to say no to what He is offering. He knows how we are made and how stubborn we can be. He knows that the values of Heaven (particularly love of our enemies, forgiveness of those who have wronged us, and chastity) are not pleasing to many people. The Lord will not force us to live values like these, but they are what Heaven is about. Thus, He warns us to let Him instill a desire in us for what He offers so that we will desire the Heaven He describes. Listen to Him; He warns us in love so that He can take our heart of stone and give us a true heart to desire the Heaven He is offering.

Do not be hardened by deceitful teachings rooted in this world of sin!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Do Not Be Deceived or Hardened in the Error of Those Who Say Hell is Unlikely or Unreal

Prayer and Fasting or Just Prayer? A Consideration of a Biblical “Disagreement”

Bread and wheat on wooden table, shallow DOFGiven the Gospel reading for Monday of the Seventh Week, and with the ongoing interest in demonology, Jesus’ instruction that demons must be driven out with prayer and fasting (cf Mk 9:29, Matt 17:21) is frequently quoted. And many people are acquainted with this text in this form.

But a problem emerges for some people when they go to their Bible to look up those texts. Some Bibles include the reference to fasting while others do not. For example, the two most common Catholic Bibles, the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) and the Revised New American Bible (RNAB), render Mark 9:29 differently.

  • This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting (RSVCE).
  • This kind can only come out through prayer (RNAB).

And in Matthew 17:21, which recounts the same incident that Mark 9:29 does, prayer and fasting aren’t mentioned at all in either the RSVCE or the RNAB version. Older Bibles such as the Douay Rheims (DR) and the King James (KJV), however, do:

  • But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting (DR).
  • Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting (KJV).

So what is going on here?

The ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are remarkably consistent, especially considering that they were handwritten by scribes, who might accidentally skip or misspell a word. But there are some discrepancies. Most textual variations are easily resolved by comparing several ancient manuscripts to identify misspellings and/or dropped words. There are some variations, however, that are not as easily resolved, especially when it is a case of one erroneous manuscript being copied numerous times and distributed. But even in that situation, a little detective work can usually find the root problem and distinguish between an erroneous text and a correct one.

But there are times when certain textual variations cannot be resolved and biblical scholars either do not agree or cannot be certain as to which is the most authentic version. Mark 9:29 is one of those texts. Some ancient manuscripts include the words “and fasting” (και νηστεια) while others do not.

For the benefit of the technocrats who are reading this, the following manuscripts support the translation that includes both fasting and prayer: P45vid2 A C D K L N W Γ Δ Θ Ψ ƒ1,13 28. 33. 565. 579. 700. 892. 1241. 1424. 2542. ℓ 2211 ???? lat syh co (sys.p boms). These ancient manuscripts, however, support the translation that does not include fasting: ℵ B 0274 k.

While the manuscripts that favor including fasting are far more numerous, it is not necessarily a question of mere numbers. This is because not all ancient manuscripts are considered to be of equal value. Most modern scholars favor the translation that excludes the reference to fasting because the manuscripts that do not mention it are ones that they weight more heavily. So even though many manuscripts do include the words “and fasting,” the earliest and “best” manuscripts do not include it. Critics of this current consensus view object to the presumption that fasting reflects a later concern of the Church. They also think that the most common “go-to” source (Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament) has been too influential. Welcome to the wonderful world of biblical textual criticism (analysis)!

The issue with Matthew 7:21 being wholly lacking in most modern Bibles has a similar explanation, though in this case the consensus is even stronger because the oldest and best Greek manuscripts lack the verse. And even those manuscripts that do, seem to show it in the margins as more of a side comment or a reference back to Mark 9:29.

So, all of this goes toward explaining why some of our modern Bibles report Jesus as saying that certain types of demons must be driven out by “prayer and fasting,” while others simply say “prayer.”

But is this just an academic exercise? What are there pastoral considerations?

The main pastoral (and liturgical) question would seem to be this: “Is fasting required to drive out demons or not?” The ambiguity of the textual evidence (as described above) allows that reasonable people may differ as to whether strict fasting is required and to what extent it is helpful. There are certain considerations to be made.

Even if certain demons are best driven out by prayer and fasting, we must never forget that it is God who drives out demons, and He doesn’t need our fasting to do so. Any prideful notions about the effects of our fasting should be strictly avoided.

Indeed, we ought to have a kind of humility regarding fasting. Fasting is certainly recommended, and the Lord Himself says that there is a time for fasting (cf Mk 2:20, Luke 5:35). But fasting can also be a source of pride (Lk 18:12, Lk 5:33). Fasting done out of pride or superiority isn’t going to drive out any demons; in fact it will likely attract them.

In longer exorcisms (which can go on for months), fasting may need to be mitigated or else assigned to members who are not part of the team directly involved in the exorcism. Physical strength is often needed to withstand the grueling work of major exorcism.

With such precautions in mind, and in spite of the textual variations in the “prayer and fasting” text of Scripture, the instinct of the Church is that casting out demons is best assisted by both prayer and fasting. The current Rite of Exorcism (2004) says,

The Exorcist, mindful that the tribe of demons cannot be cast out except through prayer and fasting, should take care that these two most effective remedies for obtaining divine help be used, after the example of the Holy Fathers, both by himself and by others, insofar as is possible (De Exorcismis # 31).

The Older Rite (1614) also advises,

Therefore, he will be mindful of the words of our Lord (Mt. 17:20), to the effect that there is a certain type of evil spirit who cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting. Therefore, let him avail himself of these two means above all for imploring the divine assistance in expelling demons, after the example of the holy fathers; and not only himself, but let him induce others, as far as possible, to do the same (De Exorcizandis # 10).

Why or how does fasting add power to prayer? One reasonable (and biblical) answer is that prayer and worship should generally involve sacrifice. Scripture says,

  • Understand these things, you that forget God; lest he snatch you away, and there be none to deliver you. The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will show him my salvation, says the Lord (Psalm 50:22-23).
  • Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb 13:15-16).
  • You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors (ex 23:15-16).

There has developed in Western world the strange notion of worship and praise without sacrifice. In many sectors, worship has devolved to little more than a form of entertainment, wherein the whims and preferences of the faithful are expected to be catered to. Worship, by this notion, should be brief and should take place in comfortable, air-conditioned churches with padded pews and convenient parking. The “message” and liturgy should not be intellectually or morally challenging; rather they should be encouraging and pleasing. The music and “style” of liturgy should meet the preferences of those assembled.

Missing in all of this is the concept that liturgy and prayer should involve sacrifice, that they should “cost” us something. Yet Scripture clearly links prayer and sacrifice and indicates that they should, to some degree, be found together. Sacrifice is a way of establishing greater sincerity in, and integrity to, our worship. Indeed, worship without sacrifice too easily becomes lip service or turns God into a kind of divine butler, whom we expect to wait on us. God surely does supply our needs but He is no butler; He is God, who is worthy of our worship and the sacrifice of praise.

It is in this sense that prayer and fasting belong together, especially in the difficult work of driving out demons. Prayer and fasting become the sacrifice of praise that confounds and disturbs the evil one to no end. Scripture says, And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, for I will offer in his tent sacrifices of praise with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD (Psalm 27:6).

It is the instinct of the Church that prayer is good, but that prayer with sacrifice (fasting is sacrificial) wins through, especially in that most difficult work of expelling demons and repelling the enemy.

The question of how best to translate Mark 9 and Matthew 17 is a legitimate one. But the long experience of the Church ought not to be neglected. And experience teaches plainly enough that as a general norm,

This kind cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29).

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Prayer and Fasting or Just Prayer? A Consideration of a Biblical “Disagreement”

The Mystery of Iniquity – A Meditation on the Mystery of Rebelliousness

There is a phrase in the Scriptures that, while speaking of mystery, is itself a bit mysterious and is debated among scholars: the “mystery of iniquity.” St. Paul mentions it in Second Thessalonians and ties it to an equally mysterious “man of iniquity” who will appear before Jesus’ second coming.

The Latin root of the English word “iniquity” is iniquitas (in (not) + aequus (equal)), meaning unjust or harmful, but the Greek μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας (mysterion tes anomias) is probably best rendered as “mystery of lawlessness.” Many modern translations use the “mystery of lawlessness,” though it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Translation issues aside, Paul seems to be writing in a kind of secret code:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming (2 Thess 2:1-8).

Although St. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they know what is holding back the lawless one, we moderns struggle to know. Some scholars say that Paul is referring to the Roman government (which I doubt). Others say that it is the power of grace and God’s decision to “restrain” the evil one and thereby limit his power for the time being. Of course, if Satan is limited now, what horrifying things will be set loose when he is no longer restrained! Can it get any worse? Apparently, it can!

But there it is in the seventh verse; even before the lawless one is set loose there already exists the mystery of lawlessness, the mystery of iniquity. That phrase comes down through the centuries to us, provoking us to ponder its rich meaning.

The danger is that we can focus too much on the “man of iniquity,” who is not yet fully here, and fail to ponder the present reality. As St. Paul says, For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Yes, the danger is that we focus on the future, which is murky, and ignore the present.

Hence, I propose that we ponder the “mystery of iniquity,” which is already here. I’d like to explore how it affects us, both personally and collectively. In doing so, we cannot ignore the operative word “mystery.” We must ponder with humility, realizing that some of what we are confronting is revealed, but much of it is hidden. Therefore, I do not propose to “explain” this phrase to you, but rather to ponder its mystery and confront its questions so as to draw us to reverence and a deeper understanding of our need for salvation.

Let’s look at the mystery of iniquity in four parts, wherein we ponder the mysterious reality of lawlessness that seems so operative among us, individually and collectively.

1. “Rational” Man’s Irrationality – Why do we, who are otherwise rational creatures, choose to do that which we know is wrong? Why do we choose to do that which we know causes harm to ourselves and others? Why do we do that which endangers us, threatens us, compromises our future, and further weakens us? Why do we choose evil, knowing that it is evil?

Some argue that our will has been weakened on account of original sin and thus we give way easily to temptation. While this offers some insight, it does not ultimately solve the mystery, for we consistently seem to choose to do that which we know is wrong or harmful.

Some contend that we are choosing what we perceive to be good, but despite our darkened intellects and our tendency to lie to ourselves, deep down we really know better. We know that choosing evil leads to harm in the long run. Our conscience tells us, “This is wrong. Don’t do it.” Yet, knowing this, we still do it.

Are we weak? Yes, but that is not the complete answer. We are staring once again into the face of the “mystery of iniquity.”

2. The Angelic Rebellion – The mystery only deepens when we consider that this is not just a human problem; it is also an angelic one. The presence of demons, revealed to us by Scripture and by our own experience, speaks to the reality of fallen angels.

There was a great rebellion among the angels. Scripture more than hints at the fact that a third of the angels fell from Heaven in this rebellion, before the creation of man (cf Rev 12:4).

Thus, ascribing iniquity and lawlessness to human weakness cannot be a complete answer.

How could angels, with a nature and intellect far more glorious than ours, knowingly reject what is good, true, and beautiful? Here is the deep “mystery of iniquity” having nothing to do with the flesh, or with sensuality, or with human limits. It is raw, intellectual, willful rebellion against the good by creatures far superior to us. The mystery only deepens.

3. The Corruption of the Best and Brightest – The intellect and free will are arguably God’s greatest gifts. Why, then, do they come at such a high price for both God and us? Surely God foresaw that many angels and human beings would reject Him.

Some answer that God also saw the magnificent love and beauty that would be ushered in by those who accepted Him and the glorious vision of His truth. Perhaps God, who is love, saw love as so magnificent that even its rejection by some could not overrule its glory in those who accepted it. Seeking beloved children rather than robots or animals was so precious to God that he risked losing some—even many—in order to gain some.

Others speculate that, at least in this fallen world, contrast is necessary to highlight the glory of truth. What is light if there is no darkness with which to compare it? What is justice if there is no injustice against which to contrast it? What is the glory of our yes if it is not possible to utter a no?

Even these reasonable speculations cannot fully address the mystery of why so many men and angels reject what is good, true, and beautiful; why so many prefer to reign in Hell rather than to serve in Heaven; why so many obstinately refuse to trust in God and obey even simple commands that they know are ultimately good for them. The glory of our freedom and our intellect are abused. Our greatest strengths are also our greatest struggles. Liberty becomes license; lasciviousness and intellect become insubordination and intransigence. Corruptio optime pessima! (The corruption of the best is the worst!)

4. The Final Refusal to Repent – Many today like to blame God for Hell, and they particularly scoff at the notion that Hell is eternal. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the eternity of Hell is not due to a defect in divine mercy (CCC # 393). Rather, Hell is eternal because the decision of the damned is irrevocable.

The stubbornness and hardness of heart of the damned reach a point of no return. How does a soul end up in this state? Surely it happens gradually. Sin is added upon sin and the hardness of heart grows. Over time, the demands of God’s justice seem increasingly obnoxious. The hardened soul starts to sneer at God’s law, calling it intolerant, backwards, and simplistic. Of course, God’s law is none of these things, but as the darkness grows within a heart, the light seems more and more obnoxious and hateful. Soon enough, concepts such as forgiveness, love of enemies, generosity, and chastity seem “unrealistic,” even ludicrous.

When does a soul reach the point of no return? Is it at death or sometime before? It is hard to say, but here we reach the deepest mystery: the permanently unrepentant heart.

Our tour has yielded only crumbs. We are back to confronting our mysterious rebelliousness, stubbornness, and hardness of heart; our almost knee-jerk tendency to bristle when we are told what to do, even if we know it to be good for us and others. Even the most minor prohibition makes the thing seem all the more desirable to us. There lurks that rebellious voice that says, “I will not be told what to do! I will do what I want to do, and I will decide whether it is right or wrong.”

Yes, at the end of the day, we are left looking squarely at a mystery. It is the deep, almost unfathomable mystery of our very own iniquity, our lawlessness, our irrational refusal to be under any law or restraint.

Perhaps it is not a mystery that is meant to be solved but to be accepted and to cause us to turn to God, who alone understands. The mystery of iniquity is so profound and so terrifying that it should send us running to God as fast as we can exclaiming, “Lord save me from myself, from my obtuseness, my hardened heart, my rebelliousness, and my iniquity. Save me from the lawlessness in me! I cannot understand it, let alone save myself from it! Only you, Lord, can save me from my greatest threat, my greatest enemy: my very self.”

Yes, the great mystery of iniquity! St. Paul says, the mystery of iniquity is already at work, but he does not say why or even how. He only says that God can restrain it.

Yes, only God can restrain and explain.

More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, alone, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart (Jer 17:9-10).

Here is a song from my youth that celebrates rebellion, iniquity, and lawlessness. The refrain admits that we are “fooling no one but ourselves,” but we do it anyway. It’s foolish and mysterious!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Mystery of Iniquity – A Meditation on the Mystery of Rebelliousness

Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?

Adam and Eve – Johann Wenzel Peter

Original sin is that first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, committed when they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1-7). While it clearly involved them both, Scripture and Tradition refer to it formally as the “Sin of Adam” or “Adam’s Sin,” not the “Sin of Adam and Eve.” It is also described as coming to us “through one man,” not “through one man and one woman.” Consider the following quotes from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  • Like Adam, they [Israel] have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there (Hosea 6:7).
  • Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, … death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam (Rom 5:12, 14).
  • For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
  • All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners” “sin came into the world through one man …” (CCC # 402).
  • Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin … (CCC # 403).
  • How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice (CCC # 404).

Again, why just Adam?

I want to propose several answers, some of them somewhat politically incorrect. Not everything I am about to write represents formal Church teaching; some of it is speculation on my part.

Parallelism – St. Paul makes it clear that we are saved by Christ alone. This is because sin came through “one man” and hence we are saved by “one Man,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ are all made alive (cf Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:22). Parallelism makes it fitting that because we were saved by one Man, we were steeped in sin through one man. This argument is ultimately unsatisfying because it amounts to a kind of post hoc ergo propter hoc argument by starting with the conclusion (we were saved by one Man) and then developing the premise (that it is because one man sinned). The New Testament guides and influences our understanding of the Old Testament, and it should. Hence, there are two Adams, a “man-for-Man” parallelism. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

The Headship of Adam – Scripture teaches of the headship of the husband in marriage (cf Eph 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1; Titus 5:2; Col 3:18). When God ordained marriage, He stated, A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one (Gen 2:24). The man leads the marriage and is its head, but this makes him ultimately responsible for what takes place in that marriage.

Today, we tend to think of headship as a privilege, but Scripture speaks of it more in terms of responsibility and service (cf Mark 10:41-45; Lk 12:48). Thus, the headship of the husband brings upon him the ultimate responsibility for what happens in his household. This does not mean that his wife is necessarily without guilt, only that that he must answer for it.

I am the head of my parish. As such, if one of my parishioners or staff does something wrong, the bishop calls me and expects me to handle the matter. I am ultimately responsible for what happens in my parish and must account for it, accept shared responsibility for it, and correct it. It may be because I failed to teach properly. Perhaps I did not exercise enough oversight. It may not be entirely my fault, but as head, I must answer for it.

Hence, original sin is called the “Sin of Adam” because as head of the household he bore ultimate responsibility for what took place. When God was looking for them after they had sinned, He did not say, “Adam and Eve, where are you?” He said, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) Eve was not without blame, but God called on Adam to render an account. Adam had headship and, in this sense, the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

The “Complexity” of Original Sin – When we think of the first sin, we tend to think of it simplistically, as simply the eating of forbidden fruit. I suggest that it was more complicated than that and involved Adam a little more than is commonly thought.

Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden prior to Eve’s creation and had been told to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15). (Some translations say that he is to work in it and guard it.)

After Eve’s creation, she has a somewhat lengthy conversation with the devil, during which he spars with her, tempting her and ultimately causing her to fall. During this time, where was Adam? One would think he wasn’t there because the text does not record him saying anything, but in fact Adam was right there the whole time! One would expect Adam to say to Satan, “Why are you talking to my wife? What are you saying to her? Why are you trying to mislead her?” One would further expect Adam to dispute what Satan was saying and to defend his wife from this temptation and error. Surely, Eve should not have had to answer Satan all on her own. She does well at the outset but then weakens under his onslaught. Why does Adam not step in to protect her and to bolster her strength? Why does he not assist her in this struggle and defend her against this threat? Is his silence not part of the first sin? Is his omission not integral to the fall of them both?

Adam had an obligation to rebuff Satan and to guard his wife and the garden, but he remained passive. As head of the house, Adam had the primary responsibility of defending his household from all error, sin, and threat. Eve should not have had to face Satan alone. Adam was worse than useless; his silence gave strength to Satan’s arguments. Eve was not without sin, but Adam failed to assist her and to provide her the support she needed and deserved.

Thus, the first sin involved more than merely eating the fruit; that was its culmination. Adam’s complicit silence was integral to the fall; it set the stage. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?

How Is Adam’s Sin Different From Eve’s?

The Fall of Man – Hendrik Goltzius (1616)

In Friday’s blog post, I sought to explore the details of original sin and to convey that there are subtleties and stages to it. The sin was more than eating a piece of fruit; there were things that led up to it, both externally and internally.

Today I would like to consider how the sacred text speaks of the sin of Adam and differentiates it to some extent from that of Eve. Biblically, original sin is Adam’s sin, not Eve’s (cf Rom 5:12 inter al).

It is not that Eve did not sin, nor that her actions have no interest for us, but as the head of his household and of the human family, it is Adam who bore the responsibility and thereby incurred the “original sin,” which comes down to all of us.

Today’s post isn’t going to be very politically correct, because in striving to differentiate Eve’s sin from Adam’s I will take up a controversial text from St. Paul. It does not comport well with modern notions, so it is important to consider a couple of points before beginning.

First, we ought to remember that it is a sacred text, and even if St. Paul may draw some of his reflections on the cultural experience of his time, he also gives theological reasons for what he writes.

Second, this is only one text from one author. Further, what St. Paul says rather absolutely in the verse that follows, he qualifies to some extent in other writings.

With this in mind, let’s examine the controversial text and strive to see the distinctions between Adam’s sin and Eve’s. St. Paul writes,

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim 2:11b-14).

Upon reading the text like this, so astonishingly out of step with modern thinking, many are prone to dismiss it out of hand as a relic of a past dark age. It is debatable whether this edict that women should not teach or have authority over men was merely a disciplinary norm that need not be observed today. It is also debatable how absolute Paul’s words were, for Paul speaks elsewhere of women as catechists (e.g., Phoebe in Romans 16), spiritual leaders, and benefactors (e.g., Lydia in Acts 16) in the early church communities. And in Corinthians, he says that when a woman speaks in the assembly, she is to cover her head (1 Cor 11:5). So, what St. Paul says in his Letter to Timothy is distinguished elsewhere in a way that allows for women to both speak and teach the faith.

In the passage from Timothy, the context seems to be that of the family and marriage. St. Paul affirms the headship of the husband here just as he does in Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18 as does Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-6.

There is another text in which Paul speaks of women being silent in the church. The context in the following passage seems to be liturgical:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Cor 14:34-35).

Here again, there is legitimate debate about how strictly the silence described in this passage is to be interpreted. Generally, Church practice has understood it to mean that women are not to give the official teaching in the liturgy that we refer to as the sermon or homily. This stricture has been observed from antiquity to the present day; the homily can only be given by a bishop, priest, or deacon. In more recent times women have been permitted to serve as lectors, cantors, and singers, but the official teaching moment of the homily is still reserved for the male clergy.

While some prefer to see St. Paul’s observations as cultural artifacts that can be adjusted, we need to see that Paul sets forth theological reasoning for the difference between Adam’s sin and Eve’s.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim 2:13-14).

St. Paul begins by saying that Adam was formed first, then Eve. So, here he teaches, as he does in other passages, that the husband has headship, authority. The husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the Church (Eph 5:22).

In terms of original sin, St. Paul says that Adam was not the one deceived, it was Eve who was deceived. Thus, St. Paul speaks of Eve’s sin as different from Adam’s. She was deceived and so sinned. Adam was not deceived; his sin lay elsewhere.

Eve herself speaks of her own deception: “The serpent tricked me and so I ate it” (Gen 3:13). Of Adam’s sin, God says, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it’ …” (Gen 3:17).  Thus, Adam’s sin lay in his willingness to allow his wife to tempt him. These sorts of teachings grate on modern ears, but this does not make them untrue.

Perhaps a little additional reflection may help to avoid knee-jerk reactions to either gloat or become angry. Adam’s and Eve’s sins are described differently and can also be understood as weaknesses to which each was particularly susceptible: she to deception, he to being swayed by Eve’s feminine mystique and beauty.

St. Paul does not simply ascribe these two weaknesses to Adam and Eve as individuals but also as male and female. Hence, St. Paul seems to teach that a woman ought not to have solemn teaching authority in the Church because of her tendency to be deceived.

Why might this be, that a woman could be more easily deceived? Perhaps it is rooted paradoxically in her strength. Women are more naturally spiritual and inclined to be a source of unity and peace in the family. While these are wonderful strengths, in certain circumstances they can provide an easy opening for deception. If one seeks to make peace too easily, one may compromise with error and sin; and though being open to spiritual things is of itself good, one should not be open to erroneous spiritual concepts.

Further, should a woman cede to these, she can have undue power over her husband and other men who may be drawn by her beauty into setting aside their better judgment.

To my mind, this is St. Paul’s point when he says that Eve was deceived and Adam was not, and therefore a woman cannot have teaching authority in the Church. There was a similar warning in ancient Israel that a man should not take a foreign wife because she might confuse his heart into the worship of her foreign gods. A man’s heart can easily be swayed by a beautiful and influential woman.

Addressing this double threat, St. Paul forbids women to have teaching authority in the Church and ties it back to the archetypal incident of Adam and Eve. Eve was deceived and then was able to seduce her husband to sin.

In modern times it may well be that St. Paul’s caution is affirmed by the problems in liberal Protestant denominations that have a large number of female leaders. It is these very denominations that have departed significantly from the orthodox Christian faith, denying basic tenets of the Trinity, moral teaching, and biblical interpretation. This was not caused solely by the presence of women in leadership roles, but there is a high correlation between denominations that have embraced women as leaders and departure from orthodox Christian beliefs.

Have I been politically incorrect enough for you? Please feel free to comment below, but keep in mind that the focus I am interested in is the different descriptions of the Adam’s sin and Eve’s sin.

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: How Is Adam’s Sin Different From Eve’s?

The Anatomy of Original Sin

James Tissot (1902)

In the readings at Mass this week we are pondering the account of original sin. Let’s explore the stages of sin that are manifested in Adam’s and Eve’s struggle.

Many tend to describe original sin merely as the eating of a forbidden fruit. While this accurate, it is incomplete and leads many to wonder why all this trouble came just from eating a piece of fruit. I believe it is helpful to consider the sin of Adam and Eve more richly. While the eating of the fruit is an external act, like any human act it proceeds from the heart and admits of some complexity.

I will use the following passage from the Book of James to help frame our reflections:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

From this, we can distinguish the following stages of sin:

  1. The lure of temptation
  2. The engagement of desire
  3. The conception of sin
  4. The birth of sin
  5. Spiritual death

When we examine the sin of Adam and Eve we can see these stages at work.

Preamble – God put Adam in the garden even before Eve was created:

The LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden in order to have him work it and guard it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen 2:15-17).

Adam’s task was to work the garden as well as to guard (keep watch over) it. There was also a boundary that God told Adam not to cross. He did not explain why but simply noted the danger and asked Adam to trust Him.

Adam was to tend, till, and trust. Adam will fall short in two of these, and they are aspects of what we have come to call original sin.

1. The Lure of Temptation – The story opens with the description of the serpent, the most cunning of all the wild creatures God made (Genesis 3:1). While most of us imagine a snake of some sort, that description is given only after God curses Satan, whom the creature allegorically represents. Exactly what it looked like before the fall is not stated, and hence we need not imagine a talking snake. Whatever the creature, it is representative of the way in which Satan interacts with Eve.

Cunning and subtle, Satan uses intellectual arguments to appeal to aspects of what would later come to be called pride and sensuality. He also seeks to undermine her trust in God’s goodness.

Satan begins by attempting to make God seem unreasonable, suggesting that He forbade them from eating from any of the trees in the Garden. Eve easily deals with this temptation and dismisses it, correctly stating that it is only one tree that has been proscribed. This is a common tactic of Satan’s even today: presenting God as unreasonable, demanding too many things, and forbidding too much. This accusation wholly ignores the fact that God has given incredible liberty to human persons: unlike any other creatures except angels, human beings are permitted to say no to God.

Satan’s second attack is more successful. He declares that God is not telling them the truth. In effect, he says that God (who has given them everything) is holding something very important back from them. Satan argues that God is restraining them from being the gods they deserve to be. In effect, he says, “Why do you allow anyone to have power over you? Why do you let anyone tell you what to do? Why do you not instead say, ‘I will do what I want to do and I will decide whether it is right or wrong’?” Satan appeals to their incredible pride by saying, “You will be gods!”

Thus, Eve is in the first stage of sin, the lure of temptation. One may well wonder where Adam is. Satan has been talking to Eve, but where is Adam? The text says that he is right there with her! (Gen 3:6)

This is a problem integral to Adam’s sin. He was told, among other things, to guard the garden, to keep watch over it. It is arguable whether he could have prevented Satan from being there at all (he probably could not), but surely he could have tried to protect his wife! Satan is there and Adam says and does nothing. He does not try to ward off the evil one nor does he assist his wife in resisting the tempting thoughts. No, he stands there quietly, a passive husband.

As the head of his family, Adam was obligated to come to his wife’s aid, to protect her, to assist her in this grave temptation and threat, but the text reports that he does nothing. Indeed, Adam is so unobtrusive that when I point out the sixth verse, which says that he was with Eve, people are surprised. Even many a passive husband would intervene if he were to see some strange individual speaking to his wife.

“But Father, but Father! Are you saying that Adam already sinned even before original sin was committed?” No, not necessarily. The point is that original sin is more complicated than merely biting into a piece of fruit. Like many sins, it has layers. Adam may not yet have sinned, but his silence is surely puzzling; indeed, it is troubling. It is not a sin to be tempted (even Jesus was tempted), but to do nothing in the face of temptation is to at least open the door to the next stage of sin.

2. The Engagement of Desire The text says, the woman saw the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (Genesis 3:6).

Temptation is a thought that either occurs to us or is presented to us by another. If I were to say to you, “Why don’t we go down to the corner store and rob it?” I have simply presented you with an idea or proposed course of action, which may or may not appeal to you. Temptation of itself is merely a thought.

In the second stage of sin, the tempting thoughts of Satan stir up Eve’s desires. The fruit engages her sensual desires; it looks tasty and delights the eyes. It also engages her intellectual desires, for it has been described to her as a source of empowering wisdom.

Thus, temptation moves from being a mere thought to becoming a kind of force or power. Eve’s desires are engaged and ignited, making things more difficult. A purely intellectual response will not be enough; her will must be engaged so that her desires can be curbed and subject to truth and right reason. Either she will obey God (who has given her everything), and thus decide reasonably, or she will yield to temptation and desire by deciding to accept the proposal of Satan, who has given her nothing but an appeal to her sensuality and pride.

Again, note the silence of Adam. How tragic this is! Eve seems quite alone and without support. One would hope that in any marriage in which one spouse is struggling, the other would be strong. Adam remains silent; he is no leader. He seems to wait to see what his wife will do. Adam is a passive husband.

3. The Conception of Sin The text simply says, she took of its fruit (Genesis 3:6). In reaching out to take hold of and possess this fruit, Eve conceives sin in her heart. Her husband will do the same thing, taking hold of it before he eats it.

What are they taking hold of? Several things.

First, there is a colossal pride. Satan said, “You will be gods.” Now, Adam and Eve are laying hold of and thinking about this idea. They are laying hold of the prideful and rebellious notion that “I will do what I want to do and I will decide whether it is right or wrong. I will be under no one’s authority. I will do as I please. I answer to no one. I am god.”

They also sin against gratitude. God has given them everything, but even paradise is not enough; they want more. Ungratefully, they reject God. They turn to Satan, who promises more, but has delivered nothing.

Finally, and most problematically, they sin against trust. Note that the tree is called “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” In the Bible, “knowing” refers to more than simple intellectual knowing; it means knowing something by experience. Thus, in naming this tree “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” and commanding them to stay away from it, God is saying, in effect,

“I am asking you to trust me to tell you what is good and what is evil and not to demand to know this personally for yourselves. I want you to trust me and to trust that I tell you this for your own good. If you take from that tree, you are insisting on knowing for yourself what is good and what is evil, and more importantly, you are insisting on knowing and experiencing evil.”

Adam and Eve refuse to trust God by insisting on knowing (experiencing) for themselves the difference between good and evil. The Catechism describes original sin in this manner:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness (CCC # 397).

So, we see that at the heart of original sin (and all other sin) is a refusal to trust God and His infinite goodness and it is an abuse of our freedom. All of this has been conceived in the hearts of Adam and Eve as they lay hold of this fruit.

4. The Birth of Sin Little needs to be said of this stage: the sin is engaged. Note that Eve eats first and then entices her husband to do so as well. I will discuss this topic further in Monday’s post, in which I will reflect on St. Paul’s commentary on the “Sin of Adam.” For today, suffice it to say that the sins of Adam and Eve are described somewhat differently. Eve is described as being deceived while Adam is described as being, in effect, seduced. Neither of them is without blame, but the nature of their temptation and the way in which their desires are engaged is different.

5. Spiritual Death Adam and Eve do not immediately die a physical death; rather, they die spiritually. This is symbolized in many ways in the verses ahead.

As they become aware of their nakedness, they feel exposed, no longer innocent. They feel vulnerable and ashamed. Righteousness and integrity have died in their hearts. They are now “dis-integrated” and disoriented, turned away from God and turned in on themselves.

Most seriously, they are cut off from God, who is the source of life. When God walks through the garden at the usual time, they do not run to Him, but from Him; they are afraid. Having died spiritually and embraced the darkness, they now fear Him who is Life and Light. They cannot endure His presence.

Recriminations follow and then prophecy of suffering, strife, and ultimately death; the wages of sin is death. Had they been willing to trust Him, God would have spared them of this, but Adam and Eve wanted to know for themselves. Mysteriously, they sought a “better deal” than paradise, even knowing that its price would be death—so tragic, foolish, and horrifying!

Too often, original sin is reduced to the mere eating of a piece of fruit. In fact, far more was at stake and far more was going on beneath the surface in the subtleties of the story. There were many moving parts and numerous layers to the sad reality we call original sin.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Anatomy of Original Sin

Does God Approve the Abuse of Women?

One of the darker passages in Scripture comes just after the fall of Adam and Eve. Announcing the consequences that they have ushered in, God says to Eve,

I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children; yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master (Gen 3:16).

The Hebrew word מָשַׁל (mashal) means “to have dominion, reign, or ruling power over another.” The New Jerusalem Bible (the most widely used Catholic Bible outside the U.S.) translates this final phrase this way: and he will dominate you.

While the text is not absolutely clear, the mastery or dominance spoken of in Genesis does not seem to refer to benign headship by the husband, but rather a relationship marked by tension and easily open to abuse.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains the following commentary on this topic:

The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination (CCC # 400).

Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character (CCC # 1606).

According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust … Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them (CCC #1607-1608).

In calling Genesis 3:16 a dark passage I merely call to attention to the concern of some that God seems to approve of this domination, that abuse and exploitation by men is meant to be women’s lot, by God’s will.

I do not agree with this interpretation; not everything reported or described in the Bible is approved. Eve’s experience is the result of Original Sin and the poisonous climate it introduced. While God reports the effect and even connects himself to it by way of primary causality, He spends the rest of Scripture addressing and healing the sin and its effects.

Thus, the thought that this passage gives even tacit approval to the abuse of women cannot stand. Some in the past may have invoked it to excuse abusive behavior, and most of the criticism of the passage is based on the possibility of such a misinterpretation.

That said, I have seen the passage strangely and sadly fulfilled in a small number of women I have counseled who suffer from physical and/or emotional abuse by husbands or boyfriends yet remain with them or repeatedly return to them. In this, there is a kind of fulfillment of the text that a woman’s desire will be for her man, but he will (abusively) dominate her. (There are, of course, many other potential factors such as low self-esteem, poor family role models, and financial pressures.)

There is a fine line between passion and anger, between a man who is a virile go-getter and one who turns on a dime to rage and abuse. Powerful men are attractive to some women, but some powerful men are also overly aggressive and hot-tempered. Their strength and their struggle are closely related. Many women know this intuitively, even if they have not consciously worked it all out. What they like in their man is closely related to what they hate and/or suffer from.

So, I am not so sure that every woman who returns to an abuser is simply lacking in self- esteem or is trapped in some way. Some return knowing exactly what they are doing, despite counsel to the contrary; their reasons are caught up in the complicated intersections described above.

I am not reporting this behavior with approval. I am simply observing it and trying to understand it. Like most of you, I would counsel a woman who is being physically abused to stay away unless and until the man has received help to ensure an end to his sinful behavior. Some women in such situations do not, however, and I cannot merely write them off as foolish for it.

Let us be clear: whatever the choice of the woman, to remain or to leave, the one who abuses is guilty of a great sin that the Scriptures cannot interpreted as approving in any way whatsoever.

All of this reminds me of a popular but dark song from 1978, when I was in high school: Jackson Browne’s “You Love the Thunder.” My interpretation of the lyrics is that the man singing is telling the woman that she likes his anger (thunder) and abuse (rain) because they’re worth it given what else he brings.

I remember being quite alarmed by the words and troubled that no one else seemed bothered. (I was and still am very attuned to lyrics, but most of my high school peers never seemed to pay much attention to them; they just liked the melodies.) The lyrics seem at best arrogant and at worst a celebration of anger and abuse.

Consider the darkness of these lyrics:

You love the thunder and you love the rain
What you see revealed within the anger is worth the pain
And before the lightning fades and you surrender
You’ve got a second to look at the dark side of the man

You love the thunder, you love the rain
You know your hunger, like you know your name
I know you wonder how you ever came
To be a woman in love with a man in search of the flame

Draw the shades and light the fire
For the night, it holds you and it calls your name
And just like your lover knows your desire
And the crazy longing that time will never tame …

These lyrics point to those sad words of Genesis: “… your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master,” but the song points to a Genesis 3:16 that is frozen in time, having made no progress out of the climate of sin. Jesus came to heal that and to restore God’s original plan for marriage in which a man clings to his wife in love and out of delight says, “She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Loving the “thunder” and “rain” is not the way forward but the way backward.

So, no, God does not approve or affirm the abuse of women—or of men, for that matter. God points to it and then sets about healing it.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Does God Approve the Abuse of Women?

Our Most Primal Fear and the Source of Our Bondage

At Mass for Wednesday of the first week of the year, we read a text from Hebrews that describes our most basic and primal fear. Our inordinate fear of what people think of us is rooted in an even deeper fear, one that is at the very core of our being. The Hebrews text both names it and describes it as being the source of our bondage. In order to unlock the secret of the text, I want to suggest to you an interpretation that will allow its powerful diagnosis to have a wider and deeper effect.

Consider, then, this text from Hebrews:

Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb 2:14-15).

This passage is clear in saying that the devil is the origin of our bondage to sin, but also that hold on us is through the fear of death. This is what he exploits in order to keep us in bondage.

When I have explored this teaching with people, I have found that many have difficulty understanding it at first. Especially for the young, death is almost a theoretical concept; it is not something they consciously fear. This is particularly true in the modern age, when medical advances have so successfully pushed back the boundary between life and death. Every now and then something may shake us out of our complacency (perhaps a brush with death), but in general death does not dominate our thoughts. So, then, what is meant by the fear of death and how does it hold us in bondage?

Well, what if we were to replace the word “death” with “diminishment”? To be sure, this is an adaption of the text (the Greek text (φόβῳ θανάτου – phobo thanatou) is accurately translated as “fear of death”), but doing so can help us to see what the text is getting at in a wider sense. It doesn’t take long to realize that each diminishment we experience is a kind of “little death.” Diminishments make us feel smaller, less powerful, less glorious.

What are some examples of diminishments we might experience? On one level, a diminishment is anything that makes us feel less adequate than others. Maybe we think others are smarter or more popular. Perhaps we do not feel attractive enough; we’re too tall, too short, too fat, or too thin. Maybe we resent the fact that others are richer or more powerful. Perhaps we wish we were younger, stronger, and more energetic. Maybe we wish we were older, wiser, and more settled. Perhaps we feel diminished because we think others have a better marriage, a nicer home, or more accomplished children. Maybe we compare ourselves unfavorably to a sibling who has done better financially or socially than we have.

Can you see how this fear of diminishment sets up many sins? It plugs right into envy and jealousy. Pride comes along for the ride, too, because we try to compensate for our fear of inadequacy by finding people to whom we feel superior. We thus indulge our pride or seek to build up our ego in unhealthy ways. Perhaps we run to the cosmetic surgeon or torture ourselves with unhealthy diets. Maybe we ignore our own gifts and try to be someone we really aren’t. Perhaps we spend money we don’t have trying to impress others so that we feel less inadequate.

Think of the countless sins we commit trying to be popular and to fit in. We give in to peer pressure and sometimes do terrible things. Young people will join gangs, use drugs, skip school, have sex before marriage, pierce and tattoo their bodies, use foul language, etc. Adults also have many of these things on their list. All of these things are done in a quest to be popular and to fit in. This desire to fit in is all about not wanting to feel diminished, and diminishment is about the fear of death, because every experience of diminishment is like a small death.

Advertisers know how to exploit the fear of diminishment in marketing their products. I remember studying this topic in business school at George Mason University. The logic goes something like this: You’re not pretty enough, happy enough, adequate enough, or comfortable enough; you don’t look young enough; you have some chronic illness (e.g., depression, asthma, diabetes)—but just buy our product and you will be “enough”; you won’t be so pathetic, incomplete, and, basically, diminished. If you drink this beer, you’ll be happy, have good times, and be surrounded by friends. If you use this toothpaste, soap, or cosmetic product, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful people and sex will be more available to you. If you drive this car, people will turn their heads and be impressed with you. The message is that you don’t measure up now (you’re diminished) but our product will get you there. Just buy it and you’ll be happier, healthier, and more alive!

Perhaps you can see how such advertising appeals to greed, pride, materialism, and worldliness; it puts forth the lie that these material things will solve our problems. In fact, appeals like this actually increase our fear of diminishment (and death) because they feed the notion that we have to measure up to these false and/or unrealistic standards.

It is my hope that you can see how very deep this drive is and how it enslaves us in countless ways.

This demon (fear of death, of diminishment) must be named. Once named and brought to light, we must learn its moves and begin to rebuke it in the name of Jesus. As we start to recognize the thought patterns emerging from this most primal of fears, we can gradually, by God’s grace, replace this distorted thinking with proper, sober, and humble thinking—thinking rooted in God’s love for us and the availability of His grace and mercy.

The text from Hebrews above is clear in saying that this deep and highly negative drive is an essential way in which Satan keeps us in bondage. It also says that Jesus Christ died to save us and free us from this bondage. Allow the Lord to give you a penetrating and sober vision of this deep drive, this deep fear of diminishment and death. Allow the light of God’s grace and His Word to both expose and heal this deepest of wounds.

This song pokes fun at our fad-centered culture, which is always trying to make us feel inadequate.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Our Most Primal Fear and the Source of Our Bondage