Monday, March 22, 2010

Prevention or Progression?

Yesterday I happened to catch an interview with Tiger Woods leading up to his return to golf at the Masters tournament in April. In the interview Tiger was asked questions about his past transgressions. As I listened to him respond to the barrage of questioning, one of his answers stood out to me. When asked to give the reason for his embrace of infidelity, Tiger responded by saying he lost sight of his core values and stopped practicing Buddhism, and that is why he embraced this dark path.

I immediately thought to myself, "really?" The only thing preventing Tiger from pursuing infidelity was Buddhism? I found this interesting on a number of different levels. First of all, I think this conversation describes for us the symptomatic approach to a full life that we find ourselves wrestling with. Think of it along these terms. If we desire outcome A as a reality for our lives, what then would prevent us from pursuing outcomes B, C, D or E? What we do is look for a set of behaviors and practices that will help prevent us from pursuing additional outcomes. We want to be good, so we adopt the practice of not going to the bar, not buying alcohol and not associating with people who drink. Meanwhile, our attempt at preventing certain behaviors in our lives had led us to develop a lifestyle methodology that is steeped in legalism instead of relationship. Our focus becomes driven by what we do not do instead of on what our behavior actually is. If our desire is to be good, why would we not define good by perhaps taking time to help out someone in need instead of defining it by what behaviors we prevent ourselves from engaging in.

I'm a guy who loves systems, but there is no systematic approach to life that will prevent us from embracing undesired destinations. There is, however, a relational approach that will do just that. I wear a wedding ring as a symbol of my relational connection with my wife. If I define marriage by a list of do's and dont's, what is preventing me from reaching undesired destinations such as infidelity? If we measure success in terms of restraint, how then do we measure growth? If the symbol is meant to prevent certain behavior, I'm in trouble. This ring cannot prevent me from doing anything; the system is broken. If, however, I view the ring as not a symbol of restraint, but as a symbol of relational growth, then the system does work. My focus becomes rooted in my desire to grow in my understanding of what it means to be a good husband, friend, confidant, lover and provider. The relational filter informs my behavior and pushes me towards my ultimate desirable destination.

The bottom line is this: If you're look for a system to help you prevent hurt, pain, brokenness and awkward situations, you can try all you want to find it, but the perfect system doesn't exist. Instead, I encourage you to look beyond the system and embrace the deep relational need the exists within us all. Using this relational platform as our interpretive lens, our measure for growth and our definition of success will begin to shift, becoming more progressive and less preventative in nature.


  1. But there are systematic approaches to life that help people avoid bad behavior. Alcoholics anonymous does in fact work for many. Buddhism might just work for Tiger. Our problem is not primarily just our behavior and how that affects our lives and relationships, but that the wrath of God is coming on account of our sin. The ultimate problem is our rebellion against the God of the Bible. And the only answer is repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Once we turn to God as helpless to truly correct the sin in our lives He is the one that does the work of sanctifying us and leading us in good works that He has prepared beforehand. He's the only way to dealing with the problem of sin, not our earthly relationships or systems.

  2. Hey Chris, thanks for your perspective. These systematic approaches to life that help people avoid bad behavior only work if they are relationally based. Your example AA works like this. The key is the 12 step program in which you learn to connect relationally with others as an accountability partner. It's this relational base that makes the system work, not the system itself.

    Furthermore, it's our relational connection with Christ, His kindness, that leads us to repentance. If we are connected to God simply out of fear our connection may not be authentic. If my desire to remain faithful in my marriage is only fed by my fear of being caught in infidelity, it's a surface connection and nothing that has any depth to it. But, if I am motivated by my love for Bonny, then this authentic relational connection will motivate me to work on my marriage and not allow it to erode to the point where I may consider risking it for the sake of momentary gratification.

    Great discussion starter! May God continue to richly bless you and your family.

  3. AA's twelve steps are based around you responding in a 'relational' way to a higher power or "God as you understand him". People have had success with AA picking any deity and using him in the system. That God is many times not the true God of scripture. Do they have a real relationship with a false god? Does the relational base apply if your relationship is with nothing?

    The danger I see in emphasizing the relationship aspect of Christianity while minimizing the fear of God is you get a lot of people who are self deceived and think they have a relationship with Jesus while they live like hellions. Unless God removes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh we have no ability whatsoever to truly do good or to really love anybody. Then and only then can we truly do anything good that is motivated for the correct reasons.

    "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7 ESV)

    Our earthly relationships (marriages etc) are always false unless they are based in the love of God. The unsaved can not truly love - their love will always be based on selfish desire or an idolatrous affection for that person. Pagan marriages many times do last, but not for the right reasons.

    You are absolutely correct that our marriages should not be based on a fear of being busted and shamed. The truest way to love however is to first be loved by God, and then loving others out of gratitude for what God has done for us.

    Good stuff Jay! The kids look good! Prayin for you guys.

  4. What makes AA work is still its' relational approach. Yes, some interpret God as however you understand him, but that isn't too unlike what we do in Christian circles either. We have a plethora of differing denominations that illustrate how we divide ourselves based on our theology, or how we interpret and understand who God is.

    I agree that in order to fully understand true relationship we must be rooted in Christ. If our connection with Christ isn't a relational one, then I would suggest we do not have an authentic connection, but as systematic one. A system is only as good as its' user and what it helps us to and not do, but a relationship is defined by its' progression, it's maturity and its' growth.

    There is nothing we can do to make God loves us any less, nor is there anything we can do to make God love us any more. God's love is consistent. We need not live in fear of Him, but instead we need to learn to live out of love for Him and allow our relational connection with Christ inform how we live.

  5. There is a distinct difference between what true Christendom does between denominations and what the world does with their own self-made gods. We actually have the truth, and a real relationship, they have nothing but imagination or possibly some sort of demon as their god.

    I agree that we can't be only systematic in our Christianity - then we'd be Pharisees :) and noone wants that.

    True, for those of us that are in Christ there is no condemnation. There is a sense however in which we need to fear God. The scripture is clear that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord (not scared under the bed fear but reverence of His holiness, like a child to a loving father). We are also commanded to work out our salvation with 'fear and trembling' and to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith. God loves us because when He looks at us He sees Christ, but man's heart is desperately wicked and easily deceived so we need to be constantly building our assurance by comparing our lives and beliefs to the scriptures. I'm not arguing with you as I think this is what you're talking about in 'maturity and growth'.


A Little Something from Psalm 8

 Had a lot of fun with this one.