Sunday, August 21, 2011

My problem with self-help philosophy

Being home, with cable tv, has been a bit of a strange experience for me these past two weeks.  I didn't have tv this past year, so now being home alone all day means I've rediscovering the (tiny fraction of) good and (large fraction of) bad. 

One thing that's new - for me, at least - is this new Oprah network.  I see (well, hear, more often, since I tend to use the tv for background noise when I'm working) ads for it almost everywhere. As part of that, I have heard countless commercials for something - I'm not sure if it's a new show or what - that sounds basically like a platform for her "live your best life" philosophy. 

Every time I hear it, I have to fight the urge to answer back at the tv.  I have nothing against Oprah, and don't usually care one way or the other about what she does.  But whenever I hear elements of this self-help philosophy, I want to answer back, "No!!"

You see, this philosophy, this mode of thought that says that you have all that you need inside you to live an awesome life, that if we just look inside and be the better people that's deep inside, we can improve the world - it's incredibly deceptive.  It sounds great, right?  Who doesn't want to live better?  Who doesn't want to be a better person?  Who doesn't want to make the world better for their children and their families and friends?  There's nothing wrong with that!

But the central deception is this: this worldly philosophy tells you that YOU are the answer.  It's all about you, and your goodness. 
  • But scripture says that there is no one who is wholly good, no one who is perfect - "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)
It says that the best of things comes from inside you - that you can be the source of goodness on earth.
  • But scripture says that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17)
  • Scripture also says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Finally, Jesus said, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good - except God alone." (Mark 10:18)
This philosophy says that all you need is you, and you can change the world.
  • But Christ said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)
  • Job cried out, "To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are HIS."
  • Jeremiah said, "But God made the earth by his power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.  When He thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.  He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from His storehouses."
Why  do I want to cry out every time I hear this "you"-based philosophy, whether through Oprah or through any of a number of other very prominent people in our society?  Because they are missing the central need of each and every person - the need for God. 

Paul declared, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!  For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?" (Romans 5:6-10)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a better world, for wanting to be a better person, for wanting to live the best life.  But the catch is that, apart from God, you can do nothing.  You are not the source of this change - He is.  You are not powerful enough to change the world, but HE is. You are not good, He is. 

And when you turn to Him, He gives in abundance. Don't believe me? Listen to what He says.
  • The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
  • The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
  • Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:4-6)
  • But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
Living a better life is a wonderful goal. But the way to achieve is not in our own power.  It's only by the power of God Almighty, Jesus the Christ, that we can affect change.

So the next time you hear anyone teaching that the power is within you, your response should be, "The only power that's in me is that of the Holy Spirit of the Living God!"

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