Give Me Liberty Rather Than Death!
The record of performance . of those claiming to serve God reveals one major consistency. That is the never-ending struggle between the demands of desire and the commands of duty within the human soul. In spite of this fact, one hears within and without the church proclamations to the effect that once a full surrender to Christ is made, our conflicts either cease or are made minimal. Other religionists, believing this concept to be too idealistic and impractical, add to the confusion by parroting the popular psychological concepts of reducing conflict by downgrading standards. In other words, lower the level of inward disturbance by lowering the law.
This writer believes the former concept is illusionary and fantastically impractical, whereas the latter merely makes the road to hell a bit broader and smoother to walk on. My conviction, based on both inspired records and personal experience, is that conflicts within the soul of those seeking to serve God never tease. Further, these conflicts are actually a healthy sign if experienced by those who are scoring gains in the Christian life, for they are fair proof that they are traveling the right road.
Desires That Die of Old Age
Many an individual who all through life has surrendered to a certain wrong desire until old age has undermined its power, takes great pride in his pseudovictory. These usually see youth through condemning eyes. But you can't claim a victory unless there is involved a struggle with a live enemy. What fool would march off the battlefield shouting "I've won," when his opponent had died of old age before the battle started!
Desires are not wrong unless perverted. Holy desires have their unholy counterparts. Success in the Christian way depends on taking each desire and straining it through the law of God under the eye of the Spirit of God. Those desires that bypass the strainer clog up man's spiritual machinery. The end result is death! The center of conflict and turbulence in the soul is at this point of straining. Will I or will I not choose to submit my desires to God's scrutiny and filtering process? Will I let a few of them sneak around, under, or over the law strainer?
Halos and Wings
So often we pin halos and wings on victorious Bible characters. We ignore their inward conflicts and struggles and see them only in a victorious role at some Sinai, Carmel, Pentecost, or Mars' Hill. The violent death struggle behind the scenes is disregarded.
One day I found a statement that caused me to leap out of my chair with surprise and thankfulness. Here it is: "Paul's sanctification was a constant conflict with self. Said he, 'I die daily.' His will and his desires every day conflicted with duty and the will of God."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 299. (Italics supplied.) My special gratefulness for this quotation was not because of glee over Paul's intense life struggle, but for the courage it brought me to know that this invincible, inflexible, determined, onething-I-do apostle had an everyday battle with self.
Paul's soul dissension is evident in his declaration, "Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to" (1 Cor. 9:27, Living Letters). The greatest psychologist of modern times, to my way of thinking, was Ellen G. White. Her comment on Paul's statement is significant: "The words, 'I keep under my body,' literally mean to beat back by severe discipline the desires, impulses, and passions."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 314. In verse 25 Paul refers to "every man that striveth." The Greek word translated "striveth" is agonizornai, from which we get our English word "agonize." There is a contest involving conflict, contention, fighting, and agony. Jesus used the same term in Luke 13:24 when He urged those who sought to follow Him, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." What stronger language could be used?
Smooth, Syrupy Sermons
Our smooth, syrupy sermons today contain very little or nothing of this concept of "agonizing." We have come to the place where a sincere follower of Jesus wonders whether something is wrong with himself because he does have a struggle with self! The counsel "Follow your inclinations," "Don't deny yourself," "Do what comes naturally" centers on the theme of permissiveness—and is so much easier to teach and believe.
I've heard some of our teachers and ministers claim that repressed desires produce anxiety, which is detrimental. If so, Paul must truly have been mentally unbalanced, and Festus wasn't too far off when he "shouted at the top of his voice, 'Paul, you are raving' " (Acts 26:24, N.E.B.).*
Mowrer Versus Freud
The former president of the American Psychological Association, O. Hobart Mowrer, takes an opposite view from that of the Freudians, who claim that difficulties arise from repressed desires. Mowrer says this is not so. He proposes that anxiety comes "not from acts which the individual would commit but dares not, but from acts which he has committed but wishes he had not." It is, in other words, a "guilt theory" of anxiety rather than an "impulse theory." One thing is certain, a man cannot suffer from a guilty conscience if he represses evil desires! My personal experience testifies that Mowrer advocates a truth, not a theory! How many times I have struggled with my miserable perverted appetite. For example, take the problem of overeating, which is a sin in my catalog of right and wrong. ("It is sin to be intemperate in the quantity of food eaten, even if the quality is unobjectionable"—Counsels on Diet and Food, p. 102.) Feelings of remorse invariably plague me if I overeat. On the other hand, a sense of well-being and peace are my precious benefactors when appetite is kept under control. There has never been a single deviation from this pattern in any area of my life related to victory and defeat over temptations.
True, the mental conflicts have been most severe at the time of temptation, but the frustrations experienced during this battle period are mild compared with the severity of guilt and anxiety felt if the battle is lost! There is not a single instance of past victory with its blessed fruit which I would ever consider exchanging for defeat and its hateful reward. Give me liberty with its conflicts resulting from repression, rather than death, which is born of a smitten, violated conscience!
I long for that glorious wedding day when my desires and duties will be peacefully united forever.
* The New English Bible, New Testament. @ The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.