I've had a few responses to the paragraph in yesterday's sermon which refers to those people who are experiencing 'social' problems (drug addiction, unwanted pregancies, alchoholism etc) as 'having brought a curse on themselves'.
First let me say thank you to all those who have commented on this issue - either publically by published comment on the sermon (thanks Russell!), or by private question by email. The question people have been asking is whether I've been a bit too hard on people who suffer from those social problems referred to above, by suggesting that they have brought the misery they suffer on themselves. People are suggesting, I think, that I've failed to take account of factors like social context, family upbringing, genetic predisposition etc. Some have suggested that we must view people in these situations as suffering from an illness. They are not, my correspondents suggest, bringing a curse on themselves, as much as they are victims of a social or psychological illness.
Let me try to make what I was saying a little more clear....
First of all, I was attempting to deal with any suggestion that the curse under which such people live is one that is inflicted by God. I was trying to say - and think that I did - that God is a God of blessing, not of curses.
So, assuming that we can all agree with that basic proposition, to where should we look for the curses (of poverty, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy etc) that people live under? I am more than willing to accept that such conditions are often influenced by social conditions and context. Poverty, for example, is often caused by the selfishness of the wealthy who refuse to re-distribute their wealth. Unwanted pregnancies are often influenced by a the promiscuous atmosphere which is prevalent in much of western society. Alcoholism can certainly be brought about as a result of wanting to escape from an otherwise intolerable situation. To that extent, people suffering from those conditions can most certainly be described as victims, or sufferers. A society which encourages high levels of credit card debt, as well as unfettered access to booze and sex, certainly bears a great deal of responsibility for the curse under which many people live.
However, I don't think that is the whole story. But I also tend to think that it is just too easy to blame our personal circumstances on others. The message of the bible is that we are responsible for the actions we take, and the decisions we make. Gamblers Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous will, I am certain, say that they can only help those who want to help themselves.
There are, of course, certain types of psychoses which render the sufferer completely unable to differentiate, morally, between different types of behaviour. But most people who are in the kinds of situation we are discussing do not suffer from such a psychosis. Most of them are simply people who, in a given circumstance, on a given day, have made a decision to do something that they know was 'wrong' (by which I mean contrary to normal moral law, or to the stated will of God). Perhaps they chose to rack up debt which they know they couldn't really afford. Or they have chosen to allow their drinking to get more and more each day. Or they have chosen to throw caution to the wind when in a sexual encounter.
Let me put it this way. Can you imagine asking a classroom of, say, 14 year olds, whether they thought that borrowing more than you can repay, or drinking 10 pints a day, or sleeping with a non-permanent partner without using contraception was a good idea? I can tell you from personal experience that the VAST majority of 14 year olds would be able to clearly identify all those actions as simply wrong...or at the very least extremely risky.
So what is it that drives so many of them, once they are a little older, to do precisely these things? I beleive that Jesus clearly points to a much more fundamental cause (than simply social conditioning, or genetic predisposition). Jesus says it all comes down to where we place our faith. Do we trust the words of God or would we rather trust the words of the marketing companies? This question is as old as the story of Adam and Eve. Will we be like them - imagining that we know better than God? (That's what the Bible refers to as 'sin'!). Or will we trust him when he says 'Don't touch..."?
I think that it is too easy to be influenced by people like Freud, who essentially claimed that all aberrent behaviour could somehow be linked back to a childhood experience, upbringing or fantasy. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul famously states that when he became a man, he put away childish things. We need to challenge some people, frankly, to grow up. It is frankly time that we took responsibility for our actions.
I, for example, am genetically and socially pre-disposed to fancy having sex with every good-looking woman I see. But I don't. Why not? Because I make a choice to live differently...to live under the rule of the Topsy Turvy Kingdom of God.
In the long run, however, it doesn't actually matter whether the curse that someone lives under is entirely their own fault, or whether society or genetic predisposition bears a part of the blame. As Jesus said (blurring the distinction himself), "is it easier to say 'take up your bed and walk' or 'your sins are forgiven'?" The main thrust of my sermon was meant to be that the Church is called to help those who live under such curses to lift their eyes beyond the rubble and the sand on which they have built, and to introduce them to the Father God who says "don't touch...because I love you"
I'm deeply sorry if I didn't make this more clear in the sermon. Hopefully this response will help! Please feel free to comment further, by clicking on the 'comments' link below.
Best wishes to all,