Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sour Grapes

Your vanity and greed and lust
Are each your portion from the dust
Of those who died, and from the tomb
Made you what you must become.

—William Dean Howells

Advances in the behavioral sciences suggest that there may be negative psychological traits that are genetically influenced. Individuals appear to be born with dispositions toward alcoholism, sexual aggression, erratic work habits and other personality disorders.[1]

It would appear, in fact, that everything wrong with us is “our portion from the dust of those that died” and make us “what (we) must needs become.” Whether we go back to our first parents or some other relative, whether we talk about major perversions or minor peccadilloes, it’s all the same: every one of us has been cursed to some extent by some ancestor, handicapped by his or her perversions, saddled with insecurities, insanities and sinful predilections. Wrong-doing resides in our DNA, without our creation or consent, demanding compliance.

It’s common these days to assume that wrong–doing includes only those behaviors that are voluntary and unforced. If it can be shown that some orientation is caused rather than chosen we render human choice irrelevant and remove that behavior from the realm of moral argument. “Our fathers have eaten sour grapes and our teeth have been set on edge.”[2]

“No,” Jeremiah would say, “Whoever eats sour grapes, his own teeth will be set on edge.” Regardless of the roots of our behavior we are morally responsible for the wrong that we do.

But here’s the good news: We are not stuck. The laws of heredity are not the highest laws. There is one higher. George MacDonald wrote, “Everyone is born nearer to God than to any ancestor and it rests with everyone to choose whether he will be of God, or of those who have gone before him....”

It does no good to excuse our bad behavior. The only way to rid our selves of an evil trait is to call it evil and bring it to God for his healing. He can then begin to bring about a cure.

The decision to bring our flawed temperaments to him may be nothing more than the end–product of a lifetime of failure. We may have struggled so long with our compulsions that we’ve given up in despair. But God does not despair of us even when we have despaired of ourselves. He assures us: “I will forgive your iniquity, and your sin I will remember no more.”

Some of us are difficult cases. Flawed by environment and indulgence as well as heredity, our personalities resist change. We have “a hard machine to drive,” as C. S. Lewis would say. Yet God can take the most difficult and damaged life and gradually turn it into good. He does not leave us in ruins. He is “watching over us to build and to plant.”[3]

The process is neither swift nor painless, but chaotic and often subject to agonizing delay. Progress is seldom made by quantum leaps, but by tentative steps and a number of hard falls. It is a gradual thing, better seen in retrospect than in prospect. Yet, every day God is at work “putting his law in our minds and writing it on our hearts.”[4]

For reasons God only knows, some of us may glorify him for a time through our compulsions. We’re so damaged that total healing awaits heaven. If you’re one of his children so afflicted you can be assured of his promise: there will be progress and someday, if only in heaven, there will be perfection. The God who started his great work in you “will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”[5]


[1] I have omitted homosexuality from this list because no certain biological basis for sexual orientation has been established. The most cited study is one published in Science by gay activist, and neurobiologist Simon LeVay. LeVay noted a small difference between homosexual and heterosexual males in a tiny area of the hypothalamus (INAH-3), but not all scientists accept his conclusions. Drs. William Byne and Bruce Parsons of Columbia University examined the evidence and concluded: “There is no evidence at present to substantiate a biologic theory of homosexuality,” though their study was never been reported by the press. (William Byne and Bruce Parsons, “Human Sexual Orientation: The Biologic Theories Reappraised,” Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 50, March 1993: 228-239.)

[2] Jeremiah 31:29
[3] Jeremiah 31:28
[4] Jeremiah 31:33
[5] Philippians 1:6, The Message

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