Friday, June 3, 2016

Do People Change?

Do people change?

This is no mere academic exchange, but a serious question that must be considered. For most, there is but two answers . Secularists - and its various manifestations - deny human mutability. Two quick examples from popular culture will suffice. The first is the Fox television show "House" which followed agnostic Dr. Gregory House who believed in two immutable truths: everybody lies and nobody changes. The show is a ten season exploration of these two proverbs and in the end we find House unable to tell the truth or to change. It is what fans love the most and least about the man and the show.

The second example comes from the Disney mega-blockbuster "Frozen." In the movie, Anna and Christoph are listening to a group of trolls sing about why they should "fall in love." One line in the song "Fixer Upper" is instructive:
We aren't saying you can change him
'Cause people don't really change
We're only saying that love's a force that's powerful and strange
People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed
But throw a little love their way, and you'll bring out their best
True love brings out the best
The narrative of human immutability is so presumed that most watching Frozen (and if you have kids you've watched it a million times) goes unnoticed.

To the secular mindset, we are our genes. We are born a certain way and that cannot and will never change. We each have flaws and strengths that are unique to us. To condemn is to make one guilty of bigotry. The dangers of this worldview are obvious. It not only undermines any and all truth claims especially in the realm of morality, but it enslaves us. Our identity becomes tied to our genes. We are our genetic makeup and nothing more. We will never be set free.

This weakness was illustrated years ago in the NBC show The West Wing by one of its main characters, a recovering alcoholic.

The other extreme is the polar opposite. This is the theology of self-help and it teaches that one not only can change but has the power within themselves to change. It, too, is a popular, and powerful message, that tells its parishioners that with enough will power and desire, they can be and do anything. They can will the power to change.

This worldview has its dangers too. It inevitably leads its followers down a path toward either pride (look what I did!) or despair (I failed!) but never genuine humility. We might even add the word envy here. The success of self-help entrepreneurs is that those buying their books and programs want the life of the person whose face is portrayed on the cover. Yet, if the truth be told, they will never have that life. Sure it might improve some, but they will likely never experience the same wealth or success.

Neither view, I believe, are an accurate reflection of reality. The slave narrative of secularism is dangerous and depressing. The self-help narrative is simply a lie.

It is here Christianity has something to say. The gospel both agrees and indicts both worldviews. It agrees with the secular view that you are a slave and cannot change yourself. Apart from a divine miracle you are hopeless. For the secularists, that is license. For the Christian, that is despair. Yet at the same time, Christians do believe we can change - transform really. The blind man can see; the deaf man can hear; the slave can be set free. If the miracles of Jesus teach us anything, it is that.

How does this change take place? Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, and our spiritual death and resurrection brought forth by our belief and repentance, we are regenerated - born again.

In the end, the world offers of either slavery or failure, not hope. The gospel offers not just hope, but freedom and transformation.
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