Friday, May 7, 2010

Myth of Chronic Uniqueness & God's Word

Before I was a Christian, I attended a parachurch sort of organization, where one of the insights we learned was "the myth of chronic uniqueness." Since then, a few other people have also reminded me of the saying, including As I thought about this yesterday, I asked myself is this a Biblical concept? It only took a few seconds before I could answer - "Yes!"

Here are just three passages that I believe directly correspond with (and refute!) our tendency toward "The Myth of Chronic Uniqueness":

1. "Elijah was a man just like us." (James 5:17a)
In context, James is writing about the prayer of a righteous man, which is powerful and effective (5:16), and how when Elijah prayed, God answered his prayer (5:17b-18). Therefore, a Christian's prayer qualifies for "the prayer of the righteous" and is not limited to an exclusive group of super apostles or some unique group.

However, commentators expositing this passage are also quick to notice that there is an account in the Old Testament that corresponds here, when God asks Elijah what he is doing hiding in a cave. Elijah responds:
"I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." (1 Kings 19:10)

Elijah has succombed to "the myth."
He says "I'm the only one left," but couldn't see that there were many others that who were persevering in the battle. In fact, God answers:
"Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." (1 Kings 19:18).

I also noticed though that before God addresses Elijah's feeling of his own 'chronic uniqueness,' Elijah exposes his spiritual pride. Twice Elijah complains to God how zealous he has been for the LORD and how unfaithful the others have been. The first time Elijah makes his complaint, the Lord commands Elijah to go out on the mountain where the Lord is about to pass by.

"The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
(1 Kings 19:11-13)

God asks Elijah what he is still doing in the cave, and Elijah provides the exact same response!! I've done so much for you Lord. Nobody else gets it. No one else is as faithful as me. No one else has suffered like me. Nobody knows what I'm going through. How often do we feel like we're the only ones faithful to God's Word and truly sacrificing or suffering for the kingdom? It seems as if God was trying to show Elijah that He (the Lord) is the faithful one. And then he tells him that he has reserved seven thousand who have not bowed the knee. We need to remember that even in our day God has reserved a perfect number of His elect who are just like us.

2. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man." (1 Corinthians 10:13a)
Often "The Myth of Chronic Uniqueness" goes something like this: but God, no one knows what I have gone through. Other people just have it so much easier in this life. Wrong again. That's not what God's Word tells us. Now, is it true that I may have sinned in ways that are different from other people in my church or my Bible study group? Sure. But the underlying sin - the root of the temptation - is the same. I'm trying to get my needs met in ways that are outside the will of God. Or I have idolized something to a degree that is expressly forbidden (ie, committed idolatry).

What else does the scripture say that refutes 'chronic uniqueness?' When we are tempted to sin (just like everyone else) He provides more grace!
"And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13b)
We are not alone among our fellow humans, but more importantly, we have God's grace bearing with us and providing a way out!

Which brings me to the last and most important point in rebuffing this myth:

3. Jesus:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin." Hebrews 4:15

Two thoughts on this passage.

a. Not only are we not alone among our fellow Christians in our temptation and suffering, but even more importantly God the Son has gone through exactly what we are going through! When we take our petitions to God through His Son Jesus Christ, we have a mediator, an advocate who has already been through what we are experiencing. Early in the book of Job, he pleads for a man like himself, who understands what he is going through, to go before God and plead his case. After his friends fail to provide this role, Job comes to the conclusion in 16:19-21:
"Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God;
on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend."
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is this man.

b. Secondly, our high priest, though tempted in every way, though able to sympathize with us in our weakness, was without sin.
Someone might say -- Well, there you go. He didn't sin, so he really doesn't know what it's like to suffer with _____ (fill in the blank.) That's the way I always used to think. You know, if I've never sinned in the same way that you've sinned, then I can't really understand what it's like to overcome that temptation. However, a very godly woman once spoke to us on this and wisely asked:
Who would understand better how to overcome a temptation: the one who has been tempted and not given in to the temptation or the one who has been tempted and almost always gives in? Surely, the one who has the pattern of overcoming temptation would be the best one to provide counsel and mediation on our behalf!! Thus, Jesus Christ legitimately qualifies in the role of mediator and counselor for everyone of us! You might say: He's been there - didn't do that!

Final note:
In response to what our great high priest Jesus has done:
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good word. Saw this at Christian Carnival. Thanks for sharing these passages from scripture. (I don't have a blog, but I might start one.)
Jen in Iowa