Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Do You Change? Part 1

We all have problems, and we all probably have things we would like to change about ourselves. The question is how does such change occur?

In the publishing industry over the past few years there has been an explosion of New Age books. Walk into virtually any book store, and you'll most likely find an entire section devoted to this kind of material. "New Age" is an umbrella term that spans a wide variety of perspectives - everything from recovering ancient pagan rituals, to the more mainstream spiritualized self-help books promoted by celebrities like Oprah.

There are many good things that could be said about these books. One thing I've noticed is that most of them put a great deal of emphasis on positive thinking. This is probably a reaction to the guilt based "turn or burn" motivation found in many religious traditions. And for the most part I think it's a good move. Guilt is a terrible motivator. I've never seen a person improve their life by telling themselves over and over again that they're scum. It just doesn't work. The New Agers also reject the idea that an institution, i.e. religion, can force a person to change. And again I mostly agree with them.

But unfortunately, in their reaction to the guilt based motivation of authoritative institutions, the New Agers have let the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme by removing all external influences. The one common thread that seems to tie all the New Age books together is that they put the self squarely at the center of the universe - there is no authority outside of yourself, and there is nothing greater in the universe than yourself. Invariably they boil down to "the answer lies within you." You are the agent of change, you are the architect, you are the teacher. "Simply look deep into your own soul and you will find the answer." Some even explicitly say what all of them imply, "you are God."

The problem with all of this is that it sends people on a fool's errand. Reality Check: YOU ARE NOT GOD. If the answer was within you, you wouldn't be shopping for it at Barnes and Noble.

The missing element in the New Age view of the world is something that should be obvious to all of us - the fundamental brokenness of humanity. There are many names given to this brokenness: depravity, sin, iniquity, egoism, selfishness, etc., but they all mean the same thing - we're screwed up. So the message of the New Age, that you have the answers and that you can change yourself, ultimately becomes just another form of self-deception - a comforting lie. If we truly look deep within ourselves what we find isn't a divine perspective but human frailty. There's a deep irony in the New Age's rejection of human institutions and promotion of the human self as an alternative. The problem with human institutions isn't the "institution" part, it's the "human" part. And the problem remains in the New Age alternative.

The New Age perspective is right to emphasize that change begins in the self, but wrongly assumes that change comes from the self. They rightly determine that there must be an internal change before we can expect to see an external change, but they wrongly assume that change comes from our own flawed character. In the Christian tradition, positive change, both in individuals and in institutions, comes only with God's help. God alone, in all of his infinite wisdom and goodness, has the ability to truly change human hearts.

In the presence of Almighty God, we don't come away with a sense of our own divinity, but a sense of our utter helplessness. Either change comes from Him, or our situation is hopeless. Thankfully, God is pleased to come to those who will receive him. Our transformation is his delight.

To be continued...

Part 2, next week


  1. Corey,

    Well said, Brother! But the self-help industry is big money. It won't go away.

    By the way, the "Let ME help you" industry is even larger. Check out any ad on your TV.

    Both of them keep a lot of people from facing the fact that GOD ALONE can change your heart, give you security, provide your needs and so much more. A friend of mine said "If we believe in God, we have to give up our vices." Sadly, most of us are unwilling to do that.

    I anticipate your further posts.

    In HIM!

  2. Thanks Jim. I think you hit the nail on the head.