Why? Why? Why?
Abuse in relationships…
We’ve all heard the horror stories of a woman whose husband abuses her physically and emotionally…yet she never leaves. No matter how many times she has to wear glasses to hide a black eye…no matter how many excuses she has to make for a bruise or a break…
She stays with her tormentor.
Even worse, sometimes when the police finally get enough evidence to intervene, the woman actually physically defends the man who has been assaulting her.
As a quick, but important caveat, in no way is this meant to blame the victim…
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
It’s just that physical and emotional abuse by a significant other is so common there is a good chance every adult here has scratched his or her head at least once wondering why a woman…continues to stay with their torturer.
Of course, it’s not just limited to women…men can be the victims too. Often it seems like abusers and “givers” are drawn to each other…and the “giver” just won’t “give” up.
Relationships aren’t the only place we wonder why people just don’t make the change they need to. I am reasonably confident part of the reason I am unemployed right now is because even though my previous job had been sucking the life out of me, I wouldn’t seriously apply for other positions. I still remember one call with with the head of HR (about something else) where she asked me how I was doing. Although I’ll sugar coat an answer…or avoid responding if it’s information I don’t want to share…I will not lie.
My response sitting in that hotel room in Minneapolis after my upteenth trip to try to satisfy an unsatisfiable client was…
“I am miserable.”
But ask my wife…when she found some potential position on a job site…I didn’t take the time to apply for it. Instead I kept loyally climbing on planes no matter how unthankful people inside and outside of the company were.
Now, in fairness to me…just like there are extenuating circumstances that contribute to keeping men and women in abusive relationships…looking for work takes time and often bad jobs include long hours.
And when you have free time you just want to collapse…not look for work…
Drugs, food, and…
Nothing has hit home yet? How about the drug user whose life (and body) are falling apart…making her an emotional wreck…but she won’t even consider attending an AA (or equivalent) meeting or getting treatment? The only way to temporarily escape the agony in her life is to keep upping the poison she ingests…only to have the high wear off and the low be even lower than ever before.
Or the overweight person who can hardly breath after climbing some stairs who goes to McDonald’s and orders two double quarter-pounders, the largest fries possible, and a Coca-Cola…not a even diet Coca-Cola. After they finish dinner they devour M&M McFlurry…head home…climb on the couch…turn on the TV…and open a bag of potato chips and grab a beer.
Of course, when their friend calls they then tell them how lousy they feel, how the doctor thinks they have type 2 diabetes, how work doesn’t understand why they are sick so much…
Between handfuls of chips, that is…
Again…there are extenuating circumstances even with drug addicts and obese people. Physical addictions are difficult to overcome…and fat people are truly hungry…they don’t stuff themselves (generally) because they hope to have Southwest Airlines force them to buy two seats.
We are comfortable in our misery…
Reality is that whether we are in an abusive relationship, a bad job, a drug addiction, or a love affair with food (or any other form of hedonism)…
We are comfortable in our misery.
Yes we complain.
Yes we want to be free of the chains.
Yes we might make small attempts to change things.
We are comfortable in our misery.
Now…it’s bad enough to be comfortable in our misery when it comes to the things of this world…but worse is when it is repeated spiritually.
When I think of being spiritually miserable, a passage in Romans comes to mind…specifically Romans 1:18-32. It’s a bit long, but it says a lot about the state of the spiritually miserable:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Just how comfortable were those people in their spiritual misery? They “clearly perceived” God’s “eternal power and divine nature”…but:
- They did not honor Him
- They did not thank Him
- They became futile in their thinking
- Their hearts were darkened
- Claiming to be wise, they became fools
- They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for idols
- They have been given up to their lusts
- They dishonor their bodies
- They exchanged the truth about God for a lie
- They worshiped and served the creature instead of the Creator
- They have been given up to dishonorable passions
- They do not acknowledge God
- They have been given up to a debased mind
- They do what ought not to be done
- They are full of all manner of unrighteousness
- They know that they should die for what they do but…
- They still do them and…
- Give approval to those who sin like they do…
A sign of spiritual health…of our comfort in spiritual misery…is our fruits.
How do these folks rate?
Now…it is true that these verses don’t specifically say that these people are spiritually miserable and comfortable with it…but there is no way…short of entirely severing one’s God-given conscience there is any chance they don’t know of their spiritual lack…but they embraced the condition more and more. They are comfortable in their spiritual misery…or they would change it.
Now, there are multiple ways to react when you realize you are spiritually miserable. One is to damn the ones who have the audacity to make your realize it.
You can become a proponent of your evil behavior…and…for instance…”give approval to those who practice” the same things you do…
Or…you can react like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee was comfortable in his misery (and proud of it)…but the tax collector accepted the reality of his condition and cried out to the only one who could solve it. He fully understood the truth in these Old Testament words:
And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.
The tax collector knew what he had done is evil.
He knew that he had been turning after empty things.
He knew those empty things could not deliver.
Only God could.
Time to Change
Even Christians are comfortable in varying degrees of spiritual misery. For instance, we know we don’t spend enough time in Scripture…or enough time on our knees…but changing that would mean adjusting our routine…or getting up early…or watching less television…or…
Even though we know that there is something wrong and sense the guilt that God provides us…we are comfortable in our misery. Yes, unlike those in Romans 1 we’ll make it to heaven, but with a lot more half-hearted commitment than we should.
If you are in an unhealthy relationship, what are you doing to change it? I’m not encouraging divorce for married folks…but relationships don’t magically heal themselves…and unhealthy ones generally only get more unhealthy. What concrete steps are you taking that will either help resolve the issues or prove it can’t be fixed?
If you have a terrible job, what are you doing to change it? No…don’t just up and quit. However, would you rather cry to your understanding friends or put some effort into locating a position where you, at least some mornings, look forward to going to work?
If you use drugs are drink too much, what are you doing to change it? Sure, you may not be able to quit cold-turkey…but would you rather keep spinning the chamber and see what gives first? Your body? Your friends? Your family? Have you at least gone to your brothers and sisters in Christ and asked for help?
If you are significantly overweight, what are you doing to change it? No, I’m not suggesting you try yet another diet only to be feel starved all the time and then have all you lost (plus some) come back as soon as you start eating like a normal human again. However, is the effort it’ll take to rid yourself of the weight that much worse than having your body progressively deteriorate? Do you really want to have your medicine cabinet give Rite Aid’s pharmacy competition for who has more pills?
If you are a Christian who is living with half your foot in the world, what are you doing to change it? Or are you satisfied with getting in heaven by the skin of your teeth as others who around you who aren’t Christian use your hypocritical example as their excuse to be comfortable in their unsaved spiritual misery?
And…if you are a non-believer…what are you doing to change it? Sure…you can go the Richard Dawkins way and attack the truth that Romans says is “clearly perceived”…patting yourself on the back and telling yourself how smart you are. Or, instead, you can listen to the words of your Creator in Ezekiel 33:11:
11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Victim, why will you continue to allow the abuse?
Unappreciated employee, why won’t you fill out job applications?
Drug user, why do you destroy yourself and those around you?
Glutton, why do you trade the ability to enjoy God’s world for a miserable spot on the couch?
Hedonist, why do you trade the truth about God for a lie?
Christian, why do you keep dabbling in the things you supposedly gave up when you were born again?
Non-believer, why will you die?
God has no pleasure in your death.
Stop being comfortable in your misery…