Failed Coping Mechanisms
When we’re confronted with our own insanity we tend to play the blame game right? Blame it on COVID-19, cabin fever, my spouse, my kids, my church, my government. All this is a diversion to avoid the painful reality that often our own idols make us crazy. All the things we task with managing our own anger, fear, or disappointment give us just enough to keep coming back, but ultimately let us down. TV, food, good weather, relationships, all these things are good gifts, but if they’re treated as ultimate they’re bound to get us hooked in a habitual visitation. Hoping that the well still has a bit of mud at the bottom, or that the broken cup retained a bit of water, we keep going back. In Jeremiah 2:13 God says this…
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.“
Many of us have encountered various difficulties over the past few months. Financial, physical, spiritual and emotional trials have annoyed us or overwhelmed us. Our responses have included fear, grief, and anger, sometimes directed well, and often not. What have been our solutions to these difficulties? Have they worked? Do our “coping mechanisms” deliver?
Whenever we encounter a difficulty in this fallen world, we immediately seek a solution. When we’re in the wilderness, we try to survive right? That’s all good and well in a sense. We want relief in a fallen world, but what do we do to get it? We can withdrawal, fight, seek to numb our pain, run to idols…or we run to God. The Bible talks a lot about this idea of running to something else other than God for our needs. We all know we do it and can probably easily identify our pet idols, but we need to ask ourselves why we do what we do.
What Drives Us?
We run to idols because we have actual needs that are valid and part of our created identity. Identifying the idol is only the first step. The end goal is not about the “idol hunt” where you find it, confess, repent, rinse and repeat. That’s all important, but we need to get to the root reason of why we’re running to it in the first place. What’s the core desire beneath the idol? What we really want from it? Things like love, connection, safety, and even control (the idea that we were created to “subdue the earth” in our creation mandate and create some order out of chaos) are things we desire on a deep level are actually good. In a fallen world however, we are no longer able to perfectly attain these things offered to us in Eden. So back to the coping question, what do we do when the effects of the fall are overwhelming us and keeping us from things we desire?
When we’re all about our desires, we forget about the God who gave them to us. Our desires can become the main thing instead of him, and they can become over-desires, or lusts. Instead of worshipping God and enjoying him forever, we make God’s gifts our chief end, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get them. We subtly compromise our standards, we blatantly do things we know are wrong, we hurt others. When our goal is changed to accumulate ________ (insert core desire), temptations don’t even register as sinful because they now help us accomplish that goal. That’s the cost of being “drawn away and enticed by one’s own evil desire”, as James 1:14-15 says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”
Identify the Desire
So what do we want? It’s the question Jesus asks all his disciples. He’s after our desires, and he wants to meet us where we are and give us what we need as he defines it. If you find yourself spinning your wheels struggling with the same things over again during this crazy time, ask yourself why you’re going back again and again to that empty broken cistern. If we keep playing wack-a-mole with our sinful habits, maybe we’re missing what we are really after. We idolize things because we’re longing for something only God provides, so we have to ask ourselves what it is. Think deeply about your motives and what your actions are saying about your desires. Consider briefly how you falsely chase God’s gifts, and consider how God can satisfy your desires for…
Safety and security: No one can pluck us out of his hand (Jn 10:28), he is our ultimate refuge (Psalm 46).
Power and control: He empowers us to do his kingdom work, not our kingdom work (Eph 3:14-20, Col 1:10-12, 2 Cor 4:7)
Love/affection: His eternal love and amazing sacrifice for us in the gospel is far beyond any earthly love (Romans 8, 1 John, just read the whole Bible).
That’s a really small sample, but we can say that surely, our God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). Not only does he ultimately provide these for us in himself, he also does it via earthly relationships and good gifts. They’re just not intended to be treated as ultimate.
Chasing the End While Ignoring the Means
C.S. Lewis used an illustration (I forget where) that I think is really helpful when we confuse the benefits of a relationship for the relationship itself. If a man dated a woman just to get physical intimacy and she found out this motive, he ultimately wouldn’t get it because she’d think him a shallow fellow. Now if his main goal was to love the woman completely, know her well, and sacrifice for her, things may work out and he would eventually get a lifetime of that physical intimacy in marriage. The same can be said about our relationship with God. We often want the results of a healthy relationship with God, like peace, safety, strength, and love, but we selfishly define what those things are and we’re not actually interested in God himself. We get the cart before the horse and predictably flail around anxious and frustrated that we’re not getting what we want.
I pray that we will not only stop going back to our favorite broken cisterns in life, but stop and ask ourselves what keeps drawing us back. Then ask how God promised to provide for us in his word. Often we have to let go of our own definitions of safety, security or love, but that’s what walking by faith is all about! Let’s run to the fountain of living water and trust that there’s enough there for us to be satisfied.