Monday, June 30, 2014

Irrationality in Regeneration: A Source of Relief

Lemme explain some terms before I start:
  • Something irrational is something that can’t be explained, for which there can’t be discovered a reducible reason WHY something is the case/is happening, by using logic. (Something is reducible if it can be broken down into parts—a bike can be reduced to a collection of gears, bolts, chains, wires, metal frames etc;  abstract reasoning is broken down the same way, just with premises, reasoning mechanisms, etc)
  • Regeneration is the phenomenon that occurs when God initially “changes a person’s heart,” as only He can do, that alters their instinctive desires and motivations. I’m not more than a lay theologian of 3-4 years going, but in my understanding it would be inappropriate to refer to regeneration as a continual process after a person’s saved—that would be sanctification. But regeneration’s effects are felt continually, and become more pronounced the longer a person is sanctified. But there’s an initial period that the affected person can point to as the moment when things changed. That’s when God ‘regenerated’ their soul, awakening them to receive the gift of salvation by faith in Christ.

To the point: when I began my investigation into Biblical Christianity (having had a nominal belief, at least, for as much of my life as I can remember up to that point) in early 2010, I came upon a philosophical challenge: is my motivation pure? Specifically, the motivation to do good. Consider the materialistic-reductionist view: everything you do to help others, which appears to be altruistic, is ultimately done for a selfish reason on some level. And if you can’t figure out what that reason is, it’s still reducible to a conditioning of your brain from previous behavior. You help others because you want to feel good from helping them—and therefore, your actions are not unconditional, they are self-serving. Your act of helping someone else is merely the way through which you satisfy your own selfish desires to feel good about yourself by riding the boost you get when you do something nice for someone else. You never help someone just to help them. You’re merely using them to get to your real goal.
‘Probably something the atheist economist-philosopher Ayn Rand would be all on-board with, since she held that people were utterly selfish, no exception—although she considered that a good thing. Selfishness (or as likeminded libertarians would put it, self-interest) is held up as the highest good in various areas of modern thought. Can you think of anything more anti-Gospel at the core? Selfishness is good, and nobody is truly altruistic; doing good for others is fundamentally selfish in itself?
It was something that directly challenged the spiritual reality of my newly-rediscovered faith, and I had to wrestle with it and find a conclusion before I could move on. Over time, after much introspective self-analysis, I did the same thing that first sent me spiraling into my period of doubt in the first place: I tried to pin down the workings of my mind—I tried to see if I could name where my thoughts were coming from. Only this time, instead of worrying me that materialistic determinism could be true, it gave me the proof I needed to reassure me that my sanctification was not something that I could illude myself into believing I was experiencing—no, it was something inexplicable that did not solely operate within my own mind.
One of the strange and intriguing things about my personal journey as a Christian is that the arguments that I would use to prove the faith and the ones that intellectually persuade me that it’s true are bulletproof theological, scientific or philosophical arrangements. But that which gives me the most assurance of the reality of my own salvation, that’s when I find something I can’t explain. I can’t explain how come I feel good when I hear that someone’s a Christian. I can’t explain how come I feel good when I do something selfless for others. I can explain why I should do that, and if that calculus were all that went into it, I would wonder indeed if what I was experiencing was merely deterministic, and that there was no lifechanging spiritual component to it. But it isn’t all that there is to it. What is it that drives my motivation, and what is it that affects my feelings? Logic can tell you what is right and wrong. But logic alone can’t make you feel good about right things and bad about wrong things. There is an element of feeling in that, and feelings are non-rational. They aren’t tied to rationality—they can’t be forced, or totally ignored. People who defiantly live sinful lifestyles still feel guilt. Why? People who do good things for others, whether they have reasons for it or “just because,” still feel good about it. Why? It’s because our conscience is somehow connected to God, and distinct from yet able to interact with our thinking mind, such that He is able to speak to us through our emotions, if we properly understand them because we interpret them correctly. Our conscience (lit. “with-knowledge”) informs us when we do something wrong. It also encourages us when we demonstrate fruit of the Spirit. I believe that the reason I can explain why I should do the right thing, but not why I should actually FEEL motivated and highly driven to do it, and content when I achieve it, is because my human mind is what understands the difference between the right and wrong, but it is God working in me that causes me to strive to do the right thing, in inexpressible irreducible mysterious ways.
The fact that I can’t describe a connection between “ought to” and “desire to” in terms of me doing the things that evidence a life of Christian spiritual growth is the one thing that, strangely, gives me, personally, the most confidence and relief to be sure that I am truly saved, and actively being sanctified through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, continuing work in my life.
~ Rak Chazak

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