The common paths to a joyful life, obedience, reliance on the Spirit, and working through the problems (usually with counseling) all fail. Obedience, diligence, and intellectualism produce discipline without love. Reliance on the Spirit fails to address the deep problems inside. Counselling generally fails to repent of deep sin.
People have three types of needs: casual needs (things which can be satisfied without another person), critical needs (needs for relationships), and crucial needs (the need for unconditional love and for meaning in life that only God can satisfy). Ultimate satisfaction comes only when all three types of needs are fulfilled. We try to fulfill our needs from the outside in, that is we satisfy our casual needs (nice house, good food), critical needs (good friends), and crucial needs (God) in that order. However, this is in reverse order of their importance to us. We are designed to need God fundamentally and until that need is satisfied, satisfaction of the other needs will produce an empty shell. We need to seek God first, fellowship with others second, and our casual needs third.
Seeking God involves first realizing our thirst then realizing it will not go away. Our pain demands relief so immediately that often we assuage it without examining why we feel the pain. So we need to ask the hard questions (why did God allow this?) and explore how our relationships have failed us. Feeling pain is not wrong, it is a natural result of our desires being thwarted. But the pain will not go away until we get to Heaven because this world is fundamentally broken. Instead, we must let our pain drive us to God.
Next we must repent of our deep sin. This is not merely violations of commands of God but violations of the command to love, God and others. Our sin is self-protectiveness, the desire to get rid of our pain. The method we employ takes many subtle forms, avoidance of conflict, avoidance of close relationships with intellectualism, etc., and may masquerade as something desireable (getting along well with others, in the case of conflict avoidance). Whatever our self-protectiveness is, it needs to be repented of. Only then can we change deeply.
This change will not be quick, it will not be easy, and it will be a process. Expect to have more pain initially, not less. Expect several stages. We begin by changing our conscious direction, finding our sin, repenting, and recommitting to God. Then we must change our approach to relationships from trying to be satisfied by them to loving others without expectation. Finally we must change the direction of our being. We will need to be shattered, to have the illusion that things are not too bad to be broken. Things are bad, and only the hope of God will keep us from despair. “When we realize that life can’t give us what we want, we can better give up our foolish demand that it do so and get on with the noble task of loving as we should.”
Crabb ends on a happier note by noting that change to a joyful, but pain-filled, life is possible. The Bible consistently mentions it, Crabb himself has experienced it, and he has seen others who have been changed. And in the meantime, don’t wait for perfect motives before loving others, ask the hard questions, and enjoy what is enjoyable about life.
Crabb presents a picture of the Christian life that clearly explains the fallacies of Christian clichés that conciously feel right but intuitively feel wrong. He offers a well thought-out discussion of the problem and solution with illustrations that not only illustrate his points, but back them up as well. As the book jacket says, his style is warm and personal, although I am not sure that it will weather time as well as C.S. Lewis'. Unfortunately, the book is not very clear on the first reading, requiring a second reading before the structure, and therefore, the essence, of the book can be understood. However, the content, once grasped, is excellent and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is pondering their suspicions of disillusionment with life.
Although the content is excellent, useful, and I would assert, necessary, I am not convinced that this incarnation of it will last the 50 years necessary for a 9.0+ rating; the style seems to similar to books that I know will be short-lived and the difficulty of discerning the underlying structure will problem result in a better incarnation in the future. Although this last point should bring the value down, the content is good enough that this is still a must read.
- modern Christianity often suggests that if we have enough faith, obedience, prayer, etc. we will feel the joy that surpasses all understanding enabling us to live a joyful life.
- This is wrong and will lead to a powerless life (as it has led to a powerless church) of denial of reality.
- The fact is we are “entirely dependent on someone else for satisfaction” and thoroughly corrupted by selfishness.
- We will always thirst for the relationship we were meant to have until we regain it in Heaven.
- The process will be extremely painful, and the pain will increase as we see more and more who we really are.
- Chapter 1: Real Change Requires an Inside Look
- Many people appear to have everything together, but we usually don’t see troubles that lie underneath.
- Most of us occasionally become aware that something is wrong, but we (often unconsciously) soothe it over.
- There are two types of Christians: “shallow copers” who just try to et through their troubles and make life smooth again; “troubled reflectors” who realize that something is wrong and struggle to make sense of their lives.
- It is the latter type of person that is most likely to truly change—God changes us from the hard times, and the change required is not a change of behavior but a change of who we really are.
- Chapter 2: An Inside Look can be Frustrating
- The church does not really seem to know how to take an inside look, so it settles for “doing” various things—obedience, submission to God, etc.
- People who do good things (e.g. disciplined, hard working, hospitable) command respect and make us feel slightly guilty that we don’t do things. People who have great character (e.g. loving, true generosity, concern) make us want to be different.
- Crabb asserts that behavioral problems (whether temper, discipline, anxiety, sexual, etc.) “results ultimately from violations of the command to love. If that’s true, then learning to love is not only necessary for spiritual maturity, it’s central to overcoming psychological problems.” (p. 43)
- Three common ways Christians advocate dealing with inner problems:
- Obey - “do your Christian duties”: God’s power is release when we obey Him.
- Failures: results in people who are disciplined but have no love. Doesn’t encourage dealing with inner problems.
- Rely on the Holy Spirit: Ultimately we must let the Holy Spirit change us, by submission or a spiritual experience or some other means.
- Failures: fails to look inside
- Work through you problems: Deal with you past, usually through counseling.
- Failures: “Change through counseling often involves working through problems rather than repenting of deep sin. The message is that power comes through self-awareness and psychological maturity [rather than the work of God in us]” (p. 49)
- Chapter 3: Knowing What to Look For
- We are thirsty for satisfying relationships but we try to find that satisfaction without God’s help.
- So when we look inside we find “thirst for what we do not have and ... wrong strategies for finding the life we desire.” (p. 54)
- People are terrified of fsully trusting God for our needs.
- Chapter 4: “If anyone is Thirsty...”
- It is natural for us to have desires. God created us to have a purpose and to have fulfilling relationships. Since we do not have these, we desire them.
- We cannot be happy in and of ourselves; we require another — by God’s design.
- When these desires are ignored or thwarted we feel pain. This, too, is natural.
- We will long for what we were created for and hurt when we don’t have it until we get to Heaven.
- Chapter 5: We’re Thirsty People
- Three kinds of longings: casual longings (things which do not require another person to fulfill), critical longings (longings for deep relationships with others), crucial longings (that what only God can provide: unconditional love and meaning in life)
- We tend to think that the path to God goes: 1) material and physical pleasures, 2) added joy of relationships, 3) total satisfaction at some point now and forever
- Instead the path is: 1) the rewarding pursuit of God, 2) fellowship with God and others, the latter imperfect at best, 3) total satisfaction not until Heaven, but then forever.
- God does not promise to satisfy our critical or casual longings, only our crucial ones. And even those we will long for a more full fulfillment until we get to Heaven.
- Satisfaction of our crucial longings does not dull the pain of having casual or critical longings unmet.
- It is our nature to depend on everything except God to fulfill our crucial longings.
- Chapter 6: Becoming Aware of Our Thirst
- We need to feel our pain because
- “Freedom from compulsive sin requires an awareness of deep thirst”. If we aren’t conscious of our thirst, we are likely to fall into addictions that briefly appear to satisfy that thirst.
- “Sin will be understood superficially—and therefore dealt with ineffectively—without an awareness of deep thirst.” If we manage to steer clear of compulsive sin, we will be intellectual and cold. We will commit the sin of self-protectiveness or self-seeking, wherein our relationships with others are more about what they can do for us than what we can do for them.
- “Without an awareness of deep thirst, our pursuit of God will be disciplined at best. With it, our pursuit can be passionate.”
- Our pain demands relief (immediately) yet is should drive us to God, who is able to actually satisfy our needs. But the problem is that we need to admit our pain and admit that it will not go away this side of Heaven.
- How to face our thirst:
- “Ask the tough questions that produce confusion” (Why did God do this or allow that? What did something bad happen as a result of following Him?)
- “Explore the imperfections of key relationships until you experience deep disappointment” (How have they failed to love like I wanted them to?)
- “Study your own approach to relationships with an openness to developing conviction”
- Chapter 7: Looking in All the Wrong Places
- two types of sin: violating clear commands of God, subtly violating the command to love
- things like youth rallys, etc. tend to address the first. But the second is the key change.
- our sin is usually self-protectiveness is relationships. This is protecting ourself from the possibility that our deepest fear in relationships might be realized.
- we can be diligent, obedient, disciplined without God. But we can only give others the opportunity ( by not protecting ourselves) to hurt us by trusting in God’s love.
- a pastor who is adept a leading discussions might be trying to avoid conflict (perhaps his father didn’t tolerate it)
- Mary, who was diligent in ministry and devotions but avoided close relationships by maneuvering conversation to an intellectual level (yeah, I’ve thought about that—what ideas do you have?) Her father taught devotion to God but wouldn’t let her relax in his love, so she learned not to love.
- Frank, who was excellent at coming up with solutions to problems and used it to avoid problems that were out of his control (told his anorexic daugther to eat but didn’t talk about her insecurity). Perhaps he fears he is inadequate.
- Chapter 8: The Problem of Demandingness
- usually Christians who sincerely want to change are told two options: “Find help as you honestly explore the pain in your heart, or assume responsibility for straightening out the sin in your behavior, ... Neither one helps us penetrate into the sin in our heart that must be addressed if we are to change from the inside out.” (p. 132)
- The sin in our heart is our demands for relief. (We demand, of course, because we are trying to fulfill ourselves and failing)
- When God doesn’t seem to be listening, we are probably demanding something from Him.
- Continued pain and frustration tends to develop demandingness. Perhaps this is partly because our early trust might have been a hope that God would fix the problem soon. Eventually we become convinced that a proper ordering of the Universe would provide for our need. Now we are accusing God of misrunning the Universe.
- God wants to remove our demandingness. “The necessary foundation for any relationship with God is a recognition that God is God and we are not. We therefore have no business demanding anything from anyone, no matter how fervently our soul longs for relief from pain. ... Desire much, pray for much, but demand nothing. To trust God means to demand nothing.” (p. 149)
- Chapter 9: Exposing Wrong Directions
- We need to expose the sin in our heart if we are to change deeply.
- We need to let the Spirit of God search us and show us the sin in our heart, both when we have been wronged by another (“oh my possible sin in response to his outright sin is not that bad.” It is.) or when times are good and we are tempted to be complacent.
- Studying the Word for knowledge and truth—intellectually—actually distances us from people
- We need to come to the Bible asking to learn about God and ourselves so that we may love better.
- We need to build relationships in which we daily seek to help them to love better. Sometimes this will involve pointing out our friends’ self-protective styles of relating. Sometimes we will be on the receiving end and need to be receptive.
- Chapter 10
- Few new concepts
- Chapter 11: The Power of the Gospel
- If we expect change to mean an easing or lessening of our pain (like a “more peaceful feeling during terrible troubles”) we will be disappointed.
- Instead, we need to stop demanding that our pain be relieved and repent of our self-protective pain-relieving relational styles (in whatever specific way is relevant)
- Chapter 12: What it Takes to Deeply Change
- “Change in the Christian life is progressive. We move from change in our conscious direction to change in our approach to relationships to change in the direction of our very being.”
- Change in conscious direction:
- We become aware of our sin, repent, and dedicate our life to the LORD. Mostly just awareness of a few truths and obedience.
- Change in our approach to relationships
- Until we look to see how we have been disappointed, we cannot see the ways that we are determined not to be disappointed like that again, and we will not see and cannot change how we relate to others not out of love for them, but selfishly determined to find that which is missing.
- Change in the direction of our being
- The fall affected us as men and women. Men feel inadequate to enter the world strongly and women feel afraid to be vulnerable and to be entered.
- “If we honestly face the sadness of living life in a fallen world, then only our hope in Christ can preserve us from insanity or suicide.”
- If we think that life is not too bad, then Christ delivers us from something not too terrible and Heaven is only a little bit better.
- “Most of us have never been staggered. Christians
cooperate with non-Christians to preserve the appearance that things
aren’t really too bad, and in a sense, that’s true. Marriages are
sometimes rich, people can be extraordinarily kind and helpful,
teenagers are often cooperative and reliable, jobs are sometimes
meaningful and rewarding. But none of these good things about
life can touch our soul with the satisfaction we desire. Until we
grasp how deeply we long for what we do not have, our enjoyment of
life’s pleasures is defensive. We will depend on them to obscure
the emptiness of our soul. To the degree we keenly feel the
painful disappointment of unsatisfied longings, we’re able to ask no
more of life’s pleasures than they’re capable of providing. And
then we can enjoy them realistically as legitimate tastes from the
banquet table God will one day spread before us.
The illusion that life in a fallen world is really not too bad must be shattered. When even the best parts of life are exposed as pathetic counterfeits of how things should be, the reality drives us to a level of distress that threatens to utterly undo us. But it is when we’re on the brink of personal collapse that we’re able to shift the direction of our soul from self-protection to trusting love. The more deeply we enter into the reality that life without God is sheer desolation, the more fully we can turn toward Him.
When we realize life can’t give us what we want, we can better give up our foolish demand that it do so and get on with the noble task of loving as we should.” (p. 214)
- The Bible consistently says that is possible to know God deeply. Dr. Crabb has experienced the Holy Spirit bringing him there and has seen it in others. There is a path to knowing God.
- “The realization that every moment consists of a moral choice to look after ourself or put others first is staggering. Many of us never wrestle with morality at that level. We prefer to talk warmly of esteeming others above ourself while carefully avoiding the self-awareness that would convict us about our failure to do it.
- Don’t let the confusion of life distract you of confidence in the truths of Christianity (God loves us, Christ died for us, He will come back for us)
- Don’t let disappointment prevent you from enjoying what is enjoyable.
- Don’t wait for pure motives to be nice to people.