It has been both disturbing and intriguing to discover how often “Christianity” cripples people. I have been amazed over the years as a therapist to sit across from someone whose theology actually keeps them bound. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, given that I have found my own theology choking the life out of me from time to time.
There is a scene in the movie Instinct with Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. where Hopkins throws open a cage in which a five hundred pound gorilla sits. Gooding gets very nervous and tells Hopkins to shut the cage. He calmly responds, “You see? Even if he can. Not far from here is a fence, and on the other side of that fence is freedom, and he can smell it. He’ll never try to get there,’cause he’s given up. By now he thinks freedom is something he dreamed.” The cage door is wide open, yet often we find ourselves sitting in it as victims of learned helplessness and fear of failure.
I found so often that people’s encounters with Christianity have left them helpless rather than free. Paul states that it is was for freedom that Christ set us free. It’s such a nonsensical, redundant statement that it would be absolutely meaningless if not for the reality that we talk of freedom but simply don’t live it. We talk of freedom but we are so afraid to make a mistake. We talk of living for God but live in desperate fear of people. Why are so many Christians set free only to walk back in prison again?
There are many reasons for the pain that we live in and many people come to me to find out what they are and to move past them, but one thing is certain: there is a tendency to wrap our theology around our pain and fears.
I have consistently encountered a learned helplessness in the church that is pervasive and powerful. So many individuals spend their lives waiting for God to provide a miracle, even though the cage door has been open for years. I have sat across from so many individuals who could no longer see the options before them and have no confidence in their own ability to take the paths before them. They sat in utter pain and despair waiting for God to rescue them and hearing every sermon as confirmation that God’s rescue was on the way. I think of Gideon who sat in the wine vat, in fear, and questioned why God allowed all of these miserable things to happen to Israel. God’s response was, go and do what I have called you to. God told Gideon that He was with him and he had the power to make things right. So often we are waiting for God to do something that he has already empowered us to. Steinbeck, in his epic novel East of Eden, wrote “But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units- because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves any more….”
The sense of entitlement, the bitterness and backbiting, the judgement, the attempts to gain status and power within the church are all signs of a complete lack of agency.