Self-Protective Strategies. Genesis 12:10
The doctrine of adversity and stress
1) There are two kinds of pressures in life: adversity is the inevitable outside daily pressure of life that attacks and seeks to penetrate the soul; stress is what happens inside the soul. God takes us from the instant of salvation through a series of tests in order to reveal the flaws and failures of our own carnal, sinful creatureliness, and we have to learn to be dependent upon God and His provision. We have to learn to utilize the ten problem-solving devices so that we can grow from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. So adversity is the outside pressure; stress is the inside pressure of the soul caused by reaction to the external pressures of adversity. When the believer who is negative to Bible doctrine allows adversity to penetrate his thinking he has succumbed to the arrogance skills.
2) We have to remember that adversity or outside pressure has two categories. There is suffering from the law of volitional responsibility or divine discipline. Galatians 6:7, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." In other words, there is a certain amount of suffering we go through and we have to ask the question: Is this my own doing or is this just the result of living in a fallen world? Because we live in a fallen world we will encounter a certain amount of adversity that is not related to our own volition. This second type of suffering is that which is not related to our own volition. It is suffering that is the result of living in the cosmic system, suffering that God allows to come into our lives and is classified as suffering for blessing. Suffering for blessing is designed to accelerate spiritual growth. When we go through suffering for discipline we can convert it into suffering for blessing when we confess our sins, get back in fellowship, and then start applying the ten problem-solving devices to that particular adversity. Abraham is going to go through both classifications. He starts off in suffering for blessing. That is why the famine occurs. God is going to teach Abraham certain things about himself. Principle: Whenever we go through adversity the bottom line of the test is to learn to trust the character of God. It always has something to do with the character of God and learning to recognize that God is in control, learning that we must be dependent upon Him, learning that He is trustworthy in His righteousness, learning that He is fair in His justice, learning that He is more powerful than our circumstances in His omnipotence, learning that He is never surprised by any problem or heartache or difficulty that we face in His omniscience. As we learn these, our ability to trust Him strengthens and increases. This accelerates spiritual growth.
3) Adversity is what the outside circumstances of life do to you; stress is what you do to yourself. Stress is always the result of our own volition. We react to that stress in some way where we are calling upon our own resources, our own ability, our own intellect to solve the problem in contrast to dependence upon God. So we just bring the stress upon ourselves. Every time we try to solve the problem on our own we have already made a negative decision toward Bible doctrine, and the sin nature is in control. Once the sin nature is in control then we are in trouble.
4) Adversity is inevitable. Job says that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. We can't avoid it. Stress is optional and the result of our own negative volition to doctrine. James 1:2 is a key verse for understanding this. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter …" The word there for 'encounter' is the idea of falling into it. It just happens. For Abraham it is a famine.
Genesis 12:10, "And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was severe in the land." The word 'severe' in the Hebrew is the word kabod, the same word that in some passages is translated 'glory' for the glory of God. The literal meaning of the word is something that is heavy or weighty. So when we talk about the glory of God it is that the presence of God is a serious weighty matter. It is used only a couple of time in the Old Testament to describe a famine. So we have a serious or severe famine, one of the worst in the ancient world. So as Abraham hits this adversity he has to make a decision. It was not an instantaneous decision but one he had to come to over time.
Abraham's situation: He is living 2000 B.C in the land of Canaan. This was a land that had a pantheon of deities oriented around the fertility cult. The key god in the Canaanite pantheon was Baal, the storm god. There were other female deities such as Astarte who was the goddess of fertility. All of this revolves around the agricultural cycle and how to get more produce out of the ground. Abraham doesn't have as much of a frame of reference for a God like we know in the Scripture. He is learning about this God. The gods that he has been familiar with and has seen in the religious pantheons of Babylon and Canaan were gods that were gods [e.g. weather gods] that frequently failed. Abraham is in that kind of a situation. He looks around at the famine which gets worse and worse. He has a human viewpoint frame of reference of deities that can't really solve weather problems, and so what is the solution? Well God really can't help me, so I must come up with a solution myself. His problem was too great for God! This is what happens when we hit that adversity and it is a decision point. Any time we have a decision to make about how to apply doctrine it is a test. It may be a minor test; it may be a big test. Every time we have to make a decision on handling a problem it is a test of doctrine. That is what James is talking about in James 1:2-4. We are able to count it all joy because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Faith there is PISTIS [pisitj], and it has the idea of a passive sense, of what we believe. It is a testing of what we believe. If we are growing and applying doctrine we take the divine viewpoint route and trust the Lord, and ultimately everything builds off the faith-rest drill and we are using one of the ten problem-solving devices.
We often take the no-trust route, the no-faith-rest-drill route—we are going to handle it on our own. We have all sorts of ways of trying to rationalize our own handling of the problem. This is the human viewpoint strategy and we develop hundreds of these strategies to deal with the problems of life. Ultimately they are designed to protect us—self-protective strategies, because ultimately they are designed to somehow give us a strategy or methodology to make life work, to find peace, stability, harmony, success and happiness apart from dependence upon God. And what we see happening whenever we hit any of these tests is that the test is a personal threat to my stability, to my peace, to my happiness, to basically my ability to control life in a world that is out of control so that I can have a measure of peace and happiness and stability. It goes right back to our sin nature. This is one of the most important things to understand.
We believe that no matter what the problem is in life, no matter what the difficulty is, the solution is always found in the Word of God. We need to learn how to solve our own problems through doctrine, and to do that we have to have a framework for understanding human behavior. When it comes to counseling we need men and women who come to the table with a biblical understanding of human behavior. That starts with understanding the sin nature. That is usually something that is not given a whole lot of understanding in human viewpoint models of behavior, because they don't have a biblically developed doctrine of hamartiology.
At the core of the sin nature we put two categories of sin: fear and arrogance. This is at the very core of motivation for much behavior. Think back to Genesis chapter three. There was the fall, the sin. Eve eats the fruit first and coyly introduces this wonderful delicious fruit to Adam. Adam looks at Eve and the fruit and decides that he is going to follow her in the sin, so he falls. Then God comes to walk in the garden, and the first thing we read about Adam and the woman was that they were afraid. Why are they afraid? For a number of reasons. They are afraid because they are going to get caught. They had disobeyed God and are going to be exposed. But they are afraid because at a fundamental level they have lost everything. When they realized that they were naked they tried to cover it up. They tried to solve the problem through their own human viewpoint strategy. That is what is meant by a self-protective strategy. They thought they could solve the problem through their own efforts—human good. But it is motivated by fear and it is motivated by arrogance. Arrogance is the idea that man is going to operate autonomously from God and that he can solve his problems without being completely and totally dependent upon God. So the basic core of the sin nature is fear and arrogance. Then, of course, we operate on the arrogance skills. We are self-absorbed from day one, and as we develop self-absorption we move to self-indulgence—we want to fulfill everything that we are absorbed with, we want to indulge all of our wants, all of our whims. The biggest problem a parent has is to teach a baby that they can't have what they want when they want it the way they want it. That is why the role as a parent is to teach discipline to children, to teach good manners. That is one of the reasons we have etiquette, because we are all basically selfish and if we are going to get along together as human beings, and if we are going to function together in society, we have to have some code of conduct that brings some measure of control to that self-oriented sin nature. So arrogance moves from self-absorption to self-indulgence, and then self-justification. We are all masters of self-justification. It all flows out of the sin nature, that from the very time we were infants we started developing habits of handling problems, and they are so much a part of our nature that we think that is just who we are. That is how we justify them: Well, that's the way I am; that's the way my parents were. Then we move from self-justification to self-deception: That's really not a problem, that's how my mother taught me.
What we see is an interesting pattern here with Abraham. Abraham has a certain trend in his sin nature that means he is going to handle pressure by lying, by deception, and buy getting somebody else to take the heat. That is what he does with Sarah, basically. As he goes down to Egypt to solve the problem he is going to leave the land where God told him to go and in the process he is putting the seed in jeopardy. So one we make that decision to go negative and try to solve the problem ourselves what happens is one bad decision develops into another bad decision and they start to snowball.
Genesis 12:11-13, "And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee." Saying Sarah was his sister was a half-truth. He is oblivious to the fact that he is going to put her into a vulnerable situation that could create danger and problems for her. He is just concerned for himself—self-absorption and self-deception. He is oblivious as to what the consequences might be for others. He also does this later on with the Philistine leader. Not only does he do it, but what we also discover is that Isaac does it as well—Genesis 26:7. Self-deception then leads to self-deification. This is the whole process in Romans chapter one. We are ultimately deifying ourselves: we are the ultimate source of values, not God. We are going to determine what is right and wrong. Abraham begins to rationalize his own behavior but his strategy is wrong for a number of reasons. It is wrong because it is a violation of God's directive will. God specifically directed him to go to the land. He didn't say to go through the land and go to Egypt. So he is violating specific, revealed directions from God. It is also wrong because he is only concerned about his own hide and it puts his wife in jeopardy and the promised seed in jeopardy. He is wrong because he is looking to his wife to be the source of his blessing, protection, and stability rather than God.
Principle: When we get out of fellowship we start failing in our personal responsibilities. Eventually we will start looking to others to handle them for us or we will start blaming others for our failures.
Then what happens is that our arrogance operates through our lust patterns. We have two areas of strength in the in nature: an area of weakness which produces personal sins, and then we do all kinds of good things and that is what trips us up. We develop these strategies to make life work apart from God and we wrap it up in human good. We come up with all kinds of justification for our behavior and how we react under adversity because from the time we were a toddler we behaved that way, and we don't even want to admit to ourselves that we are doing it because if it is a violation of God's Word then at a very core level of our personality we have to change, i.e. repentance, then sanctification. The aim of the spiritual life is to learn to handle problems, not the way that makes us most comfortable but by using God's problem-solving devices so that we can grow and advance spiritually. So we are either operating on sin or human good and this tends to lead to one of two trends: either a trend towards asceticism or legalism which is moral degeneracy, or towards licentiousness, lasciviousness or antinomianism, which leads to immoral degeneracy. But we have to understand the sin nature and what is at its very core is fear and arrogance and the idea that somehow I can make life work apart from God.
These are the self-protective strategies. They involve emotional sins—anger, anxiety; they involve overt sins—trying to control people, manipulate them, micro-manage them, make sure they do things just the way you want them to, to bring some level of stability there. Then we use sins of the tongue to destroy people.
Abraham's strategy was to lie and to use deception. The result is that he is discovered because God isn't going to let this happen. God is protecting the seed, protecting the promise. Genesis 12:17, "And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife." Finally, Pharaoh confronts Abraham and this is where Abraham goes through suffering as a result of his own bad decision. The interesting thing here is that Abraham is also blessed at the same time. "And he [Pharaoh] entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels." His personal wealth increased. Can we hear Abraham's reasoning here? This is working out pretty good, God is really blessing me! This is how we justify our arrogance. We look at the positive things that have happened and use them to reinterpret the entire scenario so that we don't have to face our own sin and our own failures. But God ultimately is not going to let us get away with it, which is what happened to Abraham. Pharaoh kicks him out of Egypt. So he has lost respect, lost an opportunity to be a blessing to the Gentiles in Egypt, and he has been a complete failure. Nevertheless he has learned from his failure and he advances and goes forward in the spiritual life. And that is the same thing with us. If we are still alive God still has a plan for our life. We can learn from our failures as much as our successes. For most of us we can learn more from our failures if we have true teachability than we do from our successes, because we realize how much we have blown it and how greatly we were blessed by the grace of God. God blesses Abraham in the midst of his failure, not because of his failure but because of God's plan.