Awakening to Pathological Motivations

Posted on March 23, 2015 by

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by Dr. James Willingham

There are all kinds of awakenings, but one of the most important is that of becoming aware of the shortcomings of one’s own motivations.  I have called these shortcomings pathological motivations, because they are basically destructive to all parties concerned where they become evident.  One of the extreme examples was the mass suicides of Jonestown in South America, evil produced by the sick motivations of the leader of the group, the so-called pastor, the Rev. Jim Jones. Such examples are not all that rare.  They just happen to be not that extreme.  Consider how some people can use a controversy to advance their own causes, their own careers, and do it at the expense of others.  There are instances of pastors who must have their people at church so often that the poor souls have no time for family life or anything else, except to work and support by offerings and presence, that pastor who suffers from an inner sense of insecurity.  An inner insecurity can often be satisfied only by outward signs of security, that is, by the control the individual exercises over others.  Other forms of this can involve having the biggest church, the most baptisms, etc.  I once heard of two pastors who came to the point of actually getting in a fist fight over who had the most in Sunday School on a given Sunday Morning.

      Yes, even Christians can have pathological motives.  Just consider how the Disciples of our Lord were arguing over who would be greatest in His kingdom – even in the shadow of the cross.  Two of Disciples had their mother make an effort to influence the Lord Jesus in granting them the privileges (and the power and fame they thought came with it is understood) of setting on His right hand and His left.  And this was done practically in the shadow of the cross.

     I can remember awakening to one such reality at the beginning of my seminary studies.  It was the idea that hanging out with God (to put it in common language) did not guarantee to me that I had any special powers or privileges as a result of that association.  Our Lord’s commendation of humility as well as the promoting of that virtue by His servants in their writings underscores the counteractions instituted for that pathology, the pathology of big-headedness or self-importance.  Examples of practically all of the pathologies one would find in a standard work on the subject in a university course can be found in the word of God.  Even the techniques for dealing with them are sometimes evident in the Bible.

     I once heard a pastor speak of the dysfunctional families of the Patriarchs.  And then there is the technique of reframing an event or something remarkably like it.  Joseph cast a new light on his brothers selling him into slavery, saying, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to bring it to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”(Gen.50:20)

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