Changeability: Flying from the Pigeon Hole
A problem that seems to dominate human beings throughout generations is the belief that people just are who they are and will, in general, default to some lowest common denominator given a situation or comfort position. As a Christian, I run into other believers regularly who seem to also think this. They look at the world around them and state cynically, “Those people will never change” or more specifically “He/She will never change”. But, is this true? Is this a Biblical description of humanity or is there any hope of humanity, either individually or as a whole, can change?
I learned early on from my dad that at least one person can change drastically and regularly. As I grew up in his household, my dad seemed to change and surprise me every day. In some ways, he still does. He and my mother encouraged my brother and me toward the belief that we had the ability, skills, and knowledge (or could at least attain them) to do and be people of endless variety and influence. Part of this view of life seemed to stem from an understanding that even under the most extreme circumstances of completely messing up a situation or our entire life, we could come back from that situation and be new again. As a result, I grew up with a confidence that life was not a single track on which I was locked, but more of a series of divergent paths onto which one might turn, either intentionally or unintentionally, but onto which one might converge once more, leaving the ruts and tracks of the other paths in another place. It’s a different kind of clean-slate approach, but one that makes a great deal of sense.
Now, though, it seems that the cynicism of our culture has gone another way. Maybe the prevailing mindset has always been toward being stuck in a sate-defined path in life, but it seems even more pervasive in the world and specifically in our American culture today. People say things like, “If it’s meant to be…” or “It’s fate…” as if those cliche statements somehow make sense of life. But, is there a such thing? Are we locked into a hopelessly plunging path toward an unsatisfying end?
This viewpoint even enters Christian culture. Believers will lock themselves into a particular spiritual trajectory and never see around something they were taught by another human being, even when the Bible says exactly the opposite. I still know people who try to squeeze racism out of the Bible by using Old Testament passages regarding the separation between the Israelites and other nations. Of course, this concept has nothing to do with racial separation, but with spiritual purity. But, the mindset of racism that continues to overcome the truths of God’s teachings of all being equal in the Kingdom have imprisoned the minds of many today.
But, in the overall picture of scripture, there are consistent reminders of God’s ability to make and prevent changes in the lives of people. The story of Joseph shows one side of this. God changes Joseph’s life over and over, from being the favored son, to being sold into slavery, to rising to lead an Egyptian official’s house, to prison, to leading Egypt itself! Another side can be seen in the story of Moses when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart over and over to bring about a certain end. While some might use both of these circumstances to show how people are fated to do something, the fact remains that Joseph or Pharaoh either one could have chosen differently. God merely used the attitudes and beliefs of both to His own will.
A wonderful New Testament example of change in someone’s life is Saul turning his life to become Paul. He was on a life track to become the next, most powerful Jew in the religious elite. He killed and tortured Christians with extreme prejudice. But, his life was immediately spun around and he became one of the most powerful Christian figures of the first century! Paul himself wrote: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” 1 Cor 6:9-11. Paul knew very well that lives can be completely changed. Do we?