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Flagellation Lite
by Bruce Newman
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The problem with basing marriage on compatibility is that those things that make two people compatible today might easily change over time—and they usually do (who really expects, or wants, to be the same person they are today, ten years from now?). We all assume that we will change, grow up, and grow old and there is a good possibility that our current self-concept will not bear a significant resemblance to who we become. – from the Mere Orthodoxy blog

If Americans can be divorced for incompatibility of temper I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. - G K Chesterton

In the medieval days there were people known as flagellants who walked through the streets whipping (flagellating) themselves bloody to show how much they despised and controlled their flesh. Of course it never worked because it wasn’t the proper way to overcome the flesh. But at least it was an honest, if misguided, try that didn’t pretend to be anything else.

Of course today we think we are beyond such barbaric displays of ignorance. That may be. But that’s mainly because we believe that simply because we don’t do something the way it was done in years past that we are free from it. In reality we do the same things in the same spirit except that we clothe it in a habit or custom. If some group does it that’s even better because we can get lost in the crowd. At least the flagellants had the courage to carry out their belief on themselves. We’re not crazy enough to whip our flesh raw, just crazy enough to drain our spirits slowly over time by whipping ourselves with beliefs that aren’t made for those who belong to Christ.

Many people now, Christians included, subscribe to the belief that two people should be “compatible” to be married. Hence we have entire “ministries” devoted to “singles” (who act too much as if they are the new lepers). It takes a certain strength of personality to involve oneself in various life affairs during which one may meet a potential spouse. The question must be asked why this strength has largely disappeared. But we must have the strength mentioned to ask such questions, so it goes unasked, and into the vacuum created by that lack rushes E-Harmony and the slew of other dating services.

If I remember Scripture correctly Eve was created to complete the man, not necessarily be compatible with him in the sense we use the term. God said it wasn’t good that Adam should be alone, so he created Eve. If Eve was merely compatible but not Adam’s completion then God would conceivably have had to create someone or something else later on to do what mere compatibility could not. Of course sin entered in later and screwed up the whole picture. But it did not erase the reason the woman was created any more than it erased the image of God in man.

This means that when we use a compatibility model to supposedly help people find mates, particularly Christians, we are using a model unsuited to reality. So it is as if we are forcing ourselves to wear clothes that don’t really fit – flagellation lite. But since all are under the spell of compatibility they simply accept the bad fit as unavoidable. This is a sad, sad case. We talk about living beneath our privileges in Christ without realizing that in some cases we insist on living that way because of the things we believe that we refuse to examine simply because they “go with the flow”. We know what Christ said about the broad way. It’s the way that goes with the flow.

Self-flagellation is really a way of making atonement for something we know is wrong (which we say we believe Jesus already took care of, yet we continue to play with it). We find it easier than taking the time to understand what the real causes of a thing are. So while we may not do as our medieval brethren once did, we are of the same spirit. Therefore we have not advanced beyond them (over 500 years ago) in anything but appearance.

Since out of the heart are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23) if we allow it to absorb beliefs from the broad way once, we become predisposed toward it. I believe this is where that lack of personality strength comes from I mentioned earlier. So when somebody like Michael Jackson dies, a sad thing to be sure, people exhibit a kind of sickly synthetic love. Under normal circumstances the death of a friend or loved one provides an opportunity for the living to react under power of love and respect. But when a Michael Jackson or a Princess Di dies the commanding principle for many appears to be synthetic love, synthetic because it is a mixture of sentimental gullibility, unrealism and idol worship. The people react en masse as if hypnotized instead of showing a natural grief. They are willing to stand for hours outside hospital rooms and graves, in effect flagellating themselves in the spirit because they are at a loss as to how to process the death of a life that was never real to them to begin with.

I knew a lady who once told me her motto was “life is good if you’re tough enough to live it”. I like that. Anybody who’s been around a while knows that you simply have to have a certain strength, a certain level of toughness to be able to live life. Not the toughness of macho excess, gung ho, never shedding a tear and all that. But a certain flexibility that has learned how to take a punch and still bounce back. With that toughness comes a humility and sense of humor that allows one to just get on with the business of living.

Such people never take themselves seriously enough to flagellate themselves. Especially when they have a living sense that Christ already took all the stripes anyone could ever need for eternity.

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