Albert Einstein once said, "For
every problem, there is a solution which is simple, logical,
straight-forward, and wrong."
Surely that axiom is nowhere truer than in the case of how we
Christians deal with our dark side (or rather, how we don't deal with
it). By "dark side" I mean that side of us that we would
rather no one ever knows about, the side that seems determined to pull
us toward unhealthy, self-destructive behavior.
And yet, there is no more important area for us to be clear-headed
about than this. For without understanding how to deal with our dark
side, recovery is reduced to little more than a course in "How To
Be Socially Appropriate in Public." True change requires us to
grapple with our fundamental brokenness.
But unfortunately, Einstein's Axiom is alive and well in Christendom
today! Here are four wildly popular ways in which we Christians seek
to deal with our dark side. None of them work.
1. Minimize It
This approach is based on a two-category view of mankind: saints and
sinners. Saints, goes this theory, dealt with their dark side (i.e.
their "old sin nature") at the time of their salvation. The
only people with "serious problems" to work on are the
"sinners" - those people outside the sanitized sanctuary of
A pastor friend of mine told me that he wants to develop recovery
ministry in his church, but that he is meeting resistance from some
church members. One member worried out loud to him about attracting
too many divorced and otherwise 'chronically needy people' to the
church. "What will 'normal' people like me do then?" he
That this attitude minimizes the negative power of our dark side is
shown by the shock and disbelief among many Christians when
"good" people do "bad" things - when seemingly
wise, mature, gracious Christian leaders are caught in behaviors that
are terribly inconsistent with their callings.
The sobering truth is, Christians have a dark side that's every bit as
active as non-Christians. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul
warns that even after we become Christians, our dark side (the
"old self") actually becomes even more corrupt, not better!1
We Christians are just as capable of horrific deeds as anyone else.
Or, as one wit put it, "We have met the chronically needy, and it
2. Ignore It
This second approach acknowledges the reality of a dark side within
us, but believes the best way to deal with it is to "fill your
mind with higher things." Some do this by an all-consuming focus
on "Who I am in Christ." It's true that the opportunity to
rebuild a damaged self-image by meditating on biblical truth is one of
the healthy benefits of the gospel. But despite Christ's work in our
lives, we will remain a mix of light and dark, of strength and
weakness, until the day we die. To build a self-image that is composed
only of sweetness and light, and leaves out any acknowledgment of our
on-going humanity, is just another form of denial.
3. Shame It
Perhaps because we Christians have a hard time accepting ourselves as
a combination of light and dark, we reserve our most vitriolic attacks
for those individuals (or those parts of ourselves) who show evidence
of being fallible. There is a rather sharp contrast between the
grace-filled response of Jesus to the woman taken in adultery (
"You, who are without sin, cast the first stone.") and the
ways we often pummel ourselves and others with shaming labels like
"wicked" and "evil." Ironically, the Bible that is
often (mis)used in these shaming attacks clearly states that the
"shoulds" and "oughts" of the Law simply don't
work against our negative behavior. Rather than discouraging
rebellion, the shaming and legalism actually arouse greater
And, from my own painful experience, shaming our dark side only serves
to drive its activities underground, away from the harsh light of
criticism, but also away from the healing light of God.
4. Starve It
The ascetics in our midst believe that if you squelch it, stifle it,
strangle it, and starve it, our dark side will eventually wither away
and, if not die, at least not bother us anymore. What the ascetic
finds, however, is that his struggle with the devil often becomes an
obsession in itself, much like those that drove monks to sit on
flagpoles, or to wear camel-hair underwear.
But there is an even more important truth here. One level down, below
that addictive or unhealthy behavior we're so anxious to stamp out, is
a broken place - a wound, probably inflicted in childhood. Until that
broken place is healed, the most we can hope for is to switch
addictions. Because, like cancer that metastasizes throughout the
body, if we only treat the symptoms, it will inevitably pop up
somewhere else. It's new form may be more socially acceptable, such as
an addiction to food, or work, or to helping others. But the pain
underneath goes untreated. And, as Jeremiah 6:14 says, "You
cannot heal a wound by saying it's not there."
1. Ephesians 4:22. 2. Romans 7:5
Patrick Means, is a free-lance writer and
editor and a regular contributor to STEPS. Part
II of "Dealing with Your Dark Side"
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