Avoidance— A Christian Problem

I was sitting in the dentist office, waiting to have my teeth cleaned when I notice a sign sitting on the lower shelf of the divan across from my chair. It had a picture of a man who looked frightened, trying to look away from something.  It had this saying—

‘Those whose lives are ruled by fear ironically avoid  what is necessary to remove it.’

I thought, ‘boy is that a Christian problem— avoidance.’

Perhaps it is because we have been taught to ‘be nice’, to ‘play fair’,  to ‘get along with folks’,  ‘to avoid confrontation’, ‘to be forgiving’ ‘to go with the flow’. Whatever it is that causes us to act in the manner we often do,  Christians tend to be world class avoiders. Not just procrastinators, we are good at that too.  No I mean avoiders.   And as the maxim quoted above shares, what motivates this behavior is usually not love or forgiveness or even the desire to just get along with people.  What motivates it is fear and dread.   One thing I am sure of— if you allow fear to run your life and dictate your decisions, fear will ruin your life.  It will, as they say, ‘eat your lunch’.

Perhaps you’ve met the classic example— the world-class worrier with ulcers.  Fear has a devastating effect on the human body.  It not merely gives you indigestion and ‘agida’ (as the Italians would say), it gives you sleepless nights,  bitten fingernails, and a variety of physical problems, such as elevated blood pressure.   When you internalize things to that degree your innards quite naturally protest and revolt.  ‘It’s a revolting development’.

Yes indeed, avoidance is all too often the default mode of those whose lives are ruled by fear, and sadly there are a lot of Christians out there living this way.   Fear causes spouses to avoid confronting their spouse when they behave immorally.   Fear causes a person to put up with and avoid dealing with a relative’s alcoholism.  Fear causes a person to avoid going to the doctor. Fear causes people to even avoid going to church, for fear of being reminded they need to change their sorry lives.  And when fear is combined with guilt,  well that’s a potent cocktail with a kick like a mule.

One thing that I have noticed over and over again is that Paul was not guilty of the sin of avoidance, even when it came to people he cared deeply about.  Take for example the story in Galatians 2 about his confrontation of Peter when Peter, to avoid displeasing some folks in the Jerusalem church,  had withdrawn from eating good ole non-kosher barbecue with the local Gentile Christians in Antioch.  Paul is simply appalled and shocked by the behavior of Peter and Barnabas, and he accuses them both of hypocrisy, of in principle agreeing with him, but avoiding the consequences of such a belief, by simply capitulating to the Judaizers who insisted on withdrawal from table fellowship with those unclean Gentiles.    Paul, will have none of it.   No avoider he.  He cares enough to confront.  He follows the advice of old Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show—- ‘You gotta nip it,  nip it in the bud.”

Avoidance— its a manifestation of the fear factor in your life, and if you let that monkey ride on your back, it will rule and ruin your life and Christian principles.   And the sad truth is that avoidance very seldom solves any problems at all.  It just kicks the can a bit further down life’s road, but then later, there it is, still in your way of moving forward.

Ask yourself this morning—- ‘What am I avoiding saying or doing for all the wrong reasons?

What am I truly afraid of?   What is it that is eating me up inside, and why exactly am I avoiding doing something about it?   One of things you notice about the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, he seems to frequently say to the disciples—- ‘Don’t be Afraid’, even when a sane person would realize there is plenty in this world to be afraid of. Did you ever ask yourself why Jesus, and angels, and God keep saying that to their followers?  Surely the answer is because ‘greater is he who is in and with you than any of these forces in the world’  and if you believe that then you are supposed to be living your life making faith-based and God trusting decisions, not letting fear and avoidance dictate your behavior.

So how about you—- What fears and avoidance practices are you guilty of?   Let’s talk about one possible answer to the question.   It’s called passive aggressive behavior.   What a passive aggressive person does is not simply avoid things.  No, their form of action is to run around the back side of problems and try to manipulate things so they can get someone else to deal with them or do their dirty work.   So for example,  a Christian who notices some sort of immoral or inappropriate behavior in a fellow church member will not do as Jesus says and go and talk directly to the prson, they will run to the deacon or the pastor and tell tales, implying the pastor should do something about this!!!    In fact, if you feel that strongly about it,  you shouldn’t avoid doing the job yourself.   Or even worse, instead of doing something about it, one simply gossips about the problem and person hoping someone will take a hint and do something.  Passive aggressive behavior.  It’s a form of avoidance all too clearly in evidence in the church.

My spiritual forebear John Wesley once preached a sermon entitled ‘The Cure of Evil Speaking’.  You know what the cure is—- Wesley says ‘speak no evil of any absent person who is not there to defend or explain themselves’.  Boy would that eliminate a lot of gossip and avoidance in the church if that advice was practiced faithfully.

It is always a good thing once in a while to take an inventory of your own fears and the things that are making you  behave in ways or have internal feelings that are neither good nor godly.  Perhaps today would be a good day to stop avoiding the avoidance in your life.   If you muster up your courage, I can promise Jesus will be right there with you saying—- ‘Don’t be Afraid.’   Fear— it even makes cowards of normally courageous persons, and even pastors.  It’s time to stop avoiding the obvious—- Christians have an avoidance problem.

  • Anonymous

    I have no doubt that fear shapes a lot of our thoughts and actions; it certainly does for me. I wonder, however, how much of fear is a spiritual problem and how much is physiological. At the extremes, there are well-documented psychiatric disorders that result in anxiety and paranoia that can be treated with medication. In more mild forms, anxiety can manifest as nausea (“butterflies”), diarrhea, sweating, trembling, etc.

    I used to think these symptoms were spiritual/psychological (i.e., could be cured by prayer or will power), but when I would wake up in the morning with a pit in my stomach because of something I had to do that day that I dreaded, I started to wonder. Those who have never experienced such symptoms may think that it is something to “get over”, but it is not so easy.

  • Anonymous

    You are right candeux. Thanks for adding the psychological disorder part to the discussion.

  • Dav Wein

    There is a theological side to this as well. When we define the gospel as primarily “get saved and oo to heaven,” we create a rationale for avoidance We are not therefore responsible for this world or society. It is all an evil domain that will be destroyed – the sooner the quicker. Paul, as noted here, was a risk taker. He confronted the world he found, he thoughtfully confronted the talkathon on Areopagus.

    Many brothers and sisters I know expect by living a (passive) Christian life they will be “noticed” and open up an opportunity for witness. On the other hand we have the aggressive examples of Peter, Paul, Phillip, Ireneas (Against Heresies), Abelard, Pascal Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley who stuck their noses in other people’s business. They were noticed for sure.

  • http://twitter.com/yeshuaISchrist James Just

    Paul was told in the Council of Jerusalem not to eat sacrificed unto idols, he did it anyway. He even denied being at the council. Paul wanted to win, period. To a Jew he was a Jew, to a Roman he was a Roman, to a believer in the Torah he was a believer in the Torah to a nonbeliever in the Torah he was a non believer in the Torah, he said he had become all things to all men. Paul confuses me, Paul seems to contradict Yeshua’s teachings in a lot of places… But I will say this, in defense of Paul, I believe a lot of his teachings are taken completely out of context. I also believe that Paul’s letters to these Churches were likely to be kept secret, I can almost guarantee you that Paul didn’t want (some of) these letters to be published in public.. In the writings of Clemet (if authentic, some debate that) we see that in the letters sent from Peter to James in Jerusalem that Peter asked for these letters to be kept out of the public light. But commenting a little on the sin of avoidance; Paul should have avoided that confrontation with Peter and James, it does no good and is not a good basis for teaching the TRUE, the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, not the Gospel on Justification by Faith Alone, Yeshua did not teach that…….http://www.yahwehyeshua.com

  • Anonymous

    Hi James: Actually, you’ve misunderstood both Acts 15 and 1 Cor. 8-10. What is being prohibited in Acts 15 is eating in pagan temples where the food is dedicated to a pagan deity, and where blood is also consumed, and immorality happens after too much drinking. The issue here is primarily venue, not menu because of the spiritual associations. You have to ask where would you find food offered to idols, blood, things strangled and sexual immorality all in one place— the answer is pagan temples. So James is simply telling Gentiles to stay out of pagan temples, as it ruins the witness to the synagogue. As for Paul, he is fine with eating meat that has come from the temple and is sold in the meat market, but he too bans even Gentiles from going to idol feasts in pagan temples. James and Paul agree on this and agree on appropriate praxis.

  • Kyle

    The problem is that Peter, Paul, and other early church leaders (as well as Protestant reformers) were called and spiritually gifted to be teachers and evangelists. This isn’t the job of every person in the church, many of whom are simply not gifted with the same set of skills as the above group. That’s like the eye criticizing the hand for not being able to see. We should of course look for opportunities to evangelize, but the idea that every believer ought to be the next Paul is simply mistaken. What would be a more effective means of dealing with the problems Ben lays out is to encourage people to discover their spiritual gifts and find how they can best serve in the church according to their abilities.

  • David

    I still maintain that we err toward passivity. We create hierarchies where, because of the pervasive presence of the Holy Spirit, the church ought to be a “flat” organization. Luther talked about the “corpulent” God – i.e., he is “fat” not skinny- involved everywhere potentially working influence through every believer – not franchised through priests and bishops. The church went off track creating “saints” “religious vocations” hermits and the like. God is no respecter of persons – all of us have the opportunity to be part of the action. Do we need to identify gifts and then find a place to participate or do we start where we are and then discover the gifts that God will grace us with. In short – do we bury our nickle or do we invest it by loving God and our neighbor?