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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Human Nature Is What It Is

The false prophets condemned by God through Ezekiel are an interesting bunch — and not just because they were ancient, mysterious wise men believed by many to be heralds of truth when in fact they were spinning webs of lies that affected thousands.

No, they interest me because they remind me of people I know. Circumstances change. History moves on. But fallen human nature does not improve itself, even thousands of years later. Many of these false prophets could make a decent living today: as religious gurus, philosophers, authors and respected media figures.

And not all of them seemed aware that their pronouncements were untrue.

Everything Old is New Again

Here’s how Ezekiel describes the liars of his day:
“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: “Hear the word of the Lord!” Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit … They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, “Declares the Lord,” when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.’ ”
These were not men who intelligently took the measure of the population of Israel and then calculated how best they might go about deceiving the nation. Perhaps they started that way, but that’s not how they ended up. When Ezekiel condemns them, they are entirely deluded; sucked in by their own ideology and blinded by their own lies.

This is put a couple of ways: they “prophesy from their own hearts” and “follow their own spirit”. Even more bizarrely (not to mention self-defeatingly), they put the Lord’s imprimatur on words they have concocted themselves, and actually “expect him to fulfill their word”.

Now it’s not particularly shocking that making a habit of lying can cause lies to become easier and easier for us. That doesn’t require scientific research to determine. Those of us who struggle with being truthful know how it goes: you tell one lie in self-preservation, out of fear or in order to impress someone you care about and before you know it, you find yourself compelled to construct an edifice of fabrications to shore up the first falsehood.

Lies just lead to more lies.

Bad Habits are Hard to Break

MIT’s Cathryn Delude (no, that’s really her name) says this about recent research into the development of habits:
“Bad habits … can have a vise grip on both mind and behavior. Notoriously hard to break, they are devilishly easy to resume, as many reformed smokers discover.

A new study in the Oct. 20 [2005] issue of Nature, led by Ann Graybiel of MIT’s McGovern Institute, now shows why. Important neural activity patterns in a specific region of the brain change when habits are formed, change again when habits are broken, but quickly re-emerge when something rekindles an extinguished habit — routines that originally took great effort to learn.

‘It is as though somehow, the brain retains a memory of the habit context, and this pattern can be triggered if the right habit cues come back,’ Graybiel said. ‘This situation is familiar to anyone who is trying to lose weight or to control a well-engrained habit. Just the sight of a piece of chocolate cake can reset all those good intentions.’ ”

Habits and Slavery

Okay. This is interesting. It’s also consistent with the teaching of scripture. The apostle Paul tells us that both obedience to God and obedience to sin are habit forming
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Ann Graybiel is talking about overeating and smoking, but her brain research is true of any habit, including lying, of which the false prophets are accused by God. Anil Ananthaswamy at New Scientist says:
“Our brains are naturally better at telling the truth than lying, but repeated lying can overcome our tendency for veracity, making subsequent lying easier — and possibly undetectable.”
Ouch.

But It Gets Worse

Not only is lying profoundly habit-forming, difficult to quit and easy to relapse into, but it is also very easy for the chronic liar to eventually come to believe his own lies:
“I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.”
― S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders
Wrong. Marissa Fessenden at The Smithsonian says:
“Researchers have found that people create false memories by themselves or can be easily swayed to do so.”
Psychologist Richard Sherry of the Society for Neuropsychoanalysis says writing a false record can easily lead to modified memories. He adds that lying on social media, an increasingly common trend, has the power to:
“undermine the coherence between our real, lived lives and memories.”
Wow. Scary. Again, not unanticipated by scripture. Paul tells Timothy:
“… evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
This explains both the false prophets and their spiritual children within Christendom today, doesn’t it: followers of their own spirits, victims of their own delusions, genuinely expecting God to bless their words and activities when they have neither originated with him nor reflect his heart.

The Objective Standard

Liars can be very convincing, intelligent liars more so. Intelligent liars who believe their own lies are the most compelling liars of all.

This where we need to appeal to an objective standard, and to the words of scripture themselves rather than glib recastings of those words in the mouths of those who represent themselves as teachers but have drifted away from the truth.

Paul tells Timothy the alternative is to, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it”. The psalmist said, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever”. The Lord Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”.

Whether the lies are yours or mine, the antidote is the Word.

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