Indulging in False Futures
Mark Russell

There is a small bakery I visit to grab cups of coffee with friends.  Their baked treats and sweets are beautifully aligned in the display refrigerator at the front of the store.  Now, if I were to walk up to the cashier and say, “I feel like indulging today”, this is what she’d think I mean, “I want the satisfaction of a delicious treat, and I want it now!”

What is Indulgence?

The example above is the usual way we talk about “indulging”.  However, I will argue that indulgence runs much deeper than jacking up my blood sugar.  Indulgence can also be the dwelling upon a false future[1]The result is a willful act of self-deception and self-harm simultaneously.

A young mother receives a call from the doctor that her child is showing symptoms of a developmental disorder.  This young mother, desiring to narrow down the possibilities of what this could mean, starts to Google away at the symptoms.  Her search terms look like this: +seizures +low +muscle +mass +boy.  She furiously begins to narrow down the range of possible illnesses.  Then, she starts to “reverse-Google” the possible illnesses: “autism” “rett” “aspergers” in order to see if her son’s symptoms match any of these.  After she exhausts these results, she gets a bit more clever and puts herself in the Doctor’s shoes: “How do I tell a young mother her child might have a developmental disorder and not get sued”.  Now she is trying to use Google to uncover the Doctor’s psyche!  Has she gone mad?

Immediate Answers Found in False Futures?

She may be on this false-future scavenger hunt for hours on end until she’s interrupted by a phone call or text message, but by now she is far more worried about possible false futures, none of which satisfy her quest for certainty and control.  She indulged in several hours of self-deception, thinking that she could find the single answer to what may ail her child.  Her attempts to calculate the probability of various outcomes occurring has left her more anxious than when she started.  Her worry and dissatisfaction have only increased, but she’s sure Google has more false futures waiting to be discovered.  She wakes up in the middle of the night, when her imagination is at its worst, dwelling on unknown outcomes.  She indulges in this fantasy world for the next three hours before drifting off to sleep.

Have you been here?  How do you get out?  Let’s first start by dissecting the anatomy of indulgence I put forward above:  Desire for immediate gratification by indulging in false futures.  The mother who furiously scoured Google looking for possible explanations and relative probabilities to her son’s condition wanted an immediate answer in a false future.  How can she fight this?

Psalm 25 Case Study

Enemies are closing in, and David desperately desires to know the path which the LORD has laid for him.

Psalm 25

1  To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

2  O my God, in you I trust;

let me not be put to shame;

let not my enemies exult over me.

3  Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;

they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4  Make me to know your ways, O LORD;

teach me your paths.

5  Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

for you I wait all the day long.

What pattern do we see David following here when he knows that enemies are closing in and an unkown peril awaits him?  First he “truths” then he “waits”.

 

Truthing

John White, who was a Christian psychiatrist, wrote a book called The Masks of Melancholy. He said,

Years ago when I was seriously depressed, the thing that saved my sanity was a dry as dust grappling with Hosea’s prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text, and slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the passage. If sufferers have any ability to concentrate, they should do solid, inductive Bible study rather than devotional reading, because in most depressed people, devotional reading is stopped all together or degenerated into something unhealthy and unhelpful.[2]

Often our emotions respond to fact.  By studying the Bible and the God who authored it allows us to respond to the truth of the text.  Above we see how David is placing his trust in his covenantal LORD, asking the LORD to teach him what?  “Teach me your paths”, and “Lead me in your truth and teach me”.  In this time of great trial and distress, he is not only asking for eventual deliverance, (let not my enemies exult over me), but he is asking for truth.

 

Waiting

When we seek deliverance from the snare of indulgence, we must first realize that God is the one who must act, not us.  He is in control.  We can be confident that in due time he will deliver us.  So we wait, and we dwell on these things until our hearts agree and are set free from striving for falsities that seek to devour us.  What would be the consequences if we could snap our fingers and get God to perform whatever we wanted immediately?  Tom Schwanda in “Be Still and Know How to Pray” writes,

We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have and to Do. Craving, clutching and fussing. . . . [E]ven on the religious plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by, and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be, and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of the spiritual life.

David was not interested in a “get rich quick” sort of attitude towards God.  The key to his spiritual contentment is not instant gratification but trust in God. The immediate answers this young mother sought only amplified and fed her indulging of potential false futures.  The good that God most desires for her is perfecting her in Christ.  She is incorporated into Christ, and therefore her need of Christ can only grow as the years wear on.  Christ is the truth that has set us free from believing we can control the future with increased information.  As the author and finisher of our faith, he is the future hope pledged to us today, so we wait.

Waiting on Christ by his sufficient and sustaining grace,

Mark Russell

[1] I was introduced to this concept by Edward T. Welch in his book Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest.  He outlines that many times we “bear false witness” against ourselves by authoring our own futures (usurping God’s sovereignty) which oftentimes are far worse than what actually comes to pass.

[2] As quoted in Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. 2013. Keller, Timothy J.

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