Making Sense of Mortification


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:22-25

For many years I believed that “desires of the flesh” are bad, wrong, or otherwise opposed to God. As I grew older I started to question that belief. What’s wrong with enjoying a warm shower? Why should I not enjoy the sweetness of a strawberry? Is there hell-fire in my soft bed?

The answer to these questions is that there is nothing wrong with enjoying a warm shower, God is present in the sweetness of a strawberry, and no hell-fire is found in the comfort of my bed. So what is the obsession with mortification of the senses, passions, and desires? How are we to make sense of scripture passages like Galatians above?

On Easter morning, my son was sinking his teeth into the ears of a chocolate bunny, just after shoveling a fist full of starburst jellybeans into his mouth. I imagine the sugar melting on his tongue produced a rather enormous eruption of sweetness. I offered him a slice of the kiwi that I was eating. He refused with a wave of his hand. Too subtle a flavor I guess, but a true delight for those who have outgrown the dependence for an explosive dextrose addiction.

There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing sinful in jellybeans. There is nothing unholy about sugar. They are all part of the human experience, but what is truly misguided is a child’s obsession, compulsion, and infatuation with sugar. There isn’t a parent on earth who does not try to temper and mortify their child’s preoccupation with candy. It isn’t the candy itself that is bad, it is the addiction.

Don’t we act in similar fashion however? Do we not have our own addictions to food, comfort, money, security, praise, chemicals, alcohol, thought, desires, sex, pleasure, caffeine, gambling, anger, internet, technology, nicotine, work, relationships, love, exercise, health, television, shopping, medication, video games, entertainment, sports, gossip, pornography, among many many others.

Mortification has nothing to do with denying the goodness of God’s creation, but with destroying the addiction of our own creation. Addiction is idolatry in its purest form. Fasting and mortification and the purification of the senses is about putting creation back in its place, and refining our hearts to experience the subtle but deep sweetness of God’s presence. It’s about re-placing our hope for happiness and fulfillment from the things of this world, which have never once satisfied us but enslaved us, back to the creator of the world itself.

Mortification feels like dying. But it is the death of all that is false within us. Jesus called this “fasting”. And together with prayer (meditation or contemplation) they comprise the two things necessary to “be still”, in response to God’s command…

“Be still and know that I am God…”

-Psalm 46:10

Once we are still, then God’s grace may finally seep into our hearts and minds bringing about a true “repentance”, (metanoia, or new mind, a literal rewiring of your brain to be able to perceive as God does. This metanoia is what Jesus was preaching from the beginning of his ministry…

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent [metanoia]and believe the good news!”

-Mark 1:15

So, deny yourself and enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven within you!

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

-Matthew 16:24

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