Thoughts from yesterday’s sermon: Pavlov, the Russian psychologist, got his dogs to salivate whenever they heard a bell, because they were conditioned to associate getting yummy treats with the sound of the bell. The question then became: what about human beings? Are we simply a product of our conditioning, or is there real freedom within us to chose our own way?
Subsequent tests on human beings have shown us to be not so very different from Pavlov’s dogs. We give a lot of lip service to freedom, and yet close examination of our lives indicates that our choices are often easily predicted by our genes interacting with our environment/conditioning. Most of this takes place on an unconscious level — the life we think we want is molded by our culture and its endless barrage of advertisements that define for us what a desirable life is supposed to look like.
In the book of Job, human freedom is at stake. Satan claims that Job’s “goodness”, his “faithfulness”, is merely a product of conditioning that has positively reinforced his moral and pious life. Take away the positive reinforcements — the happy and healthy life Job has enjoyed with his family, wealth and health — his own version of doggy treats –and Job will quickly curse God and give up his commitment to the good.
The fact that Job does indeed “keep the faith”, even though it is a faith full of questioning and anger, witnesses to the fact that we are indeed more than our conditioning — that we have the capacity to be truly free, rising above our conditioning.
Jesus was getting at the same idea when he talked about love. If you love those who love you, he said, what does that prove? Your love is simply a product of positive reinforcement. In essence, you got a doggy treat every time you acted lovingly, because you were getting the love back from those you loved.
If you would be truly free, Jesus says, then your life must reflect the freedom of God, which is demonstrated in the fact that God loves both good and bad people.This is “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
This past week, the suffering of Job was re-enacted in Amish country where several little girls, truly innocent, were savagely murdered by a sick and evil man. The Amish community witnessed to the glorious freedom of the children of God when they made public statements that they forgave the man who committed these atrocities. As such, they resembled another Job figure, Jesus himself, innocently suffering and dying on a cross, forgiving those who nailed him there.
What about ourselves?Â Are we truly free, or are we just coasting along unconsciously, shaped by the various forms of conditioning taking place in our lives?Â
It took billions of years for human beings to finally appear upon this earth (a fact that is expressed in the Genesis story that portrays human beings being created on the last day, uniquely made “in the image and likeness of God.”) With our advent, a glorious new possibility arose, in some sense revealing the whole purpose of creation: a creature with the capacity to mirror the creator, truly free, which means truly loving; capable of creating; capable of stepping back with a sense of awe in wonder of it all and saying, “Wow, this is good stuff!”
Have we made that step, or are we still just hanging out with Pavlov’s dogs?