DENIAL AND IMMATURITY
My mother-in-law kept a book in her guest bathroom that was a collection of answers from people who were asked,
“What have you learned in life?”
If I recall correctly, it was written by a couple who owned an inn and over a period of many years, asked their guests to write down their answers to that question and later published them. It was a fascinating book. Many of the comments were very thought provoking. Although it’s been 25 years or so since I last read it, I still remember some answers.
Some were positive in nature, and many were negative. One poignant comment is still fresh in my mind. A lady answered the question with,
“I’ve learned that I wish all my adult children could be little for just one more day.”
It made such an impression that I have never forgotten it. Any parent with older children will appreciate her thoughts. Usually, as young parents, we are not able to slow down and appreciate those very special years. I’m learning that is probably why God created grandchildren. In his mercy, He gives us a second chance to drink in and appreciate the beautiful innocence of those little darlings.
Often, I would ponder what answer I would give to that question. After thinking about it for a long time I came up with,
“What has surprised me most about growing older is how immature so many adults are.”
Not really a positive life observation, is it? Nevertheless, every year older I become I find this to be more and more true. However, it is no longer the thing that has surprised me the most about growing older. If I were to answer that same question today, my answer would be,
“What has surprised me the most about growing older is the incredible capacity of individuals and societies to engage in denial.”
If you consider the significant denial that all of us engage in everyday you can get a hint of how pervasive it is to mankind. For instance, as Christians we wake up every single day with the knowledge that all of eternity is in front of us. This awareness should be enough to cause each of us to submit to God at a deep level every single day. Yet, we don’t. The truth that we are created beings but will live for all eternity is confrontative. We cannot spend many moments thinking about this without experiencing conviction, and conviction is never initially pleasant.
Unbelievers also wake up every day in denial. The plain truth is none of us know if we will live out today. We don’t know if we will be alive when this day is no longer today. When today becomes yesterday, it may be referred to as the day we died. This knowledge is confrontative to an unbeliever. Only a daily dose of denial can immunize an unbeliever from considering where he or she will spend eternity, and this consideration could lead them to call out to Christ for salvation.
As Christians, we are not committing the greatest denial of all and that is to deny that God exists:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
We have escaped this form of denial. Does that mean we no longer actively practice other forms of denial? I wish it did. Not a trained expert in human psychology, I cannot coherently describe the mechanism of denial, however I somewhat fancy myself as a keen observer of it. The more I recognize it, the more I notice how pervasive it is. We all do it all day long every day in some manner.
When an unbeliever calls upon God to be saved, they must admit they cannot save themselves. They must stop denying that they are sinners. No longer can they deny the eternal ramifications of existence.
What about those of us that have been Christians for a while? Can we escape the denial trap? We can. But why would we if we don’t recognize how it shapes our thinking every day? Our flesh has no interest in the things of God. Imagine how it would change our lives if for 10 minutes a day we were to read the Scripture with the denial process turned completely off. We would read the Word and when it shines light in dark areas of our soul, we would embrace the immediate pain of conviction, knowing that our salvation is being worked out for God’s glory.
But what if the spotlight of God’s Word illuminates a serious error in one of our cherished beliefs? We can choose to ignore the error or rationalize why we can’t give it up. In those moments we either slip into denial or choose to worship with our mind by embracing the truth—regardless of the pain.
Regarding immaturity, I wonder about the role of denial. How much does a habit of embracing denial retard the maturing process? I would not know how to quantify it, but I would be willing to bet that denial is the leading inhibitor to natural and spiritual maturity. We all know more or less what we need to do to grow up, yet often rationalize why it will be okay if we don’t do those things.
Have you ever noticed how easy you can spot immaturity in those less mature than ourselves? We can recognize that they are in a little trouble with their lives. The reverse doesn’t seem to work. Those who are immature don’t seem to be able to observe the mature with the same clarity much as a 7-year-old is unable to understand the maturity of a 17-year-old. The 7-year-old knows there is a difference but can’t comprehend it, whereas the 17-year-old can see it as plainly as night and day. My point is, to remain in a habit of denial is to remain in immaturity and that precludes the future ability to look back at our less developed selves with clarity. If we mature, we look back with thankfulness that we moved on and grew up. If we don’t mature, we become unable to recognize our dysfunction and become more stuck and possibly in danger.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
When an individual habitually employs denial to avoid the truth, they ultimately deny themselves the ability to recognize good from evil. This is dangerous because evil is real, and we are not on Satan’s party list; he wants to take us out and will given the opportunity.
And this brings us to the good and productive type of denial, the commanded type.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
To persist in denial dysfunctionalism is the opposite of denying ourselves. When truth confronts us, and we choose to put our head in the sand we reward our flesh which is opposed to God’s Spirit. It is impossible to deny the truth while denying ourselves. It’s one or the other.
Let me revisit Hebrews chapter 5 focusing on verse 11:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.
Again, in the Amplified Bible:
Concerning this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull andsluggish in [your spiritual] hearing and disinclined to listen.
…disinclined to listen.
May the Lord keep us from this.
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