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Friday, August 13, 2010

Spiritual Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a feared disease in the western world, with the potential to lead to heart disease or even death. It can occur over several years. As fat deposits of plaque adhere to the walls of the blood vessels, the artery gradually narrows and hardens over time. When it becomes plugged, a heart attack and / or death is usually the result. In many cases, as the disease progresses, the only solution available to extend one’s life may be a heart transplant.

In many ways the society in which we live is plagued by relationship atherosclerosis as the fragmentation of our society into various interest groups accelerates. We can easily be characterized by alienation; blacks against whites, Democrats against Republicans, rich versus poor, citizens against illegal aliens, and liberals versus conservatives. Despite all attempts to build a cohesive society, we seem to be more fragmented than ever. We have a tendency to blame others for our misfortunes, never wanting to accept responsibility for our own actions. Where does such fragmentation come from? We see its beginning in the falling out between Adam and Eve with God. Their relationship with God was destroyed when they ate of the forbidden fruit. Their relationship with each other was destroyed when Adam blamed Eve for his sin. In his blame we see a nascent hardening of positions. Their estrangement from God is consummated in their willful defiance of his command to refrain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, coupled with their refusal to accept culpability for their actions. In the Garden we see the beginnings of spiritual atherosclerosis, resulting in death.

We can observe its effects upon us in our selfishness, our callous attitude towards others, and our hardened attitude towards those who are different from us. This disease, which has affected our spiritual DNA, has continued down to the present time, requiring a heart transplant.
Scripture speaks of spiritual hardening of the arteries as a process of hardening one’s heart, as in the account of the plagues against Egypt at the time of the Exodus. Pharaoh continually hardens his heart against God, ignoring the request to let the people go. We see it in our own lives when we begin to ignore the ways and commands of God, beginning a process which leads us further and further away from a relationship with Him. What begins as a choice, over time with repetition, hardens into a willful defiance of God, resulting in full blown spiritual atherosclerosis. The plaque of sin covers the walls of our spiritual sensitivity, darkening our hearts until they are barely functioning. The solution requires the intervention of the Great Physician, whose spiritual knife is sharper than any two edged sword, to perform a heart transplant.

Just as living a healthy lifestyle deters physical atherosclerosis so does living a healthy spiritual life deter spiritual atherosclerosis. A daily quiet time, prayer, confession of sin, growing more Christ like, and love for others goes a long way in lowering our spiritual cholesterol. These disciplines attack the spiritual plaque deposits that have built up over time. As the layers are stripped away, we become more attuned to the voice of God in our lives. It’s worth having a spiritual checkup from time to time. Are you closer or farther away from God than you were a year ago? Are you living a disciplined Christian life, regularly spending time in prayer, Bible study, and fellowship? How are your spiritual arteries? Does a spiritual checkup suggest you are suffering from spiritual atherosclerosis?

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