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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book Recommendation: When People Are Big and God Is Small

There is a specific malady of the soul that all of us suffer from to some degree.  It shows up in the teen who is struggling with peer pressure, wanting to do, say, and wear the right things so as to gain the acceptance of others.  It shows up in church members who are over-committed, having difficulty saying no to any service opportunity.  It’s in the life of the person who hates to speak in public.  It’s in the life of the person struggling with anger and depression.  It shows up in the antics of the gregarious “life-of-the-party” type.  It’s there in the strivings of the super-competitive.  It’s the fuel of the Fortune 500 CEO, and it drives the woman who is desperate for her husband’s attention.  It’s alive in both the conceited and those with “low self-esteem.”

What is it that ties all these things together?  Some may call it “peer pressure.”  Others may call it “people-pleasing.”  The psychological world calls it “co-dependency.”  The Bible refers to it as “the fear of man.” 

“Fear” in the Bible has a much broader range of meaning than simply being afraid or frightened.  It can carry the idea of being in awe of someone, being controlled or mastered by someone, worshiping someone, trusting in someone, or needing someone.  When we “fear” man, we put people in God’s rightful place in our lives.  Instead of our lives being guided by a biblical fear of the Lord, we are guided by fear of people. We allow our behavior to be controlled by our fear of what people will do or think.

So the overcommitted church member takes on more and more responsibilities at church because he is afraid that others will think he isn’t faithful.  Some hate to speak in public because of the fear of saying something stupid and being rejected by everyone.  The outgoing “life-of-the-party” person cracks jokes and tells stories in order to be liked.  The desperate wife does anything she can to gain her husband’s attention because without it she is hopeless.  The fear of man is a universal problem that can absolutely control one’s life. 

In recent years, there have been two main approaches to dealing with this problem. In secular psychology, the sure cure for “codependency” is to love yourself more.  While some in the evangelical world have jumped on that bandwagon, others have proposed that the key to treating codependency is to know that God loves you more than you could possibly imagine.

Ed Welch, in his book When People Are Big and God is Small, rejects both solutions.  He notes the obviously unbiblical nature of the “love yourself more” approach.  Of the evangelical “God loves you” approach, he writes, “It still allows us and our needs to be at the center of the world, and God becomes our psychic errand boy given the task of inflating our self-esteem.”

In order to offer a more biblical approach, Welch takes his readers through the Scriptures, giving a better understanding of the problem as well as the most God-honoring solution.  His book takes a three-pronged approach. First, the author explains the how and why the fear of man.  “To really understand the fear of man, we must begin to ask the right questions.  For example, instead of ‘How can I feel better about myself and not be controlled by what people think?’ a better question is ‘Why am I so concerned about self-esteem?’ or ‘Why do I have to have someone – even Jesus – think that I am great?’”

Second, Welch delves into the Bible’s clear teaching about the solution to the fear of man: “The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord.  God must be bigger to you than people are.”  In this section, the author not only explains what the fear of the Lord is, but also how to grow in the fear of the Lord.

Third, Welch provides a biblical understanding of how we are to view and relate to the people in our lives.  “Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God).  The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more.  Instead of looking for ways to manipulate others, we will ask God what our duty is toward them.”

This book has been very helpful to me personally, and I believe it would be a benefit to you, too.  I truly believe that we all struggle with the fear of man in some form.  This book provides a thoroughly biblical understanding of the problem, as well as the biblical antidote – fearing God and loving people.  I highly recommend it. 

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