The Church of No Anticipation (Part 1)

MonkeyIn the late 1920’s, a researcher with a name reminiscent of a character from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale – Otto Tinklepaugh – conducted a series of experiments at the University of California at Berkeley. Tinklepaugh’s subjects were macaque monkeys. He wanted to see what they would “learn” in a variety of settings.

In one experiment, a monkey was put on a chair. A piece of lettuce was placed under one of two empty cups on the floor while the monkey was watching. The monkey was removed from the room. After a few minutes, it was returned and released.

Here is an excerpt from Tinklepaugh’s notes:

Subject rushes to proper cup and picks it up. Seizes lettuce. Rushes away with lettuce in his mouth, paying no attention to other cup or to setting. Time, 3-4 seconds.

Tinklepaugh repeated the experiment using bananas, with the same result. There was a difference, though: The monkeys showed greater enthusiasm when uncovering the banana.

It should come as no surprise that monkeys love lettuce, but that they love bananas even more. Most people know this. What is surprising is the monkeys’ response to a slight alteration of the banana version of the experiment. Once the monkey was removed from the room, Tinklepaugh did something sinister: He exchanged the banana with a piece of lettuce.

Here is his record of what happened next:

Subject rushes to proper cup and picks it up. Extends hand towards lettuce. Stops. Looks around on floor. Looks in, under, around cup. Glances at other cup. Looks back at screen. Looks under and around self. Looks and shrieks at any observer present. Walks away, leaving lettuce untouched on floor. Time, 10-33 seconds.

A Life Lesson

Tinklepaugh’s experiment reveals something disturbing about the dark enchantment of anticipation, which is insightful for those of us who are interested in the present state of Christianity.

Note the setting of this experiment: A creature of God is exposed to the life that comes from God alone, and then given access to it – a life that is intended to fill, satisfy, nourish and sustain the creature.

But note something else: The single factor that has the potential of seriously undermining a perfectly natural and organic process, is the prospect of a type of life that is more appealing than the provided life. Furthermore, when the anticipated “higher” life fails to appear, the effect of the resulting disappointment is so intense that it overrides the creature’s normal appetite for life sources that appear less exhilarating, no matter how accessible or nutritious they may be.

Thus, there is a correlation between the excitement stirred up by anticipation (I’m gonna get me a banana!) and the eventual absence of life (Lettuce sucks!). The irony is obvious: Those who are most passionate about receiving life are oftentimes those who go away most hungry.

Note that that the only thing that trumps that which is most valuable and desired, is an improved version of the same thing – not another thing altogether. This explains why Satan does not appear to his minions as a red horned goat-man with a sulphurous body odour, but as an “angel” (or “messenger”) of light.

If it is life that we seek, then the greatest temptation is not to discard life, but to become greedy for it – to want more of it than that which is proper, available and timeous. Satan knows this, which is why he uses it so effectively to deceive people who are looking for God.

None of this should come as a surprise. The first three chapters of Genesis reads like a version of Tinklepaugh’s experiment, except that the subjects are human: Life provided, life eclipsed by higher life, life lost.

The very thing that God intended for his creation, conformity to his image and likeness, was flashed by Satan: “…you will be like God.” The appeal offered a shortcut to the destination that they were heading to, yet without the disciplinary restraint of the growth process and its comparatively humdrum nutritional requirements. The result, according to the Genesis author, was “desire”[1] – a sense of anticipation gone out of control, a feverish enchantment stirred up by the prospect of arrival without sacrifice.

The New Testament authors understood this dark magic well, and identified it as the core problem of humanity. According to them, both the “old self” and the “world” are corrupt because of one reason only: Deceitful desire.[2]

Furthermore, they understood the gospel and cross of Christ as uniquely designed to counter this force. Paul tells us that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,[3] and that they are uniquely free to live a life void of the momentum generated by desire and anticipation.

They live by faith, which means they are immune to the lusts of the eyes. They trust in the provision of their master, and bananas no longer mesmerise them. They understand that life comes from above, and stones turning into bread seem boring in comparison.

Our Present State

If we understand this, we would rightfully become suspicious of life-offerings that are out of reach, but that promise to become accessible based on some or other precondition. We would be skeptical of any form of energy, excitement or momentum that is generated as a result of anticipation. We would understand that idolatry has very little to do with the objects of our desires, and everything with the rule of desire in our hearts. We would understand that the single greatest potential idol in all of the world is Jesus Christ, and that he becomes so when commitment to him (along with its benefits) is presented as some or other ideal to be fulfilled, rather than as an immediately accessible reality through faith, regardless of whether it is accompanied by bells and whistles.

In short, we will stop believing in the type of Christianity that requires words like “dream,” “vision,” “destiny” and “best life” to sell itself, for we shall see it for what it is: A cheap trick designed to make Christ desirable to people who have never been liberated from the governance of desire in the first place.

The problem is that the desirable Jesus is never there when we get to him, and he has not been for there two thousand years. The even bigger problem is that we have responded to his absence not by questioning whether his anticipated form was real to begin with, but by creating a church machine designed to deal with grumpy monkeys.

Our counseling rooms are emergency wards for the disappointed. Our prayers are pleas for the evasive breakthrough to manifest. Our revival services are designed to churn out newer and better versions of the banana Jesus, forever hoping to maintain the levels of excitement that were stirred up by our initial idolatrous depictions of him. Our worship services are choreographed to incite anticipation. Our evangelism strategies are aimed at the needs of the seekers. Our books are saturated with jargon that promises deliverance, healing, prosperity, a better tomorrow and everything conceivable that we do not have but want.

And, of course, all of it is cloaked in religious rhetoric. We truly believe we have turned from the world to Christ.

We have created a monster, and we are working feverishly for him, thinking that we are working for God.

(End of Part 1. Part 2 will deal with the solution to our predicament.)

[1] Genesis 3:6

[2] See Ephesians 4:22 and 2 Peter 1:4

[3] Galatians 5:24

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