Saturday, August 04, 2007


Ambivalence----“Simultaneous attraction toward and repulsion from a person, object, or action.”
Ambience----"A pervading atmosphere."

I read where John MacArthur once said were he able to parent his children over again he would put a major emphasis on teaching them to embrace the need for ambivalence. As seen above in the definition from Webster’s New American Dictionary a good dose of understanding about ambivalence is really needed for the living of life in general and dealing with some people specifically.

For example, I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about autobiographies. A life story undoubtedly has, it seems to me, the exaggeration part of it [if not out and out lies] buried somewhere in the telling of the tale. How could we be the hero of our life if all we told was the truth? [The point of biographies is to present the main character/hero is it not?] So we shade an incident here, invent a rationale there, leave out a telling detail that changes everything were we to state it, all presenting our truth about us. As someone I read said---“Is there anything less reliable than a memoir? Eichmann was following orders. Clinton did nothing wrong. Our life story written by us is our greatest fiction so we learn to take memoirs with a bucket of salt.”

While that statement may be a little over the top and, perhaps, smacks of cynicism, I have to confess, my ambivalence about it all causes me to be drawn to the grain of truth in it while, at the same time, being attracted to the inside scoop a person gives in those type of works. I really am ambivalent about autobiographies as you can see. It is that kind of ambivalence that is the pervading atmosphere of my mind and heart when I read many of the blogs on line, especially the comment sections.

No one appreciates the biblical materials more than I do. I’ve spent my life studying them, developing my understanding of them, systematizing them for the instruction of others, proclaiming them, and even defending them. I believe doctrine is terribly important.

I’m drawn to people also. In fact, if I understand things correctly, it is ONLY His Eternal Word and people from this earth that will grace us with their presence in heaven. Nothing else--- that is here---will be there. Again, if I understand things correctly, my relationships with people IS the treasure I am to lay up in heaven. The sadness I see in the story of the Rich Fool who had barns and bunches of crops, is that NOTHING is said about his marriage, children, co-workers, or friendships. How poor he really was because people were NOT as important as anything else. You can see--- I’m drawn to the Truth of Scripture and people---even those who write blogs defending that Truth.

It is exactly at this point that ambivalence must be learned in my life. How bloggers can defend the “Truth” and, at the same time often have, it seems to me, a total disregard for the feelings of those spoken/written about and those that love them, is a mystery.

I’m drawn, as I said, to one side or other of doctrinal issue whether it is concerning Calvinism’s TULIP or the Free-will of others, women preachers, or praying in tongues, whether baptism can be performed by any christian or only an authorized minister or representative or a myriad of other issues that can be debated doctrinally. Yet, while drawn to one side or other on any issue, I've confessed to being just as repulsed at the attitude often exhibited toward people by advocates of those issues.

I’ve seen what seems to me to be anger, resentment, jealously, or maybe it is simply personalities void of tenderness with a total lack of training. Then again, perhaps it is just a lack of conscience in regards to relating to people in genuine love and respect, all the while appearing to admire their own stand for the “Truth.” [The fact that the “Truth” is another name for a Person and that His Person is to be the heart and soul of our relating to people seems to be lost on some.] Whatever the driving force behind their disregard for people, I find that dubious sense of unsettledness playing out in the recesses of my own being when I read many blogs and especially the comment sections.

So, I wind up battling my own demons of wanting to judge, correct, fix, confront those very people I’m drawn to and would do so except I check my own motives. There I find another mixed bag. So I’m back to being ambivalent---about myself. So I sit down to think about it all---and write---and a post pops out--- about this need for ambivalence in life---for what it’s worth.

Maybe MacArthur was on to something. Maybe it will take the BEMA, where all hidden motives and purposes are brought to light, that the ability to love someone and yet be repulsed by that same someone will be brought into correct eternal balance. Maybe until then I’ll just have to learn to live with…ambivalence... loving people where they are...where ever that is.

Paul Burleson


Chuck Andrews said...


I agree with the sometimes confusing circular mental and emotional motion ambivalence takes on in our relationships. Most probably the ambivalence I feel toward certain individuals is generated somewhere in my own being. It’s easy to be drawn to those with whom I agree and repelled by those with whom I disagree. Trying to discover what it is within me that draws me to certain individual and repels me away from others can become like spiritual gymnastics. Maybe it’s more of a spiritual discipline in coming to a place where I can “love my enemies”, “bless those who curse me” and grasp a fragment of real motive and surrender to the Spirit of the Lord. Which is where ambience is found.

Sometimes it’s not only people that I am ambivalent to it is life itself. As Paul said, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary.” (Phil 1:23-24)

I get dizzy going in circles.


Paul Burleson said...


You hit it on the head. I'm with you in the "often dizzy" part.

Isn't it also true, I know you will agree with this knowing you like I do, that even our "once in a while dizzy spells from the ambivalence that is present" times are better than those who are never honest about the struggles they have with it all for fear of not appearing spiritual. I'll opt for where you and I are in our journey every time. Thanks for commenting.