Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. Genesis 17:14
Lately, I’ve been using my drive time to listen to an addiction medicine course. In a recent lecture, the speaker explained that we all have this primitive part of our brain that is motivated by immediate reward. Opposing this, we’ve got this higher part of our brain that contemplates consequences and long-term health. The speaker said that these two parts of our brain are at war with each other, desiring opposite things. The primitive brain wants junk food, sex, and drugs because those things feel good right now. The higher part of our brain wants a healthy body and healthy relationships, which means saying no to impulsive, self-destructive desires. These two parts of our brain are locked in perpetual conflict.
This wasn’t a Christian lecture, but still, the speaker’s description of our human condition struck me as profoundly similar Peter’s words – Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11). Peter had never heard of a prefrontal cortex, yet he understood that our desires are locked in conflict. We want to be in shape tomorrow, but today, we just want donuts. It is our human condition to be ambivalent. I once thought that word meant apathetic, but instead, ambivalence is to feel two opposite things at once. As those who’re addicted, we desire recovery (long-term joy), but we also desire the drug (immediate gratification). We want both but we cannot have both. We must choose one or the other.
This is the situation described in today’s passage. In it, God commanded his people to submit to circumcision. If they wanted to follow God, enjoying his blessings, they had to sacrifice part of their flesh. I’m sure they didn’t want to cut off their foreskin. Still, they desired to follow God and enjoy his blessings. God provided a choice – Follow me or don’t.
This is also our daily choice – Follow me or don’t. Sure, we believe in God, but we’re ambivalent. We want to be spiritually healthy in the long-term, but right now, we want to follow ourselves. If we don’t daily make the choice to sacrifice our will to follow God’s, then our primitive brains take over and we simply follow our way by default, losing the battle and disqualifying us from the life God desires for us. If we want to know long-term joy and peace, then we must continually abandon the self-destructive, following God’s path. We want it both ways but we can’t have both. Daily, we must choose one or the other.