Monday, March 5, 2012

Approach or Avoid?

One of the professors at the University of Texas at Austin recently did an experiment in which his undergraduate guinea-pig participants were instructed to attempt to achieve on a simple video game-like task. For one group, they were told that they would be entered into a lottery to win $50 for every time their score reached a particular goal. For the other group, they were told that they would be entered into the lottery based on their performance as long as it did not fall below a particular goal. 
Although these two conditions may seem equivalent, the results were quite different. When participants had the focus of trying to win entries to the lottery, they performed better than when they had the focus on avoiding a loss. It seems like the chance of loss leads people to be afraid and be anxious. In another experiment, participants who had unfairly lost a game due to a “glitch” in the system were more likely to make a selfish choice.
In Philippians 1, Paul encourages Christians to persevere without being afraid of individuals who oppose them. He even wrote that for him death and suffering are not in opposition to his mission in which he seeks to be with God. Paul seems to believe that a Christ-centered life is one of continuous pursuit, not avoidance of suffering. 
Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians often relegate their religion to the practice of avoiding feelings of guilt, shame, or even pleasure. As a loss averse species, we try not to lose our homeostasis with our status quo. By contrast, the life described by Paul involves a relentless quest of knowing God that is so epic that it will take us beyond the grave. Are you seeking, or are you still trying not to lose?

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