I’ve accepted who I am: I’m bad

My wife and I have been making our way through Breaking Bad on Netflix. As we are approaching the middle part of the 4th, and I believe, penultimate season, I’ve actually noticed a number of “common grace” (beneficial things non-Christians display and do) and fairly biblical insights. Let me share with you one particular questions that the series raises, and then answers.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it all centers around Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that cooking Meth can provide for his family. Everything goes downhill from there. Duh….

His partner Jesse regularly goes to a recovery group for drug addicts. The ultimate presupposition of this group stated in their beginning session is that you need to first accept yourself and that change is not the most important thing. You have to like and accept yourself. This Oprah-esque mantra is assumed as gospel over the period of several different sessions.

Now what is positive about this is that it points us to a God who accepts and justifies us not because we clean ourselves up, but completely because of His Son who took our dirt and gave us His cleanness. Therefore we don’t first clean ourselves up to come to Him. This kooky psychiatrist chooses to forgo the “religious” way to acceptance. You shouldn’t try to clean yourselves up so that someone else will accept you. I’m with that.

But he instead opts for the irreligious way of self-acceptance or self-actualization. Just accept yourself for who you are. You don’t need to change at all. You have to like who you are despite all that you’ve done, and how much your actions have literally destroyed lives.

Jesse gives it a shot. Instead of quitting the drug dealing industry, he hops back in with more vigor, determination, and delight than before. He used to to do it for money. Now it is who he is. He tells Walt that, “I’ve accepted who I am, and I am bad. I’m a drug dealer.”

In a later group counseling session depicted in another episode, the same leader presses him to open up and share. Then he drops the bomb shell which exposes this “self-acceptance” theory of change. “Do you know why I’ve come here? I’ve come here to sell the recovering addicts in this group crystal meth. Should I accept myself? How bad is that!”

The scene is beautiful in a broken sort of way. It exposes the follies of the religious/irreligious ways of salvation and change as futile shams. The only thing missing is Jesus.

The gospel is a third way to live. We don’t change in order to be accepted. But we also don’t NOT change because we should accept ourselves and all of our sin. We’re sinful. We shouldn’t see our sin and say, “That’s good stuff. That’s me.” The gospel says that is NOT the way God designed us to live. That is not you. Yet neither accepting ourselves, nor working to change our situation before God does any good. Change isn’t primarily the problem. Self acceptance isn’t primarily the problem. God’s acceptance of us is, and can’t be bought by self work or self-acceptance. 

Instead, the gospel offers us both God’s acceptance (which then allows us to say-I like who am re-created to be) and the gift of a desire to change. Not a desire to change in order to please God or others, but a desire to change because we already have God’s acceptance. And consequently the acceptance of His congregation of fellow struggling addicts.



Why I’m appreciating Breaking Bad

Due to the recommendation of several folks, and the opportunity provided by Netflix, my wife and I have been enjoying the series Breaking Bad. While I must admit that the plot of the show initially turned me off (and I guess it should have, I mean a chemistry teacher with terminal cancer turns into a Meth dealer? ) Breaking Bad regularly attempts to deal with honest questions facing humanity. 

For instance, the main character Walt’s brother-in-law just happens to be a DEA agent. When he offers Walt a Cuban cigar at his baby shower, Walt responds, “Isn’t this illegal?” The DEA simply laughs it off and tells him, “The forbidden fruit sometimes tastes the sweetest.” Then Walt, the chemistry teacher/meth dealer calls him on his inconsistency, “Where do we draw the line? What if marijuana is illegal this year and not next year? Seems arbitrary how we draw lines?”

And for the unbeliever who rejects any overarching standard-and I realize plenty of unbelievers live inconsistently actually believing in some standard-Walt does raise a good point. When you take God out of the picture, lines become merely whimsical suggestions.

Yet another scene in a different episode actually reveals a suppressed God-centered worldview. Remember, mankind can only suppress his/her knowledge for so long. Usually you’ll see evidences of it bubbling over. Walt and his chemistry partner put together a breakdown of the chemicals comprising the human body. This scene is beautifully juxtaposed with a moral dilemma Walt faces: what to do with the drug dealer in his basement. Should he kill him or let him go, with the potential that “Crazy 8” could come back and kill his family? The actual list of pros and cons he makes just doesn’t cut it. He needs something more.

So the directors switch back to the chemical reconstruction scene, where Walt confusedly asks, “What is missing? Why are we only at 99%?” His partner responds, “What is missing is the soul.” Now Walt has his answer. The human is more than chemicals, but endowed with a soul, therefore it would be morally wrong to simply kill this drug dealer.

I haven’t even seen the whole first season. And thanks to an article on CNN.com comparing Walt to Apple’s Steve Jobbs, I’m aware that Walt’s character becomes darker and darker as the seasons progress. Nevertheless, despite Walt’s ongoing descent into darkness, Breaking Bad has raised topics which challenge the Christian to go back to God’s Word and find solid answers to the world’s fluctuating morality. So far, at least in this first season, it has proved devotional and may open evangelistic doors in the future.


Caution: Breaking Bad is dark and deals with drugs, so don’t watch it if you’re unable or unwilling to question, to filter, to genuinely reflect, and proactively “take every thought captive” to discern what is good, true, and beautiful.