Thursday, May 17, 2007

Confession and the Prisoner's Dilemma

Maya Angelou once wrote that she wasn’t a Christian because she was strong; she was a Christian because she was weak. Vulnerability is at the heart of the Christian tradition. Paul writes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, quoting Jesus:

“My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
- 2nd Corinthians 12:9
That’s really awesome, but the next part is more disturbing than exalting. (This is Paul, not Jesus)

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” - 2nd Corinthians 12:10

As my pastor says, “Who does that?” Who shouts from the rooftops their own sins, struggles and weaknesses? We want to appear strong. We want the people that love us to continue to love us. We want all the people that don’t know us yet to love us when they meet us. (At least all that was true of me) We don’t want to jeopardize all of that. It doesn’t thrill me to tell other people that I struggle with lust, pride, laziness, gluttony, and many, many more sins. That doesn’t even enumerate the specifics, the thoughts that flash into my head that make me scream on the inside, “When will I ever be able to throw off this sinful nature?!”

Here’s where my economic mind kicks into play:

This is essentially a prisoner’s dilemma. First let me say that economics doesn’t play into the hands of the vulnerable. Game theory is about choosing the optimal strategy, not putting yourself in the weakest position possible. Okay, here’s how it goes (in the most black and white sense)

You have 2 choices:

Admit weaknesses to the other person / Don’t admit weaknesses to the other person

The other player has 2 choices:

Admit weaknesses to the other person / Don’t admit weaknesses to the other person

The four possible out comes are:


Admit/Admit (Optimal, most mutually beneficial)


Don’t/Don’t (The Equilibrium, Strategically the one that will be chosen)

The safest outcome, the one chosen in the famous economic prisoner’s dilemma game is where neither individual reveals their weaknesses even though they would both be better off to admit their weaknesses. My guess is that this is what happens in a lot of churches. The Body of Christ would be made stronger by the optimal choice (Admit/Admit), not the Equilibrium choice (Don’t/Don’t). The problem is that somebody has to put themselves in a weak strategic position where they will be subject to the slings and arrows of the outside world and potentially the members of the church, unless they are so moved by the player’s admission that they follow suit. That takes courage.

So, let me draw the conclusion that may be obvious at this point. When everyone knows everyone’s weaknesses we’re not wondering “will the same people that are my friends now be my friends if they know XYZ?” Perfect love can begin to take root. We can begin to live more anxiety free, bound together in community by our weakness. We don’t have to have it all together to be good Christians. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy he came for the sick. (Thanks Rob Bell)

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