Simple images have a way of simplifying stories. Movies have perfected this technique. Think of oranges rolling randomly about in the back of the vehicle. They are just fruit in chaos! But the image of aimless oranges can cull the chaos in almost any story. What do I mean? Think of a well-worn scene. A young well-to-do wife is having an affair with a man from the wrong side of the tracks. She only has so much time. As she recklessly drives to rendezvous with her lover the camera cuts to an image of a overturned grocery bag and oranges crashing about atom-like in the back of her vehicle. The oranges tell the story. The woman’s life is in chaos. She is living a double life.
Heartbreakingly, this story is all too real and rather than recognizing chaos for the chaos it is and repenting as a result, some take their sin underground to live the double life. Growing up I had a friend who as a teenager found out that his father had fathered two families at the same time. The truth eventually emerged like pus from a boil. It was ugly. The man’s second wife uncovered his lie and she killed him.
I wish that had been my only experience with that sort of ugliness but unfortunately it was only the first. As a pastor, I have seen the same unsightly wreckage but with one difference. Now, it’s my calling as a under-shepherd to get involved. So, in this article I want to reflect on what I am calling the pathology and the psychology of the double life.
The Pathology of the Double Life
The double life doesn’t start differently than any other sin. James says it best in the first chapter of his letter, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin…” Sin is born in our lives because we desire something that is lawfully off-limits. Our head may know to say no but our unchecked affections don’t seem to care. They want what the head knows better than to give. This is not very startling; pastors see it all the time. It is pattern dating back to Adam.
But the double life does not begin when we engage in a sinful act. The dual life is set in motion when we develop a pattern of engagement with sin that we seek to hide from those closest to us. A person involved in this sort of cover-up will employ deception, rely on blame shifting, master the art of the con, and obsessively lie all in order to cover up the affair, the gambling, the drinking, and on and on. That is the double life and it is alive and well even in the church.
The Psychology of the Double Life
Now, why is it that the person living the double life is so hard to retrieve? Perhaps you say, “Because he covers it up so well!” True enough. However, there is something far more subtle and dangerous. Let’s take a minute to think about the psychology of the person living the double life. The person develops an attitude that is nothing short of superior. In other words, they possess an almost Gnostic mind-set; they know better. What do I mean? It’s simple really. They claim to have (in)sight that no one else has. They can see the hypocrisy of the one group (the church) and the sin of the other (some part of the world) when the fact of the matter is – they are engaged in the worst sort of hypocrisy and the worst sort of sin!
But this Gnostic omniscience is, not surprisingly, accompanied by a god complex, which is to say, the person believes that he is more than competent to control the details of his dual life. Yet, and strikingly, this god complex does not lessen when the sinful behavior of his dual life is ushered into the light of day. In fact, even and especially when his dual life is exposed he judges himself a more capable judge than those proper authorities that God has set over him! The pride that once fed his god complex now only emboldens his superiority in the face of Christ’s under-shepherds. In other words, he still thinks that the oranges crashing about in the back of the car are under his sovereign control. But it only appears that way to him.
Having looked at the pathology and the psychology involved in the double life next time we will look a bit closer at some specifics. In other words, when the double life begins to breakdown it will manifest certain characteristics. It is to these that we will turn the next time.