Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Impulse Control

After hearing of yet another horrific shooting in Connecticut—and witnessing another mindless act of evil much closer to home at Clackamas Town Center, the news will have its usual stories, interviews with eye-witnesses, and ultimately search for some explanation. We will hear words of grief and shock. People will say that Jacob Roberts was a good kid (his aunt referred to him as a “warm and loving person”). Others will say that they never saw it coming. 

The recent NFL tragedies have a similar theme. Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, and shortly after committed suicide in front of team officials. The memorial service remembered him this week as a “humble, kind, young man.”

What is it that causes a young man to take an AR-15 assault rifle and burst into a crowded mall and spray bullets randomly, all with the intent of creating havoc and destruction? Mental illness? Maybe. Rage? Perhaps. Need for attention? Why would Jovan Belcher destroy the life of one he loved, drive over to team practice, and do a horrifying act that will haunt his coach forever? Why would Josh Brent, with everything going for him as a professional athlete with the Dallas Cowboys, consume enough alcohol to exceed twice the legal limit, then get in a car, flip it, and kill his teammate? I’m not sure.

The easy answer, the answer we Christians often share, is that it is all part of living in a fallen world. Sin is always crouching at the door, always aimed at destroying a life. And that is true. Behind all of these acts is a self-centeredness that replaced (or never gave room for) a God-centeredness. Others will point to an out of control culture when it comes to gun control.  And I believe this is true as well. I honestly cannot understand why it is we protect the right for people to buy assault rifles and gun magazines that have the capability to fire off a significant round of bullets.  And maybe some, those with enough courage, will point to alcohol and the way we have let it define much of our culture. I found it interesting that on the sports radio I listen to, no one brought this up. My guess is that both Jerry Brown and Kasandra Perkins would still be here if alcohol consumption wasn’t so glorified.

But I wonder if what we are witnessing is a culture that is no longer aware of the need to control its impulses. My guess is that behind the above mentioned tragedies are impulsive young men who have not been guided to restrain their emotions. Maybe it is a steady diet of film, where people fall in love in a moment, followed up in the next moment with both in bed.  Maybe it is the constant narratives where people are in a rage, immediately followed by some act of violence. Impetuous, spontaneous behavior is the present storylines, be it on the screen, in video games, or in real life.

All of us are given to some impulsive behavior (a 12-12-12 air ticket for 12 dollars-who wouldn’t move fast?). The holiday shopping is aimed at impulse buyers. We pause to give thanks on Thanksgiving for what we have (it’s only a pause), because Black Friday invites us to remove restraint and reconsider what we don’t have and think about what me must have this minute! And the good news is that online shopping has made it unnecessary for one to get up at 3:00 am and wait in the Best Buy parking lot.

We are no longer conditioned to restrain desires—no longer prepared to pause and reflect. We are encouraged to gratify our desires, whatever they may be, and do it now.  AT&T may have given us the tag line of our culture: “The Freedom to Do What You Want When You Want It”. There was a time you waited two weeks for a return letter. There was a day when it was expected that your sexual longings were reserved for the one you married, restrained until the right moment, the honeymoon. There used to be such things as Layaways. You waited until you could afford it. But caution and restraint are something of the past (and thanks to recent lending practices, our economy is now paying a severe price). Impulse control has shifted to impulse out of control. We refuse to abide by time boundaries—or any other—and this has had the broader impact of redefining everything from marriage to ministry.

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is Mary beholding her Son Jesus. She is pondering, treasuring, and meditating on all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19).There is nothing impulsive in the story. She must yield and wait and reflect. Her freedom is to be what God wants when He wants. It’s a centering image that informs how we should both celebrate Christmas—as well as how we should live, especially in an age that is so out of control.  



  • Deborah Hays
    5:48 PM, 17 December 2012

    Great post. I have been doing my own ‘pondering’ over our out of control environment of late and I have been heartbroken over the complete desensitizing of our youth on up. Consider the entertainment industry for a moment, whether it’s on the big screen or the home screen, life itself is now considered as something disposal and quite unimportant. From screen to music, to video games, there is no value in the preciousness of a God formed, God breathed into, God loved human life. Our young are getting the picture quite clearly. The availability of abortion at any time during the pregnancy speaks loud and clear to those who are watching and listening. We have thrown God out of our schools, out of our society, and out of our lives and then we wonder where He is when tragedy strikes. You can place all of the laws you want on gun control, but that will never change the heart. The church.. where is it? May God forgive us.

  • Jeremy Parra
    12:08 AM, 22 December 2012

    Hey John,As always your reflections and point of view create a good environment for dialogue. I pause at your concern because I think it is a true concern: the body continuously fracturing in both ideology and service. This house divided… I wonder how long it can stand; of course we have hope that the house which falls was not the house Christ founded. Yet, I think it is a genuine concern for the body to be intent on building that which will last on our foundation of stone.
    I only add this to your musing; and this coming from a newbie! – Just like in the commercial landscape, it seems that the field of ministry is already parceled out to a handful of players. And just like in the commercial landscape, these positions are held on to tightly and conservatively. Protecting the status quo isn’t only a matter of ideology but an instinctual reflex of survival. This leads to a ministry “landscape” not necessarily with different core goals and convictions, but sometimes with very different modes of operation, habits and traditions which are non starters for new ministers.
    Two options seem to present themselves to the fresh face: 1) work in an existing ministry (local church) and struggle against the establishment (this is self selecting for conservative new ministers-maybe the goal?) 2) As in enterprise, entrepreneurial ministers innovate and set out on something new.
    Both of these seem bad: option 1) fails Colossians 3:21 and option 2) fails 1 Corinthians 3:3.
    To move forward it seems necessary for there to be a paradigm shift to a landscape where the young submit and the fathers bend; so as to bring that which is contextually new in touch with what is contextually outdated in order to work at that which is eternal. Failing in this ensures the current paradigm persists, where the young fracture off, develop their own habits and traditions and cause the new young to fracture off… ad infinitum until the day of grace (please come soon).
    No one can claim the higher ground in the existing paradigm. Who gets to say, “we have innovated far enough, everyone must work with what is already in place”, Constantine, Luther, Calvin, Smyth, Spurgeon?

  • Jeremy Parra
    12:17 AM, 22 December 2012

    My Comment ended up in the Wrong spot. It should follow your post “End of term reflections”.peace, JP

  • Kelsey
    6:34 AM, 23 February 2013

    Someone said to me Noone but a fool or a woman would have written S&H. And he was right; eitehr a fool who did not know the consequences of writing that book, or a woman who would have humility enough to go down and survive the persecution. A man would have been more apt to resist, and to resist would have been fatal. I had to learn the lesson of the grass. When the wind blew I bowed before it, and when mortal mid put its heel upon me I went down and down in humility and waited, waited until it took its heal off, and then I rose up. (Peel, Years of Authority, p.84 Daisette McKenzie reminiscences)

  • Dorie
    8:11 AM, 25 February 2013

    I have been so bweliederd in the past but now it all makes sense!

  • Hayle
    2:14 AM, 27 February 2013

    Most help articles on the web are ianccuatre or incoherent. Not this!

  • Tyanne
    1:40 AM, 16 April 2013

    The praaogn of understanding these issues is right here!

  • Delonte
    6:08 AM, 16 April 2013

    Evreynoe would benefit from reading this post

  • Ally
    4:11 AM, 19 April 2013

    It’s a real pleasure to find seomone who can think like that

  • Marge
    4:11 AM, 19 April 2013

    Thanks for being on point and on tagert!

  • tpohzdvh
    8:49 PM, 19 April 2013

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