July 9, 2012


Ephesians 2:3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

This is a vitally important understanding of the natural state of human beings, and yet many people reject it out of hand. They refuse to admit, sometimes vehemently, that “doing what comes naturally” makes them objects of God’s wrath. It strikes me that this verse has a pretty good definition of a common Japanese term that doesn’t have a direct English equivalent, and that is “wagamama.” When forced to translate it, I generally say something like “selfish” or “self-centered,” but those terms aren’t exactly it. This verse says, “doing whatever the flesh and heart desire,” and that comes very close. Perhaps the closest English equivalent would be “spoiled,” as in a spoiled child. Many people would consider wagamama (doing whatever the flesh and heart desire) to be the ideal lifestyle! Many wealthy celebrities attempt to live exactly like that, and the tabloids are filled with the stories of how they crash and burn. As I frequently tell people in counseling situations of all sorts, wagamama can never lead to true happiness; at best it can only give temporary enjoyment. That’s because at its core, wagamama ignores God, which also involves ignoring the needs and desires of everyone else. As this verse says, we are born with a strong tendency toward wagamama, and true happiness, not to mention eternal life, comes only with overcoming that by the grace of God through faith, as Paul goes on to say immediately after this verse.

It’s interesting that I had never noticed before that this verse has a good definition of wagamama, as familiar as I am with Ephesians and as often as I talk with people about wagamama. Maybe that’s because I do most of my counseling in Japanese, and there’s no need to define a word that everyone understands! I have the same tendency innate in me, so I have no cause to look down on anyone. However, by the grace of God I have realized that wagamama could be said to be the very definition of the “wide gate that leads to destruction” that Jesus talked about. (Matthew 7:13-14) As a counselor I seek to help people understand how it destroys their happiness, and as a pastor I seek to help people understand how it destroys their eternal souls. I cannot accomplish that without the help of the Holy Spirit, so I must be active in my dependence on Him. At the same time, I must be on my guard against wagamama in myself, placing Christ first in my thoughts and actions. His blessings are deep, rich, and satisfying, not to mention eternal, so letting go of the desires of my flesh is no sacrifice in comparison.

Father, thank You for this genuinely new insight. Help me make good use of it! I do have occasion to minister to people in English, and this will be very helpful in that. Enable me to help people understand that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is a far better alternative to wagamama, and that it is available to them in Christ Jesus. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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