Not too long ago my husband convinced me to watch "The Incredible Hulk". I'm not much into "B" movies, and I was afraid this one would be too corny, but I was pleasantly surprised. The movie begins with Bruce Banner (played by Edward Norton) sitting in an attic apartment doing some deep-breathing, yoga type meditation. He's been undergoing training in the martial arts to gain control of his emotions and he is disciplining himself to be able to keep his heart rate down so that he can keep from morphing into "the Hulk" even if provoked. If the Hulk is unleashed, Banner will lose control, and perhaps injure those he loves. Later in the movie, the transformation does occur, however, his old girlfriend, Betty (Liv Tyler), is able to form a slight connection with Bruce even while he is in the Hulk form. This ability to integrate Banner and the Hulk persona is intriguing and Bruce begins to wonder if he should keep his superpowers and discipline himself to be in control of them rather than continuing to seek a cure. The movie ends with him doing the yoga again - but this time he's practicing raising his pulse so that he can become "the Hulk" at will.

Ever since I've been thinking about the fruit of the Spirit, I've puzzled over self-control. Oftentimes, I've equated self-control with discipline (something I tend to be less than enamored of) since discipline seems like something that you need to drum up yourself -e.g. get up in the morning and run two miles before breakfast despite the fact you're not a morning person and hate to run, or "just say no" to eating that second brownie even though it's warm and fudgey and calling your name out loud. So it's interesting to think of self-control as something that the Spirit is ready and willing to produce in us.

But what is the purpose of self-control? For Bruce Banner, in the Incredible Hulk story, self-control is a means of mastery over an incredible power. First, it involves making sure that unchecked emotions don't ignite the transformation into a being the he can't handle. Secondly, it involves developing a mental control that will be strong enough to harness the power of the Hulk so that this power can be used for the good.

As Christians, we are given access to the amazing power of the Holy Spirit. This power, which is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is available to us to live in Kingdom ways and to do Kingdom works. I'm thinking that sometimes self-control is needed because we can block the power of the Holy Spirit. I may need to control my emotions, for instance, so that they don't keep the Spirit from flowing out in kindness or gentleness.

On the other hand, sometimes my emotions may be the instigator from the Holy Spirit to stand against injustice, or create a piece of art or serve tirelessly others around me. In this instance, self-control is needed to channel appropriately the energy that comes from the Spirit so as not to cause collateral damage or push myself beyond healthy limits.

I think there's more to ponder here and will take it up in the next blog...

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