Saturday, February 9, 2013

Inner Space Part 2

This is where I felt the conflicts between psychology and following Jesus collided (as I explained in part 1). Coe helped me to clarify these issue. At this, I was able to pinpoint my issue: As a Christian can I engage modern progress as a means to knowing Jesus? I am concerned both about getting swept away in modern fads and popular pretty-talk, rather than simply Jesus, as He is. But I am also concerned about missing His leading and work in any discipline where He is present. (Which is all the disciplines, right, since all truth is God's truth).

Years ago, Christians (and/or Catholics) rejected the astronomical discoveries of the earth being round (rather than flat) and the earth going around the sun (rather than the sun around the earth). These discoveries were initially persecuted by Christianity because basic assumptions had been made about God's purpose in designing the earth as flat and center. Yet, in rejecting these theories, Christians also rejected the immeasurable size of the universe, the unimaginable number of stars and galaxies, the complexity of the earth for life, the delicacy of our solar system, quantum physics, and a billion more intricate and amazing pieces of our existence. Hundreds of year later, these things have been integrated into Christian faith, and bring us to worship and awe of God's creativity, power and care. "He upholds the universe by the word of His power", (Heb 1.3) has a vast and deep impact on our minds now that these truths are integrated into our worldview. Would it have been different if historical Christians embraced that discipline originally as a source of knowledge and worship?

And, as I began to think about Psychology, I wondered, "What if the same terrestrial glories and wondrous mysteries that are found outside the earth are comparable to the mysteries and powers within the human being?" I became excited at this notion. It is not wrong to explore the vast reaches of space, and so, it cannot be wrong to explore the interior psychological processes. It becomes wrong when the fullness of knowledge and wisdom that leads to worship is taken out of God's hand and place into mans. "The issue isn't the issue, the issue is control" (a magazine quote that has stuck with me, despite the fact that I've forgotten which magazine or article).  It is right for man to explore every inch of God's creation, for God gave us the itch of adventure. But adventure always must lead to worship and a "smaller" view of ourselves (as Dr. Thoennes would say, "Christians are those who revel in their smallness!"). The adventure of placing Psychology within God's creation of the human soul/psyche can and should bring us to worship! We can study God's image within us, with all of its glory and brokenness, and I believe that is pleasing to God.


If you are interested in the way God"s Spirit works within the human spirit, John Coe goes on to present a Pneumatoloical view (Pnema=spirit in Greek) of Psychology in the rest of that essay. Here is a short summary of the article:

Secular psychologies provide incisive yet truncated insight into human personality, psychopathology, health, and development. The clear challenge for the Church is to develop a New Covenant psychology which takes as its starting point the human need, hunger, and capacity for a relationship beyond all that we could ask or imagine, for union with God in community. This destiny is the believer’s gift and challenge from here to eternity. I have provided here only some beginning musings toward this pneumadynamic, Spirit-filled approach to human existence.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Inner Space Part 1

Since coming to the Institute for Spiritual Formation I have really wrestled with the impact and use of psychology in the Christian walk.

On one hand, Jesus didn't have psychology (obviously) and He is who we are following. Isn't His understanding of human nature and God's work enough for my psychology? It is hard for my mind to trust various theories of personality development and human nature, when these initially arose out of the enlightenment and evolution. Not that the latter is particularly evil, but they don't account for the supernatural,  the fall (and sin), the presence of the Holy Spirit. "Theories" is such a vague term to me. Underneath I wonder who I am trusting, and therefore who is forming me. My deepest question is, if I follow psychology am I still following Jesus? Jesus didn't have psychology and He did pretty well (at least in God's eyes), why would I need it?

On the other hand, people in Jesus' day didn't have the concept of a circular earth and astronomy either, should I only rely on the disciplines that Jesus had? In that case, I would have to throw out most medical, biological, physical, sociological, astronomical, technological (etc) progress in the last 2000 years. I wouldn't have a refrigerator, a shower, Ibuprofen, books, light bulbs, bedding and roofing (and much more). Not to mention blogging, which would be out of the question. Further, regarding psychology, truth is many people are helped by these "theories" that people present. Should I deny their "growth" or, at worst, their "maintenance" in order to embrace religious sanctity?

These thoughts resurfaced as I recently read an article by John Coe:

Clearly there is much value and insight in these theories addressing underlying human dynamics and defenses, the importance of the therapeutic relationship, the process of re-parenting in therapy, the reality of re-habituation, the place of unconditional posi- tive regard or the value of radical openness to becoming. In fact, the element of truth- fulness in these theories is what makes them potentially seductive for becoming a substitute to the faith.

He continues:

As much as I value these theories for their elegance and powerful explanatory value, they are incomplete and insufficient for fully understanding the person and growth...

The central oversight of the depth-relational theories of personality is their inability to understand how truly other-worldly-relational is the person...the self is radically relational; in fact, it is beyond relationality in that the true understanding of human personality and human happiness is realized only when the person is grounded in the Source of Being; that is, indwelt by, and in union with, God by the Holy Spirit.

To be continued tomorrow....

Saturday, February 2, 2013

My Soul

Generally, people don't wonder about the state of their soul. It's actually kind of a weird phrase, don't you think? Is the soul able to have a state? Is it constant or ever-moving? Is it real or a nice idea? And can I or you or anyone really change it? (and, really, who has the time to care?). It's  the same with the "heart" and "looking inward" or any other reflective imagery.

The inner life doesn't really become important to our society until there is a reason for it. As long as it is "under control" or at least "manageable", then one feels okay. It is like the old saying "children are better seen than heard".  As if one could calm the inner life by telling it to be quiet and sit in the corner.

The inner life is a scary environment. It is full of all the monsters that have scared us, all the
                                                                                                         rules that have broken us, all the moments that
                                                          have shaped us.

"When my heart was embittered 
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant; 
I was like a beast before You.
-Psalm 73:21-22

We are complicated creatures. We feel in control only when we don't have any issues. Jesus has powerful words regarding this...

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
 For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, 
but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence."
-Matthew 23:25

The state of our souls mattered very much to Jesus. Not just for robbery and self-indulgence, but every form of evil. George MacDonald has a great insight regarding this:

"No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of hell in it; no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather."

In "The Great Divorce" C.S. Lewis expounds on this:

"Both good and evil, when they have fully grown, become retrospective. Not only in this valley [heaven] but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only their twilight in that town [Hell], but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell...both process begin before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven; the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. 

And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blesses with say 'We have never lived anywhere except Heaven,' and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell'. And both will speak truly."

This is the gravity of our inner life. It is constantly shaping and forming an eternal reality within us. By love the Holy Spirit works Heaven into our hearts and lives. And through sin and deception Satan fosters Hell. And though some areas seem grey now, it will be black and white very soon.

"Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, 
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom."
-Psalm 51:6

God desires an unashamed honesty with us. Jesus praised those who came to him sinful and broken. He often rebuked those who did not. How have we twisted His gospel so much?

When I sin I often feel afraid, ashamed, guilty. And I wonder, "How can I come to God now?" Somewhere inside I'm certain He will reject me.

Or I think, "I cannot let Him see me like this..." as if keeping my darkness from Him is some sort of religious pity on Him (Yet dark and light are alike to Him).

Even deeper, I wonder if Jesus can handle my sin. "No one else could deal with me. I can't even deal with me sometimes. How could Jesus?"

Each of these hesitating questions shrinks my view of God and avoids my true state. In essence, this is blindness.

12 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
-Hebrews 4:12-16