Verbal Abuse: A Biblical Perspective

Kerby Anderson offers a distinctly Christian view of this important topic. Taking a biblical perspective moves this problem from strictly emotional to its full implications for our spiritual lives.

I would like to address the subject of verbal abuse for two important reasons. First, our behavior is often a great indicator of our worldview. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” What a person thinks in his or her mind and heart will be reflected in his or her words and actions. Verbal abuse and physical abuse result from a worldview that is clearly not biblical.

download-podcast Second, I want to deal with verbal abuse because of the incredible need for Christians to address the subject. Ten years ago I did a week of radio programs on this topic, and I have received more e-mails from men and women who read that transcript than any other article. They were grateful that I addressed the subject. Since there are some new books and web sites, I wanted to update the original article.

Most of us know someone who has been verbally abused. Perhaps you are involved in a verbally abusive relationship. It is also possible that no one even knows your circumstances. Verbal abuse is a kind of battering which doesn’t leave evidence comparable to the bruises of physical battering. You (or your friend) may be suffering in silence and isolation.

I want to tackle this very important issue in an effort to understand this phenomenon and provide answers. First, we should acknowledge that verbal abuse is often more difficult to see since there are rarely any visible scars unless physical abuse has also taken place. It is often less visible simply because the abuse may always take place in private. The victim of verbal abuse lives in a gradually more confusing realm. In public, the victim is with one person. While in private, the abuser may become a completely different person.

Frequently, the perpetrator of verbal abuse is male and the victim is female, but not always. There are many examples of women who are quite verbally abusive. But for the sake of simplicity of pronouns in this program, I will often identify the abuser as male and the victim as female.

The Verbally Abusive RelationshipOne of the first books to describe verbal abuse in adults was Patricia Evan’s book The Verbally Abusive Relationship.{1} She interviewed forty verbally abused women who ranged in age from 21 to 66. Most of the women had left a verbally abusive relationship. We will use some of the characteristics and categories of verbal abuse these women describe in this book.

Years later, she wrote a second book, The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?{2} In that book she makes the claim the some men can change under certain circumstances. That led to the subtitle of her book, “A Woman’s Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go.”

The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?Is there hope that some abusers can change? Yes, but the key to healing is for the person being abused to recognize verbal abuse for what it is and to begin to take deliberate steps to stop it and bring healing. Since the abuser is usually in denial, the responsibility for recognizing verbal abuse often rests with the partner.

Characteristics of Verbal Abuse

What are some of the characteristics of verbal abuse? Here is a list as outlined in The Verbally Abusive Relationship.{3}

1. Verbal abuse is hurtful and usually attacks the nature and abilities of the partner. Over time, the partner may begin to believe that there is something wrong with her or her abilities. She may come to feel that she is the problem, rather than her partner.

2. Verbal abuse may be overt (through angry outbursts and name-calling) or covert (involving very subtle comments, even something that approaches brainwashing). Overt verbal abuse is usually blaming and accusatory, and consequently confusing to the partner. Covert verbal abuse, which is hidden aggression, is even more confusing to the partner. Its aim is to control her without her knowing.

3. Verbal abuse is manipulative and controlling. Even disparaging comments may be voiced in an extremely sincere and concerned way. But the goal is to control and manipulate.

4. Verbal abuse is insidious. The partner’s self-esteem gradually diminishes, usually without her realizing it. She may consciously or unconsciously try to change her behavior so as not to upset the abuser.

5. Verbal abuse is unpredictable. In fact, unpredictability is one of the most significant characteristics of verbal abuse. The partner is stunned, shocked, and thrown off balance by her mate’s sarcasm, angry jab, put-down, or hurtful comment.

6. Verbal abuse is not a side issue. It is the issue in the relationship. When a couple is having an argument about a real issue, the issue can be resolved. In a verbally abusive relationship, there is no specific conflict. The issue is the abuse, and this issue is not resolved. There is no closure.

7. Verbal abuse expresses a double message. There is incongruence between the way the abuser speaks and her real feelings. For example, she may sound very sincere and honest while she is telling her partner what is wrong with him.

8. Verbal abuse usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency, and variety. The verbal abuse may begin with put-downs disguised as jokes. Later other forms might surface. Sometimes the verbal abuse may escalate into physical abuse, starting with “accidental” shoves, pushes, and bumps.

Categories of Verbal Abuse

What are some of the categories of verbal abuse? Here is a list as outlined in The Verbally Abusive Relationship.{4}

The first category of verbal abuse is withholding. A marriage requires intimacy, and intimacy requires empathy. If one partner withholds information and feelings, then the marriage bond weakens. The abuser who refuses to listen to his partner denies her experience and leaves her isolated.

The second is countering. This is the dominant response of the verbal abuser who sees his partner as an adversary. He is constantly countering and correcting everything she says and does. Internally he may even be thinking, “How dare she have a different view!”

Countering is very destructive to a relationship because it prevents the partner from knowing what his mate thinks about anything. Sometimes the verbal abuser will cut off discussion in mid-sentence before he can finish his thought. In many ways, she cannot even allow him to have his own thoughts.

A third category of verbal abuse is discounting. This is like taking a one hundred-dollar item and reducing its price to one cent. Discounting denies the reality and experience of the partner and is extremely destructive. It can be a most insidious form of verbal abuse because it denies and distorts the partner’s actual perception of the abuse.

Sometimes verbal abuse is disguised as jokes. Although his comments may masquerade as humor, they cut the partner to the quick. The verbal jabs may be delivered crassly or with great skill, but they all have the same effect of diminishing the partner and throwing her off balance.

A fifth form of verbal abuse is blocking and diverting. The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, or withholds information. He can prevent any possibility of resolving conflicts by blocking and diverting.

Accusing and blaming is another form. A verbal abuser will accuse his partner of some wrongdoing or some breach of the basic agreement of the relationship. This has the effect of diverting the conversation and putting the other partner on the defensive.

Another form of verbal abuse is judging and criticizing. The verbal abuser may judge her partner and then express her judgment in a critical way. If he objects, she may tell him that she is just pointing something out to be helpful, but in reality she is expressing her lack of acceptance of him.

These are just a few of the categories of verbal abuse. Next we will look at a number of other forms of verbal abuse.

Other Forms of Verbal Abuse

Trivializing can also be a form of verbal abuse. I discuss this in more detail in my article on why marriages fail.{5} It is an attempt to take something that is said or done and make it insignificant. Often the partner becomes confused and believes she hasn’t effectively explained to her mate how important certain things are to her.

Undermining is also verbal abuse. The abuser not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination. The abuser often will squelch an idea or suggestion just by a single comment.

Threatening is a classic form of verbal abuse. He manipulates his partner by bringing up her biggest fears. This may include threatening to leave or threatening to get a divorce. In some cases, the threat may be to escalate the abuse.

Name-calling can also be verbal abuse. Continually calling someone “stupid” because she isn’t as intelligent as you or calling her a “klutz” because she is not as coordinated can have a devastating effect on the partner’s self esteem.

Verbal abuse may also involve forgetting. This may involve both overt and covert manipulation. Everyone forgets things from time to time, but the verbal abuser consistently does so. After the partner collects himself, subsequent to being yelled at, he may confront his mate only to find that she has “forgotten” about the incident. Some abusers consistently forget about the promises they have made which are most important to their partners.

Ordering is another classic form of verbal abuse. It denies the equality and autonomy of the partner. When an abuser gives orders instead of asking, he treats her like a slave or subordinate.

Denial is the last category of verbal abuse. Although all forms of verbal abuse have serious consequences, denial can be very insidious because it denies the reality of the partner. In fact, a verbal abuser could read over this list of categories and insist that he is not abusive.

That is why it is so important for the partner to recognize these characteristics and categories since the abuser is usually in denial. Thus, the responsibility for recognizing verbal abuse and doing something about it often rests with the partner.

We have described various characteristics of verbal abuse and have even discussed the various categories of verbal abuse. Finally, I would like to provide a biblical perspective.

A Biblical Perspective of Verbal Abuse

The Bible clearly warns us about the dangers of an angry person. Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man.” And Proverbs 29:22 says, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”

It is not God’s will for you (or your friend) to be in a verbally abusive relationship. Those angry and critical words will destroy your confidence and self-esteem. Being submissive in a marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:22) does not mean allowing yourself to be verbally beaten by your partner. 1 Peter 3:1 does teach that wives, by being submissive to their husbands, may win them to Christ by their behavior. But it does not teach that they must allow themselves to be verbally or physically abused.

Here are some key biblical principles. First, know that God loves you. The Bible teaches, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Second, deal with your feelings of guilt. You may be feeling that the problems in your marriage are your fault. “If only I would do better, he wouldn’t be so angry with me.” The Bible teaches in Psalm 51:6 that “Surely You desire truth in the inner parts; You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Even though you may have feelings of guilt, you may not be the guilty party. I would recommend you read my article on the subject of false guilt.{6}

A related issue is shame. You may feel that something is wrong with you. You may feel that you are a bad person. But God declares you His cherished creation. Psalms 139:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

A key element in this area of verbal abuse will no doubt be confrontation of the abuser. It’s important for you to realize that confrontation is a biblical principle. Jesus taught about this in Matthew 18:15-20. I would recommend that you seek help from a pastor or counselor. But I would also recommend that you gather godly men and women together who can lovingly confront the person who is verbally abusing you. Their goal should be to break through their denial and lovingly restore them with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).

But whether you confront the abuser or not, I do recommend that you seek out others who can encourage you and support you. If the abuser is willing to confront his sin and get help, that is good. But even if he will not, your hope is in the Lord and in those who should surround you and encourage you.

Notes

1. Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship (Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation, 1996).
2. Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change? (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2006).
3. Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, 81-84.
4. Ibid., 85-104.
5. Kerby Anderson, “Why Marriages Fail,” Probe, 1998, probe.org/why-marriages-fail/.
6. Kerby Anderson, “False Guilt,” Probe, 1996, www.probe.org/false-guilt/.

© 2001 [revised 2013], Probe Ministries




Giving Can Improve Your Health; Science Says So

Want happiness and fulfillment in life? Then practice giving, advises an influential medical professor.

It really is good to be good, claims Stephen Post, Ph.D., professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Science says it is so.

Post and coauthor Jill Neimark present evidence in their recent book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People.{1} As head of an institute supported by philanthropist Sir John Templeton{2}, Post has funded over fifty studies [related to giving] at forty-four major universities. He’s convinced that giving is essential for optimum physical and mental health in a fragmented society.

Post says research has produced remarkable findings: Giving protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. If pharmaceutical companies could charge for giving, we might see ads for Give Back instead of Prozac, he speculates. One program, Rx: Volunteer, has some California HMO physicians giving volunteerism prescriptions to their Medicare patients.

All You Need is Love?

Post and Neimark say around 500 scientific studies demonstrate that unselfish love can enhance health. For instance, Paul Wink, a Wellesley College psychologist, studied University of California Berkeley data that followed about two hundred people every decade since the 1920s. Giving during high school correlated with good mental and physical health across life spans. Givers experienced these benefits regardless of the warmth of their families, he found.

Other research says that giving correlates with lower teen depression and suicide risk and with lower depression among the elderly. Studies at Stanford and elsewhere found links between frequent volunteering and delaying death. Post says giving even trumps receiving when it comes to reducing mortality.

Give more; enjoy life and live longer? Maybe, as Jesus famously said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”{3}

Illustrations abound of givings personal benefits. Millard Fuller, a millionaire, gave away much of his wealth at age thirty. He and his wife, Linda, sold their business and affiliated with Koinonia Farm, a Georgia Christian community. They built houses in Zaire and then founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976 to help needy people build affordable homes. Fuller’s goal was to eliminate poverty housing from the face of the earth. Get rid of shacks!

Today Habitat volunteers have constructed over 225,000 houses, helping over a million people in over 3,000 communities worldwide. Countless volunteers attest to the personal satisfaction their involvement brings.

From Playmate to Orphan Care

Post and Neimark relate an intriguing tale of a former Playboy model who has devoted her life to helping poor kids in Haiti. Susan Scott Krabacher’s childhood helped her connect with the hurting children she now serves. Sexual abuse, her mother’s psychiatric breakdown, multiple foster homes, and her brother’s suicide took their emotional toll. In her late teens, she became a Playboy centerfold and moved into the Playboy mansion.

Ten years of playing mixed with depression. Eventually she reconnected with the faith of her youth. Observing Haiti’s poverty prompted her to learn more of the biblical take on life. The foundation she and her husband started runs three orphanages for 2,300 children. “I work long hours,” Krabacher notes, “put up with unbelievable sacrifice, bury too many children, and get no compensation but love, which is the greatest freedom you can know and the most important thing in the world.”

Post would agree. Do you desire happiness, love, safety, security, loyal friends, true connection, or a benevolent and hopeful world? He has one answer: Give. Youll be happier, healthier, and live longer. Love cures, wrote the esteemed psychiatrist Karl Menninger. It cures both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.

Notes

1. Stephen Post, Ph.D., and Jill Neimark, Why Good Things Happen to Good People (New York: Broadway Books, 2007), www.whygoodthingshappen.com.
2. Institute for Research on Unlimited Love: www.unlimitedloveinstitute.org.
3. Acts 20:35 NASB.

 

© 2007 Rusty Wright




Giving Can Be Good for You: Science Says So

“All You Need is Love”

Do you want happiness and fulfillment in life? Then practice giving, advises an influential medical professor.

“It really is good to be good,” claims Stephen Post, PhD., professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “Science says it is so.”{1}

Post and coauthor Jill Neimark present evidence in their book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People. The institute Post heads has funded “over fifty studies [related to giving] at forty-four major universities.”{2} He’s convinced that giving is essential for optimum physical and mental health in a fragmented society.

Post says research has produced remarkable findings: “Giving protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease.” If pharmaceutical companies could charge for giving, we might see ads for “Give Back” instead of “Prozac,” he speculates. One program, “Rx: Volunteer,” has some California HMO physicians giving volunteerism “prescriptions” to their Medicare patients.{3}

Post and Neimark say around five hundred scientific studies demonstrate that unselfish love can enhance health. For instance, Paul Wink, a Wellesley College psychologist, studied data that followed about two hundred people every decade since the 1920s. Giving during high school correlated with good mental and physical health across life spans.{4}

Other research says that giving correlates with lower teen depression and suicide risk and with lower depression among the elderly. Studies at Stanford and elsewhere found links between frequent volunteering and delaying death. Post says giving even trumps receiving when it comes to reducing mortality.{5}

Give more; enjoy life and live longer? Maybe, as Jesus famously said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NASB). Both Jewish and Christian biblical texts admonish us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Mt. 22:39 NIV). I don’t know about you, but I find it fascinating to explore these ways that contemporary science and social science often highlight the value of ancient biblical principles.

Post presents research to support the value of ten ways of expressing giving love. Here we will examine four of them: compassion, humor, loyalty, and listening.

“Love cures,” wrote the esteemed psychiatrist Karl Menninger. It cures “both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.”{6}

Compassion’s Benefits

Illustrations abound of giving’s personal benefits.

Millard Fuller, a millionaire, gave away much of his wealth at age thirty. He and his wife, Linda, sold their business and affiliated with Koinonia Farm, a Georgia Christian community. They built houses in Zaire and then founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976 to help needy people build affordable homes. Fuller’s goal was “to eliminate poverty housing from the face of the earth. Get rid of shacks!”{7}

Today, Habitat volunteers have constructed over two hundred twenty-five thousand houses, helping over a million people in over three thousand communities worldwide.{8} Countless volunteers attest to the personal satisfaction their involvement brings. And they’re in over ninety countries. In Amman, Jordan, for example, I had lunch with the Habitat director there who involves compassionate volunteers in the Middle East.

As I reflect on his work, I’m reminded of another Middle Eastern leader who showed great compassion. One of His followers wrote, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 NIV).

Stephen Post says “we’re hardwired to open our hearts and to care—and in fact, compassion is important for the survival of the species.”{9} He cites preliminary psychological research in which “compassion significantly reduced depression and stress.”{10}

In that light, consider the intriguing tale of a former Playboy model who has devoted her life to helping poor kids in Haiti. Susan Scott Krabacher’s childhood helped her connect with the hurting children she now serves. Sexual abuse, her mother’s psychiatric breakdown, multiple foster homes, and her brother’s suicide took their emotional toll. In her late teens, she became a Playboy centerfold and moved into the Playboy mansion.

Ten years of playing mixed with depression. Eventually she reconnected with the Christian faith of her youth. Observing Haiti’s poverty prompted her to learn more of the biblical take on life. The foundation she and her husband started runs three orphanages for twenty-three hundred children. “I work long hours,” Krabacher notes, “put up with unbelievable sacrifice, bury too many children, and get no compensation but love, which is the greatest freedom you can know and the most important thing in the world.”{11}

Humor – Good Medicine

There are intriguing parallels between some modern social scientific findings and time-tested biblical life-lessons. One of these involves humor. An ancient proverb says, “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22 NASB).

Humor heals. Think about how you felt the last time you roared with laughter. Maybe a funny movie, a family situation, or an uproarious joke session had you even crying and gasping for air. Your abdominal muscles and heartbeat went wild. One Stanford psychiatrist “found that a hundred laughs is the aerobic equivalent of ten minutes of rowing.”{12}

Stephen Post sees humor as a way to help others, “a very effective way of connecting, of lightening another’s life as well as our own.” Interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted by a Tel Aviv University researcher found that many cited humor “as a way of surviving trauma.” Post notes that Ronald Reagan was a master of using humor to put other people [and perhaps himself] at ease. When President Reagan was shot and at risk of dying, he quipped to the emergency room doctors, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”{13}

Of course, bitter humor can hurt rather than heal. But positive humor can help people relate and communicate openness. Post cites psychologist Robert Provine who monitored and analyzed over twelve hundred “bouts” of laughter in public places. Provine says shared, contagious laughter can be “an important signal you send to someone that says, ‘This is play. I’m not going to attack or hurt you.'”{14}

Humor is also important for a successful marriage, according to University of Washington psychologist John Gottman. He found that coping with issues “through dialogue, laughter, and affection” was a good predictor of whether marriages would last.{15}

On a Detroit TV talk show, the host and I were discussing my book, Secrets of Successful Humor. He asked about humor and marriage. I told him, “The secret of our marriage is that we take time two evenings each week to go out to a lovely restaurant. A nice dinner, some candlelight, soft music, a slow walk home. She goes Tuesdays; I go Fridays.”

It hit a nerve. The host roared, long and loud. Contagious laughter spread throughout the studio audience. We all enjoyed some communal fun that helped open us up to each other.

Loyalty Bonds

A famous biblical proverb notes, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need” (Prov. 17:17 NLT). Post believes that “Loyalty is love that lasts. . . . The commitment inherent in loyalty defuses our deepest existential anxiety.” He continues: “Broken covenants are hard to restore and never quite attain their state of original trust. It’s not easy to find loyalty in our society.”{16}

Marriage and friendship, of course, can be significant expressions of loyalty. University of Chicago demographer Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher co-authored the book The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. Analyzing data from over six thousand families, Waite discovered strong correlations between marriage and longevity. Gallagher says their research demonstrated that, compared to similar singles, married folks “are physically healthier, live longer . . . experience less anxiety, depression, hostility, and loneliness, and are more likely to tell you that they’re happy with life in general. They have more sex than single people of the same age.” Of course there’s a caveat, Post notes. High-conflict marriages bring stress and can lower immune function.{17}

Friendships count, too. University of North Carolina sociologist Rebecca Adams’ frequent childhood moves had her attending thirteen schools by the time she entered college. She feels she learned how to make new friends but wasn’t as good at maintaining them. These experiences helped motivate her to study friendship. She’s discovered strong links between quality of relationships and mental well-being. Adams notes, “It’s been shown over and over again that friendship is more important to psychological well-being than family relations are. . . . Friendships are voluntary. So we’ll choose friendships that support our psychological well-being.”{18}

Men can learn a lot from women about friendship. Male and female friendship styles often differ, Adams says: “Men define their friendships in terms of shared activities, and women define them in terms of conversation. For men, a friend is their fishing, golfing, or bowling buddy. For women, a friend is someone they can confide in.” Of course there are exceptions, but Post notes that emotional intimacy is what nourishes friendships most.{19}

Giving love through compassion, humor, and loyalty all contribute to our well-being. But, is anybody listening?

“I’m Listening”

The television comedy Frasier was one of the most popular TV series in U.S. history. It’s been called “a thinking person’s comedy.” Reruns are ubiquitous, about six episodes daily in our area. Frasier Crane, the protagonist, is a caring, sensitive, cultured—but insecure and sometimes pompous—Seattle radio psychiatrist who always greets his callers with, “I’m listening.” Yet sometimes he becomes so wrapped up in himself that he tunes others out. He’s not alone. In one amusing scene, Frasier’s ex wife, Lilith (also a psychiatrist), tries to converse with Frasier’s brother, Niles (yet another psychiatrist), about an especially weighty matter. Niles, focused on a video game, doesn’t pay her sufficient attention, prompting Lilith to exclaim, “Is there a chair here I could talk to?”

I confess that in our home, my wife Meg sometimes has to use Lilith’s line to get my attention. (Mind you, I don’t confess that it’s as often as she might claim!) But listening is a powerful form of affirmation and an important tool in understanding and communication. Solomon, a wise Jewish king, wrote, “What a shame, what folly, to give advice before listening to the facts!” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT)

Stephen Post writes, “When we truly absorb another’s story, we are saying, ‘You count. Your life and feelings and thoughts matter to me. And I want to know who you really are.'” He claims that listening can help both the listener and the one listened to. New studies indicate: “Listening activates the part of our brains hardwired for empathy. . . . When we listen to others in pain, their stress response quiets down and their body has a better chance to heal.”{20}

Post says that without a good listener, we can feel terribly alone, “like the psalmist in the Bible who cries out, ‘No man cared for my soul.'” He continues, “This has led some scholars to call the God of the Psalms a God of listening. Our need for a listener is an inherent aspect of all prayer.”{21}

So, giving love is good for you. Science says so. Compassion, humor, loyalty, and listening are important ways you can express giving love. Is it as intriguing to you as it is to me that contemporary science and social science are often in harmony with age-old biblical counsel? Makes me think I should read the Bible more often.

Notes

1. Stephen Post, PhD, and Jill Neimark, Why Good Things Happen to Good People (New York: Broadway Books, 2007), 15.
2. Ibid., 1.
3. Ibid., 7.
4. Ibid, 7-8, 48-51.
5. Ibid., 8-10, 68-69.
6. Ibid., 2.
7. Ibid., 25, 275.
8. www.habitat.org
9. Post and Neimark, Why Good Things Happen, 179-180.
10. Ibid., 184.
11. Ibid., 177-8; see also Susan Krabacher (as told to Kristi Watts), “Diary of a Playboy Centerfold,” The 700 Club, www.cbn.com/700club/features/amazing/Susan_Krabacher061506.aspx; accessed January 24, 2008.
12. Post and Neimark, Why Good Things Happen, 132.
13. Ibid., 133-135.
14. Ibid., 139-140.
15. Ibid., 141-142.
16. Ibid., 199-200.
17. Ibid., 203-205.
18. Ibid., 216-217.
19. Ibid., 221.
20. Ibid., 231-232.
21. Ibid., 234.

© 2008 Probe Ministries




Responding to Poverty – As a Christian

Poverty’s Devastating Effects

I can still remember the feelings of curiosity, confusion and discomfort I felt as a watched the young boys. “What did those kids want?” I wondered.

As a child visiting Cuba with my parents, I was startled when some boys at a city park opened our taxi doors, then held out their hands. Later I asked my mother, “Did they work there? Did they want a tip?” She gently told me they were begging. My young upper-middle-class North American sensibilities were jolted by the harsh reality of poverty I had never seen.

One summer during university, while visiting Tijuana, Mexico, I was stunned to see people living in the city dump. Later that summer, I spent time with a friend in one of Miami’s ghettos. One day, as I drove away, I noticed an ambulance headed toward the apartment building near where my friend hung out. The next day, my friend told me a woman had shot the man who was trying to seduce her, then she shot herself. Shocking as that news was for me, almost as much so was my friend’s nonchalance. He seemed accustomed to events like this.

Those experiences kindled my personal interest in this theme. What is poverty? Why does it exist? How does it destroy minds and souls as well as bodies? What is a biblical perspective on poverty? And what should we do about it?

Income level and standard of living are often-used but insufficient measures of poverty. Some townships in South Africa and shanty towns in the Philippines make some North American housing projects seem like the Ritz.

Localized “relative deprivation” (i.e., large socioeconomic disparity between the poor and middle class) can multiply feelings of low self-esteem. Many social scientists emphasize psychological manifestations of poverty. Yale psychologist Ira Goldenberg defined poverty as “a psychological process which destroys the young before they can live and the aged before they can die. . . . [It] is a condition of being in which one’s past and future meet in the present—and go no further.”{1}

The precise economic line may be difficult to draw, but poverty’s effects can be devastating. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs says, “More than 8 million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. Every morning our newspapers could report, ‘More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.'”{2} They die from disease, lack of medicine, unsafe drinking water.

Homeless Assistance

The little girl was sleeping so peacefully on a cot in the nursery playroom. As I watched her, I imagined how she might have felt only a few days earlier, maybe trying to sleep in the tropical heat under a noisy highway overpass. Now she was inside a lovely, air conditioned room with nice toys. She and families just like hers could feel safe, clean and protected at Miami’s Homeless Assistance Center, a facility organized and run through a coalition of community leaders, government agencies, churches, and faith-based organizations.

By its twelfth year, Miami’s Community Partnership for Homeless had helped over twenty-seven thousand men, women and children leave the streets for a better life. Their Homeless Assistance Centers are a community success story in which private and public sectors teamed to create a national model for eliminating homelessness. Would you believe all this started from a church Bible class?

My friend Alvah Chapman served Knight Ridder Publishers as president and chairman for fourteen years. (Knight Ridder owned, for example, the Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer and San Jose Mercury News.) At retirement, he and his wife Betty participated in a thirty-nine-week church Bible study class that required personal application.

Alvah had become distressed observing the plight of Miami’s homeless and the lack of community leadership. He recalls, “The county said it was a city problem. The city said it was a county problem. And the Chamber of Commerce was not sure it was their problem.”{3} The Chapmans decided to tackle homelessness. “The commitment to ‘do something’ was very strong” in their hearts, he explains: “We made a commitment to our [Bible] class and to our God that we would together provide leadership to the homeless problem in Miami.”{4}

Today the Homeless Assistance Centers{5} they founded provide meals, showers, clothing, temporary housing, laundry facilities, health care, transportation, and job training—helping residents get back on their feet with dignity. The success rate for departed residents has been as high as sixty percent, considered remarkable in this field. Churches and synagogues have provided evening meals, companionship, and encouragement.

Often the poor feel trapped in poverty with no way out. Vicious circles breed feelings of worthlessness and despair. Drunkenness, violence, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases are just some of the physical manifestations of coping with life out of control. Efforts like the Homeless Assistance Centers can help break the cycle of poverty.

Helping the Total Person

Poverty brings multiple problems: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Which should we emphasize in seeking solutions? Consider three approaches.

1. The Outside-In Approach changes circumstances to alleviate stress factors. Education and job training can enhance employment and living standards, thus decreasing psychological problems. Right? Not necessarily. Anthropologist Oscar Lewis argued that an elimination of physical poverty may not by itself eliminate the culture of poverty.{6} Perhaps you know some wealthy but unhappy people.

2. The Inside-Out Approach emphasizes counseling to encourage self-help. Attitude change is important, but if the economic system blocks options, what then?

3. The Total-Person Approach blends the other two, treating humans as physical, psychological, and spiritual creatures. The often-overlooked spiritual area, properly tapped, can influence both poor and rich.

John Perkins, an African-American, left his poor rural hometown of Mendenhall, Mississippi, vowing never to return. His brother had been shot by a policeman in that racially oppressed town. Later, Perkins placed his faith in Christ and returned to Mendenhall to help.

The organization he founded facilitated an inexpensive health care center, cooperative farms, a cooperative food store, house construction, tutoring, and raising college scholarships. Perkins’ emphasis has been on helping local people help themselves. At the same time he’s said, “I believe that the only commitment able to bring [interpersonal and community] healing is a commitment to Jesus.”{7}

Jesus of Nazareth emphasized the total person. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He also told people how they could find meaning and fulfillment through faith in Him. Many Christian development programs have a similar focus, operating on the time-honored philosophy that if you give someone a fish you can feed them for a day; if you also teach them how to fish you can feed them for a lifetime.

World Relief, a Christian organization, provides worldwide disaster relief as well as self-help efforts like well-digging and agricultural training. Their microenterprise development programs establish community banking, savings and lending programs to help the poor become self sufficient. For example, a $75 loan to a Cambodian grandmother allowed her to expand her small home-front stand. She repaid the loan in full, entitling her to another, slightly larger loan. Eventually, she could support her sixteen grandchildren and serve as a role model for women in her village.{8}

World Vision, the Salvation Army, and most major Christian denominations have programs to help the poor.

Money and Poverty

We’ve been examining physical, psychological, and spiritual factors related to poverty and its possible remedies. Consider a common question.

Will money given to developing nations solve their poverty problems? Maybe it will help, but the extent depends largely on how the funds are managed. Sadly, Africa, for instance, is replete with examples of crooked officials diverting financial aid and national wealth into their own pockets. For instance, Nigeria’s President Obasanjo estimates that corrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion from their people in the decades since independence.{9}

Obasanjo is a follower of Jesus who has tried to root out corruption in his own nation. The New York Times gives a glimpse into the task he still faces. Nigeria export billions of dollars of oil each year and returns thirteen percent of revenues from its states back to the states. The Times notes that “Much of that is siphoned off by corrupt regional officials who often pocket the money or waste it on lavish projects that do little, if anything, for ordinary people. For instance, one state produces a third of Nigeria’s oil and has an annual budget of more than half a billion dollars to spend on its three million people. But most of [that money] goes to white elephants like a mansion for the governor and his deputy.”{10}

On one of my speaking tours to Nigeria, a local doctor told me how businesses had adapted to the common custom of using bribes. Seems they started budgeting bribe money for their traveling representatives to use. The budget item was called public relations. But a problem arose when employees began to pocket the public relations money instead of using it for bribes.

Financial aid givers—nations, businesses and individuals—would be wise to focus on strict accountability measures and perhaps character education programs for government and business leaders and students in such situations.

In fairness, I should note that this corruption caveat has its critics. Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs, who also heads an ambitious United Nations anti-poverty effort, feels the corruption charge is too often a simplistic explanation for poverty’s root problems. While I feel that corruption is indeed a major concern, I agree with Sachs that poverty is complex and situations differ. Disease plays a significant role. If people are sick with malaria or AIDS, its hard for them to help themselves. Sachs also advocates international commitments to economic assistance, scientific advancement, and justice.{11}

What Can You Do?

Would you believe that by losing weight, you could help the poor overseas? Consider how some upscale U.S. secondary school students made a difference in Zambia.{12}

Student leaders at Wheaton Academy in suburban Chicago had a burden to raise $53,000 from their fellow students for a schoolhouse in Zambia. They found little enthusiasm at first, but then they began to pray regularly. Things took off and they exceeded their goal. Over a three-year stretch, the Christian students raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for HIV/AIDS relief in Africa. Students encourage each other to forgo movies, Starbucks runs, and even Christmas presents and prom dresses.{13} The campus chaplain estimates that ninety percent of students have participated financially to build the schoolhouse and a medical clinic and to feed a villages children for a year. Students feel a personal connection with their Zambian peers. Some have visited the village they support.

Even adults joined the effort. Now, what they did is great. I bet you’re going to like this! It was a weight-loss fundraising campaign, the Zambia Meltdown. Fourteen teachers and administrators lost 460 pounds over 100 days. That brought in $19,000 in pledges for lost weight. And get this: The headmaster and principal each lost 70 pounds.{14}

What can you do to help alleviate poverty? Consider some suggestions:

First, pray. God’s concern for the poor far exceeds our own. Those Wheaton Academy students saw answers to their prayers. (Probably some faculty spouses did, too!)

Second, give. An ancient Jewish proverb says, If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!{15} Many fine organizations can use your donations to effectively fight poverty. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says, “Nobody gets more bang for the buck than missionary schools and clinics, and Christian aid groups like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse save lives at bargain-basement prices.”{16} I would add World Relief, the Salvation Army and your local church to the list.

Third, go. Maybe you can volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or an international mission group. CNN highlighted Campus Crusade for Christ college students spending Spring Break helping to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. You even may want to devote your life or career to relief and development. It is a worthy cause. I like what Jesus’ mother Mary advised: “Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it.”{17} And another of those ancient Jewish proverbs says, “Blessed are those who help the poor.”{18}

Notes

1. “A Nation Within a Nation,” TIME, May 17, 1968, 30.
2. Jeffrey D. Sachs, “The End of Poverty,” TIME, March 14, 2005; http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101050314/.
3. Alvah H. Chapman, Jr., “Community Partnership for Homeless, Inc., A Narrated History,” (As recorded in interviews for an oral history project by Dennis P. Kendrick, 2004), 6; http://preview.tinyurl.com/y7m7ey.
4. Ibid., 8.
5. Community Partnership for Homeless, www.cphi.org.
6. Oscar Lewis, “The Culture of Poverty,” Scientific American 215:4, October 1966, 25.
7. Christianity Today, January 30, 1976.
8. World Relief newsletter, May 2006.
9. Tony Carnes, “Can We Defeat Poverty?” Christianity Today, 49:10 October 2005, 38ff; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/010/19.38.html.
10. Lydia Polgreen, “Blood Flows With Oil in Poor Nigerian Villages,” The New York Times, January 1, 2006; http://preview.tinyurl.com/vk22t.
11. Sachs, loc. cit.
12. Jeremy Weber, “Raising the Compassion Bar,” Christianity Today 49:8 August 2005, 50-52; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/008/26.50.html.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Proverbs 19:17 NLT.
16. Nicholas D. Kristof, “Bush, a Friend of Africa,” The New York Times, July 5, 2005; http://preview.tinyurl.com/y8wwoj.
17. John 2:5 NASB.
18. Proverbs 14:21 NLT.

© 2007 Probe Ministries

Adapted from Rusty Wright, “Responding to Poverty,” Plain Truth 64:3, May/June 1999, 30-33. Copyright © Rusty Wright 1999. Used by permission.




Overcoming Anxiety: Finding Real Peace When Life Seems Crazy

What makes you feel anxious? Being late or unprepared for work or appointments? Maybe unresolved interpersonal conflict. Airline travel? Public speaking? Fears of losing love? Serious illness or a friend’s death?

Pressures from the trivial to the traumatic can prompt feelings of fearfulness or apprehension.

Once at a booksellers convention my wife and I spent an exhausting day on our feet promoting a new book. Late that night, after a reception crowd had thinned down to mostly authors and our publisher, we stood in a circle engaged in conversation. I had to leave her side momentarily to attend to a matter.

Upon returning to the circle, I walked up behind my wife and began gently to massage her shoulders. She seemed to enjoy this, so I started to put my arms around her waist to give her a little hug. Just then, I looked up at the opposite side of the circle and saw … my wife.

I had my hands on the wrong woman!

In that instant, I knew the true meaning of fear. Fear of circumstances. Even fear of death! Confusion clouded my mind. Heat enveloped my back, shoulders, neck and head. My face reddened; my stomach knotted.

You’ve probably had embarrassing moments that generate anxiety. What about more serious causes?

Your Greatest Fear?

Fear of death is perhaps humans’ greatest fear. In college, the student living next door to me was struck and killed instantly by lightening on a golf course one springtime afternoon. Shock gripped our fraternity house. “What does it mean if life can be snuffed out in an instant?” my friends asked. “Is there a life after death and, if so, how can we experience it?”  Confusion and anxiety reigned.

If you can’t answer the question “What will happen when you die?” you may become anxious.

How can you find real peace in a chaotic world? Consider a possible solution. It involves the spiritual realm.

As a university student, I wrote a paper for an abnormal psychology class investigating a biblical therapy for anxiety. I had come to faith as a freshman and found it brought me peace of mind. Complex psychological disorders often stem from more basic problems like anxiety, problems for which faith offers practical solutions.

I sent a copy of my paper to the author of our textbook, a prominent UCLA psychologist. A month later, he replied that he liked the paper and asked permission to quote from it in his revised textbook.

Somewhat amazed, I readily agreed. I also sent a copy of his letter to my parents in Miami, who were beginning to wonder about their son’s campus spiritual involvement.

This professor felt that the principles in the paper—which certainly were not original with me—had both academic and personal relevance. Several months later, we met at his lovely home in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As we sat in his back yard, this professor told me he lacked personal peace and wanted to know God personally. I showed him a simple four-point outline based on one of Jesus’ statements: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”{1}

We discussed God’s unconditional love for us, our dilemma of being unplugged from Him and the flaws (selfishness and “sins”) that result. I noted that Jesus, through His death in our place and return to life, came to plug us back into God by paying the penalty we owed for our sins.

Finding Real Peace

This professor decided to place his faith in God and asked Jesus to forgive him and enter his life. We kept in touch. Later, over the phone, he told me that as he looked out over the ocean and saw the setting sun, “I really believe I’m a part of all this. Before I didn’t, but now I do.”  He was seeing how he fit into God’s universe. An internationally acclaimed scholar linked up with, if you will, the greatest Psychologist.

One of Jesus’ earlier followers wrote to some friends about a divine aid for anxiety: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”{2}

Faith in God does not make life perfect and is no automatic solution to anxiety. Illness, chemical imbalance, emotional wounds and more can hamper coping. But a good starting place is to become linked with the One who loves us and knows best what makes us fulfilled.

Might it be time for you to consider Him?

Notes

1. John 3:16 NLT (New Living Translation).
2. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT).


This article first appeared in Answer magazine 4:3 May/June 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2006 Rusty Wright




Overcoming Anxiety: Finding Real Peace When Life Seems Crazy

What makes you feel anxious? Being late or unprepared for work or appointments? Maybe unresolved interpersonal conflict. Airline travel? Public speaking? Fears of losing love? Serious illness or a friend’s death?

Pressures from the trivial to the traumatic can prompt feelings of fearfulness or apprehension.

Once at a booksellers convention my wife and I spent an exhausting day on our feet promoting a new book. Late that night, after a reception crowd had thinned down to mostly authors and our publisher, we stood in a circle engaged in conversation. I had to leave her side momentarily to attend to a matter.

Upon returning to the circle, I walked up behind my wife and began gently to massage her shoulders. She seemed to enjoy this, so I started to put my arms around her waist to give her a little hug. Just then, I looked up at the opposite side of the circle and saw … my wife.

I had my hands on the wrong woman!

In that instant, I knew the true meaning of fear. Fear of circumstances. Even fear of death! Confusion clouded my mind. Heat enveloped my back, shoulders, neck and head. My face reddened; my stomach knotted.

You’ve probably had embarrassing moments that generate anxiety. What about more serious causes?

Your Greatest Fear?

Fear of death is perhaps humans’ greatest fear. In college, the student living next door to me was struck and killed instantly by lightening on a golf course one springtime afternoon. Shock gripped our fraternity house. “What does it mean if life can be snuffed out in an instant?” my friends asked. “Is there a life after death and, if so, how can we experience it?”  Confusion and anxiety reigned.

If you can’t answer the question “What will happen when you die?” you may become anxious.

How can you find real peace in a chaotic world? Consider a possible solution. It involves the spiritual realm.

As a university student, I wrote a paper for an abnormal psychology class investigating a biblical therapy for anxiety. I had come to faith as a freshman and found it brought me peace of mind. Complex psychological disorders often stem from more basic problems like anxiety, problems for which faith offers practical solutions.

I sent a copy of my paper to the author of our textbook, a prominent UCLA psychologist. A month later, he replied that he liked the paper and asked permission to quote from it in his revised textbook.

Somewhat amazed, I readily agreed. I also sent a copy of his letter to my parents in Miami, who were beginning to wonder about their son’s campus spiritual involvement.

This professor felt that the principles in the paper—which certainly were not original with me—had both academic and personal relevance. Several months later, we met at his lovely home in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As we sat in his back yard, this professor told me he lacked personal peace and wanted to know God personally. I showed him a simple four-point outline based on one of Jesus’ statements: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”{1}

We discussed God’s unconditional love for us, our dilemma of being unplugged from Him and the flaws (selfishness and “sins”) that result. I noted that Jesus, through His death in our place and return to life, came to plug us back into God by paying the penalty we owed for our sins.

Finding Real Peace

This professor decided to place his faith in God and asked Jesus to forgive him and enter his life. We kept in touch. Later, over the phone, he told me that as he looked out over the ocean and saw the setting sun, “I really believe I’m a part of all this. Before I didn’t, but now I do.”  He was seeing how he fit into God’s universe. An internationally acclaimed scholar linked up with, if you will, the greatest Psychologist.

One of Jesus’ earlier followers wrote to some friends about a divine aid for anxiety: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”{2}

Faith in God does not make life perfect and is no automatic solution to anxiety. Illness, chemical imbalance, emotional wounds and more can hamper coping. But a good starting place is to become linked with the One who loves us and knows best what makes us fulfilled.

Might it be time for you to consider Him?

Notes

1. John 3:16 NLT (New Living Translation).
2. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT).

This article first appeared in Answer magazine 4:3 May/June 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.




Freudian Slip

His “True Enemy”

In 1937, shortly before World War II, a Jewish doctor had a colleague who urged him to flee Austria for fear of Nazi oppression. The doctor replied that his “true enemy” was not the Nazis but “religion,” the Christian church. What inspired such hatred of Christianity in this scientist?{1}

His father Jakob read the Talmud and celebrated Jewish festivals. The young boy developed a fond affection for his Hebrew Bible teacher and later said that the Bible story had “an enduring effect” on his life. A beloved nanny took him to church as a child. He came home telling even his Jewish parents about “God Almighty”. But eventually the nanny was accused of theft and dismissed. He later blamed her for many of his difficulties, and launched his private practice on Easter Sunday as (some suggest) an “act of defiance.”

Anti-Semitism hounded the lad at school. Around age twelve, he was horrified to learn of his father’s youthful acquiescence to Gentile bigotry. “Jew! Get off the pavement!” a so-called “Christian” had shouted to the young Jakob after knocking his cap into the mud. The son learned to his chagrin that his dad had complied.

In secondary school, he abandoned Judaism for secular science and humanism. At the University of Vienna, he studied the atheist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach and carried his atheism into his career as a psychiatrist. Religion for him was simply a “wish fulfillment,” a fairy tale invented by humans to satisfy their needy souls.

This psychiatrist was Sigmund Freud. He became perhaps the most influential psychiatrist of history, affecting medicine, literature, language, religion and culture. Obsessed with what he called the “painful riddle of death,” he once said he thought of it daily throughout life. His favorite grandson’s death brought great grief: “Everything has lost its meaning to me…” he wrote. “I can find no joy in life.” He called himself a “godless Jew.” In 1939, he slipped into eternity, a willful overdose of morphine assuaging his cancer’s pain.

What factors might have influenced Freud’s reaction to Christianity? Have you ever been discouraged about life or angry with God because of a major disappointment or the way a Christian has treated you? In the next section, we’ll consider Freud’s encounter with bigotry.

Anti-Semitism

Have you ever observed a Christian acting in un-Christlike ways? How did you feel? Disappointed? Embarrassed? Disgusted? Maybe you can identify with Sigmund Freud.

When Freud was about ten or twelve, his father Jakob told him that during his own youth, a “Christian” had knocked Jakob’s cap into the mud and shouted “Jew! Get off the pavement!” Jakob had simply picked up his cap. Little Sigmund found his father’s acquiescence to Gentile bigotry unheroic. Hannibal, the Semitic general who fought ancient Rome, became Sigmund’s hero. Hannibal’s conflict with Rome came to symbolize for Freud the Jewish-Roman Catholic conflict.{2}

In his twenties, Freud wrote of an ugly anti-Semitic incident on a train. When Freud opened a window for some fresh air, other passengers shouted for him to shut it. (The open window was on the windy side of the car.) He said he was willing to shut it provided another window opposite was opened. In the ensuing negotiations, someone shouted, “He’s a dirty Jew!” At that point, his first opponent announced to Freud, “We Christians consider other people, you’d better think less of your precious self.”

Freud asked one opponent to keep his vapid criticisms to himself and another to step forward and take his medicine. “I was quite prepared to kill him,” Freud wrote, “but he did not step up…{3}

Sigmund’s son Martin Freud recalled an incident from his own youth that deeply impressed Martin. During a summer holiday, the Freuds encountered some bigots: about ten men who carried sticks and umbrellas, shouted “anti-Semitic abuse,” and apparently attempted to block Sigmund’s way along a road. Ordering Martin to stay back, Sigmund “without the slightest hesitation … keeping to the middle of the road, marched towards the hostile crowd.” Martin continues that his “…father, swinging his stick, charged the hostile crowd, which gave way before him and promptly dispersed, allowing him free passage. This was the last we saw of these unpleasant strangers.” Perhaps Sigmund wanted his sons to see their father boldly confronting bigotry rather than cowering before it, as he felt his own father had done.{4}

Jews in Freud’s Austria suffered great abuse from so-called Christians. No wonder he was turned off toward the Christian faith. How might disappointment and loss have contributed to Freud’s anti-Christian stance?

Suffering’s Distress

Have you ever been abandoned, lost a loved one, or endured illness and wondered, “Where is God?” Perhaps you can relate to Freud.

Earlier, I spoke about Freud’s Catholic nanny whom he loved dearly, who was accused of theft and was dismissed. As an adult, Freud blamed this nanny for many of his own psychological problems.{5} The sudden departure–for alleged theft–of a trusted Christian caregiver could have left the child with abandonment fears{6} and the adult Freud with disdain for the nanny’s faith. Freud wrote, “We naturally feel hurt that a just God and a kindly providence do not protect us better from such influences [fate] during the most defenseless period of our lives.”{7}

Freud’s daughter, Sophie, died suddenly after a short illness. Writing to console her widower, Freud wrote: “…it was a senseless, brutal stroke of fate that took our Sophie from us . . . we are . . . mere playthings for the higher powers.{8}

A beloved grandson died at age four, leaving Freud depressed and grief stricken. “Fundamentally everything has lost its meaning for me,” he admitted shortly before the child died.{9}

Freud’s many health problems included a sixteen-year bout with cancer of the jaw. In 1939, as the cancer brought death closer, he wrote, “my world is . . . a small island of pain floating on an ocean of indifference.”{10} Eventually a gangrenous hole in his cheek emitted a putrid odor that repulsed his beloved dog but attracted the flies.{11}

Like many, Freud could not reconcile human suffering with a benevolent God. In a 1933 lecture, he asserted:

It seems not to be the case that there’s a power in the universe which watches over the well-being of individuals with parental care and brings all their affairs to a happy ending. On the contrary, . . . Obscure, unfeeling, unloving powers determine our fate.{12}

Freud’s suffering left him feeling deeply wounded. Could that be one reason he concluded that a benevolent God does not exist? Do you know people whose pain has made them mad at God, or has convinced them He doesn’t exist? Intellectual doubt often has biographical roots.

Spiritual Confusion

Hypocritical Christians angered Sigmund Freud. The deaths of his loved ones and his own cancer brought him great distress. His loss and suffering seemed incompatible with the idea of a loving God. So what did he think the main message of the Christian faith was?

In the book, The Future of An Illusion, his major diatribe against religion, Freud outlined his understanding of Christianity. He felt it spoke of humans having a “higher purpose”; a higher intelligence ordering life “for the best”; death not as “extinction” but the start of “a new kind of existence”; and a “supreme court of justice” that would reward good and punish evil.{13}

Freud’s summary omits something significant: an emphasis on human restoration of relationship to God by receiving His free gift of forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for human guilt.

Discussions of the biblical message often omit or obscure this important concept. I used to feel I had to earn God’s love by my own efforts. Then I learned that from a biblical perspective, no one can achieve the perfection necessary to gain eternal life.{14} Freud’s view of Christianity at this point seemed to be missing grace, Jesus, and the cross.

Two years after he wrote The Future of An Illusion, he seemed to have a clearer picture of Christian forgiveness. He wrote that earlier he had “failed to appreciate” the Christian concept of redemption through Christ’s sacrificial death in which he took “upon himself a guilt that is common to everyone.”{15}

Freud also attacked the intellectual validity of Christian faith.{16} He objected to arguments that one should not question the validity of religion and that we should believe simply because our ancestors did. I don’t blame him. Those arguments don’t satisfy me either. But he also felt the biblical writings were untrustworthy. He shows no awareness of the wealth of evidence supporting, for example, the reliability of the New Testament documents or Jesus’ resurrection.{17} His apparent lack of familiarity with historical evidence and method may have been a function of his era, background, academic pursuits or profession.

Perhaps confusion about spiritual matters colored Freud’s view of the faith. Do you know anyone who is confused about Jesus’ message or the evidence for its validity?

Freud’s Christian Friend

Freud often despised Christianity, but he was quite fond of one Christian. He actually delayed publication of his major criticism of religion for fear of offending this friend. Finally, he warned his friend of its release.{18} Oskar Pfister, the Swiss pastor who had won Freud’s heart, responded, “I have always believed that every man should state his honest opinion aloud and plainly. You have always been tolerant towards me, and am I to be intolerant of your atheism?”{19} Freud responded warmly and welcomed Pfister’s published critique. Their correspondence is a marvelous example of scholars who differ doing so with grace and dignity, disagreeing with ideas but preserving their friendship. Their interchange could well inform many of today’s political, cultural and religious debates.

Freud’s longest correspondence was with Pfister. It lasted 30 years.{20} Freud’s daughter and protégé, Anna, left a glimpse into the pastor’s character. During her childhood, Pfister seemed “like a visitor from another planet” in the “totally non-religious Freud household.” His “human warmth and enthusiasm” contrasted with the impatience of the visiting psychologists who saw the family mealtime as “an unwelcome interruption” in their important discussions. Pfister “enchanted” the Freud children, entering into their lives and becoming “a most welcome guest.”{21}

Freud respected Pfister’s work. He wrote, “[Y]ou are in the fortunate position of being able to lead . . . [people] to God.”{22}

Freud called Pfister “a remarkable man a true servant of God, . . . [who] feels the need to do spiritual good to everyone he meets. You did good in this way even to me.”{23}

“Dear Man of God,” began Freud after a return home. “A letter from you is one of the best possible things that could be waiting for one on one’s return.”{24}

Pfister was a positive influence for Christ. But in the end, so far as we know, Freud decided against personal faith.

People reject Christ for many reasons. Hypocritical Christians turn some off. Others feel disillusioned, bitter, or skeptical from personal loss or pain. Some are confused about who Jesus is and how to know Him personally. Understanding these barriers to belief can help skeptics and seekers discern the roots of their dilemmas and prompt them to take a second look. Examples like Pfister’s can show that following the Man from Nazareth might be worthwhile after all.

Notes

1. Much of this article is adapted from Russell Sims Wright, Belief Barriers and Faith Factors: Biographical Roots of Sigmund Freud’s Reaction to the Christian Faith and Their Relevance for Christian Ministry, unpublished M.Th. dissertation, University of Oxford (Westminster College), May 2001.

2. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900. In James Strachey (Gen. Editor/Translator), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volumes IV and V (London: Hogarth, 1953-1966), pp. 196-197. Subsequent references to this Standard Edition are here abbreviated “S.E.”, per professional convention.

3. Sigmund Freud; Ernst L. Freud (ed.); Tania and James Stern (translators), Letters of Sigmund Freud 1873-1939 (London: Hogarth, 1961[1970 reprint]), pp. 92-94.

4. Martin Freud, Sigmund Freud: Man and Father (New York: Jason Aronson, 1983), pp. 68-71.

5. Sigmund Freud, Letters 70 (October 3-4, 1897) and 71 (October 15, 1897) to Wilhelm Fliess. In S.E., Volume I, pp. 261-265.

6. Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1901. In S.E. Volume VI, pp. 49-51.

7. Sigmund Freud, Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood, 1910. In S.E. Volume II, pp. 136-137; quoted in Ana-Maria Rizzuto, Why Did Freud Reject God? A Psychodynamic Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 241-242. The bracketed word is apparently Rizzuto’s.

8. Ernst Freud, Lucie Freud, and Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, eds., Sigmund Freud: His Life in Pictures and Words (London: Andre Deutsch, 1978), p. 220.

9. Sigmund Freud, Letters of Sigmund Freud, ed. Ernst L. Freud, trans. Tania and James Stern (New York: Dover, 1960 [1992 unaltered reprint of 1960 Basic Books edition]), pp. 343-344.

10. Max Schur, M.D., Freud: Living and Dying (New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1972), p. 524.

11. Ibid., pp. 526-527.

12. Armand Nicholi, Jr., M.D., “When Worldviews Collide: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud: A comparison of their thoughts and viewpoints on life, pain and death,” Part One, The Real Issue 16:2, January 1998, p. 11.

13. Sigmund Freud, The Future of An Illusion, ed. and trans. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1961 edition of the 1928 work), pp. 23-24.

14. Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 1-5.

15. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents ed. and trans. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1961 edition of the 1930 work), pp. 99-100.

16. Sigmund Freud, The Future of An Illusion, p. 33.

17. See, for instance, Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999).

18. Heinrich Meng and Ernst L. Freud, eds., Eric Mosbacher trans., Psycho-Analysis and Faith: The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister (London: Hogarth Press/Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1963), pp. 109-110.

19. Ibid., p. 110.

20. Nicholi, loc. cit.

21. Meng and E. Freud, op. cit., p. 11.

22. Ibid., p. 16.

23. Ibid., p. 24.

24. Ibid., p. 29.

 

©2003 Probe Ministries.




Christian Psychology: Is Something Missing?

The Church as a Healing Community

Worldviews shape the way we think. Psychology, once an outsider both to the sciences and most people’s experience, has become a worldview for many people today. Evolutionary psychology, the view that our long evolution from animal to human has deeply imprinted all our behavior, is gaining acceptance on a rapidly widening scale. Psychology is often used to provide an explanation for everything from our “religious aspirations” to our behavior as consumers. How should a Christian view psychology, and what does psychology offer the believer? This essay will consider only one small part of the answer to those questions.

While specifically Christian counseling was once rare in the church, today it is a recognized part of many churches. As Christian counseling has become more widespread, some see it as the answer for the struggles that seem to plague most of us. The therapeutic worldview sees many of our problems and struggles in life as stemming from unresolved problems arising in childhood. The cataloging and diagnosis of psychological disorders has become widespread, both within the church and in the culture at large. Professional counselors are seen as the primary way of dealing with these disorders. How many of us, when faced with someone enduring an ugly divorce, or hounded by problems of self-guilt, or struggling with their self-image, don’t think, “This person needs to see a counselor”?

Larry Crabb has done much to bring counseling into the American church. Having written books for more than 23 years, Crabb has always seen the church as being central in the counseling process. He has trained many of the counselors working in churches today. He has written books, taught, founded schools, and lectured around the country on Christian psychology. He has successfully questioned the church’s distrust of psychology.

Now Larry Crabb is asking a new question: Is the common, therapeutic model of Christian psychology really right? Should the church depend on mental health professionals to do all but minor, pat-on-the-back, words-of-cheer kinds of counseling? Is counseling really a matter of education and degrees and specialized training?

While being very clear that professional Christian counselors have an important role to play in the Christian community, Crabb is asking, Could we be depending on counselors too much? Could it be that God has given all believers more resources than we think to help one another deal with many of the troubles and struggles we face in daily life?

Going even deeper, Crabb asks the heretical question, Are psychological disorders really at the bottom of most of our struggles? “I conclude,” says Crabb, “that we have made a terrible mistake. For most of the twentieth century, we have wrongly defined soul wounds as psychological disorders and delegated their treatment to trained specialists.”(1) What he proposes in his book, Connecting, is both revolutionary and profound. In giving us new life in Christ, God has put in each of us the power to connect with other believers and to find the good God has put in them. We have the opportunity to heal most wounded souls. This is Larry Crabb’s proposal. While he is still solidly behind professional counseling, he has come to see a broader place for healing within the context of Christian relationships. In this essay we will talk about what it means for two people to connect, and how God can use this connection to heal the deepest wounds of life and expose a beautiful vision of God’s work in us.

What Is Connecting?

Some people seem to write a new book as often as most of us buy new shoes. And, like shoes, most of those books don’t attract too much attention. But when well-known author Larry Crabb questions the very discipline that he helped establish, his book Connecting may cause more of a stir.

Christian psychology views human problems as primarily the result of underlying psychological disorders. We may be angry at a teenager’s disobedience, but anger is only the symptom of problems buried within us. Stubborn problems may require deeper exploration of our thinking. Counselors are those people who have special training, enabling them to understand the various disorders we struggle with, and how to fix what’s wrong.

In this book, Larry Crabb calls this whole picture into question. He describes the most common ways we react to people who are hurting and puts those reactions into two categories: moralistic and psychological. The moralist looks for what scriptures have been disobeyed, rebukes our disobedience, calls us to admit our sin and repent, and sees that we have some sort of accountability in the future. The psychologist listens to us, tries to find out what is wrong internally, and then helps us learn healthier ways of living. This process often takes months of self-exploration to find the roots of our problem, and to chart a course towards self-awareness and better ways of coping with the world.

Could there be another way for people to relate to each other when problems arise? Crabb’s suggestion is a powerful one. Could it be, Crabb asks, that God has put within each of us His power, which, when we connect with another person, allows us to find the good that God has already put in them, and to release that good so that they can respond to the good urges God has placed there?

This is the main premise of the book Connecting. Coming straight to the point, Crabb says, “The center of a forgiven person is not sin. Neither is it psychological complexity. The center of a person is the capacity to connect.”(2) The gift of salvation gives us the Holy Spirit, Who allows us first to connect with God the Father, and then, on a new and deeper level, with each other. But what is connecting?

Crabb uses an analogy to the Trinity to make his point clear. The Trinity, Crabb writes, is “an Eternal Community of three fully connected persons.”(3) They have delighted in each other for eternity, there is no shadow of envy or minute bit of jealousy between them, and they love to do what is best for each other. Since God made us in His image, we too can enjoy one another, but we must rely on the power of God in us to show us what is good in the other person.

Connecting is so powerful, Crabb says, because it requires that we look past the surface of people and see the new creation God has already begun. Connecting with someone else requires us to look at what a person could be, not just what he is right now. With God’s insight, we look beyond the small amount God may already have done and ask God for a vision of what this person could be like. Connecting finds the spark in someone else and is excited about what it could flame into.

Is professional counseling unnecessary? Of course not, says Crabb. But connecting is a powerful way God uses us to bring out His good in others. What keeps us from doing this more?

What Keeps Us From Connecting?

If connecting is what God has made us for, and if this is what the Holy Spirit equips us to do, then why don’t more of us connect with one another? Larry Crabb’s answer is developed around four analogies. We tend to be either city builders, fire lighters, wall whitewashers, or well diggers.

City builders are those who know what resources they have and how to use them. They know their strengths, and they have a solid sense of their adequacy to meet whatever lies ahead. City builders want to be in control, and fear that they might be found inadequate. City builders have a hard time connecting with someone else because they are looking for affirmation of themselves, not what is good in another. They can work together with other people towards a common goal, but only if it increases their sense of adequacy.

Martha Stewart, for example, has built an empire on feeding people’s desire to be adequate, able to handle any situation. She is in control of her kitchen, her house, her yard, her life. And she is the one who will show us how to bring our lives under control.

God has created us with a desire for good. We want to please others, we want to live in peace, we want to have everything work out right. And in heaven it will. But we are not in heaven, and too often we try to insulate ourselves from the messiness of the world around us. City builders depend on their own resources to bring a sense of control into their lives. Their adequacy comes from themselves and what they can accomplish. But this blocks them from depending on God. God encourages us to seek peace with all men (Rom. 12:18), but at the same time we must realize that following Christ is a path of difficulty, not ease (2 Tim. 3:12). We are being prepared for perfection, but we are not to expect it here on earth. God has prepared a perfect city for us, but we are not to try to create it on our own now (Heb. 11:13-16).

Fire lighters are like those people described in Isaiah 50:10-11. They walk in darkness, but rather than trust in God to guide them by His light, they light their own torches, and set their own fires to see by. Fire lighters, Crabb says, are those people who must have a plan they know will work. Their demand of God is the pragmatist’s “Tell me what will work!” Fire lighters trust and hold closely to their plans, so connecting is hard for them because it would require them to trust God and not know what might happen next. Connecting requires us to give up our plans and expectations so that we can recognize and enjoy God’s plans. We can either trust God or trust our own plans, but we cannot do both. It is not wrong to plan, but we must be willing to give up our plans when Jesus does not fit into them in the way that we want. As C.S. Lewis describes Aslan, the great lion who represents Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia: “It’s not as if he were a tame Lion.”(4)

Have you ever known people whose primary efforts in life were directed towards protecting themselves and their children from any difficulties? When safety is your top priority, then you have become a wall whitewasher, Crabb says. Wall whitewashers build flimsy walls of protection around themselves and their worlds, and then whitewash them to make them appear stronger than they really are. These people want protection from whatever they fear. They are sure that their lives of dedication to the Lord are a protection from major problems. “Wall whitewashers cannot welcome tribulations as friends. . . Character isn’t the goal of a wall whitewasher. Safety is.”(5)

Many people who feel God’s calling in their lives, also assume that God will take care of them and of their families. And He will, but not always in the way that we imagine. As we raise our children and watch the terrible struggles that seem to overcome so many other young people, we may feel that at least God will protect our own children from such affliction. But if our trust is that our serving the Lord is protecting our family, then we have built up a false sense of security. We are trying to cover our own uncertainty about the future with the whitewash of our own good deeds. God builds us up and shows us our need to depend on Him alone in our tribulations, but we often want to hide ourselves and protect our families from the very misfortunes that God wants to use to strengthen us. We are whitewashing a failing wall when we try to put up a hedge around ourselves and our families, sure that God will protect us from trouble. Everything that happens in our lives has come through God first, has been “Father-filtered,” as someone once said. But we must depend on the Lord in all circumstances, not just when we feel protected. God loves us perfectly, but His desire is to give us His character, not to protect us from any difficulty. That is why, as James says, we are to greet tribulations as friends, and not with fear.

Crabb’s fourth class of people who thwart God’s purpose in connecting are those he calls well diggers. The image comes from Jeremiah 2, where God marvels at the broken, pitiful wells that the Israelites make instead of coming to Him for real, unlimited water. Well diggers are looking for satisfaction on their terms, and they want to escape pain at any cost. The well digger asks, “Do I feel fulfilled?” If the answer is no, then he renews his quest for something that will give even a moment’s pleasure. We judge drug addicts harshly, but what about needing to have a certain position to feel good, or driving a certain kind of car to prove we’re reaching our goals?

Well diggers also are characterized by something that marks our whole first-world culture: the desire for satisfaction now. Well diggers dig their own wells because it often seems faster than the way God is providing water. We want to be filled, and we want it immediately. We live in a fast-everything world. We stand around the microwave oven, wondering why it takes so long to heat a cup of water. Or, more seriously, we wonder why God is taking so long to bring along the right woman or man, so we find our own ways to satisfy our desires, whether in pornography, or cheap sex, or relationships we know can’t last. We want to be satisfied, and if God seems slow, we find our own satisfaction any way we can.

God plans for eternity, and builds to last forever. But it takes time, and patience. If we fulfill our own desires, we will be like the Samaritan woman at the well: we will soon thirst again. But if we allow God to provide for our thirst, He fills us with living water, and we are filled in ways we could never have known otherwise.

Whether we are city builders, fire lighters, wall washers, or well diggers, we will never be able to deeply connect with another person until we kill these urges of the flesh, and allow God to strengthen our spirit. What will help us connect with other people?

Finding What God is Doing in Others

To connect with another believer, we “discover what God is up to and join Him in nourishing the life He has already given.”(6) This is why Larry Crabb sees connecting as central to the Gospel. To connect with another Christian is to let the power of the Holy Spirit in you, find the good that God has planted in the spirit of another believer. It requires us to get past our flesh, which Paul instructs us to crucify (Gal. 5:24), so that we can be alive to the Spirit, the one Who makes connection possible. Connecting with someone else is a triumph of the Spirit over my own fleshly desires to control my own life (being a city builder), to create a plan I know will work (fire lighter), to protect myself against the uncertainties of life (wall whitewasher), and to find my own ways to feel good when I want to (well digger). To connect with a fellow believer I must see what God sees in him or her, not just what I can see.

So how do we see as God sees? God’s forgiveness of us provides a clue. Does God forgive me because I am such a nice fellow? No. Does God forgive me because I have such a good heart? No. Am I forgiven because I will always do the right thing in the future? No. God forgives me because He sees Jesus’ death in my place. It must be the same when I look at a fellow Christian. I must see him or her as someone whom God cared enough to die for, and as someone worth the incredible price that Christ paid on the cross.

Just as God looks past what is bad in my flesh to what He is creating in my spirit, so I must learn to look at other people and find the good that God is working on in them.

Have you ever heard a child learning to play a musical instrument? We don’t just listen to the noises coming from the violin or piano or drums. We listen to what is behind the music–the effort, the intensity, the desire to do better, the willingness to work. We listen for the spark that might indicate that this child really connects to music. That is just what we need to look for in one another: the sparks of eternity God has placed in each one of us. We need to look for what God is doing in our friends that can delight us, and make us “jump up and down with excitement” at how wonderfully God is remaking them.

If we would truly connect with someone else, we must also be putting to death the flesh and feeding the spirit. Larry Crabb goes back to an old Puritan phrase, “mortifying the flesh,” to describe what we are to do as we discover urges of the flesh rising up in us. As Crabb emphatically writes: “The disguise [of the flesh] must be ripped away, the horror of the enemy’s ugliness and the pain he creates must be seen, not to understand the ugliness, not to endlessly study the pain, but to shoot the enemy.”(7) This is an ongoing war, one we will fight until we are home with Jesus, but alongside this battle to “crucify the flesh” (Gal. 5:24) we must also feed the Spirit. By this Crabb means that we are, as a community of believers, to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). As we put to death the flesh, we are indeed made alive in the Spirit (Rom. 8:10-14).

Discerning a Vision for Others

Larry Crabb’s book Connecting has two subtitles. The first subtitle is “Healing for Ourselves and Our Relationships.” Earlier, we saw how we are healed as we allow Christ to sweep away all of our own methods of dealing with life. Whether we are city builders, fire lighters, wall whitewashers, or well diggers, these are all ways that we try to manage life. Jesus does not ask us to manage our lives. Instead, as a father might take his son through a crowded mall, God asks us to take His hand, and let Him guide us to where He chooses. The urges we need to kill are the very urges that whisper in our ears that we must take care of ourselves.

Remarkably, as we abandon our own techniques for survival, and let God use our lives in His own way, we also find that we can approach others much more openly and honestly. We are free to love people for who they are, not what they can do for us. And this opens up what is one of Larry Crabb’s most important ideas. When we look at others the way God does, we begin to see what He is doing to make them new and incredible creations, just as He is doing for us.

The second subtitle for Connecting is “A Radical New Vision.” It is certainly radical when one of the leading voices for Christian psychology suggests that lay Christians themselves can deal with many of the personal problems they often refer to counselors. But the radical view he has most in mind is a new way we can relate to and view one another.

Crabb’s challenge is for us to kill the bad urges in ourselves so that we are able to begin seeing and hearing what God is doing in other people. This will not be just a warm feeling. We discern visions for a person’s life; we do not create them.

When a doctor announces “It’s a girl!” he is not making her a girl, he is announcing what is already the case. In the same way, Crabb writes, we are, by prayer, listening, and reading God’s Word, to discern what God is doing in someone’s life and then announce it. And the process of seeing what God is doing in someone’s life may not be easy.

Larry Crabb’s vision for the church is that we will become communities of people who care desperately about one another, so much that we will let down our guard. People can truly know us, and we can see into them. In this process of connecting with a few other people, we will see God take the power of His Holy Spirit, and use that power to see what another person could be. As we walk with the Lord, and grow in godly wisdom, He enables us to see the good in other believers, and to encourage that good in a way that gives that person a vision of why she is here. It is this vision of who we could be in Christ which can transform each of us. But we must be willing to die daily to who we are on our own, and arise daily to do and say the things that God desires us to do and say. Are you ready for a radical new vision? It will fill your whole world with the power God has put in you to release the good He has put in others. What a calling of hope!

Notes

1. Larry Crabb, Connecting (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), p. 200.
2. Crabb, 38.
3. Crabb, 53.
4. C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Collier Books, 1970), p. 138.
5. Crabb, 121.
6. Crabb, 49.
7. Crabb, 91.

©1998 Probe Ministries.




Human Nature

Don Closson provides an overview to how naturalism, pantheism and Christian theism view human nature. He discusses questions considering how each view deals with purpose, good and evil, and death.

In the twenty-five years prior to 1993, the federal government spent 2.5 trillion dollars on welfare and aid to cities. This was enough money to buy all the assets of the top Fortune 500 firms as well as all the farmland in America at that time.(1) As part of the Great War on poverty, begun by the Johnson administration in the 1960’s, the government’s goal was to reduce the number of poor, and the effects of poverty on American society. As one administration official put it, “The way to eliminate poverty is to give the poor people enough money so that they won’t be poor anymore.”(2) Sounds simple. But offering money didn’t get rid of poverty; in fact, just the opposite has occurred. The number of children covered by the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program has gone from 4.5 percent of all children in America in 1965, to almost 13 percent of all children in 1991. One of the reasons for this increase has been the rapid deterioration of the family for those most affected by the welfare bureaucracy. Since 1960, the number of single parent families has more than tripled, reflecting high rates of children born out of wedlock and high divorce rates.(3) Rather than strengthening the family in America and ridding the country of poverty, just the opposite has occurred. Why such disastrous results from such good intentions?

Part of the answer must be found in human nature itself. Might it be, that those creating welfare policy in the 1960’s had a faulty view of human nature and thus misread what the solution to poverty should be? In this essay I will look at how three different world views–theism, naturalism, and pantheism–view human nature. Which view we adopt, both individually and as a people, will have a great influence on how we educate our children, how and if we punish criminals, and how we run our government.

Christian theism is often chided as being simplistic and lacking in sophistication, yet on this subject, it is the naturalist and pantheist who tend to be reductionistic. Both will simplify human nature in a way that detracts from our uniqueness and God-given purpose here on this planet. It should be mentioned that the views of Christian theists, naturalists, and pantheists are mutually exclusive. They might all be wrong, but they cannot all be right. The naturalist sees man as a biological machine that has evolved by chance. The pantheist perceives humankind as forgetful deity, whose essence is a complex series of energy fields which are hidden by an illusion of this apparent physical reality. Christian theism accepts the reality of both our physical and spiritual natures, presenting a balanced, livable view of what it means to be human.

In this essay I will show how Christian theism, naturalism, and pantheism answer three important questions concerning the nature of humanity. First, are humans special in any way; do we have a purpose and origin that sets us apart from the rest of the animal world? Second, are we good, evil, or neither? Third, what happens when we die? These fundamental questions have been asked since the written word appeared and are central to what we believe about ourselves.

Are Humans Special?

One doesn’t usually think of Hollywood’s Terminator, as played by Arnold Schwartzenegger, as a profound thinker. Yet in Terminator II, the robot sent back from the future to protect a young boy asks a serious question.

Boy: “You were going to kill that guy!”

Terminator: “Of course! I’m a terminator.”

Boy: “Listen to me very carefully, OK? You’re not a terminator anymore. All right? You got that?! You just can’t go around killing people!”

Terminator: “Why?”

Boy: “What do ya mean, Why? ‘Cause you can’t!”

Terminator: “Why?”

Boy: “Because you just can’t, OK? Trust me on this!”(4)

Indeed, why not terminate people? Why are they special? To a naturalist, one who believes that no spiritual reality exists, options to this question are few. Natural scientists like astronomer Carl Sagan and entomologist E.O. Wilson find man to be no more than a product of time plus chance, an accident of mindless evolution. Psychologist Sigmund Freud and existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre agree, humankind is a biological machine, perhaps slightly more complex than other animals, but governed by the same physical needs and drives.

Yet as Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame put it in the original Star Trek movie, logic and knowledge aren’t always enough. He discovered this by mind melding with V-GER, a man made machine that, after leaving our solar system, evolves into a thinking machine elsewhere in the galaxy and returns to earth to find its creator.(5) If logic and knowledge aren’t enough, where do we turn to for significance or purpose? A naturalist has nowhere to turn. For example, Sartre argued that man must make his own meaning in the face of an absurd universe.(6) The best that entomologist E. O. Wilson could come up with is that we do whatever it takes to pass on our genetic code, our DNA, to the next generation. Everything we do is based on promoting survival and reproduction.(7)

Pantheists have a very different response to the question of human purpose or uniqueness. Dr. Brough Joy, a medical doctor who has accepted an Eastern view of reality, argues that all life forms are divine, consisting of complex energy fields. In fact, the entire universe is ultimately made up of this energy; the appearance of a physical reality is really an illusion.(8) Gerald Jampolsky, another doctor, argues that love is the only part of us that is real, but love itself cannot be defined.(9) This is all very consistent with pantheism which teaches a radical monism, that all is one, and all is god. But if all is god, all is just as it is supposed to be and you end up with statements like this from the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh:

There is no purpose to life; existence is non- purposive. That is why it is called a leela, a play. Existence itself has no purpose to fulfill. It is not going anywhere–there is no end that it is moving toward…(10)

Christianity teaches that human beings are unique. We are created in God’s image and for a purpose, to glorify God. Genesis 1:26 declares our image-bearing nature and the mandate to rule over the other creatures of God’s creation. Jesus further delineated our purpose when he gave us the two commandments to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Romans 12:1 calls us to be living sacrifices to God. Unlike naturalism or pantheism, the Bible doesn’t reduce us down to either just our material, physical nature or to just our spiritual nature. Christianity recognizes the real complexity of humanity as it is found in our physical, emotional and spiritual components.

Are We Good, Bad, or Neither?

To a naturalist, this notion of good and evil can only apply to the question of survival. If something promotes survival, it is good; if not, it is evil. The only real question is how malleable human behavior is. B. F. Skinner, a Harvard psychology professor, believed that humans are completely programmable via classical conditioning methods. A newborn baby can be conditioned to become a doctor, lawyer, or serial killer depending on its environment.(11)

The movie that won “Best Picture” in 1970 was a response to Skinner’s theories. A Clockwork Orange depicted a brutal criminal being subjected to a conditioning program that would create a violent physical reaction to just the thought of doing harm to another person. Here is dialogue between the prison warden and an Anglican clergyman after a demonstration of the therapy’s effectiveness.

Clergyman: “Choice! The boy has no real choice! Has he? Self interest! The fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement! Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.”

Warden: “Padre, these are subtleties! We’re not concerned with motives for the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime! (Crowd Applause) And with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons! He will be your true Christian. Ready to turn the other cheek! Ready to be crucified rather than crucify! Sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly! Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works!”(12)

Stanley Kubrick denounced this shallow view of human nature with this film, yet Skinner’s behaviorism actually allows for more human flexibility than does the sociobiology of E. O. Wilson, another Harvard professor. Wilson argues that human emotions and ethics, in a general sense, have been programmed to a “substantial degree” by our evolutionary experience.(13) In other words, human beings are hard coded to respond to conditions by their evolutionary history. Good and evil seem to be beside the point.

Jean-Paul Sartre, another naturalist, rejected the limited view of the sociobiologist, believing that humans, if anything, are choosing machines. We are completely free to decide who we shall be, whether a drunk in the gutter or a ruler of nations. However, our choice is meaningless. Being a drunk is no better or worse than being a ruler. Since there is no ultimate meaning to the universe, there can be no moral value ascribed to a given set of behaviors.(14)

Pantheists also have a difficult time with this notion of good and evil. Dr. Brugh Joy has written,

In the totality of Beingness there is no absolute anything–no rights or wrongs, no higher or lower aspects–only the infinite interaction of forces, subtle and gross, that have meaning only in relationship to one another.(15)

The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh wrote,

I am totally passive. Whatsoever happens, happens. I never question why, because there is no one to be asked.(16)

Christianity teaches that the universe was created by a personal, moral Creator God, and that it was created good. This includes humanity. But now creation is in a fallen state due to rebellion against God. This means that humans are inclined to sin, and indeed are born in a state of sinfulness. This explains both mankind’s potential goodness and internal sense of justice, as well as its inclination towards evil.

What Happens at Death?

Bertrand Russell wrote over seventy books on everything from geometry to marriage. Historian Paul Johnson says of Russell that no intellectual in history offered advice to humanity over so long a period as Bertrand Russell. Holding to naturalist assumptions caused an obvious tension in Russell regarding human nature. He wrote that people are “tiny lumps of impure carbon and water dividing their time between labor to postpone their normal dissolution and frantic struggle to hasten it for others.”(17) Yet Russell also wrote shortly before his death, “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”(18) One has to ask why he would pity these self-centered lumps of impure carbon and water?

Most people over forty begin to question the nature and consequence of death. Some become obsessed with it. A recent movie called Flatliners focused on what death might hold for us. It involved a number of young doctors willing to die temporarily, to find out what was on the other side.

Young Doctor #1: “Wait a minute! Wait! Quite simply, why are you doing this?”

Young Doctor #2: “Quite simply to see if there is anything out there beyond death. Philosophy failed! Religion failed! Now it’s up to the physical sciences. I think mankind deserves to know!” (19)

Philosophy has failed, religion has failed, now its science’s turn to find the answers. But what can naturalism offer us? Whether we accept the sociobiology of Wilson or the existentialism of Sartre, death means extinction. If nothing exists beyond the natural, material universe, our death is final and complete.

Pantheists, on the other hand, find death to be a minor inconvenience on the road to nirvana. Reincarnation happens to all living things, either towards nirvana or further from it depending on the Karma one accrues in the current life. Although Karma may include ethical components, it focuses on one’s realization of his oneness with the universe as expressed in his actions and thoughts. Depending on the particular view held, attaining nirvana is likened to a drop of water being placed in an ocean. All identity is lost; only a radical oneness exists.

Christianity denies the possibility of reincarnation and rejects naturalism’s material-only universe. Hebrews 9:27 states, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” It has always held to a linear view of history, allowing for each person to live a single life, experience death, and then be judged by God. Revelation 20:11-12 records John’s vision of the final judgment. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. {12} And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” All three versions of what happens at death may be wrong, but they certainly can’t all be right! We believe that based on the historical evidence for Christ’s life and the dealings of God with the nation of Israel, the Biblical account is trustworthy. We believe that those who have placed their faith in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross will spend eternity in glorified bodies worshiping and fellowshiping with their Creator God.

Evaluation & Summary

In his autobiography, entomologist E. O. Wilson writes that as a young man he accepted Christ as his savior, but because of what he perceived to be hypocrisy in the pulpit he walked away from the church shortly after being baptized. Later at Harvard University he sat through a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and then a series of gospel songs sung by students from the campus. He writes that he silently wept while the songs were being sung and said to himself, “these are my people.”(20) Wilson claims to be a naturalist, arguing that God doesn’t exist, yet he has feelings that he can’t explain and desires that do not fit his sociobiological paradigm. Even the staunchly atheistic Jean-Paul Sartre, on his death bed, had doubts about the existence of God and human significance. Naturalism is a hard worldview to live by.

In 1991 Dr. L. D. Rue addressed the American Association for The Advancement of Science and he advocated that we deceive ourselves with “A Noble Lie.” A lie that deceives us, tricks us, compels us beyond self-interest, beyond ego, beyond family, nation, [and] race. “It is a lie, because it tells us that the universe is infused with value (which is a great fiction), because it makes a claim to universal truth (when there is none), and because it tells us not to live for self-interest (which is evidently false). `But without such lies, we cannot live.'”(21) This is the predicament of modern man; either he lives honestly without hope of significance, or he creates a lie that gives a veneer of meaning. As William Lane Craig writes in his book Reasonable Faith,

Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without meaning, value or purpose. If we try to live consistently within the atheistic worldview, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy. If instead we manage to live happily, it is only by giving the lie to our worldview.(22)

The pantheist is little better off. Although pantheism claims a spiritual reality, it does so by denying our personhood. We become just another impersonal force field in an unending field of forces. Life is neither going anywhere nor is there hope that evil will be judged. Everything just is, let it be.

Neither system can speak out against the injustices of the world because neither see humankind as significant. Justice implies moral laws, and a lawgiver, something that both systems deny exist. One cannot have justice without moral truth. Of the three systems, only Judeo-Christian thought provides the foundation for combating the oppression of other humans.

In J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, Packer argues that human beings were created to function spiritually as well as physically. Just as we need food, water, exercise, and rest for our bodies to thrive, we need to experience worship, praise, and godly obedience to live spiritually. The result of ignoring these needs will be the de-humanizing of the soul, the development of a brutish rather than saintly demeanor. Our culture is experiencing this brutishness, this destruction of the soul, on a massive scale. Only revival, which brings about personal devotion to Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, will reverse this trend. Since we are truly made in God’s image, we will find peace and fulfillment only when we are rightly related to Him.

Notes

1. Stephen Moore, “The growth of government in America,” The Freeman, April (1993), 124.

2. Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion (Washington, D.C: Regnery, 1992), 174.

3. William Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators (New York: Touchstone, 1994), 50.

4. Terminator II: Judgment Day (Carolco Pictures Inc., 1991).

5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Paramount Pictures, 1980).

6. John Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 50.

7. Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 3.

8. Brugh W. Joy, Joy’s Way (Los Angeles: J.B. Tarcher, Inc., 1979), 4.

9. Gerald G. Jampolsky, Teach Only Love (New York: Bantam, 1983), 52.

10. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, I Am the Gate (Philadelphia: Harper Colophon, 1977), 5.

11. Leslie Stevenson, Seven Theories of Human Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 105.

12. A Clockwork Orange (Warner Bros. Inc., 1971).

13. Wilson, On Human Nature, p. 6.

14. Robert D. Cumming, The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (New York: Random House, 1965), 363.

15. Joy, Joy’s Way, p. 7.

16. Rajneesh, I Am the Gate, p. 5.

17. Israel Shenker, “The Provocative Progress of a Pilgrim Polymath,” Smithsonian (May 1993), 123.

18. Ibid.

19. Flatliners (Columbia Pictures, 1990).

20. Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1994), 46.

21. William L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 71.

22. Ibid., p. 70.

©1996 Probe Ministries.




False Guilt – Refusing Christ’s Atonement

Kerby Anderson provides an insightful look at the important topic of false guilt. He helps us look at the sources of false guilt, it’s consequences and the cure in Jesus Christ. If we refuse  to fully accept Christ’s atonement we can be trapped in false guilt, instead we should embrace His atonement and accept what He did on the cross for us.

Introduction

Have you ever felt guilty? Of course you have, usually because you were indeed guilty. But what about those times when you have feelings of guilt even when you didn’t do anything wrong? We would call this false guilt, and that is the subject of this essay.

False guilt usually comes from an overactive conscience. It’s that badgering pushing voice that runs you and your self-image into the ground. It nags: “You call this acceptable? You think this is enough? Look at all you’ve not yet done! Look at all you have done that’s not acceptable! Get going!”

You probably know the feeling. You start the day feeling like you are in a hole. You feel like you can never do enough. You have this overactive sense of duty and can never seem to rest. One person said he “felt more like a human doing than a human being.” Your behavior is driven by a sense of guilt. That is what we will be talking about in these pages.

Much of the material for this discussion is taken from the book entitled False Guilt by Steve Shores. His goal is to help you determine if you (1) have an overactive conscience and (2) are driven by false guilt. If these are problem areas for you, he provides practical solutions so you can break the cycle of false guilt. I recommend his book especially if you can recognize yourself in some of the material we cover in this essay.

In his book, Steve Shores poses three sets of questions, each with some explanation. An affirmative answer to any or all of these questions may indicate that you struggle with false guilt and an overactive conscience.

1. Do you ever feel like this: “Something is wrong with me. There is some stain on me, or something badly flawed that I can neither scrub out nor repair”? Does this feeling persist even though you have become a Christian?

2. Is Thanksgiving sort of a difficult time of year for you? Do you find it hard to muster up the Norman Rockwell spirit–you know… Mom and Dad and grandparents and kids all seated around mounds of food? Dad is carving the turkey with a sure and gentle expression on his face, and everyone looks so…well, so thankful? Do you find yourself, at any time of the year, dutifully thanking or praising God without much passion?

3. How big is your dance floor? What I mean is, How much freedom do you have? Do you feel confined by Christianity? To you, is it mainly a set of restrictions? Is it primarily a source of limits: don’t do this, and don’t do that? Does your Christianity have more to do with walls than with windows? Is it a place of narrowness or a place where light and air and liberty pour in?

Usually a person driven by false guilt is afraid of freedom because in every act of freedom is the possibility of offending someone. Offending someone is unacceptable. Other people are seen as pipelines of approval. If they’re offended, the pipeline shuts down.

False guilt, along with an overactive conscience, is a hard master. As we turn now to look at the causes and the cures for false guilt, we hope to explain how to break down the confining walls and tiresome chains that may have kept you or a loved one in bondage to false guilt.

The Source of False Guilt

Next, I would like to focus on the source of false guilt: an overactive conscience. What is an overactive conscience? How does it function? Steve Shores says, “The mission of a person’s overactive conscience is to attract the expectations of others.”

Imagine a light bulb glowing brightly on a warm summer’s night. What do you see in your mind’s eye? Bugs. Bugs of every variety are attracted to that light. The light bulb serves as a magnet for these insects. Imagine that light is an overactive conscience. The expectations of others are the “bugs” that are attracted to the “light” of an overactive conscience.

Now imagine a light bulb burning inside a screened porch. The bugs are still attracted, but they bounce off the screen. The overactive conscience has no screen. But it is more than that. The overactive conscience doesn’t want a screen. The more “bugs” the better. Why? Because the whole purpose is to meet expectations in order to gain approval and fill up the emptiness of the soul. This is an overactive conscience, a light bulb with lots of bugs and no screen.

A key to understanding the overactive conscience is the word “active.” Someone with false guilt has a conscience that is always on the go. False guilt makes a person restless, continually looking for a rule to be kept, a scruple to observe, an expectation to be fulfilled, or a way to be an asset to a person or a group.

The idea of being an asset is a crucial point. When I am an asset, then I am a “good” person and life works pretty well. When I fear I’ve let someone down, then I am a liability. My life falls apart, and I will work hard to win my way back into the favor of others.

So an overactive conscience is like a magnet for expectations. These expectations come from oneself, parents (whether alive or not), friends, bosses, peers, God, or distorted images of God. False guilt makes the overactive conscience voracious for expectations. False guilt is always looking for people to please and rules to be kept.

An overactive conscience is also seeking to keep the “carrot” of acceptance just out of reach. This “carrot” includes self- acceptance and acceptance from others and from God. The guilt- ridden conscience continually says, “Your efforts are not good enough. You must keep trying because, even if your attempts don’t measure up, the trying itself counts as something.”

For that reason, an overactive conscience is not happy at rest. Though rest is the birthright of the Christian, relaxing is just too dangerous, i.e., relaxing might bring down my guard, and I might miss signs of rejection. Besides, acceptance is conditional, and I must continually prove my worthiness to others. I can never be a liability if I am to expect acceptance to continue. It is hard to relax because I must be ever fearful of letting someone down and must constantly work to gain acceptance.

In summary, a person with false guilt and an overactive conscience spends much of his or her life worn out. Unrelenting efforts to meet the expectations of others can have some very negative consequences.

The Consequences of False Guilt

Now I would like to focus on the consequences of false guilt. An overactive conscience can keep you in a state of constant uncertainty. You never know if you measure up. You never know if you have arrived or not. You are always on the alert. According to Steve Shores there are a number of major consequences of false guilt.

The first consequence he calls “striving without arriving.” In essence, there is no hope in the system set up by the overactive conscience. You must always try harder, but you never cross the finish line. You seem to merely go in circles. Or perhaps it would be better to say you go in a spiral, as in a downward spiral. Life is a perpetual treadmill. You work hard and strive, but you never arrive. Life is hard work and frustration with little or no satisfaction.

The second consequence is “constant vigilance.” The overactive conscience produces constant self-monitoring. You are constantly asking if you are being an asset to other people and to God. You are constantly evaluating and even doubting your performance. And you never allow yourself to be a liability to the group or to any particular individual.

A third consequence is “taking the pack mule approach to life.” An overactive conscience involves a lifelong ordeal in which you attempt to pass a demanding test and thus reveal your worth. The test consists of accumulating enough evidences of goodness to escape the accusation that you are worthless. For the guilt-ridden person, this test involves taking on more duties, more responsibilities, more roles. As the burdens pile higher and higher, you become a beast of burden, a “pack mule” who takes on more responsibility than is healthy or necessary.

Just as there is no forward progress (e.g., “striving without arriving”), so there is also an ever-increasing sense of burden. Each day demands a fresh validation of worthiness. There is never a time when you can honestly say, “that’s enough.”

Finally, the most devastating consequence of false guilt is its effect not just on individuals but the body of Christ. Christians who struggle with an overactive conscience can produce weak, hollow, compliant believers in the church. They are long on conformity and short on passion and substance. They go to church not because they crave fellowship, but because they want to display compliance. They study God’s word not so much out of a desire to grow spiritually, but because that is what good Christians are supposed to do. We do what we do in order to “fit in” or comply with the rules of Christianity.

Steve Shores says that the central question of church becomes, “Do I look and act enough like those around me to fit in and be accepted?” Instead we should be asking, “Regardless of how I look and act, am I passionately worshiping God, deeply thirsting for Him, and allowing Him to change my relationships so that I love others in a way that reflects the disruptive sacrifice of Christ?”

The Continuation of False Guilt

Next, I would like to talk about why people continue to feel false guilt even though they know they are forgiven. After all, if Christ paid the penalty for our sins, why do some Christians still have an overactive conscience and continue to feel guilt so acutely? Part of the compulsion comes from feeling the noose of false guilt tighten around our necks so that we panic and fail to think rationally about our situation.

Steve Shores uses the example of a death-row inmate who has just learned of an eleventh-hour stay of execution. He has just been pardoned, but his body and emotions don’t feel like it. He has been “sitting in the electric chair, sweaty-palmed and nauseated, when the wall phone rings with the news of the reprieve.” He may feel relief, but the feeling of relief is not total. He is only off the hook for awhile. He will still return to his cell.

The person with a overactive conscience lives in that death-row cell. The reprieve comes from responding to that guilt-driven voice in his conscience. For Bill it manifested itself in a compulsive need to serve others. If he were asked to teach AWANA or to teach a Sunday school class, he would have great difficulty saying “No.” He had to say “Yes” or else he would feel the noose of false guilt tighten around his neck.

Bill’s comments were sad but illuminating. He said: “I felt as though not teaching the class would confirm that I am a liability. The disappointment…would inflict shame I felt as a boy. Disappointing others always meant that there would be some sort of trial to decide whether I really belonged in the family.”

He went on to tell of the time he made a “C” on his report card (the rest of the grades were “A’s” and “B’s”). His father lectured him unmercifully. At one point, his father declared that “it was Communist to bring home such a bad grade.” Bill didn’t know what a Communist was or what Communism had to do with bad grades. But he did understand that if he didn’t bring home good grades he was unworthy.

Bill even remembered the six agonizing weeks until the next report card. When it arrived he received five “A’s” and one “B.” What was his father’s response? Was it delight? Was it an apology for his previous comments? Not at all. His father merely said, “That’s more like it.” The reprieve was halfhearted and temporary.

In essence, false guilt is a stern warden that may give a temporary reprieve but is always ready to call upon you to prove your worthiness once again. We may know that Christ died for our sins. We may know that our sins are forgiven. We may know that we have value and dignity because we are created in God’s image. But we may feel unworthy and feel as if we must prove ourselves at a moment’s notice.

The key, as we will see in the next section, is to embrace Christ’s atonement rather than our own. We must not only know that we are forgiven through Jesus Christ, but act upon that reality so that we live a life through grace rather than legalism.

A Cure for False Guilt

Finally, I would like to conclude by talking about Christ’s atonement for us. If we are to break the chain of false guilt, then we must embrace Christ’s atonement rather than our own. Although that statement may seem obvious, it is difficult for someone with an overactive conscience to truly embrace emotionally. For such a person, perfection is the means of achieving salvation. If I can be perfect, then I will no longer feel shame, and I will no longer feel guilt. This is the personal atonement that someone with false guilt often is seeking.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christ’s atonement was for our sins. Sin is “any attitude, belief, or action that constitutes rebellion against or transgression of God’s character.” Clearly sinful man is incapable of making restitution because our best works are as filthy rags before a holy and omnipotent God (Isaiah 64:6). Our atonement must be made by someone with clean hands and a sinless life. Christ, of course, fulfilled that requirement and died in our place for our sins.

Nevertheless, someone with false guilt seeks a form of self- atonement. Why? Well, there are at least two reasons: indiscriminate shame and doubt about the character of God. The first is indiscriminate shame. We should feel guilty and we should feel shame for sinful behavior. The problem comes when we feel guilt and shame even when a sinful action or attitude is not present. Steve Shores believes that the “weeds of shame” can begin to sprout even when we have a legitimate need. We then tend to use the machete of false guilt to trim these weeds back. We say, “If I can do enough things right, I can control this and no one will know how bad and weak I am.” This performance-oriented lifestyle is a way of hacking at the weeds that grow in the soil of illegitimate shame.

The second reason for false guilt is a stubborn propensity to doubt the character of God. Many Christian psychologists and counselors have argued that the reason we may question our Heavenly Father’s character is because we question our earthly father’s character. And for those who have been abused or neglected by their fathers, this is an adequate explanation. But we even see in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve doubting God and they did not even have earthly fathers. So I believe it is more accurate to say that our sin nature (not our family of origin) has a lot to do with our tendency to doubt God’s character.

This is manifested by two tendencies: blaming and hiding. When we feel false guilt, we tend to want to blame others or blame ourselves. If we blame others, we manifest a critical spirit. If we blame ourselves, we feel unworthy and don’t want others to see us as we are and we hide emotionally from others. The solution is for us to embrace Christ’s atonement and accept what He did on the cross for us. Christ died once for all (Romans 6:10) that we might have everlasting life and freedom from guilt and the bondage to sin.

©1996 Probe Ministries.