2. The Breath of Life

The serpent was disgusting, his slithering form a transparent mask, his voice a whining caricature of human sound.  But he was no fool.  His attack would be subtle beyond words and Gabriel feared for the man and the woman.

Eve was walking near the center of the garden where the Tree of Life grew.  Its leaves were a beautiful dark green, its fruit delicious beyond the imagining of it.  But it was not the Tree of Life that had caught her attention.

She was staring at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, her curiosity a passing thing, with no evil desire to mar her interest.  It was simply not important other than the recognition that her Father had asked her not to eat from that Tree on pain of death.  Not that death meant anything to her, but to displease her Father was punishment enough.

She would have walked on, her entourage of forest creatures keeping pace and providing company for this impromptu tour of her kingdom, but then she noticed the serpent coiled around the trunk of the tree.

She should not be alone, Gabriel thought.  Where is her head, her man?  He should protect her, together they might overcome the tempter.  Divide and conquer, the oldest strategy, the surest results.  No, the serpent was no fool.  But God had allowed this encounter and the choice would be hers to make and later, also the man.

The serpent spoke and Eve stopped, her eyes growing wide.

“You have spoken,” she said.

“It is so,” came back the reply, the unblinking eyes betraying nothing.

“Has Adam given you a name?”  Eve asked with kind concern, already accepting the strangeness of this conversation as part of the wonderful creation of her Father.

“No, I need no name for I will decide my own identity.”

“This is most strange.”

A questioning look came into Eve’s eyes for a moment and the serpent decided to press his attack at once before too many questions were asked.  “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”

The question was an accusation, the accusation sweeping and deceptive, making God look unrealistic to forbid them to eat from all of the trees in the garden.  The serpent was already planting doubt in the wisdom and love of the Creator, though this first attack was designed to be easily overcome.

Eve noticed the black pulp of the forbidden fruit staining the serpent’s mouth and she was immediately concerned.  The serpent had entwined himself upon the lower branches of the tree and was reaching for another fruit.

Concerned, she responded, “We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden.  But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, ‘You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.’”

The serpent noticed the additional words Eve had spoken out of concern for what he was doing.  God had not mentioned anything about touching the tree.  Already one person’s disobedience was threatening the safety and peace of others.  Already worry was taking root and additions to the law were being added as a further safeguard from disobedience.  Lucifer was learning key strategies that he would use time and again in the temptation of this race of men. He decided to press on in the confusion of the moment with a direct approach.

Then the serpent said to the woman, “No! You will not die!”

It was a direct contradiction of God’s clear command but the serpent rushed on, hoping to cover his brashness with further argument.

“God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  It was the art of deception in its purest form.  He had told her the truth but not the whole truth.  It was true that if she ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil she would learn of things she had never dreamt of before.  But that was not the issue.  The question was one of surviving the knowledge, surviving the disobedience.

He had caught her interest and the seeds of doubt grew quickly in the virgin soil.  He had cast doubt not only on the clear word of God but also on God’s character.

Was God trying to keep some good thing from them?  Was this fruit something that her man as King of the earth was entitled to have?  Should she try it first to make sure it was all right and then give some to Adam?

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it.

She gave some also to her husband who had come up behind her.  He held the fruit in his hand, looked into her eyes and realized what she had done.

“We will be like God,” she said in response to the question in his eyes.

He hesitated only long enough for the desire to take root in his own heart and then he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked.

*****

1.  The Miracle Baby

You are the greatest miracle in the world.

So begins the God Memorandum – a letter from God to you, as written by Og Mandino.  In his inspiring story about Simon Potter the Ragpicker, Og Mandino gives us a wonderful description of the greatest miracle in the world.

“You are the rarest thing in the world,” God tells us.

From your father, in his moment of supreme love, flowed countless seeds of love, more than four hundred million in number.  All of them, as they swam within your mother, gave up the ghost and died.  All except one!  You.

You alone persevered within the loving warmth of your mother’s body, searching for your other half, a single cell from your mother so small that more than two million would be necessary to fill an acorn shell.  Yet, despite impossible odds, in that vast ocean of darkness and disaster, you persevered, found that infinitesimal cell, joined with it, and began a new life.  Your life.

You arrived, bringing with you, as does every child, the message that I was not yet discouraged of man.  Two cells now united in a miracle.  Two cells, each containing twenty-three chromosomes and within each chromosome hundreds of genes, which would govern every characteristic about you, from the color of your eyes to the charm of your manner, to the size of your brain.

With all the combinations at my command, beginning with that single sperm from your father’s four hundred million, through the hundreds of genes in each of the chromosomes from your mother and father, I could have created three hundred thousand billion humans, each different from the other.

But who did I bring forth?

You!  One of a kind.  Rarest of the rare.  A priceless treasure, possessed of qualities in mind and speech and movement and appearance and actions as no other who has ever lived, lives or shall live.”

            You are the greatest miracle in the world.

About two thousand years before Jesus Christ, a shepherd boy named David, taking care of his father’s sheep in the hills of Bethlehem, composed a song which had a less scientific but equally beautiful perspective on the miracle of life.

            “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
You know it completely, O LORD.”
“For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.”
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”

Two beautiful descriptions of the miracle of life.  Both of them true.  Both describe the same miracle.  Yet they are diametrically opposed to each other.  Although God figures greatly in each, one celebrates the individuality and uniqueness of each human life while the other celebrates that it is known and valued by the creator of human life.

That difference is what separates Existentialism from Christianity.

For many people, they believe that they should be the same thing.  A celebration of the value of each human life as a unique individual created by God to fulfill his or her potential in life.  It sounds great.  A spiritual existentialism or an existential spirituality based on Christianity.  It doesn’t matter what you call it.  And you will find it in many churches around the world.  And there is some truth to it.

But that isn’t the focus of Christianity.  It is the focus of existentialism and the spiritualized (and Christianized) version of existentialism called neo-orthodoxy.   It has even invaded many evangelical churches in the guise of prosperity theology and triumphalism and other similar interpretations of Christianity.

The discovery and celebration of our individuality is the keystone to finding and creating meaning in life (according to them).  Whether or not you include God in the process, existentialism teaches us to search for meaning within, to make the choices only we can make, to fulfill our potential and to make our mark in life by being unique, by contributing to society in a way that is specific to our gifts and talents.

What’s wrong with that?  Nothing.  You don’t particularly need God to do that, although, of course, He is welcome to help you accomplish your goal of self-actualization.

In the same way that tarot card reading is based on the specific  and unique singularity (or individuality) of the moment the cards are randomly selected (a “chance” selection in a specific time-space continuum), individuality itself is, for many people, a random natural selection that resulted in their particular mix of attributes and circumstances.

Perhaps this singularity can be represented by your day of birth and further meaning can be attached which would create a whole new world of possible meanings as determined by astrological signs.  Or, again, a birth stone or other talisman can be attached to your particular mix of circumstances and given meaning based on the circumstances of your birth (the major “singular” event of your life, though you may share your birth date with others).

The list goes on.

Yet existentialism would go beyond the dictates of chance to prioritize the power of choice.  When “chance” is projected into the future as a determining force for human action it becomes “fate.”  When it becomes a question of whether chance or choice is the determining factor in life, existentialism would posit the power of choice (or self-determination) as the priority which allows us to respond to the dictates of chance and circumstance (which we really have very little power over) and so wrest a modicum of control from life that allows for individual expression.  The ability to respond to life, even to proactively create new circumstances, is the power within each human soul.

There is truth in these statements.  But there is also a fundamental deception.  Whether the concept of chance is replaced with the concept of God (and therefore a purposeful selection of attributes and a providential management of circumstances) or not, the value and significance of a human life still resides in its individuality rather than in its relationship to God.  This is the great deception of modern existentialism (whether spiritualized or not).  This is not a difference in semantics but in substance.  And the difference with Christianity matters.

It is the heart of the issue.  If self-fulfillment is the goal of redemption, and self-fulfillment is defined as the individual expression of our uniqueness, our goals and our potential, then the cross is not essential to Christian living.  Perhaps we can allow a role to the cross of Christ in terms of the initial renewal of a relationship with God.  After all, God’s help is essential in developing our “God-given” potential.  But beyond that (so the argument goes), there is no ongoing need for the cross, or the Way of the Cross which is focused on confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.  There is no dying to self only an enhancement of self.

That simply cannot be true.  It is like wearing glasses on backward.  The focus is all wrong.  In much the same way that marriage isn’t first of all about me (or shouldn’t be), so Christianity isn’t first of all about me either.

Even though in marriage my needs will be met and my individuality enhanced (and it will, won’t it?) through an interdependent relationship of mutual, sacrificial love with another, marriage is supposed to be the context in which my will (with regards to the prudence of self-interest, self-fulfillment and self-actualization based on my perception of my felt needs) is limited by choices rooted in love.

True enough.  It’s not just about the power of choice, but the power of choice rooted in love rather than self-interest, self-fulfillment or self-actualization.  When it comes to relationships, love dictates that the focus should be on the other.

The beauty of love is that when we focus on the other, our needs are also met – though we often could care less.  Say, what?  Yes, our needs are really not that important when we are in love.  Love is its own reward.  Certainly our “needs” will have to be taken care of from a practical point of view but that is not our concern.  In the context of love, prudence is spurned; self-interest is minimized, if not forgotten altogether.

Often our needs are met but many times they are not, at least in this world, and still we are truly happy because it isn’t about us.  Our greatest desire is to please the other.  Why?  If attraction is simply a mutually compatible neurosis each looking for resolution in the other or a chemical reaction to pleasurable stimuli, then love doesn’t exist as we know it.

But we know that it does.  Love is transcendent.  It takes us out of ourselves and focuses on the other (at least for a while until our natural egoism kicks back in).

Ultimately, love is a mystery but it is the only thing that makes life worth living.  It is a whisper of the divine.  Few have the courage to deny that it exists or to deny its power to motivate mankind to actions that are naïve and imprudent and even foolish for the sake of love.   Isn’t that wonderful?

If marriage isn’t a good example for you (given your experience of it), then think about what it means to be a parent.  If you think that parenthood is first and foremost about self-fulfillment, well, life has an interesting way of disabusing you of that notion.

Love must go beyond self-interest, even self-actualization, in order to create synergy (as little as there is) in human relationships.  There must be an abandonment to love, an utter, wholehearted letting go of self-interest in faith and hope that love will be returned in full measure (or, better yet, regardless of whether it is returned or not).

If it is not, or the other is not capable of returning the love in full measure sustained over time (which they are not), our love for the other will only be strong enough to survive in the real world if it is rooted in the “agape” love of God, in the context of our hope for renewal and fully returned love from Him (and the other) in this life and in the life to come.

Love may need an element of faith (trust) in this fallen world and certainly cannot exist without hope for the (eternal) future.  But the greatest of these, the most important element in any relationship, says the Bible, is love.

Why should God be any different?

Our greatest goal in life is to please him.  That is why we were created.  The relationship is everything.  Certainly it is a unique relationship, one based on loving authority on one side and loving obedience on the other, as befitting a unique Creator – created relationship.  We were created to know God and to enjoy him forever.  No doubt.  But that is accomplished only as we forget about ourselves and train all of our energies, all of our love on learning to please the God who made us and died for us.  Yes, there are benefits but they are after the fact and incidental or else, the natural result of the relationship.

It is when we die to ourselves that we find life in God.  The Bible is clear that God is interested in developing our “faith” which is more precious to him than gold and that without faith it is impossible to please him.  Trust needs to be restored.  The only way to create that trust (or faith) in God is for Him to lead us into the desert and teach us to proactively depend on Him for practical needs in a sort of divine synergy with a view to being useful in His goal to save mankind from their sin and reconciling them to himself through Jesus Christ.

Dying to self is true self-actualization (the new eschatological self in union with Christ that is both a present reality as well as a future promise) because it makes the other (in this case, God) more important than the self.  It crucifies the old self on the altar of love as a living sacrifice which brings out the true self, rooted in a new creation, synergistic relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Without putting too fine a point on it, love, by definition, isn’t about us but, rather, about him.

Is this view of love towards God too romantic?  Too out of touch with reality?  Maybe so.  In fact, I hope so.  Of all things, our love for God should not be modified or mitigated in any way by some appeal to the real, fallen world of sin and evil.  Our love must be in the world but not of the world.  It is a real love, an obedient love, that can look evil in the face and laugh, or, at least, smile (because evil can no longer dominate us).  Even the Bible uses this extreme, “romantic” language to describe our love for God.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God.  You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength.”

If any love deserves my all, my entire abandonment of self-interest, it is my love for God.  It is the only “romance” that is worthy of the name.  To be known by God and valued, not because of my intrinsic worth or individuality or uniqueness (all of which may be true but is deeply and essentially marred by my fallen nature which severs my individuality from my relationship with the One who created me) but because of his great capacity to love, gives me confidence that he and I, together, despite the tyranny of self in a dangerous world, can have a divine synergy far beyond anything anyone has ever experience through human romance in all the history of the world (all the fairy tales aside).

That divine synergy is the great, undefined, longing of the human soul that we project on to every romantic relationship and stirring adventure through story and personal experience whether they can sustain the weight of that glory or not.

That divine synergy, rooted as it is in a new-creation, spirit filled, relationship with God, may in fact lead to my personal fulfillment and the accomplishment of the desires of my heart, but that is his business not mine (and He is very good at it).

That may be the focus of his love (and he promises that it is) but it is not a goal that will be accomplished fully in this life in any event but, rather, in the life to come.

In the meantime, he promises that this life will be an adventure.  Difficult and dangerous, of course.  We have work to do.  We are in the middle of a great battle for the human soul.  Self- fulfillment based on the power of individual choice is not the language of war or deadly struggle.

The perspective (and language) is rather one of sacrifice and duty, struggle, joint effort and a unified spiritual interdependency rather than individuality and self-fulfillment.

We may discover that the road of mutual sacrifice and self-denial is exactly the path necessary to fulfill our potential as children of God but that would take a mature discernment beyond the ability of those who are focused on their individual self-fulfillment in the first place.

Self-fulfillment is not our concern.  To be known and to be loved and to respond by loving him and knowing him and to enjoy it, that’s what matters.  To work together with God in a divine synergy that creates a particular type of person that pleases God and is useful to him in widening the circle of his love – that is “the way everlasting.”  That is the thing that matters.  A loving relationship with God, our Father rooted in joyful obedience to His cause.  That is true fulfillment.  That is Christianity.

You, and I, are not the greatest miracle in the world.  The purpose of life is to know God and to be known by him and have the opportunity to be an essential part of the divine pleasure.  The greatest miracle in the world is the sacrificial love of God for his enemies (which includes you and I) that led him to die on a cross and endure hell so that he could save us from ourselves, and make the divine synergy relationship possible.

And that is not merely new age psycho-babble but rather traditional Christianity. The divine synergy is a relationship of loving obedience under the loving authority of the God of the Scriptures made possible by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is called “the divine synergy” here to describe the mystery of divine stirring up and human response.

There is no doubt that choices need to be made.  There is no doubt that we have the power within (even without a new relationship with God but still based on his common grace) to make choices and effect changes beyond what we would normally think or expect.  But, without God, it simply isn’t enough.  No matter what we accomplish in this life with the power of choice, it cannot overcome pain, suffering and death.

For Christians there is more.

For us, there is no doubt that the real power within is the power of God through the work of Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit.  But even that, is not the greatest miracle in the world.

The miracle is the Divine love that makes it all possible, the divine initiative that created what it could not create, that brought into being what cannot be caused, even by the almighty power of God.

The miracle was not made simply by a decision of God rooted in his power but by an initiative, a choice rooted in his character and his nature (the true source of his power) to love sacrificially.

That miracle of divine love is the ultimate reality, the ground for all created things, and the basis of all morality and virtue.

It is his choice rooted in love as a virtue (an expression of his character and nature) that we are encouraged and empowered to imitate and live out in a difficult and dangerous world.  It may, in fact, lead us to suffer as he suffered and to die, as he died – sacrificially for the sake of others, even our enemies.

If that is what we mean by self-fulfillment (and it is) then, yes, God will certainly help us to accomplish that kind of self-actualization, where the old “self” without God is crucified upon the altar of love as a living sacrifice in imitation of the divine love and the new “self” lives in obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is when we die to self, that we become alive to God and being alive to God through union with Christ is the greatest source of power, of divine synergy, of usefulness and, ultimately, of human significance and happiness in the universe.  It is the miracle of divine love which makes it all possible and which is at work in many people from every walk of life, culture and background, which continues to transform the world and give hope to the nations.

In other words, the miracle baby is Jesus, not me.  There is no doubt that I am also a miracle baby.  I am one in “three hundred thousand billion” possibilities, according to Og Mandino.  Obviously, God wanted me, with this combination of attributes in this particular time-space continuum that makes up the circumstances of my life.

I am a miracle but I am also a miracle spurned, a miracle marred by the tyranny and addiction to self-determinism and self-authority that is a cancer eating up my life from the inside out and will lead ultimately and surely to my own death.  That was never the idea.  I was supposed to be an individual under the loving authority of God experiencing the synergy of an eternal divine-human relationship that would have supported my uniqueness with respect to other humans by being connected intrinsically to the source of my uniqueness, the creative genius of God himself.

No, I am not the real miracle.  Not in this kind of world.  A world in rebellion against its Creator.  I cannot effectively and permanently bolster my self-esteem by celebrating my individuality without God.

With God is another matter altogether.  That is the real miracle.  To be unique because of the purposeful selection of a loving Father, that gives me value.  To enhance that uniqueness in a relationship of mutual love and respect under the providential and protective authority of God, that gives me purpose and identity and significance – the building blocks of creating, or better yet, discovering meaning in life.  That is the real miracle.

Jesus made it all possible. He is the miracle baby not just because he was a unique and special human being dedicated to the betterment of mankind nor even because he was the only begotten Son of God in the flesh.  But, rather, because he was the concrete and sacrificial expression of divine love toward a rebellious and evil people.  Jesus is God getting his hands dirty.

He is the greatest miracle in the world.

*****

“Man is a mystery to himself,” I said.

“Yes and more than a mystery.”

“What do you mean?”

“The question you must ask yourself,” he said, “is why man is a mystery to himself.  That answer will reveal everything.”

Why is even harder than the what.  If we can’t do more than guess at what is going on within us how will we ever know the why of it all?”

“Exactly,” he said.  “How, indeed.”

I hung my head.  “So, again, there is no hope,” I whispered.

“And again I tell you that with my help there is always hope,” he reminded me.

The silence thickened between us.

“It seems as if we are forever and always dependent on you in all things,” I said.

“Yes.”

“It’s not an idea that most of us like.”

“I know,” he said, his gaze unreadable.  “That is the heart of the problem.”

I couldn’t look up much less hold that holy gaze.  I felt a reluctance, a barrier spring up between us and it made me feel dirty.

“It’s called sin,” he said gently as if he knew my innermost thoughts, which, of course, he did.  “Sin is first and foremost rebellion and disloyalty towards me.  It’s the ‘not wanting God in my life’ attitude.  It is always a barrier between us.”

I still could not look at him and my gaze was fixed on the trunk of a tree hewn down in the center of the garden.  “Is there no privacy, then?  Must everything be revealed?  Is there no place where we can be free from divine interference?”  What was wrong with me?  It just seemed to well up and spill over – these thoughts and words which were not mine – they are not mine, I refuse them, I deny them.  I looked up quickly to search his face, to apologize, to seek again his favor.

He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder.  “All is forgiven, don’t worry.  You are mine and I am yours for all eternity.”  Then he shifted in his seat to face me squarely.

“Listen, my son,” he said, the intensity of his words were filled with love.  “How could there be any privacy?  I am God, not your mother.  And why would you want privacy from me unless you intend to do something I disapprove of?  Besides, I have given you, each of you, even that privacy, temporarily…..for some even eternally.  Each one of you has a right to go to Hell in your own way.”  He paused.  “You want to be left alone, without any ‘divine interference’ as you call it?  Fine.  There is a place.  You forced me to create it.  You won’t like it there.”

I could hardly breathe.  “Not me, Lord, not me.”  It came out in a hoarse wheeze.

“No, not you,” he agreed.  “I was talking to all of you.”  He shifted closer to put an arm around my shoulder and grasped me tightly, securely.  “But you still have that reluctance towards me.  There are still barriers to our relationship.  Sin and rebellion is still a force in your life, but it only has the power now that you give it.  Remember that.  It has no power of its own, no matter how hard it seems to overcome it.”

I could only nod in agreement.  I wasn’t sure I understood any of it but I knew that I wanted a relationship with him free of barriers, free of any reluctance whatsoever.  He knew that.

He knew my heart.

 *****

2.  The Self-Aware, Rational and Moral Personality

  Saturday morning cartoons were the big event of the week while growing up.  I can still remember Tom and Jerry, Batman and Robin and even the Green Hornet (now I’m really dating myself) fighting evil or each other and saving the day.

Aside from the comedy and the violence (which seemed to feed off each other), the basic concept of Saturday morning cartoons was Anthropomorphism – animals (in cartoon form) could talk, think and interact just like humans.  It made for a wide variety of interesting and comical situations.

Add to that a violence that was never permanent but always present and you had the makings of a fantasy world where emotions (and even fears externalized as anger) could be freely expressed without any real world consequences.  It was great entertainment for children at its best (or worst, depending on your view of the world).

I have noticed among young people, even into their late teens and early twenties, a tendency to take this anthropomorphism – the talking animal phenomenon – into the real world.  Whenever I mention the distinctiveness of the human soul as a self-aware, rational and moral personality as over and against other animals, I would find resistance.  It is not an accepted fact among many young people that animals are not self-aware for example, or that they cannot talk or communicate rational thoughts or make moral decisions.  The problem, according to many of them, is that we simply don’t know their language.

Disney (and Hollywood in general) has not helped matters.  What with movies like Dr. Doolittle and the scores of shows about real live animals coming to the rescue of humans or demonstrating the human ability to care about others and to make decisions to save the day, we are inundated with the suspicion that if we could only understand them, our pets would talk to us.

Even so notable a Christian theologian as C.S. Lewis has developed a series of books for children on the premise that four English children travel to the land of Narnia where the animals talk and interact with them just like humans do.  Even Aslan (representing Jesus Christ) is a lion who both talks like a human and roars like a lion.  After all, says Mr. Lewis, in one of his most famous quotes, “no one said that he was a tame lion.”

All in good fun, of course, and highly entertaining.  Apparently the world of animals (at least in Narnia) is plagued with the same problems of good and evil that the real world of humans has.  But still, it muddies the waters for the younger generation that still (perhaps whimsically) believes that animals could talk (or even do talk) if we could just understand them.

Science, of course, does not support these beliefs any more than the Bible does.  Not that there isn’t some interesting work being done on intelligence in the primate family or pre-cognition studies in dolphins, among other things.  We even say that certain species are “highly intelligent” and evidence signs of human-like emotion, will and thought beyond instinct but certainly much less than self-awareness.

Still, today, in the face of the relentless pursuit of science, we have to qualify our statements about the uniqueness of man with the proviso “so far as we know today.”  Why?  Out of respect for the often surprising results of scientific research which has in the past overturned our basic assumptions about life and this world we live in?  Perhaps.  Perhaps more importantly and more to the point, most scientists today function from the perspective of secular humanism and a naturalistic concept of man as an evolving animal (or even a machine).

In an address called Transposition, noted Christian theologian and author of the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis, gives his opinion on this “man as animal” perspective:

“The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility.  There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.”  C.S. Lewis goes on to show why explanations of human nature “from below” are not enough.

We know there is more.  There must be more.  Perhaps it is this insistence on a view of man as nothing more than a rational animal that is behind the search for a real, self-aware connection between us and the other animals that inhabit our world.  Perhaps.

But there is also a growing awareness of man’s uniqueness especially in the area of meaning.  Existentialism would posit the notion that what makes us unique as human beings is precisely our ability to attach meaning to facts – to interpret, to discern, to perceive, to pass judgment – in short, to create meaning for our lives.

This is a view of man “from above” which accepts a higher secular “spirituality” in mankind that allows him to yearn for and create meaning for himself.  This duality within secular humanism has led to a plethora of approaches to the study of man from a purely scientific approach to new age speculation about human potential.

In any event, there seems to be wide spread, popular support for the idea that man is a self-aware, rational and moral personality.  Many other things could also be said and the interpretation of each of these basic descriptions is hotly debated but this description stands as a foundation upon which we can discuss this mysterious entity called “man.”

The goal of our discussion is not to provide a comprehensive or even clinically accurate view of man (even if that were possible).  Nor is it to provide a comprehensive review of the debate about the nature of man but rather to ask some questions, make some connections and reveal some assumptions that will hopefully allow us to put the entire issue in perspective.

As a general statement, I would like to propose that neither anthropology, nor psychology (and other related studies on man) provide any proof or conclusive evidence that the biblical view of man is “scientifically” impossible or incorrect.

In fact, in much the same way that Philosophy in general or the scientific inquiry into the origins of man in specific reveals the predispositions and assumptions of the scientists themselves, so anthropology and specifically, psychology, reveals the same prejudice or “predisposition against the supernatural.”

If that basic assumption is recognized and allowed not to interfere in the interpretation of the observable facts, the scientist would be able (even if not willing, for personal reasons) to see the biblical view of man as a plausible explanation.

There is still the question of whether or not a truly neutral perspective or an “objective” disposition is possible even for a scientist trained to view facts as objectively as possible.  At the very least, the scientist or academic must become aware of his own philosophical and metaphysical assumptions and how it impacts on his interpretation of the data.

Today most would readily admit their pre-commitment to a naturalistic worldview and leave it to others to debate the metaphysical and philosophical details.  This is certainly a step in the right direction but many people on a popular level still believe the philosophical and metaphysical statements of some in the past, like Sigmund Freud, who considered religion to be an illusion, “mental infantilism,” and a “mass delusion.”  For Freud, Christianity was a crutch for those who were not mature enough to deal with the real world on their own.

Dave Breese, in his book Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave, says,

“Freud, an atheist, gave every successive detractor of the value of religion a set of clever, psychological remarks through which to express contempt for God and His work.  After all, psychoanalysis was the new revelation, and psychotherapy, the new salvation.  The pervasive influence of Freud’s views on religion continues to be a significant factor in the thought life of our present society.” (p.137)

And this from a man whose theories greatly divided the professional world of neurology in his day and whose methods are no longer in practice in our own.  At the same time, he has achieved the status of one of the seven most influential people in the modern world even though he is no longer alive.  It is important to recognize that popular thought, by nature, lags behind the cutting edge of scientific research in almost all fields of knowledge.

In Freud’s day, the issues of intellectual honesty and transparent metaphysical and philosophical assumptions were not even discussed.

This is a recent phenomena motivated by significant advances in the field of epistemology (the study of knowledge and knowing) as well as its application to the scientific study of the origins of the universe and the advent and confirmation of the Big Bang theory.

In this case, it is a question of intellectual honesty and awareness of predispositions to believe in an often uncontested worldview of secular humanism which acts as an interpretive filter for understanding data.  Scientists are beginning to accept this epistemological distinction and to see it as essential to the understanding of worldviews and meaning and the formation of beliefs and values.

Interestingly, the views of Freud are discussed more in the humanities (which were not his area of expertise).  Of course, there is always the tendency to apply new discoveries in science to the question of the meaning of life.  This is a “bottom up” approach favored by those who start with the belief that the naturalistic explanation is enough or that “science fully reflects reality.”

In contrast, religion often is a “top down” approach based upon revelation, philosophy or the life and wisdom of a great leader.  In any event, the average person needs both the scientific community as well as religious professionals to function with a higher level of intellectual honesty that is aware of its own pre-commitments and metaphysical assumptions.

That way, the non-scientific or non-academic observer has an opportunity to evaluate data and new discoveries in science and the humanities with more awareness of the underlying issues.  Perhaps the underlying worldviews are incompatible and each may require a modicum of faith (including secular humanism) but, at least, the real issues of life will be exposed to public scrutiny.

I would rather reject Christianity intelligently based on a rejection of the basic tenants of the faith than to reject it out of hand as not even worthy of discussion because it is considered “irrational” or “incomprehensible” or because it is only an “illusion” (a value judgment based on a preconceived commitment to another worldview).

Taking this approach also allows us to appreciate the contribution to human knowledge that people like Sigmund Freud have made but to do so within the epistemological context of their own worldview.

In the pages that follow, I will demonstrate a deep appreciation for the undisputed “genius” of Freud even though I do not share his conclusions.

In fact, I believe that he has contributed greatly to our understanding of man as a fallen being (an assumption about man from my worldview).  His views provide us with a useful counterpoint to reveal the differences between these two competing world views that in the end have the “data” in common (just not the interpretation of the data).

In fact, the categories that Freud has developed to understand the mysteries within man (even without universal agreement) are useful for showing an alternative interpretation of the “determinisms” within the human psyche from a biblical perspective that is also cogent and coherent and fit the data.

In that way, Freud becomes an ally as well as a counterpoint for open discussion and debate and his contribution can be accepted for what it was within the context of his own presuppositions.

Finally, a word about the “mystery” of the mind of man.  Although there seems to be wide spread agreement on the basics, there is also wide spread disagreement about the details.  Our discussion is meant to be general and basic, dealing with the metaphysical issues at the top of the food chain of rational thought.

Even though we will delve into an alternative interpretation of Freud’s “inner man” this is not a clinical study of the merits or demerits of psychoanalysis but rather a layman’s view of the popular myth that somehow Freud’s understanding of man means that religion, and specifically Christianity, is nothing but an illusion.  Why would that be the case?  Not because of his observations and conclusions about what goes on within the psyche (much of which is still debated) but because of his interpretation of the facts and data.

Let’s say that we give Mr. Freud the benefit of the doubt with regards to the general categories for understanding the mind of man.  Let’s say that we accept the general terms of his discussion, but we can use those very same concepts to demonstrate a plausible Christian interpretation of the inner motivations of man, what then?

If religion is an illusion, then so is secular humanism and the naturalistic view of man and the world he lives in that supports it.  Beautiful illusions, both of them, when looked at from the opposing worldview.  Beautiful illusions that require faith and hope but only one that requires love.

In the end, that is what will tip the balance one way or the other for the average person.  The role of love in the affairs of men, both within man and between men and especially the discovery of the divine love in the context of inescapable real world problems such as pain and suffering and death and finally, to go one step further and realize that these are the result (and punishment) of evil within men and between men.

Of course, it will probably take a Freudian slip of divine proportions (and origin) for us to see and admit to the evil within and call it what it is – rebellion against the primal father.

Whoops!  There you go.

Not exactly a Freudian slip but, rather, the Freudian concept of the primal father (or primal authority) which we all rebel against to find our own individuality and moral autonomy…..and we find it at the center of the Biblical message.

What goes on here?

*****

He knew my heart.

The realization struck me like a blow.  He knew my heart.

“Lord, you know us better than we know ourselves, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course.  I made you.  Each one of you a miracle which has become a nightmare.”

“Those are strong words,” I said.

“But true.”

“I don’t think most people would agree with the nightmare part.  They think that mankind is essentially good.”

“Originally good, yes, but now?”  He stood up and walked over to the tree of life and reached up to caress one of the fruit hanging there.  It looked ordinary and dull.

“Now?  Yes, well, there are some problems, of course, but when we look at people’s intentions everyone is basically the same.  We all want the same things.”

“What do you want?”

“Well, we want safety and protection on the one hand and provision, resources on the other.”

“Why?”

“So that we can take care of the ones we love and provide for them and have the freedom to pursue the expression of our individuality and create a future for ourselves.  Like in America.”

“Oh, yes, the Promised Land of opportunity.”

“Yes, that’s it.  We want opportunity but in the context of safety and protection.  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Yes, that about sums it up.”  I was pleased with myself.

“But without me.”

Was that a question?  “Well, no, not exactly,” I said.  “America is one nation under God, with freedom and justice for all.”

“That sounds better,” he said, turning toward me again.  “How’s that working out for you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked weakly.

“How’s that working out?” he asked again.  “How is your average, middle class American who has his or her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness guaranteed by the constitution, how are they doing?  Are they prosperous, happy?  Are marriages enriched and families flourishing?  Are people demonstrating sacrificial love for one another and being a light to the nations, a city on a hill?”  He paused.  “After all, it is one nation under me, isn’t it?  What a glorious place it must be.”

“Lord, you know better than that,” I said with my head hung low.  “We had good intentions but somehow we couldn’t sustain it, at least, not as a nation.”  I looked up.  “There are still pockets of light, you know.  It isn’t all bad.”

“Yes, and I know each one of those pockets of light by name,” he said gently.

I looked down at the dirt, my arms resting on my knees, leaning over, dejected.  “You know, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between those that go to church and those that don’t.  Half the marriages, even in the church, end in divorce.”

“Even yours,” he whispered gently.

I hesitated.  “Yes, even mine.”

He was silent.

After a moment I rallied my thoughts.

“Still, America is better off than many other countries.  Freedom is still important.  There is still a lot of good in her.”  My voice was getting stronger.  “We need to win her back.”

“Win her back to what?”

“To being one nation under God, again.”

“I thought you said that she already was.”

“Well, no.  That was the original idea but religious freedom and a separation of church and state gives people the freedom to choose for themselves what they believe.·

“And rightly so, don’t you think?”

I looked at him surprised.  “You think so?”

“Well, yes, of course,” he said.  “After all, if I have given mankind the right to go to Hell in their own way, then why shouldn’t that same right be enshrined in the constitution of the United States of America, the new Promised Land?”

I wasn’t sure so I asked him.  “Are you kidding me or are you serious?”

“Both,” he said, “and neither.”  He paused and then looked at me again.  “Yes, I have given mankind that right and yes it is a good thing to guarantee religious freedom but it is also a horrible responsibility in a world where all men are addicted to the tyranny of self-determination.”

“Yes, and it is also an interesting contradiction for a country that claims to be one nation under God,” I said.

“Yes, well.  I think that was more a statement of faith than fact, a hope up to now unrealized and unrealizable,” he said.

“You don’t think we can win America back?”

“I am deeply committed, sacrificially committed, to bringing America back to me and to bring all nations under my authority.  It is the only way to save them.”

I said nothing but the smile on my face said much.

He looked at me curiously.  “Why do you smile?  The road is difficult and the price is high.  Are you willing to pay it?”

“Yes, Lord, I am.”  I was happy and I didn’t really know why.

“You are happy,” he said, reading my thoughts like an open book, “because you have hope.  And your hope is real.  It has details.  You have a memory of better times in America, when the roads were safe, people could be trusted, marriages were simple, loving and….. together.  You have a collective memory in America of a time when virtue was respected and even common, when children could play on the streets unmolested and where fathers worked at jobs they enjoyed and mothers stayed at home to take care of the children.”

“Yes, Lord, it was a beautiful time.  We all have childhood memories of better times.”

“Not everyone does.”

That made me pause.  Of course not.  He’s right.  “Not everyone has had a childhood with wonderful memories,” I said.  “But that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad dream.”

“No, it means that your dream doesn’t exist.”

“Lord, if I remember it, then it existed.”

“The thing about childhood memories is that they are from the child’s point of view.  Much else is going on, many problems and suffering and pain, even evil, that goes unnoticed by a child.”

“Yes,” I said slowly, thinking of other memories.  The death of a sister, a terrible car accident that almost killed a brother, cancer, adultery, pain, depression, rejection by others.  The list seemed to go on.  “I had forgotten about those things.”

“Of course,” he said.  “That is the thing about childhood memories.  And then there’s Hollywood with its nostalgic shows about America in its youth has helped to create the collective memory of a nation that wants and needs to go back to earlier values and beliefs.”

“That’s true, isn’t it?”

“Yes and no,” he said.

I showed my irritation and he noticed.

“Why are you bothered, my son?”

“Lord, I’m sorry but it’s always ‘yes and no.’ Are there no clear answers?”

“Yes, there are.  I am a clear answer.  The difficulty is not the answer but the question.  It’s not the solution that is hard to understand but, rather, the problem.”

I sighed.  “You are right as always,” I said.

“Why am I right?”

“I just realized that I want the childhood memories that are blissfully unaware of evil but you want mature answers that deal with the reality of evil.”

He said nothing.

I looked up at him.  “That’s why you died on the cross.  It was a mature, sacrificial answer to the evil that is always present.”  I paused.  “I’m sorry, Lord.”

He looked at me.  “Why are you sorry?” he said.

There were tears in my eyes.  “Because I was already starting to run down a road in my mind toward a dream that isn’t even real.”

“No, my son.  The dream is real.  It is the road that is mistaken.”

“What do you mean?”

“We cannot bring America back because there is nothing to go back to, even though it is true that times were less complicated and virtue and truth had more of a hold on American life.  No doubt.  But you cannot go back to virtue and truth without first going back to the source of virtue and truth.  You have to come back to me and truly be one nation, or one family, one church, or even, one person, under God in order to recapture the dream.”

“Recapture the dream?”

“Yes, and also rethink it,” he said.  “It isn’t just a matter of living in the Promised Land of America, though that is a worthy dream.  It is the discovery of learning to live in the Promised Land of my presence and power even in the political and cultural desert of modern life.”

“In the desert?”

“Yes, in the desert you can carry the Promised Land with you in the midst of evil, in the midst of your enemies, in the midst of a land where every man and woman has the freedom, guaranteed by the constitution, to do what is right in their own eyes.”  He paused and then leaned forward slightly.  “My son, I am the Promised Land.  There is no other.  I am your childhood memory that protects you and provides for you even while evil rages all around you.”

I looked up at him with a smile.  “That´s what America needs,” I said.  “They need you.”

“Exactly,” he said.  “And so does every other nation in the world.”

*****

Whispers of the Desert Warrior by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers.  All rights reserved.
http://www.desertwarrior.net     https://desertwarriornet.wordpress.com/

Footnotes and references included in the original manuscript.

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5 thoughts on “2. The Breath of Life”

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