Our father who art in Vienna, Oedipal be thy name. . .
This is not only facetious, it’s at very least offensive. And yet, this prayer is the heart of faith and service in a vast majority of Christian and catholic churches if they were to be brutally honest. Psychologists and psychiatrists have intimidated and insinuated until most believers have come to the conclusion that churches save the soul and psychologists teach people to save their own minds. If that doesn’t work, then psychiatrists use drugs or various forms of coercion to retrain and thereby save your mind.
This has become such an accepted approach that ministers of the gospel quote from self help gurus and cite the textbooks of behavioral psychologists. And the church is convinced that some detant and partnership exists between the very different disciplines to work together for the benefit of the whole man.
This was never clearer than Sunday last when I attended a local church. The pastor read from the first chapter of James. However he carefully edited James’ beatitude in verse 1:12 to read, “blessed is a person when they are tested.” This might seem nothing, but the whole crux of James 1 is that temptation comes from the devil and from human nature. Those who resist it are the ones who endure and receive salvation. Those who give in to temptation are the damned and the low ranking in the kingdom. This is why he says the lowly are exalted and the rich made low. Because with greater wealth there is greater temptation.
So why the egregious exegesis? Why did he carefully rewrite scripture in so minor a way? The answer came soon after when he began to apply this to the hardships of life. He linked the “testing” to these hardships. In the course of his sermon, he made it clear that not only were you not allowed to become discouraged–“rejoicing” when trials befall you is comprised of smiling and being pleasant. What’s more, you may not try to fix your circumstances, nor may you pray for God to change them. You must just endure the pain and like it. Also, you can never blame those who have victimized or taken advantage of you–ultimately how you feel is all on you not those who mistreat you. If you don’t face trials with proper stoicism, you not only fail but must be subjected to similar treatment repeatedly until you learn your lesson. He twisted things about till he ended with the statement that anyone who becomes depressed is sinful and guilty of despair.
This is taken from a very harsh view of Erikson, liberally blended with pop psych and self help nonsense. But let’s take a look at the assumptions of this doctrine. First off, what is the soul?
The human soul comes first to being, when God breaths his Breath of God, his Spirit that participated into creation. He breaths it into the model of a man and makes that man a living soul. So already we see that Soul is distinct from spirit. Solomon’s Song of Songs tells us that the spirits off the deceased, godly and ungodly alike, are returned to god who gave them. Knowing that there is a biblical basis for the doctrine of eternal reward, what is damned in the evil man, is his spirit returned to God? Also the Tanakh (Old Covenant) is rife with references to the self, the nephesh, which is held distinct from a man– yet it’s the whole man and distinguished sharply from the spirit. The psalms talk at length about the longings and sufferings of the soul, as distinct from the spirit of man, good or evil.
In the New Testament, the writings of Paul, we start to find a bit of clarity. In Romans, Paul tells us that he is tripartite. His trinity is divided against itself. His spirit serves God, his flesh serves evil, and his soul is torn between competing allegiances. This is a man fraught with ambivalence and tormented with temptations. Ah, but in the pastor’s view temptation means trial. So Paul is wracked by hardships and testing. For the sake of argument, we’ll accept the distortion temporarily. In that case we still have the question, “What is a soul?” And that is made clear in this passage. A soul is a Psyche. That is the Greek word written there in the original text. Psyche is the root of the word Psychology. Psychology is the study of the psyche, the soul, the mind. But throughout the bible, Tanakh and New Testament, the business of God and man is faith and religious practice has one goal. That goal is the salvation of the souls, the minds, of men. The business of the church is the reach the world with the Gospel message of the salvation of their minds. Psychology has no place, because it is a competing religion, not a science, and for no other reason than that. It is Johnny come lately, with nothing new to say, and a lot that is fundamentally opposed to scripture. Many early psychologists claimed that other religions were at best neuroses. In fact allowing psychologists into the courtrooms and legislative decisions, ultimately violates the establishment clause. And it is harmful.
Case in point, this sermon on Sunday. If we grant that temptations means trials, that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, then we are left with an interesting problem in The Lord’s prayer.
Our Heavenly Father, holy is your Name ד׳. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, in Earth as it is in . . . Lead us not into trials, but deliver us from all persons, circumstances, mental and spiritual factors that test us. . .
This prayer was never intended to be recited as it is written. It’s clearly a formula, a recipe, in imitation of Jeremiah’s prayer. 1) Pray only to the father, 2) open with worship not praise, 3) acknowledge and submit to his sovereignty, 3) briefly ask for your basic needs, 4) beg forgiveness that you enter his presence unashamed, 5) ask help to avoid times of trial and temptation, 6) beg to be released from circumstance and evil influences that test and tempt, 7) end with worship, gratitude and submission.
What’s more Jesus didn’t finish there. In Luke we see him segue into a parable. The parable of the midnight visitor. If you have a late visitor and don’t have what you need to host him, bang on your neighbor’s door till he gives it to you, if for no other reason, to get you to leave him in peace. It’s clear that he means the father to be the neighbor and that we should continue to ask until we do receive. Persistence, but not mindless recitation, is a part of the formula.
Clearly, we do gain something in wisdom and character from facing hard times. But hard times also weaken us structurally, all of us, all the time. They are sometimes inevitable, but not always and to be avoided and evacuated where possible. God is not some stoicist expecting you to just grim and bear it. That is, to quote Jesus, hogwash. Coming from a devout observant Jew in the first century, that’s saying something. Paul clearly identified several unorthodox, innovative cults that were excommunicate a priori and to be shunned. Among them were stoics and the philosophers and sophists, namely those composing disciplines such as ancient western psychology. These are toxic doctrines that will undermine your spiritual maturity and prevent you from being conformed to the soul that was in Yeshua Messhiakh, Christ Jesus. “Let this soul be in you that was in Christ…”
These are perilous times and the seduction of philosophies and technologies that purport to have new and better answers to life’s questions and God’s promise for the Soul of Man have become subtle and insidious. It is critical to know the word so well that the Tanakh and the New Testament come to you unthinking. Without the light of the uncompromised word to aid you, it is easy to be seduced. Be wary and be strong. And may the God and Father of us all, keep and protect you.