Monday, July 18, 2011

Love Me Hate Me

When investigating the question of self-love, one doesn't have to travel too far to encounter the fact that there is a glaring difference in the message given from modern pscyhology and from the conservative Christian community.  The former would say that to a large degree the human problem is that we do not love ourselves enough -we hate ourselves and do not accept ourselves as we are.  The latter would say that the human problem, as described in the Bible, is actually self-love or self-obsession -a woeful preoccupation with our own desires, rights, aspirations, control, and glory.

The more I think about this question, and the more I gain experience with both the Biblical side and the "psychoanalysis side", the more I wonder if much of the time these two sides are saying the same thing but from different frameworks.  As a counselee, I've noticed this many times in my own life while discussing various things with my counselor.  I'll try to explain what I mean.

Take a man who is depressed and has "low self-esteem."  He is always one-downing himself and worries incessantly about what others think of him.  Psychology might say that this man has a "punitive superego."  A Biblical counselor, on the other hand, might say that this man is in love with himself -fixated on his own desires, turned inward in self-absorption, thus making life unbearable.  They sound very different.  But could it be that, in some sense, they are both onto the same basic phenomenon?  While coming from different places, isn't it true that this man, with his punitive side, is also preoccupied with his own feelings, almost stuck in them?  And from the other side, isn't it true that this man's inwardly turned preoccupation with himself is self-destructive, wreaking havoc on himself internally and ruining his relationships?

Part of the issue may be in the prescribed solutions.  Some Christians would seem to say that the Gospel is the total solution to every "soul" malady, including emotional problems that may include things like depression or insecurity.  I've bought into that, though I'm not sure about it.  I would not say that the Gospel does not apply but merely add that there are human tools, found in pscyhology, that can aid us in uncovering things about ourselves, such as self-deception, for example.  I don't think it is against the Gospel to find human tools useful in life any more than it is against the Gospel to see a doctor or a lawyer or read a book to help us do our jobs better.  We need not overspiritualize everything.  We can come down to earth.

That is one of the things I have found most helpful from Gerhard Forde's book, Where God Meets Man.  It riveted me with the profound truth of humanity's constant quest for a "ladder" scheme or approach to life.  We are always trying to climb our way to some kind of heaven or some kind of state beyond our mere humanity.  I don't mean by becoming more technologically advanced as a civilization -I mean individually, as persons.  This ladder-approach to life is found also in religion, including in much of Christianity.  Why?  Because it is part of our fallen nature, and we should expect to find it infecting just about everything in some way.  When the ladder schema comes into contact with the Biblical concept of grace (getting the good we do not deserve), but the ladder schema is not thrown away, the only consistent option left is to demote humanity as far down the ladder as possible... to the point of almost denying the good and functional things of our basic human faculties.

We need not do that.  We are lost, cursed, and unable to break through it.  That is true.  But we need not engage in creature-hatred.  The Gospel, I believe, actually dispels the ladder.  It is intended to bring us back down to earth, as humans living in God's world.  And to me that means that there can be some usefulness in man's attempts to understand himself and in man's ways of trying to heal himself.

And really, as I more come to understand some psychoanalytic theory, such as the use of defenses and such, I can see some overlap.  After all, isn't the psychologists work to help us identify our harmful defense mechanisms, our attempts to avoid dealing with life and to gain control in unconscious ways, basically a path that shows us how we have sought to transcend up a ladder past our mere humanity?  Kierkegaard described the human problem as self-abandonment, abandonment from the self as God created us, and isn't that sort of what is being unearthed here?

I haven't put this all together.  These are just some thoughts buzzing around in my brain.  But in Luke 14 where Jesus talks about "hating" our own life, I think this is the kind of thing he is talking about in some ways.  He is not promoting self-flagellation or a morbid preoccupation, which is how a psychologist might interpret that because of their framework.  He is speaking in relative terms.  Relative to our love and devotion to Him, we should hate ourselves and others.  And specifically, we should hate the self in us which gets in the way of our love for Him -the self that is preoccupied with self, self-destructive, obsessed with our own way and control and desires, seeking to control things or gain things and otherwise transcend or humanity.

Just some thoughts...

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