Thursday, April 18, 2019

FINDING AND BECOMING OUR TRUE SELVES


René Descartes (1596-1650)
In 1637, René Descartes wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” On hearing it in high school, I argued, “No one can think without first existing!” But now, seeing how his idea damaged modern culture, I reject it even more vigorously.

By placing the subjective realm above objective reality, Descartes echoed ancient Gnosticism, which exalted the spiritual soul while devaluing the material world, including the physical body. This error ignored the Creator’s “very good” evaluation of creation (Gen 1:31). Later, building on Descartes’ dictum, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) drove a philosophical wedge even further between soul and body. The results have been socially and morally disastrous.

A Christian adoption of this conceptual divide is exemplified in religious porno-prudery (a term I use to warn pastors that “a prudish view of the body is a pornographic one”[1]). That view leads us down a moral rabbit trail. By sexually objectifying human anatomy and treating the body as the stimulus of lust, porno-prudery shifts blame from where Jesus puts it: on the adulterous heart (Mat5:28). While God created our “being” as an integrated unity of both the material and the spiritual (Gen 2:7), this error affirms a Gnostic split in our body-soul nature. Beyond assuring pornography’s success, this false view has opened many doors of departure from healthy Biblical morality and from a human-friendly treatment of the body.[2]

While this divided self-understanding confuses the search for our true identity, Scripture comes to our rescue. In Exod 3:14, God told Moses His name: “I AM WHO I AM.” Earlier, in Gen 1: 26, God had said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” Since my Creator, I AM WHO I AM, made me in His “likeness,” I can confidently say, “I am who I am, too!” A human sense of being comes directly from God. If Descartes had acknowledged this Biblical fact, he might have more correctly written, “I am, therefore I think.” But even that expression falls short of describing how humans reflect the nature of the Great I AM. God is not just a thinking Mind but a Person Who acts.

Because “God is light” (1 John 1:5), the focus of His thought is truth. He thinks clearly, accurately, and perfectly about objective reality. Simultaneously, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Primarily, this describes Gods relational nature as a Trinity of Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—eternally in loving union. But this loving quality also extends to His personal interaction with creation, especially with us.

In the scroll at the side, someone parodied three ideas of being. Sinatra’s punchline is on target only if we reverse Descartes’ phrase, as previously suggested (“to be is to think”), and balance it with Camus’ existentialism (“to be is to do”). But without God’s “light” guiding thought and His “love” shaping action, any perceived balance will miss its true fulfillment. An integrated human sense of being requires authentically living in connection with I AM, our Maker. Activities of enlightened thinking and loving interactions with things and people must flow from a central, personal union with God. His indwelling presence enables us to sing the divine balance of “do, be, do, be, do.”

God’s plan for us to be reflections of His unity of “light” and “love” defines our true selves. But, if honest, we must confess that a unifying both-and relationship in our body-spirit nature has been disrupted by an either-or alienation. This disunity began in Eden, when humanity fell away from God’s presence by choosing moral independence. Today, personal disobedience to God affirms that original choice and confirms its ongoing disruption in our lives.

From cradle to grave, we live in a fallen world where this disobedience hurts us inside and out. Turning outward for relief can lead to a fruitless search for significance in materialism or in conformity to popular trends or attractive people. Turning inward for comfort can become a dead-end of meaningless fantasies or endless self-introspection. Bending our soul toward these internal and external distractions is a dysfunctional and damaging form of idolatry. It perpetuates disconnection from the God of truth and love. In such a world of false gods, people keep hurting themselves and others.

Inward and outward searching fails to retrieve a lost sense of being and provides no sense of well-being. In this disconnected state, we can miss authentic self-discovery by mistakenly listening to our inner disruption, as if its voice was our true self. It is not. We were created to listen to our Maker. Finding and becoming our true selves happens only by reuniting with God. He has graciously provided for that reunion through His Son. That’s the “Good News” of the New Testament.

By becoming human and dying in our place, Jesus invites us to receive forgiveness for our personal disobedience to God. But by His resurrection, He calls us to bury our old lives in His death and rise with Him to walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). This “walk” is a progressive, step-by-step surrender of all remnants of moral independence from God. A new birth occurs in us by our initial decision of faith to turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thes 1:9). But experiencing our new and true selves involves a journey of growth, with Jesus Himself as both our divine Pattern and our daily Pathway. That journey, if seriously pursued, will uncover all lingering idols that we must also abandon and replace with the “true God.”

Recently, in preparation to attended a MPC[3] retreat, I began reviewing The Healing Presence by the late Leanne Payne,[4] whose scholarly insights from the works of C. S. Lewis were a major influence in her inner healing ministry. One morning I awoke with the words of a poem coming to me which I knew was meant to capture some of the major principles in her book. I immediately got up and spent the rest of the morning writing it:

BENEATH THE SURFACE

Deep in the inner sanctum, where grace alone can bless,
roots of a tangled present from lower layers press,
pushing injury’s pressure—infected, tender, keen—
up to the naked surface where well-hid hurts are seen.

Down in neglected infants, fear’s toddling girls and boys,
childhood’s deprived upbringings, lost adolescent joys,
fester the wounds surviving within a buried past,
remembered but misshapen by passing pains that last.

Lovely tip of the iceberg, sculpted by wind and rain!
Dangerous, what lies under the tearful years of strain—
hurtful to nearby strangers, poison to wedded love,
fatal to life’s full meaning, if kept from God above.

Only His healing Presence governs the twin release:
giving and getting pardon that offers inner peace.
Letting go of the rancor, where memory is marred,
forgiveness starts the mending of what the trauma scarred.

Childlikeness echoes Heaven, but childish ways must go.
Our bitter, vengeful tantrums resist God’s healing flow.
From faith’s baptismal waters, where old life finds a grave,
We rise to live our true selves, whom Jesus came to save.

New birth refills our being with God’s love through His Son.
Our war beneath the surface, the Lord’s already won.
But we dispel the damage that entered us through sin
by coming home to wholeness from Christ Who dwells within.

— David L. Hatton, 3/23/2019

When we turn from our old life and invite Jesus into our heart, He takes up residence at the center of our being. This marks the beginning of our journey “in Christ” as “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). It is by living out of this central union with Christ that our true self will be manifested in daily life. Oswald Chambers wrote, “after the moral decision to be identified with Jesus in His death has been made, the resurrection life of Jesus invades every bit of my human nature.”[5] Our healing and self-discovery both need an invasion of Christ’s life into every facet of our conscious experience. The more aware we are of His presence, the more aware we will be of our new identity in Him.

In concluding these thoughts on finding and becoming our true selves, I want to suggest a helpful daily devotional, Jesus Calling, written some years ago by Sarah Young.[6] Her personalizing of Bible verses and Scriptural teachings by putting them into Christ’s voice has an edifying appeal. We all need daily reminders to listen to His life-changing truth with our rational minds and to enjoy His loving presence with our relational hearts. So, give Jesus Calling a try, to see if it helps you with a disciplined practice of listening to and obeying the Lord on your healing journey with Him.

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ENDNOTES:
1. See my articles, “Adopting God’s View of Bare Anatomy” and “Pornography in the Pulpit.”
2. Love Thy Body - Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality, by evangelical apologist Nancy Pearcey, astutely examines the social and moral fallout from this philosophical divide between subjective mind and objective reality. Her book is a must-read for understanding how postmodernism’s morally confused thinking on abortion, euthanasia, sexual immorality, homosexuality and transgenderism has taken over both secular and religious culture.
3. Ministries of Pastoral Care (MPC) holds a limited number of week-long conferences, carrying on a similar ministry as that of the late Leanne Payne’s Pastoral Care Ministry schools.
4. Amazon has a list of Leanne Payne’s books.
5. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 11 reading.
6. Used copies of Jesus Calling can often be found in thrift stores, for yourself or to give to others.

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