"You said in your heart...'I will make myself like the Most High'". [Is. 14:14]
"God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" [Gen. 3:4]
These quotations show the prime motive for Satan's hatred of God, and how he used this same force to tempt our human representatives into the very first sin of rebellion against God's love, from which all our troubles have ever since flowed.
In a local group in which we studied counselling from the Bible, amongst other activities, we went through the "Counsellor's Casebook" by Jay Adams. In this an outline of a case is given, but no answers are provided to the questions then posed on how the problem should be dealt with. To begin with, we struggled to find the best approach that should be taken in each of the situations, but when we had completed a number of them, a basic pattern began to clearly emerge. Somewhere in his life, the client had adopted the wrong attitude to a problem, and he had allowed it to then get out of hand, or even compounded it further by more bad decisions. In all these cases, the real root problem was eventually seen to be the pride of the client in adopting a self-centred attitude, which resulted in either evasion or erecting barriers against the problems he should have faced up to and dealt with.
Problems and difficulties, trials and testings are bound to come upon all, whether Christian or not, but Christians should deal with them in such a way that we should not allow them to so overwhelm us that we are mentally and spiritually crippled because of our mishandling of the problem. We have in the Bible a full guide of warnings and advice on how to conduct ourselves in our relationships with other people both within and without the Church.
The question may be raised that we are not all born the same, for there is a very wide range of differing personalities and we all have certain strengths and weaknesses, with the implication that these are features that we cannot change.
It is obvious that we all have different personalities, and the Bible describes many godly characters with all their strengths and weaknesses - "warts and all". Yet in its teaching the Bible never once refers to our characteristics as such, or makes any allowance for them. Indeed, they often have to be corrected - the fearful are told to be brave, the strong to be gentle with others etc.
The Bible totally ignores the whole subject of our particular personality, and in fact makes no allowance for any 'personality weaknesses' that we may consider we have been born with. In fact, in addition to offering free salvation, it is also intent on totally changing our "personality", by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that we will become more and more Christ-like.
How different this is to the Freudian theory that we can blame our environment for our problems! This is not to say that our circumstances do not have an effect upon our lives, but Christ is concerned about the way we deal with the problems that do come upon us, for they mostly involve our relationships with others.
It is for this reason that there is a great deal in the Bible on how we are to behave towards each other. It deals with those aspects of our lives that can, and indeed MUST change when we become a Christian, so that the effect of our new life in Christ becomes obvious to all with whom we have contact.
It is important that we distinguish between abilities and personal characteristics. We are all born with limitations on both our physical and mental ability; few of us could run the mile in four minutes or become a chess Grandmaster no matter how hard we trained. Regarding our personality it is different however, for there is no upper limit to how good (loving, gentle, kind, patient, longsuffering etc. etc.) we can become.
Take for example a person who claims that he was born with a temper and cannot control himself when he meets opposition to his strongly held views. Is he to be burdened with this for the rest of his life? - upsetting people, church meetings etc. - surely not. If he is a truly born-again Christian he should take the Bible as his final authority, so that when it says he should be longsuffering, it means that not simply that he OUGHT to change, nor even that he CAN change, but that he MUST change, and he is given the indwelling of the power of the Holy Spirit to do so.
But let us pursue this problem a little further. What really is at the bottom of his temper? It does not take much perception to see that what really causes his anger is that he wants HIS view to prevail and feels threatened when his stance is under criticism. Unable to defend his position with any real logic or common reasoning to persuade others to agree with him regarding proposals he considers sensible, he effectively tries to force them to accept his point of view in a way that is always counter-productive! His pride has been hurt.
But some will say "Doesn't our environment have a large effect upon our personality? Don't statistics prove that children reared in drunken or brutal families frequently have the same problems in their adult life?" This is so, but our upbringing does not fully determine our lives, as is proven by those who DO break away from their past. Two people raised with identical backgrounds can finish up with entirely different lifestyles. We can either rise above our situation, or use it as an excuse for our selfish behaviour. Thus in the same way that inborn personality traits can be overcome and gradually improved, so can our reaction to our early background.
Pride is indeed the most far reaching and subtle of all the seven deadly sins and its insidious and wide ranging ramifications fool many Christians into behaving in sinful ways that they are completely unaware of. An examination of the following case studies will show just how deep the problem can really lie, such that sometimes it can be cloaked over and be presented as a virtue.
1. LOSING FACE. One of the most powerful forces that affect us is an inordinate concern of what other people think of us. A healthy respect for other peoples view of us is only right, but far too often this becomes a controlling factor in our conduct. The great fear of "losing face", admitting that we are wrong, peer pressure to conform to the groups attitudes, and many other pressures upon us really determines much more of our of behaviour than most are prepared to admit. Yet often we know that the right thing is to actually speak out against the current opinion. But such is the fear of being ostracised, we say nothing. Our love for the good opinions of men outweighs our concern for "speaking the truth in love". In so doing, God is not honoured.
2. SHYNESS. This is usually considered to be simply humble self-effacement, but in essence it is just another means of protecting our central self from being exposed to view. We become so concerned that we do not expose any weaknesses, that we then fail to act in a mature way when occasion demands. But the Bible tells us - "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline" [2 Timothy 1 v 7]. Again we see that it is the fear of what others will think of us that dominates out attitudes and actions. We are too concerned not to expose our inner selves lest our central pride is dented.
3. LEADERSHIP. Alternatively, others dominate situations in order to be the centre of attraction. Whilst this is less frequent in Christian circles, it is not unknown. To be asked to be an elder, or to preach, speak, or lecture can lead even the most humble of Christians to feel an undue sense of importance.
4. CRITICISM. One of the severest tests of our Christian humility is the way in which we react to any criticism of our behaviour, from wherever it may come. It is not unknown for a "very fine Christian" to explode in anger at the least hint of criticism. It is so very comforting to be encouraged and praised, but what if we are rightly warned that our attitude is not truly Christian? Are we touchy, inclined to sulk, or grumble about others as a countercharge?
Far from resenting correction, we should actually welcome it as a pointer to the right path for the full Christian life. Proverbs 9 v 8 says "Rebuke a mocker and he will hate you. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you." If we are corrected, the first reaction should be to check whether it is justified. If it is, then we should be grateful and take steps to put our behaviour right. There may however be a good reason for our actions, and then we should discuss the subject freely and present our case, without rancour or aggressive self-defence.
One of the most difficult matters facing elders and pastors is how to handle differences of opinion in a church. All too often the subject is 'swept under the carpet' for fear of causing dissention and possibly splitting the church. Yet surely in a true Christian atmosphere, there is NO subject that cannot be raised for fear of deep discord appearing between Christian brothers and sisters? Too often the real problem is that we cannot bear to be shown to be in the wrong.
The Bible gives very clear directives on how such differences should be handled, which is privately at first and publicly when that fails. Indeed, a study of the Bible shows that dissention in a church was treated with great alarm by Paul, and the whole subject of the importance of love between Christians is given far more prominence than even worship or evangelism!
This frank openess on important differences of opinion has been found to work in the secular world. In the Armed Forces, those groups that are able to discuss matters of their personal relationships in an open fashion function far better than those who do not, and leaders are trained to discuss frictions between personalities with their men accordingly.
5. DEPRESSION. Most cases of depression are due to pressure of external situations or social circumstances, and only rarely due to drugs or hormonal imbalance.
Long term depression (i.e. not for a limited period such as bereavement) due to personal situations is really the sufferer feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances of life. He is saying in effect "All MY hopes, all MY efforts, all MY pleasant situations are gone forever, and there is nothing left for ME to live for. MY world has collapsed about ME."
He feels that he should be living a full life that is pleasant and easy. But what right has any of us to expect such claims OUGHT to be fulfilled? Let us take a person who has been seriously injured in an accident. Is it really the right Christian approach for him to be depressed about his circumstances for the rest of his days? The life of Joni Eareckson Tada is a lesson here.
God never promised us a full and easy life. Indeed, these trials should be looked upon as an opportunity to demonstrate how deep our Christian faith goes, and put it into practice accordingly.
In fact the Bible tells us that we should welcome trials and troubles [Provz 3v11, Hebz 12v6, James 1v2 ]. If the situation is not of our making (and even if it is), we should nevertheless press on and continue to make the best of it, doing what is the right thing at all times with no hint of self-pity. Problems should be looked upon as an opportunity to test and strengthen our Christian life so that we may "..become MATURE, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." [Ephz 4v13]
From a slightly different viewpoint, depressed people are thought to suffer from "..low self esteem." There is a current trend to say that we must first "love ourselves" before we can love others properly. However, Paul Brownback in his book "The Danger of Self Love" has exposed the unscriptural basis of this point of view. Indeed, far from having a low opinion of themselves, depressed people actually have a high opinion, as brilliantly exposed by Tozer who said -
"Self derogation is bad, for the self must be there to derogate. Self, whether swaggering or grovelling, can never be anything but hateful to God...Boasting is evidence that we are pleased with self; belittling, that we are disappointed with self. Either way we have a high opinion of ourselves."
6. SCHIZOPHRENIA This is one of the most controversial issues in all counselling, both Christian and non-Christian. Most psychiatrists use drugs as a treatment. They claim that it is a medical condition and have tried to find an imbalance of chemicals or a viral infection etc. to explain the symptoms, for which they do not hold the patient responsible. A few psychiatrists however have written against such an assumption, claiming that it is a screen of bizzare activities that the patient erects to prevent the counsellor discovering the real cause of his problem.
The evidence in support of the latter view is to my mind quite convincing. William Glasser in his book "Reality Therapy" relates how virtually all the patients in an extreme psychiatric ward were successfully discharged when faced with taking responsibility for their actions. Similarly, in a State Penitentiary for severely disturbed girls, many were rehabilitated, despite having appalling criminal backgrounds, when the same approach was used.
It may be thought that these are just the personal views of a few psychiatrists that can be dismissed in view of the widespread opinion that schizophrenia is a medical "illness". But this is not the case. In 1985 a very large conference of psychiatrists was held in Arizona. Out of four experts on a panel dealing with schizophrenia, three of them declared that "the disease was nonexistant". One claimed that the disease "did not exist until the word was invented", whilst Thomas Szasz called mental illness "a myth".
It must be emphasised that these are statements by a group of men at the top of their profession. Psychiatrists, having invented the classification, are now disowning it. But many experts will no doubt continue to treat these cases with medication etc. for to admit that they have been wrong in their diagnosis would be too great a "loss of face" in the eyes of the public or their fellow colleagues. In any case, it will probably be many years for the news to filter down to the general public in view of the inertia of the professional consensus.
THE FULL CHRISTIAN LIFE As we have suggested, ultimately all personal stress problems, including fear of others and resentment of criticism, stem from pride. We are worried about what others will think of us or what will happen to us. If we are totally God centred in our life, then we should have no worries on either of these two aspects. As a lesson in acceptance of our situations, whatever they may be, we have Paul's list of difficulties and dangers in 2 Cor.11 v 23-29, yet despite them all, he was continually active, did not wallow in self-pity and was never 'depressed' in the way that many are today.
Ultimately, we all will have to take responsibility for the way in which we have dealt with the problems of life, for this is really what this period of earthly trials is for; the means by which the sword of our faith can be sharpened.
We can all recognise someone with an "open" personality; they are generally the most popular in any group. They are interested in you, and are little put out by slurs or aspertions against themselves, usually ignoring them and refusing to take umbrage. They are said to have an 'outgoing' personality and seem to have 'nothing to hide'. This freedom from fear of others leaves them with much more energy available to use in the service of God towards others. Would that we all aimed at such open and outgoing attitudes to life. Indeed, when we recognise this in others, we begin to see how many of our burdens are self imposed.
Christ has indeed commanded us to "..be perfect..". As he would not have given such an instruction had he known that we could not change, then surely it is the end towards which we must all strive whilst on this earthly pilgrimage. By dealing with all our problems in a truly Biblical way, we can all, without exception, know even now something of the "..love, joy and peace..." which is the fruit of the Spirit [Gal. 5:22].
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