Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday's Trust - Searching for Meaning in Death: The Limits of Psychology to Fully Plumb the Depths

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

~1 Corinthians 1:21-31

Tuesday's Trust

Searching for Meaning in Death:

The Limits of Psychology to Fully Plumb the Depths

If man is the more normal, healthy and happy, the more he can . . . successfully . . . repress, displace, deny, rationalize, dramatize himself and deceive others, then it follows that the suffering of the neurotic comes . . . from painful truth . . . Spiritually the neurotic has been long since where psychoanalysis wants to bring him without being able to, namely at the point of seeing through the deception of the world of sense, the falsity of reality. He suffers, not from all the pathological mechanisms which are psychically necessary for living and wholesome but in the refusal of these mechanisms  is just what robs him of the illusions important for living . . . [He] is much nearer to the actual truth psychologically than the others and it is just that from which he suffers. 

~Otto Rank, as quoted from The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

Becker continues:

At a point of departure let us first sum up everything that neurosis covers. . . . Neurosis has three interdependent aspects.

1. In the first place it refers to people who are having trouble living with the truth of existence; it is universal in this sense because everybody has some trouble living with the truth of life and pays some vital ransom to that truth.

2. In the second place, neurosis is private because each person fashions his own peculiar stylistic reaction to life.

3. Finally, beyond both of these is perhaps the unique gift of Rank's work: that neurosis is also historical to a large extent, because all the traditional ideologies that disguised and absorbed it have fallen away and modern ideologies are just too thin to contain it.

This is where I love theologian, Marva Dawn's mission, to restore the overall wise and well-educated ideology to the Christian faith that is the most accurate and comprehensive as possible to God's Word. She fears we have lost the discipline to study Scripture enough to have a better understanding of God's ways. 

Such ideology should be able to explain the seemingly incongruent features as, for instance, in my words not hers, God's allowing such a destructive force as death to continue to be wreaked upon His beloved children, especially what we are facing…having to watch, in our own lifetime, the destruction of our own beloved child, which seems one of the cruelest of the curses of our fallen world. We are all, to some degree or other, as child-loss-grievers, suffering the consequences of the "ear-tickling" messages preached from the pulpit which then get shattered upon the simple act of watching our own child's death.

Then … Becker provides us with a brilliant conclusion for modern psychotherapeutic solutions, when we are looking to psychology to do TOO much for our life's dilemma:

So we have modern man: increasingly slumping onto analysts' couches, making pilgrimages to psychological guru-centers and joining therapy groups, and filling larger and larger numbers of mental hospital beds.

(There is a place for psychotherapy. As a psychotherapist, I work diligently to help people overcome being "stuck" in their lives. Good psychotherapy can help us to understand our lives from a different vantage point, and then attain better coping strategies for our day-to-day living. But psychology alone, in and of itself, holds only a part of the greater reality with which we all must contend. 

Psychotherapeutic solutions fall short of dealing with a fallen world, cursed by the presence of sin and evil in our world. We need more than a coping strategy for daily dealing with the horrific reality that each of us, not excepting any one person from its clutches, that death is going to befall each one of us. And for parents, we have the enormous challenge of facing the reality that death even is going to overtake each of our beloved children at some time or other ~ we just hope it won't be while we are alive to see it!)

In my writing for grieving parents, I am ever aware that the "too-brilliant" readers may declare in their own heads that I grow "soft" in my "otherwise" logical thinking when I "wax spiritual" regarding my process of learning to "accept" my child's death by the comfort of recognizing she is now in Heaven with her (and my) loving God. This judgmental bias against the Christian is understandable on a simple level: who of us has not been disgusted with a cheap plot solution like the "deus ex machina" which my dictionary describes as "an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, esp. as a contrived plot device in a play or novel"? It goes on to explain that this phrase is the Latin translation of the Greek phrase, "theos ek mēkhanēs," 'god from the machinery.' In Greek theater, actors representing gods were suspended above the stage, the denouement of the play being brought about by their intervention.)  

This is where I think Scripture so wisely reminds us, God hides His incredible truths from the so-called "wise" and gives it, instead, to the humble, simple, trusting soul.

If we do not have an "educated" spiritual ideology that faces where death falls in the overall scheme of things based staunchly on GOD'S plan---not ours, then when we lose a beloved child to death within our own lifetime, we risk a decimation of all that we held sacred…a pillar of which included our holding dear the protection of our child's life from any harm, but especially from any irreparable harm (such as, God forbid, our child's death).  

Douay-Rheims Bible
Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth.

~2 Timothy 2:15

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

~Paul speaking to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:10-17, NIV

~Ernest BeckerWinner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life's work, The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker's brilliant and impassioned answer to the "why" of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.
~Otto Rank, as quoted from The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, p. 176, chapter 9: "The Present Outcome of Psychoananlysis"
~Otto Rank (April 22, 1884 – October 31, 1939) was an Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, and teacher. Born in Vienna as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud's closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals, managing director of Freud's publishing house and a creative theorist and therapist. In 1926, Otto Rank left Vienna for Paris. For the remaining 14 years of his life, Rank had a successful career as a lecturer, writer and therapist in France and the U.S. (Lieberman & Kramer, 2012).
~Marva Dawn (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame) has authored many books, including Reaching Out without Dumbing Down; Talking the Walk:  Letting Christian Language Live Again; Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (a personal favorite of mine); and A Royal "Waste" of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World. She is currently a teaching fellow in spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Marva J. Dawn serves the global Church as a theologian, author, musician, and educator under Christians Equipped for Ministry and as Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. A scholar with four master's degrees and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics and the Scriptures from the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Dawn has taught for clergy and worship conferences and at seminaries throughout the world.


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