Mans Way of Attempting to Enter the Kingdom of God

The Pseudo-Religious Approach
Do you recall Rob, of whom I spoke in Chapter One? I described his early life as an aspiring ball-player and his suicidal problem in later life. Rob is an example of a person who attempted to use a pseudo-religious approach to his life-problems. This worsened his problems. But let Rob tell you about it:

I always came away from this minister feeling that I had to do more than I was doing. God knows, I was trying my best, but still more was asked of me. I was told that I had to get ahold of myself and use some willpower. This pastor talked a great deal about finding my own answers and needing to grow up. Well, I knew that before I came to him. Fact is, I had no answers and didn’t know how to grow up. That’s why I came to him. When this minister also gave me some books to read, I almost felt like saying, “Don’t I have enough burdens?”

“The pastor soon got me involved in his church. I began attending a class in Old Testament history. Also attended church quite often and began reading the Bible rather regularly—the whole bit. The pastor assured me that if I prayed every day, God would help me fight these suicidal feelings. Well, I was hoping that this minister would pray with me, but he never suggested it. So I prayed alone. But I could feel that I was losing interest.

I suppressed my feelings of sadness as Rob talked. Here was yet another needy person who had come to a minister who could not minister to the person’s real needs. Rob needed God. The pastor gave him a program of religious activity. And it was all such good activity! Only none of it brought Rob the immediate kind of salvation he needed.

Rob’s pastor offered him four different kinds of religious activity: the acquisition of religious knowledge and a belief in it, the exercise of self-denial and the use of willpower, the use of petitionary prayer, and the habit of worship. Would you agree that this is fairly typical of what Rob might be offered in the vast majority of our churches? Hundreds of patients have told me that this is what they get from their pastors. And it doesn’t work, they tell me. And I agree with them. Salvation by religious activity never delivers us from our bondages, clerical claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Let us look a little more closely at each of the four kinds of religious activity mentioned above.

A. The acquisition of religious knowledge and a belief in it. In the case of Rob, religious knowledge referred to knowledge about the Bible and the church. Few ministers would argue about the need for such knowledge, but most ministers today feel that we need much more than mere Bible knowledge. Specifically, we need psychological knowledge. My impression is that most ministers believe in psychology about as much as they believe in the Bible. This produces a counseling pastor who tries to blend the two kinds of knowledge together in order to fit the needs of the parishioner.

The psychologist-pastor now begins to use his knowledge on people. He delves into the past history of his client to find out how the problem began. The pastor tries to explain the intricate workings of the interpersonal games which the counselee is playing and which others are playing on him. The minister sometimes explains, sometimes confronts, and sometimes hits his parishioner on the head with something called “reality.” If the thick-skulled parishioner is stubbornly unteachable, he is invariably referred to someone who possesses a great deal more knowledge. He is the psychiatrist—awesome idol of all aspiring pastoral counselors.

But now, what about the acquisition of some good psychologically enlightened religious knowledge? Is that not the medicine which the sick parishioner needs?

I feel it is not.

The acquisition of more knowledge and understanding presupposes our competence to save ourselves, even if only in some small way. Feed the presupposition that we can help ourselves through a little additional knowledge, and you will find no needful place for God in our problems. After all, if we ourselves can do it, who needs Him?

In my experience, people with problems are helped only minimally with psychologically tinged religious knowledge. We never were, nor will we ever be, delivered from the bondages of sin by human knowledge. Therefore, we should abandon this dead-end street and turn to the Way who is Jesus Christ.

B. The exercise of self-denial and the use of willpower. The best that Rob’s pastor could muster was the advice to stop entertaining those thoughts about suicide and to begin to get ahold of himself by means of willpower.

Such is not the message of Christ. He never told us we could do anything (in our own strength) if we only really tried. Christ never used His time preaching sermons to provoke people into making one additional, herculean effort to put them on top of their problems.

“It’s up to you!” So many clergymen conclude their counsel with this rejective falsehood. I confess that there was a stage in my own ministry when I was sure my best help was to force the parishioner to take responsibility for his life and do something with it. Filled with a sense of omnipotence myself, I urged this upon others.

“Yes,” says the helpless parishioner, “I guess God helps those who help themselves, just like the Bible says.” Nowhere in the Bible do these words, or anything like them, appear.

Salvation by the grace of God rather than hard work is the most basic teaching of the Bible. And since nothing has really changed in the human heart since biblical times, it remains the central issue in our lives today. Any counsel which is offered on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ ought to recognize that we are saved by grace alone. Our technique of pastoral counseling should be based on that premise. When it is, the power of God moves in to save mightily.

C. The use of petitionary prayer. “Say a little prayer for me, Chaplain.” I can count on someone saying this to me at least once a day as I pass through the hospital wards. I have two responses to the request.

If the request is from a patient whom I do not know very well, I’ll stop to ask, “For what would you like me to pray?” When the inquirer sufficiently recovers his composure, he usually tells me about his broken arm, or his empty bank account, or his wife who is having a baby.

There are other patients whom I know very well. In response to their request for a little prayer, I sometimes good-naturedly say, “In your case, it will take more than a little prayer—and if you’ve got a minute, I’d like to talk with you about something you need before we begin praying. So let’s sit down and talk about it.”

I am not quick, you notice, to offer prayers for God’s help. For if the person requesting prayer is an egocentric, he is offering the wrong prayer. Egoists should not be encouraged to ask God for help, for a number of reasons.

The cry for help is not the prayer God is waiting to hear. He is waiting to hear our word of obedient surrender. God wants only one thing from us—our wills, subordinate to His will. No humanitarian service, no worship, no prayer means anything until the issue of our wills is settled. We ought to give Him what He wants, not what we want.

The cry of the egoist for help is essentially foxhole religion: “God, I’m in real trouble. Get me out of this trouble so that I can continue on my old self-centered way.” Because of God’s mercy, the prayer is oftentimes answered, but how long will God indulge us?

There is a vast difference between praying, “God, help me to get things under control again,” and praying, “Lord, You take over. It has gotten to a point where only Your divine power can help this situation. I’ll follow You out of this problem.” In the first prayer, God is asked to be a copilot. In the second, the Pilot.

I began my work as a mental hospital chaplain praying that God would go with me on the wards and help me to do my work. I was the pilot, and God was my copilot. It is completely different now. I now understand that God is on the wards long before I get there. God does not arrive at 8:30 A.M. when I enter the ward. He has been working in my people for years. When I step on the ward, I am privileged to enter into His work, and anything that happens to the patients is a result of His power. How different, easier, and better. God is the Pilot. I am a copilot.

D. The habit of worship. The whole idea of worship, if I understand it correctly, is that it be a response to the saving grace of God. Unfortunately, worship can be engaged in for any number of reasons. Today a woman told me that she regularly went to worship on Sunday morning before spending the evening in a motel with another woman’s husband. When I asked whether this created any conflict in her mind, she said, “Sometimes, but it would not be right if I didn’t spend part of the day with God.” You notice how carefully my parishioner guards her claim to righteousness.

Granted, my example is a little extreme, but it does reflect an attitude among all too many of us that
21worship is what God really wants from us. Going to church comes to be the essential thing. Most pastors, sad to say, are perfectly content with their parishioners as long as they keep worshiping. As the cleric looks over the worshipers on Sunday morning, he is not concerned about why they are there. That they are present is enough.

But mere attendance does not please the Lord. God looks at the heart of the worshiper to see if there is obedience. “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (I Sam. 15:22). Worship which is not preceded by an obedient relationship to Jesus Christ is mere empty ritual.

I’ll take that back. It is not empty ritual, for ritual can be filled with egoism. That kind of ritual thrives on saying things right, looking right, feeling right. The egocentric mind is attracted to this futile, endless exercise in perfectionism.

In summary, the worship of God should not be used as a means of straightening out our troubled lives. Such worship is merely a meaningless ritual which is as burdensome to the worshiper as to God.

“What’s wrong,” one may ask, “with this advice from the pastor? Isn’t it a good thing to enlarge our knowledge, use our willpower, say our prayers, and attend worship? Seems to me this ought to help a little bit. Maybe it will lead to better things.”

Nonsense! The whole approach is unworthy of a suffering person. We do not find God by taking little bits and pieces of religious activity into our troubled lives. When a person has a skin cancer, it is not enough to take some vitamins, cover it with ointment, expose it to the sun, and later keep it carefully bandaged. What is needed is surgery. Anything else is the wrong treatment for skin cancer. All efforts at do-it-yourself treatment must cease. One must surrender himself into the hands of a good surgeon.

It was the same with Rob. He did not need religion. He needed God. What his pastor should have done, was bring Rob to God. Rob needed to surrender himself to Jesus Christ as Lord. This is the first step. Nothing really can be done for any of our problems until that issue has been decided. The issue is God.

Rob’s pastor could have said, “You’ve told me a lot about your problems. I know you have tried everything, but nothing seems to work—your life is still unmanageable. But you may be ready for something better, Rob. I can offer you a choice. You can either continue as your own manager and struggle on with your problems, or you can ask Jesus Christ to become the manager of your life. Do you feel ready to come to a decision on this matter today?”

We certainly understand and accept the fact that the pastor who advises salvation through a program of religious activity sincerely means well. I am sure, too, that there is much love behind the counsel he offers. But what is lacking in such a man is a surrendered and obedient heart. Not possessing this himself, he will not suggest the need for it to others. Such is the sad and tragic state of affairs today with the vast majority of Christian clergymen.

What can be done? What can possibly be done about all these clergymen today who lead people to pseudo-religion rather than to God?

“There is a way,” claims a famous seminary in a recent issue of Christianity Today. The advertisement promises to “give you a knowledge and working plan to solve the problems of Modern Man.” All one needs to do is attend that seminary. Indeed, most modern Christianity has committed itself to a doctrine of salvation for the church through seminary training.

Older pastors are placed under pressure to obtain continuing education in our seminaries. “Today’s minister must cope with the congregation’s changing values, life-styles, problems, and attitudes. He may need knowledge and skills which were not even available when he completed his formal education. This is why his continuing education is so vitally important.” Would that, perhaps, not help?

No, the seminaries have not yet saved that large company of ministers who cannot minister. It is doubtful that they ever will.

“The only thing to do,” cries a layman, “is to get rid of the deadwood! It’s time to take a whip and clean out the temple. Any ordained minister who can’t preach the Word of God should be barred from the pulpit!”

The Christian church has been conducting heresy trials all its long life. I can give you examples of churches which have totally preoccupied themselves with keeping themselves pure, but the heretics continue to multiply.

Is there not some way, some reasonable approach, which can free us from the yoke of clerical bondage?

I, truthfully, do not know of any way.

I believe the situation is quite beyond us. All our strategies to redeem and remedy the pastoral leadership of the church have failed. We are in the position if we can only admit it—of an alcoholic who has hit bottom and has no more plans, no more excuses, no more ideas. We have tried everything, and there is nothing left to do. Our egoism and sin have driven us into an impossible position.

Impossible, that is, with men.

Not God.

We in the church have tried everything except giving up. It is time to surrender to God both ourselves and our problem. If the shepherds and their sheep are to be saved—and I believe they will be saved—God will have to do it.

Our hope is in the Lord alone, not in man.

As I close this section, I must share with you the deep feelings of joy and hope in my heart at this moment. Do not be frightened or angered by the disorder in our Lord’s church. Thank God, our destiny does not rest upon what we have or have not done! Our hope is not in human strength, but in God.

And I want you to know that God’s plans for His Church are coming along beautifully. He knows where He is going with us. We are in good hands. The best is yet to come. Neither the powers of hell, nor even our own shortcomings, will prevail against Christ’s Church.

So rejoice and be filled with hope.

Catch the vision of Isaiah, who lived at a time when things looked very dark. The nation of Israel, already divided, would soon go into captivity and become dispersed. But Isaiah is filled with faith and love as he says:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (43:18-19)

The Psychological Approach
Let me tell you about my life a dozen years ago.

I was at that time a frustrated parish pastor who was ready to get out of the ministry. Not having the courage to make the break, I decided to do what many confused clergymen do—I began to take a postgraduate course called “clinical training.” The field was pastoral psychology, and this suited me well because it was 98‰ psychology and 2‰ percent religion.

The dark night of my soul in the parish was ended by the bright morning light of Sigmund Freud and the lesser luminaries who followed him. Psychiatry gave me answers—and techniques—and a whole new understanding of myself and my world. It was intoxicating and, I felt, a vast improvement over what I had. With the enthusiasm of a new convert, I went into psychotherapy with a strong desire to work out my emotional salvation. My commitment to the science of the mind was enthusiastic, strong, and expectant. I was fascinated by what psychiatry and psychology promised us in the way of maturation, emotional health, interpersonal growth, et cetera and ad infinitum. Any pain I endured in therapy or in training was not to be compared to the joys of finding my true Self (a word which I soon found myself capitalizing along with other terms of deity).

Perhaps you will be reassured to hear that I did not follow Sigmund Freud in his conviction that God was a projection of my father image. No, I would never say that. I kept God as a worthy religious term and as a rather good idea, but the only real function I saw for Him was to keep the world running smoothly while I worked myself out of my problems. God’s function was to keep me strong and in good shape. For this cooperation, I piously thanked Him, but I was not ready at this stage in my life to make room for His authority and power over me. I honestly thought I was doing quite nicely all by myself. My psychiatric colleagues supported my delusion.

It came time to enter the mental hospital chaplaincy work for which I had been duly trained. Looking back, I see that I should have entered as a patient rather than a chaplain, because I soon found myself in real distress in at least two ways.

Increasingly, I could not stand myself. Clinical training and psychotherapy, though at first I was intrigued and dazzled by their results, left me morbidly introspective and still groping for answers to life. A cloud of depression hung over me.

Externally, I was doing just fine. I’m sure that my friends were unaware of my growing despair, but it was there. A person can usually hide his wounds from his friends, but when the friends are away and the person alone, what suffering it is to stare at the wounds and admit that the “surgery” has brought no healing.

The second kind of distress I encountered was in my ministry to the emotionally ill who came to the hospital for treatment. I already knew that sermons, Bible reading, and praying were not setting the prisoners free from their neurotic and addictive prisons. What I soon came to realize was that group therapy, chemotherapy, analytic theory, and the therapeutic community were not doing it, either. For a brief period, I tried frantically to combine the best of both psychiatry and religion, but to no avail. Neither discipline measurably affected my people. In fact, there was mounting evidence that they would actually heal faster if we just left them alone on the wards.*

*The spontaneous remission rate for people admitted to mental hospitals and given only custodial care is 70 percent within eighteen months. This is higher than the percentages usually given for patients who have received various kinds of therapies.

A case in point was a man whom we’ll call Milton. The hospital staff all agreed that this well-educated man was a highly motivated patient. He freely spoke to me of his past life and seemed to arrive at a whole series of helpful insights about himself. Other patients began to notice the change in Milton. He freely admitted, “I’m beginning to find out who I really am—and who I can become.” I worked with Milton at a time when I was swept up in the newest psychological emphases on human potential, behavioral modification, and emotional catharsis.

Milton was released and did well for about three weeks but then had to return to the hospital. He was in worse condition than previously. He has since been discharged again. When he left, I remember suppressing my feeling that I had somehow failed terribly with this man.

I was about to resign as a chaplain and get into something useful like bricklaying or plumbing, when God turned my attention to an odd group of people whom I had always written off as superficial and somewhat naive. In fact, during the first year of my ministry, I wrote a paper against them. They were the recovering alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous. As I suspiciously studied them, I suddenly began to realize that these people had what I was looking for! They were new people. Their whole style of life was changed. And they were quiet inside—something they called serenity. They were also joyful. Best of all, they were free—free from their alcoholic prisons and a number of other prisons besides!

Their growing freedom did not please me. Like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, I began to feel anger and jealousy toward my alcoholic brothers and sisters. I had always been watchful of my conduct and faithful to my calling as a minister. My money was wisely spent, and my family did not find themselves receiving government welfare checks. All through the years, I had faithfully served God—but for what? I, the faithful servant, was now the fool—and the real fools were rewarded! Even worse, I felt that God had duped me.

At the time, the whole experience registered with me as an absurd and senseless humiliation. It never occurred to me that this was about the only way possible for God to humble my pride. My damaged ego further intensified my need for an answer. Reluctantly, I admitted that these people in AA had what I needed.

So I began to sit at their feet and learn from them. Imagine me, with my degrees and ordination, learning the abc’s of life from some broken people, many of whom had gone neither to school nor to church!

These dear people, however, knew God, and they began to talk to me about Him as a Higher Power who was alive and as One to whom we could give authority over our lives.

Suddenly I realized my folly. I had plenty of religion and plenty of psychiatry, but I had no God. I surrendered my life to God.

My friends in AA helped me through the twelve steps* of their program. These steps work. I found out, not only with alcoholics but even with crazy, mixed-up ministers. God became real to me for the first time in my life. And so, ten years after my ordination, I stumbled into the Kingdom of God.
*The twelve steps areas follows: (1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable. (2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. (4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. (7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. (8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. (9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. (10) Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. (11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. (12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Used by permission)

The lights began to go on. I heard music. I danced, not with my feet but in my heart. An answer had come into my life, and the Answer was not an idea, nor an insight, nor a method—but a Person.

When He entered my life, I immediately knew Him.

He was Jesus Christ.

Things have not been the same since.

Not with me nor with my patients. I’ve made a list of some of our new understandings. You will understand that they are not really new. Actually, all we do is rediscover the ancient truths of God which He has long been revealing to His people.

A. The basic problem with man is not that he is an immature child but rather that he is an egocentric godplayer.

Granted, we feel the opposite. We feel small, victimized, weak. But we act like gods, which is easily proven when we remember how we have judged and punished others; how we have tried to do the work of two or three people; how we have bucked authority right up the line. Man, in relation to Authority, tries to displace Him, compete with Him, forget Him, even destroy Him. Each of us wants, as we saw earlier, to be ultimate from childhood on. And all the while, we feel small and call ourselves immature.

So long as a person can be seen as immature, so long will we see him as innocent and sinless. After all, in our eyes, it is no sin to be immature. We might then be called weak, but surely not sinful. The next step in this kind of thinking, after claiming personal righteousness for oneself, is to accuse Authority (God) and His authority-representatives of being the sinners.

Does that really happen? Of course it does. The most constant themes in psychological literature are the evil effect of parents upon their children and the evil effect of institutions (with their repressive laws) upon adults. If parents and institutions can be faulted for one’s problems, the individual is relieved of all responsibility and, therefore, of his sin and its ever—accompanying burden of guilt.

I no longer buy that.

I’ve gone back to the ancient answer: I myself am a sinner.

And, let me add, a strong sinner—willful, adamant, unbending. This is an accurate description of us all in our emotional illnesses. We are not weak people as far as our wills are concerned. Our feelings may be raw, our minds may be playing strange tricks on us, and our nervous systems may be overloaded, but our wills are as strong as iron and set in the firm concrete of our egocentric lives.

If it is true that the basic problem is sin rather than immaturity, then it also follows that the problem is basically spiritual rather than psychological. My recovering alcoholic friends were the first to point out to me that alcoholism is basically a spiritual problem but not a religious problem. They frankly told me that what they needed was not more religion. They said they were engaged in the practice of spirituality and that they had found God. A half-million sober alcoholics, I decided, was too formidable a group to refute.

B. The basic answer to life’s problems has been revealed.

The Answer is God.

I no longer agree with my brothers who look for the answers to life in endless research projects. The answer has been found. We did not find it. The Answer came to us, not we to the Answer. In a real sense, we can now stop looking.

The Answer, obviously, was never in man in the first place.

A sentence in the Old Testament speaks directly to my heart on this point. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). Answers to life come when we finally get straight in our hearts who is Lord of our lives. If I am lord, then all the answers will have to be found in me. This is the path of self-realization. If God in Jesus Christ is Lord, then the answers are in Him. This means that I can stop my frantic, fruitless search, because the Answer has arrived.

Psychiatry and psychology (and religion) can never be accused of laziness in searching for answers. In the field of psychiatry alone last year, over 100,000 learned articles were published. This does not include thousands of technical books, not to mention hundreds of conferences where various speakers told about “Recent Developments in the Field of You Name It.” Characteristically, these scholars disdain the accomplishments of the past, as they disclose to us the newest discoveries which, we are assured, constitute a revolutionary breakthrough to the understanding of ourselves.

I no longer believe that.

My faith in man is too weak. I am a man of little faith in man. One must have a deep faith and an abiding trust to accept all these recent developments which will be replaced next year by even newer discoveries. I wish I had such faith! It is not easy to be an unbeliever these days.

It seems to be one of God’s odd quirks that throughout human history, He keeps on displaying the folly of human knowledge and wisdom when they are godless. This is because the answer to life is not something we can put into propositional form. The answer to our tangled, troubled lives is a Person. He is God.

Listen to what Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, some nineteen centuries ago:

Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:26-30)

That, I believe.

If this understanding is correct, then a number of things seem to follow for those of us who are professionally involved in counseling:

A. The most fatal mistake in counseling is made when the counselor begins with an assumption of his omnipotence.
B. God can no longer be deliberately excluded from the counseling process.
C. Counseling, if it is to have any deep and lasting effect, must include the suggestion to confess our sins and the suggestion to surrender the self to God.
D. The day of the professional counselor may soon be finished.
Let us consider each point:

A. The most fatal mistake in counseling is made when the counselor begins with an assumption of his omnipotence.

When a humanistically oriented behavioral scientist sits down with a patient, I believe he makes his greatest mistake even before he opens his mouth. He does this by assuming a closed system in which all the factors are enclosed within the relationship between the healer and the sick person. Since it is the expectation that the healer do some healing, he begins to apply his skills and effort upon the sick person. In the world of modern counseling, it is seldom that a healer questions his ability to comprehend the problem and solve it by means of his professional skill. If results are not forthcoming, the sick person is said to be uncooperative, or unmotivated, or unable to benefit from treatment. Very rarely does the counselor question his quiet assumption of omniscience and omnipotence.

There is no place for God in such a system.

At most, God is sometimes asked to assist the healing process, but the process itself is thought to be the healing agent. Healing is supposed to take place through the therapeutic relationship set up by the healer. Everything depends upon the efforts and expertise of the healer to set this up.

I can no longer go along with such an understanding.

The most I can basically do for another human being is: help him discern that his painful bondage is the fruit of his egocentric life-style; ask him if he is ready to leave his egocentric world in order to enter the Kingdom of God; and suggest some concrete acts and steps by which he can make concrete his obedience to God. Note that the power to move a person to such action will need to be God. I only place things on the table. If anyone picks up what I have placed on the table, it is because of God’s power, not mine. God has all power, especially in counseling work.

But should we not use both approaches—a full use of man’s power and a full use of God’s power? No—no more than we should move our cars, to use an illustration, by the engine and the starter at the same time. The car will move on one or the other—not both. A similar law applies to God and man. The Scriptures teach that we are saved by God alone without man’s work. Salvation, whether in this world or in the next, is a work of God. All we can do is accept it. We cannot earn it.

Yet is not human help oftentimes effective in helping people? The help people receive from people—in this case professionally trained people who work on egocentric assumptions—is very limited. Whatever benefits accrue are shallow and temporary, because the basic problem, the god-problem, is not addressed. Whatever temporary benefits occur can be explained by the use of human willpower which, like the battery in a car, will move the car a short distance but then stop.

B. God can no longer be deliberately excluded from the counseling process.

We have already spoken of our unconscious exclusion of God which takes place quietly and effectively by the assumption of human omni-competence. I must add now that not all of it is unconscious. Some of it is deliberate and calculated.

It is no secret that most professional counselors look upon a reference to God as a throwback to primitive infantilism. God is often rejected, sometimes attacked, and at other times ignored in such counseling. A man once came before the discharge staff of a hospital and was asked what benefit he had received from treatment. After a moment of reflection, he quietly reported that he had found God at this hospital and now he felt much better. A psychiatrist responded, “What is all this nonsense about God? God can only take you so far, then psychiatry must take over.”

The patient afterward said that he felt like punching that doctor in the nose. I must confess to a similar reaction, until I realized that twelve years ago I believed the very same thing. Indeed, most clergymen, as well as psychiatrists, today believe that the God-approach to emotional illness will help a little, but when the going really gets tough, psychiatry must be called in.

The proof for this assertion is that whenever a parishioner begins to have real problems, the clergyman quickly refers the person into the hands of a “good psychiatrist” who, with his skill and training, begins to really help this person who is breaking down. The pastor now retreats to his comfortable study and offers a prayer of thanksgiving that God has again seen fit to use these “human means” to save his people.

On such a basis, one can easily understand the passion with which so many clergymen seek out the blessing and guidance of psychiatrists and psychologists. The clergyman keenly desires contact with them, asks to be taught by them, and hopefully aspires to possibly do a little bit of what they do. Why? Because real help for people is thought to come from man, autonomous man, man who has no place for God as the authority and power in his life.

There are numerous illustrations of ways in which we have excluded God from counseling. I have already spoken of our conscious doubt that God can do much for a severe case of emotional illness. I would like, however, to mention two other ways in which modern, humanistic psychotherapy counters God.

Except for a minority group of Christian and Jewish psychotherapists, the modern practitioners of mental science refuse to acknowledge the existence of any moral code external to a person. Values and ethics are one’s own private business, and one is encouraged to hammer out what he thinks is right and good for himself, regardless of what external authorities—and God is one of them—have said. To be sure, one must be careful about getting thrown into jail, but if you can get away with it, do it. One person with such an individualistic ethic said to me, “Nobody—but nobody—is going to tell me what is right for me. I’ll decide that.” Exit God. Enter Self.

Another way in which I must part company with my colleagues in humanistic psychotherapy is in their incessant impugning of human authority. Modernly, for example, the major problems of the individual are assigned to the faulty training of his closest human authorities: his parents. I have before me an article which typically faults the parents for not really listening to their children, for not treating them with respect. “If he yells, you didn’t listen when he talked.” The punch line goes, “If the parent will give up the defensive and accept blame when the child has problems, a major obstacle to good relationship will have been overcome.” The article concludes with a hope that someday, when the child grows up and points out the faults of his parents, the parents will be honest enough to admit their sins.

One is reminded of certain TV dramas which depict family life. I cannot claim wide knowledge of these programs, but it appears to me that the father in these dramas is always being taught the deep lessons of life by his children. I have seen several scenes in which the father is in the center of the living room, defending himself against the accusations of his all-wise son. Finally the father breaks down, admits his errors, and is forgiven by that self-righteous little son.

Such an attitude, whether on TV or in the office of a psychotherapist, seems to me to do harm to people. It places them in opposition to human authority which God Himself established to represent Him. This is not a question, first of all, of dishonoring God or of being disrespectful to authority. I am sure God could not care less whether He is being treated respectfully. What He is concerned about is the damage which opposition to authority does to the person giving such opposition. We are damaged, not God. That is why God is so against disobedience to authority. That is why we should quickly come under the authority of God and human advisers. It is only when human authority is in conflict with God’s authority that we must disobey it. Otherwise, to obey human authority is to obey God and add this: it is an act which benefits us primarily.

For this reason, we should be encouraged to respect and honor all authority. In the counseling room, the counselor should stand with authority and encourage the counselee to come to terms with authorities. It may be necessary to forgive them, and it will certainly be necessary to express gratitude to them, but judgment and condemnation are simply the manifestation of an unresolved god-problem.

I am aware that the psychological authorities encourage us to express our anger, resentments, and condemnation against our authorities. It is felt that these feelings, when they are blocked, damage one’s emotional health. Therefore, express your feelings, they say. Thousands of people are presently gathered into sensivity and encounter groups to help them get these feelings out, particularly the negative ones, for they do us damage, we are told.

In this way, people are trained to become more angry and more condemnatory. There is only superficial benefit from these exercises in emotional ventilation. There is another way to deal with the feelings, I believe, a better way. It is the way of confession and with it, surrender.

C. Counseling, if it is to have any deep and lasting effect, must include the suggestion to confess our sins and the suggestion to surrender the self to God.

Yesterday I sat down with Doris. Here is the way our conversation went:

Doris: I’m terribly upset. Last night one of the patients attempted suicide, and there was such a commotion on the wards, I could not sleep all night. Please let’s not talk about this. Talking about suicide upsets me terribly.

Earl: We will talk about only what you are ready to bring up. Perhaps there is something else on your mind that is of greater concern to you.

Doris: I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Nothing seems to be working out right. Here I am, a college graduate, doing something I really like—teaching children—but still I feel like a failure. I’m a teacher so what? And now this breakdown. When they brought me to the hospital, I did not even know who I was. I was out. I can’t remember when I was so bad, except maybe when I had my abortion. Oh God, I still feel guilty about that. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Earl: Would you like God’s forgiveness for the abortion?

Doris: (quickly) Oh, yes! It’s like a heavy weight around my neck.

Earl: Listen closely then to what I am going to say. You have already confessed your sin to God in my presence, and now I tell you, as one who is representing God, that your sin is forgiven.

Doris: But that’s so easy!

Earl: You want to make it difficult?

Doris: No—not really.

Earl: I want to say it again. You have confessed your sin, and God has forgiven you. The matter is closed. You need never accuse yourself or feel guilty of this again.

Doris: I guess I feel that I have to do something on my part—maybe something to show that I’m really sincere.

Earl: God knows you are sincere, Doris. But there is one thing you can do.

Doris: Oh, I want to.

Earl: I wonder if you are at a point where you are ready to ask God to come in and take control of your life. So far, Doris has tried very hard to control Doris. But you are not doing so well. Things keep going out of control—sexually, emotionally, and financially. (She had told me she was heavily in debt.) When a person tries to be in control, he goes out of control until he comes under control—God. Are you ready for God as the Control of your life?

Doris: Gee, I frankly don’t know. I . . . I don’t know what to say.

Earl: Please don’t say anything right now. Think it over a few days. I’ll be around here and when you have reached some conclusions, let me know. We are going to be close friends, no matter what or when you decide.

My strategy was based on an assumption that the basic problem of life is moral and spiritual. Moral because sin is involved. Spiritual—because the living God is involved. I have found this to be a simple and highly effective approach.

Confession and surrender are effective approaches because they depend completely on God. Take God out, and these methods collapse immediately.

I want a method so dependent upon God that it will fail completely without Him. And when the method succeeds, I want it to be only because of Him.

And this method is so simple! The popular professional approaches used to treat emotionally ill people are not simple. These approaches grow increasingly more complicated and difficult to understand.

Now, we would all be willing to overlook the basic deficiences in the world of behavioral science if only their strategies worked for suffering people. By any objective standard, however, the benefits are marginal at best.

Maybe—just maybe—the whole world may be ready for something as simple as God.

D. The day of the professional counselor may soon be finished.

I am a professional counselor. I am trained both in theology and psychology, and I am paid for what I do. As a professional, I need not ask “for whom the bell tolls.” It tolls for me. I do not regret my professional death, because, like E. Stanley Jones, “I am alive in the Alive!” Beyond theology and psychology is God.

Frankly, I am relieved and now experience peace. The alliance between religion and psychology is unified in their insistence that we can somehow work our way into emotional health—and if we can’t do it alone, we can pay to have someone help us work. We are encouraged to work through our feelings, work on a positive self-image, work on correct thinking, work out a philosophy of life that fits me, work on what seems right for me—work, work, work. Work hard also to pay the therapist who has worked himself almost to death for the proper diplomas and certificates. This professional will now combine his efforts with the suffering person to make the assault on Mount Never-rest. Work, climb, push—I’m relieved to sit down and rest in God.

This work-frenzy is predicated on a deep feeling that we must do something about ourselves. We ask: What must I do to be happy? These may be our questions, but they are surely not the questions of Jesus Christ. He is not interested in having us do any more. We’ve done it! The situation is bad enough! Christ does not want us to do anything except believe in Him.

What does it mean to believe in Christ? It means that we no longer believe in ourselves, particularly in that presumptuous nonsense that we can save ourselves by hard work. Believing in Christ means to give up on ourselves as saviors of ourselves and turn to a true Savior. Belief in Christ entails really only one thing from us—obedience.

Obedience is the last thing that any of us gives Jesus Christ. We will give Him anything but that. We will work our fingers to the bone, lose ourselves in service to others, strive for moral perfection and knock ourselves out with Bible-reading, praying, and churchgoing, but obedience? Anything but that!

I was talking once to one of my parishioners who had recently surrendered his life to Christ. His name was Harold, and we were speaking about the need to become obedient to Christ as Lord.

“Yeah,” said Harold, “makes me think of my aged mother. Maybe twenty years ago she said to me, ‘Harold, there are thousands of words in the dictionary, and you know most all of them, but there is one little word that you never learned. I so hoped you would learn it, but you never did. That one little word is obey.”’

“It’s the toughest word, I’m sure,” I responded, “but you are beginning to learn it.”

“Somewhat,” said Harold, “but I have a long way to go.”

“Would you like to learn more about obedience?”

Harold reflected. “Yes, I want to be obedient to Christ, but I don’t know how to begin.”

“Then let me help you. Tell me, is your mother still alive?”

“Yes. She is in her eighties.”

“I have a suggestion, Harold. Why don’t you call her tonight and tell her that you have finally discovered the meaning of the word obey. She’ll remember. Let her know that her son has learned the basic lesson of life before she goes to her grave.”

“I will. She deserves to know that.”

Well, Harold was obedient to Christ through my suggestion. When the dear old lady heard about Harold’s obedience, she broke down and wept tears of joy and thanksgiving.

No question about it—Harold knows the meaning of that little word obey.

Let me return to the matter of work and the professional. I have a dear friend who happens to be a Christian and a psychiatrist. He takes a position which is fairly representative of most Christian psychiatrists. His reasoning goes like this: “Most emotional cripples are so hung up that the claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot even penetrate to them. These sick people have all kinds of defensive barriers which must be broken down if ever Christ is to get through to them. Once they are freed from their neurotic defenses and inhibiting complexes, they are in shape to hear about God. Psychotherapy makes it possible for one to be open to God.”

At this point, I asked my brother if he then proceeded to invite his patients to surrender their lives to God. “Oh no,” he responded, “it is not ethical for me to go that far. I don’t see it as my task to explain the message of Jesus Christ to him. What I do is refer the patient to his pastor.”

I have difficulties with this position. First, when a sick person reaches out in good faith to a psychiatrist, that person assumes that he will be given help—not that he is being prepared to receive help. I have questions about feeding the hopes of the patient that he will receive help and then when he is ready to receive it, the basic help is withheld from him until a referral can be made to another helper. At the least, the patient should be informed of this arrangement before treatment begins.

And why should not a Christian psychiatrist lead his patient to God? Anyone who knows God and
22withholds the knowledge of Him from a suffering person is guilty of depriving a hungry person of a great feast, preferring rather to feed him the crumbs of human resource. Dr. Paul Tournier, the famous Swiss psychiatrist, surely does not hold back with his patients. He tells them about God, hears confessions, invites his patients to surrender to God, also prays with them. So I said to my friend, “Be a Paul Tournier.”

Finally, as a counseling pastor, I find I really do not need (and I suspect, neither does God need it) all this psychiatric preparation for the encounter with God. One comes to God just as one is. We come to Him loaded with anxiety, inner protest, suffering from a multitude of unknown bondages, and usually staggering under a weight of fatigue which is so heavy that it hurts. God wants us that way. He uses our pain to bring us to Him. Take the pain away, and we probably won’t come. Most psychiatrists are sworn enemies of pain—a fact proven by their immediate and constant use of sedatives and tranquilizers.

My point is as simple as this—suffering people are basically in need of God, not of the professionals. Our godlessness is exposed by the idolatrous faith we have placed in professional counselors, both psychiatric and pastoral.

A long, long time ago, a man called Moses made an announcement to the members of his nation. Moses said, “Jehovah has said that henceforth we are to worship Him without the use of handmade idol images. From now on, nothing in between—just you and God.”

I can almost hear the reaction of the children of Israel: “This new law will never work! Any fool knows you need an idol-image to make contact with Jehovah. We need both—the idol-image and Jehovah. One needs the other, and we need both. Moses! We warn you, a lot of innocent people are going to be led astray if you do away with these beautiful images. God uses such means!”

Religion and psychiatry are our modern idols. Few people entertain any doubts that these idols will save us. “What would we do without them?” they ask. The answer to that question is that all we would have left would be a living God. This is all God wants us to have—Him. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

I sense the beginning of a turning from the idolatry of professionals in the impressive rise of lay groups which really minister to the needs of people. Increasingly, we are being ministered to by laymen whose healed lives bear testimony to the validity of their way. The credentials of wide learning and academic accomplishments still satisfy most people in our culture, but some of us are beginning to see that the days of the professional helper may be numbered. Currently, it is heresy to say that. For this opinion, some of us risk being cast out of the temples dedicated to the glory of man. We are accused of running away from the accepted truth. It is an open question, however, who is running—the whole world or God’s people? Remember that “in a world of fugitives, the person heading in the opposite direction appears to be running away” (e.e. cummings).

If it is true that man is in flight from God, then it is time to turn back to God, even though this appears foolish to our fellow travelers.

Read Chapter 8
21 Though not exclusively, worship IS what God really wants from us. Of course God wants our love and obedience, but he especially wants our worship. Only the church can love and worship God in spirit and in truth. The world is capable of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, et cetera. The church’s first service is not the great commission, but worship.

Going to church is not necessarily worshipping God. Worship is an attitude of both heart and will; a kissing toward God with spirit, soul, and body. Man’s entire being is involved in worship. There would be far fewer problems in the Church today if people would learn to worship God rather than try to do good works for him in stead.

22 Though many Christians will share spiritual hors d’oeuvres with people, few are willing to challenge people to surrender themselves to Christ; even fewer who will encourage those people to go to church with them and learn more of Christ (Matthew 11:29).

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