WISHES FOR A NEW YEAR
The Grand Rapids Press has recently taken up the practice of sending out its reporters shortly before a holiday season to quiz the people on the street on some question related to the holiday. The results of such an informal poll are then published in the Press. This past New Year’s Day the Press asked a number of people: “What would you like most to see happen in 1971?”
The answers are very interesting—especially from a spiritual point of view, and give a rather good idea of the attitude of people towards life in general.
According to the Press almost all the people quizzed hoped “that the war in Vietnam would end, that more love and understanding would exist between all peoples, and that the economy would march upward rather than downward.”
But when pressed for more specific answers people revealed their innate selfishness and concern for their own personal well-being. Some expressed the hope for a decrease in crime; many wanted settlements in the tensions of the world—particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; but quite a large number expressed fervent wishes for “a bright educational future” and the hope of better-paying jobs. Others wished for better health for themselves or their families, for a decrease in welfare payments—if they were not themselves recipients, for less interference from the police in drug use. And yet others spoke of happiness for all people in the world, understanding of every man in his plight and love to abound among all nations.
Apparently these people have never learned what it means to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” although, no doubt, the majority of them are acquainted with the Lord’s prayer. Each man is more concerned with his own personal well-being and is so completely wrapped up in his own problems in life that his desires for the new year are totally occupied with making his life more pleasant than it has been. And if, perchance, their desires for a new year are broadened beyond their own lives, their concern is for things that are directly opposed to the will of God. While it certainly is not true that the Lord reveals to us the details of our life in the future, He does make known in His Word what the future will bring in its broad outlines. He makes known to us what His purpose is in the history of this world and how He will realize that purpose in the events of history through the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ.
The child of God who is a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth and who looks for the city which hath foundations is content when he lives in the assurance that God’s will is being done and that all things are serving the realization of the kingdom of Christ. He is content with this even when events in history or in his own personal life are not personally pleasing to him and, indeed, give him a minimum of comfort in the struggles of his earthly pathway.
The answers of the world are utterly worldly and carnal. The Christian can desire nothing so much for 1971 and the years following while the Lord tarries than that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It would not ordinarily be of interest to discuss a subject such as this in the columns of the Standard Bearer if it were not for the fact that some form of sensitivity training is making its way into religious circles. Apparently at least some aspects of this procedure, increasingly common in the world, have found their way into religious services in some very liberal churches not only, but also into the religious services of the so-called underground church. Further, it has recently come to my attention that some form of sensitivity training is also used as therapy in the treatment of mental disease in various Christian Mental Hospitals.
Sensitivity training covers a broad range of methods of group therapy. The object is to enable people better to adjust to reality by means of drastic changes in the personality through the use of personal encounter. While the whole business is somewhat vague and ill-defined, the general idea is this. Small groups of people get together to talk. The discussions are not on any particular subject, nor are they channeled in any way. Rather, any person talks about anything he desires. And in his talk he is encouraged as much as the others can encourage him to talk about all his problems, to expose in his conversation all that lies within his heart and soul, to bare his emotions, “hang-ups,” fears, doubts, troubles, hatreds, and whatever else he is reluctant to discuss with others.
In some groups a person is even encouraged to work out his frustrations and problems by actions, whatever actions may be required to accomplish this. He is told that kicking, screaming, tantrums, shouting, cursing, or whatever are good for him and will enable him to give release to pressures which make him a person unable to cope with or adjust to the society in which he is called to live. Such release of tension will, it is reasoned, rid him of forms of behavior harmful to himself and his fellowman and make him over into a person much more emotionally and psychologically stable. The group then becomes a micro-cosmos, a miniature world. And, since in real life the poisons of hostility and hatred when suppressed give rise to neuroses, if one will only work them out in group sessions, then he will drain the poisons from his neurotic mind.
Furthermore, it is argued that one of the chief problems besetting modern man is his inability to communicate. Because he finds it impossible to talk in any meaningful way with his fellow man and even with those closest to him, he isolates himself from humanity and from those who are closest to him and, living on a psychological island, he becomes spiritually and psychologically unbalanced. Hence, sensitivity training is intended to break down the barriers of communication and enable him to live in a psychologically healthy way with others. To assist in this struggle to learn communication, those who participate in sensitivity training are encouraged not only to speak whatever they want, but are also encouraged to touch one another since touching aids in communication. In far-out groups this sort of thing has resulted in all sorts of sexual eroticism.
There are grave dangers in this sort of practice—dangers totally detrimental to spiritual health. And it is to be abhorred that such practices have found their way into the Church and into the healing of the mentally ill.
In the first place, the whole idea of sensitivity training is based upon the supposition that man is nothing more than a body and a bundle of emotions. It is fundamentally a denial of the fact that God created man body and soul. As one of the proponents of this type of therapy has crassly stated: “You don’t have a body—you are a body.” It is especially this presupposition which undergirds so much of mental treatment even in Christian hospitals. The whole approach to the treatment of mental illness is a materialistic approach which looks upon man as a bundle of electrical energy or chemical reactions—or both. Any type of treatment which denies that man possesses a soul is bound to have debilitating effects upon the person.
In the second place, it simply is not true that releasing one’s tensions by speaking or acting out whatever is in one’s mind and soul is therapy which drains the person of the poisons which have accumulated there. Precisely the opposite is true. Hostility, aggressiveness, anger, jealousy, hatred—all these things are sins, sins against God and man. These sins have to be fought and conquered not by making them overt sins through expressing them; but by fighting against them with pleas for God’s grace on the battlefield of one’s own sinful flesh. They are evils to be banished from one’s life, temptations to be resisted, sinful passions to be overcome. To attempt to drain such potentially harmful passions from the person by expressing them in overt action is not a cure but an aggravation of the sin. This sort of thing makes the sin worse and the evil which infects the heart more difficult to conquer.
In the third place, it is true that confession is good for the soul. But, although this is axiomatic, the whole matter of confession must be put into the context of and be defined by Scripture. And Scripture makes it quite clear that confession must be to God above all else, from Whom forgiveness comes. It is, of course, extremely difficult to confess one’s sins to God. Indeed, it is spiritually impossible except by grace. And this difficulty is not only due to pride, but is also due to our inability to see ourselves as we truly are. It is rooted in our spiritual blindness when it comes to seeing clearly our own sins. We have 20/20 vision when it comes to seeing the sins of others, but are strangely blind when it comes to seeing our own. We may need help for this—help from someone we can trust; help from our minister and pastor. But even here ultimately the help must come from God. We can know our sins only when we see ourselves in the light of God’s Word, in the blazing light of the holiness of Him Who sits enthroned in the heavens. And we must learn to pray for the light that comes from above that we may see and know our sins as they truly are.
All of this does not mean that there is no room for confessing our sins to one another. James specifically urges this upon the saints. Cf. James 5:16. And he specifically prescribes this as the way to be healed. But this does not mean that Scripture calls us or even that it is healthy for us to bare our hearts completely before our fellow saints. There is, I am sure, an inner sanctum in the depths of the heart of every man which is, in a sense, holy ground; in which no man is allowed to tread. This inner sanctum is known only to God and to the one individual to whom it belongs. To allow others to force their way in often does more damage than good and leaves scars that are never healed. Only once again, we must be sure that we know this inner sanctum and that God knows. It must have been this to which the Psalmist referred when he earnestly prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any evil way in me.” Ps. 139:23, 24a.
Finally, it is true that communication is essential for the spiritual and psychological well-being of man. God created him that way. It is not good for man to be alone. And it is surely possible for man to build such a wall about himself that he is, in a very real sense, isolated from all those about him, living on an island, even though he sees his fellow men every day.
But sensitivity training is not the solution to the problem. It is probably true that even people of God do not communicate very much. It is probably true that many, many griefs, problems and troubles could be avoided if only people would talk to each other. And it is true that at the heart of communication lies a willingness on the part of people to listen intently and selflessly to others’ troubles and to do so in eager longing to bear the burdens of others. But all this, too, Scripture puts in the context of the communion of the Saints. And only there will it come to its true and rich expression. The solution to the problem does not lie in group sessions where everyone is encouraged to work out his “hang-ups” and to touch his neighbor. The solution to the problem is, on the one hand, to recognize that the unity of the saints is a unity of Christ through the Spirit; therefore a unity of faith and hope and love. And, on the other hand, to live out of that principle of love which is so utterly self-denying because it is a reflection (dim indeed, but very real) of God’s love for His own, manifested in the cross. And to live out of a self-denying love means to have one’s life absorbed by and dedicated to the bearing of the burdens of those saints of God whom God has placed upon our pathway in life. But to do so for God’s sake; out of love for Him.
There is no question about it that we have a lot to learn in this respect. But the lessons do not come from sensitivity training; but from the Word of God and humble obedience to it.