April 11, 2014

Theologies and Psychologies

A while back, I made a comment on one of Zach Hoag's blog posts, and a phrase I wrote resonated with him: "Theologies reveal psychologies."  Now, depending on your experience, you could understand it, agree with it, or think it's completely off-base. Since I said it, I obviously agree with it, but I think I should develop it into a deeper and more complete line of thought.

First off, we need to realize that it's a two-way street. Not only do our theologies reveal our psychologies, theologies also influence psychologies, and I'll readily admit that my story demonstrates both. Let's look at both points.

Theology reveals Psychology

There are many ways this could be investigated, but the easiest to examine, and the primary way it manifests itself, I think, is in the parallel of how we think God sees humanity and how we see humanity. Show me a person that constantly emphasizes God's wrath, and characterizes people (sinners) as the object of that wrath, and I'll show you a wounded and angry person that distrusts and dislikes people in general. They may well say and do a lot of things that are humanitarian in nature, and give real physical help to people, but I would submit that those actions arise from feelings of pity, rather than love. People are evil and in need of God's pity, and so they view themselves and others in the same way.

Then take the person that is convinced that God loves only a few people, and He has intended to condemn most people from the very beginning. You're likely to notice how people within the in-group (the Elect) are celebrated as "Godly" people and that people outside the group are "enemies" that wish nothing but to destroy the in-group. Everything they do revolves around sustaining the boundary between "us" and "them". When the horrible events of life hit someone, it's evidence that God has decreed that they deserve to suffer, and very little compassion and connection can be extended.

Then there's the person that is completely convinced that God loves them deeply and fully, and that He feels the same about everyone, and became the God that experienced death in order to defeat death and Satan for us. Those are people that love in a way that is willing to embrace pain and suffering to help relieve the pain and suffering of others. They give freely of all that they are, sometimes in a way that makes them unrecognizable to the world for the avatars of love which they truly are.  

The reality of the matter is that none of us can study the Bible as believers in a vacuum estranged from our experience, pain, hopes, and ultimately, our personality and worldviews. We cherry-pick the parts on which we will place more emphasis and give more weight, although we may deny that fact vehemently. We allow the conscious and sub-conscious ideas in our minds to determine the kind of God we declare to the world. If we declare that God only loves a chosen few, can we absolutely declare, with absolute honesty, that our view of God is uncolored by our feelings and experience about love? If our conception of love has been defined by exclusivity, by loving only a few, or feeling loved by few, can we really say that our view of God hasn't been affected by that? Likewise, if we feel that there is some grouping of people deserving of our scorn (whether ethnic, ideological, or behavioral, i.e. criminals/sinners), is it realistic for anyone to expect that our declarations about God haven't been affected by that? These last questions lead us into the next section.

Theology influences Psychology (and Vice-Versa)

What if churches were not just a place to worship, but communities that could bring deep and effective healing and reconciliation into our lives? What if we had a real way to changes hearts and lives, to bring the awesome humility that comes with episodes of deep spiritual healing and acceptance? Well, we do have the way to do that, but there are so many churches in America that refuse to embrace the complex nature of how that can happen. Churches that get invested into a worldview that wants to exclude psychiatric therapies that include admittedly secular methods, that want desperately to see Jesus as the source of all healing, yet want to limit the ways in which He brings that healing. Churches that don't want to be seen as endorsing anything that is "un-biblical." Churches that care more about growth than health.

Our church communities influence us in not only the words from the pulpit, but also in the attitudes that define the community's practices. Do we view sin as a contaminant that must be rooted out and excluded, or do we see it as a common part of our human experience, a part from which we all need to seek continual healing and progress? Do we view our own holiness as an image to present to the world, or as part of the healing that increases our connection to each other in our church community and to those outside as well?

These attitudes will affect people who come into our communities on a superficial basis. People who are not what we would call "dedicated church-goers" or "hard-core church/denominational folks" will accept or refuse attendance at a church depending on how they feel about the experience (those who are closely examining the theology to see what they think about the church fit into the 'Theology reveals Psychology' group more so than this one).

It's too easy to say, and quite disingenuous, to say that a church at which person x feels comfortable is a healthy church. Churches can reinforce our exclusionistic perception of our injuries. We can feel safe and protected in a church that tells us that all our problems are due to others/satan/the world/etc. But this might not be a place that can bring real and deep healing and connection. These same churches can cause just as much, if not more damage to people who have been victims of abuse.

That bears repeating: these same churches can cause just as much, if not more damage to people who have been victims of abuse. A church community that seeks true healing for everyone is a church that has experienced true healing. And healing and reconciliation are two very different things. Reconciliation is NOT a part of the healing process. It is, however, a part of the process of which a community regains comfort and equilibrium. Is the community demanding reconciliation between the abused and the abuser, or is it demanding reconciliation between the abused and the world a large? Is it demanding more of the abused or the abuser? Does it want the abuser restored to a place in the community, or the well-being of the abused ones?

A healthy community of people who are healing in a healthy way lays blame in appropriate places, and only in appropriate places.

What we get from our church communities reinforces and strengthens what we already feel about ourselves and others. The biggest thing that gets reinforced from this is the 'us v. them' or 'we're all in this together' paradigm. And that reinforcement works in exclusionary and inclusionary ways.

Who is welcome? Those who wish to look and act just like 'us', or anyone, even tatooed-up, ear-pierced me? Those who agree with the group politically, or those that bug the daylights out of us? If we have a desire to be 'a part of' or 'separated from' we can get those feelings justified and reinforced at a church.

Jesus gave a comforting welcome to all sorts of people that would make any of us uncomfortable. We like to twist His words and actions in ways that protect our sense of 'us v. them', but everything He did was to make us uncomfortable with that dichotomy.

Do we want to be like Him or 'us'?

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