He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

“You can’t beat free!” Those used to be my favorite words. When I was younger, I used to love getting free stuff. I would take things I didn’t even need if they were being offered for free, but as I’ve grown older and wiser and more jaded, when someone is offering me something for free my first thought now is, “What’s the catch? There’s nothing in this world that’s free.” The more I interact with humans, the more I learn there are only a few I can really trust; however, there is one thing in this life I’ve discovered is truly free. So fully free; in fact, that we humans have trouble accepting it or even grasping it. In Galatians 5:1, Paul proclaims: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The free gift of salvation is one of a kind. It is offered to anyone who desires it, and God freely gives it out at any time you make the request no matter who you are or what you’ve done. What happens after that seems to be another matter for many people. Make no mistake, if you were sincere in receiving and believing God’s grace, your place in heaven is secure, but the experiences of the Christian life has as much variety as the individuals living them out. Some may be called to torture and death as witnesses for the name of Jesus while somewhere around the world there are others, just as sincere, to whom God pours out riches so they can use the resources for his good will. Both are giving their lives to God, and both will receive honor from Him in the next age. The path for such honor and trust from the Father is never an easy one.

In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul exhorts us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” This scripture tells us we have to work out our faith; we have to put effort into believing and trusting in God’s salvation. “With fear and trembling” implies that our faith is something that needs to be very well protected, to be in awe of, and something we need spend time developing and working on. However, immediately the scripture tells us that it is actually God doing the work. Some interpret this to mean we are left out of the equation—that we take no part in our salvation and the development of faith whatsoever. Even the act of believing in God can be made only if God decides to give the revelation of the truth and therefore let you in on the secret that Jesus is the way to salvation. They claim that if it is the individual who chooses to follow God after hearing the Truth, it would be works that saves him and not God’s grace. I do not believe it has to be so black and white.

Obviously, we are saved only by grace. There nothing more clear in the New Testament than that truth, and we find the same theme throughout the Old Testament: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Even our ability to believe in God’s salvation is dependent on his grace. But the key word I use here is ability. Every human being from Adam to the last child conceived before the Lord’s Second Coming has the ability to believe. There comes a certain age, and I believe it is different for each person according to their genes and experiences, when we must make a choice: Follow God, or follow “Me” (the self). Once we reach this age of accountability and the choice is officially offered to us, we have every breathing moment after to decide to follow God’s path or follow our own way. There is a place in our journey where choosing to follow God leads to our salvation, but making that choice does not add anything to God’s work in our lives and in our hearts. We have not taken anything away from his sovereignty; for in his sovereignty he chose to give us free will. Before creation he already knew the consequences of our rebellion, yet he chose to do it anyway.

To be clear: The act of, the moment of, the birth of our salvation, of the new life being sealed in us is all done by the Lord and there is nothing we can do with it except to say, “Yes, Lord! I believe.” Working out our salvation simply means that after our first submission to God we continue to make the same choice over and over again to let God in and do his work in us. We cannot renew our minds without the Holy Spirit; we cannot become new creations or have our hearts washed clean by our own will; we are dependent on God to do it all. But we must make the choice to submit to God’s work in us by following the principles he teaches in his Word and spending intimate time in prayer and worship with him, so we can learn to hear his voice and follow his guidance and wisdom. God does not force salvation on anyone; neither does he turn away anyone who desires it. It is a free gift, but in order for the gift to take effect, the gift must be received. If a man comes to me and says, “Pete, I have prepared a great banquet in your honor! All the work is done: the food is prepared, the guests are invited; I have even booked all your favorite bands to play. All you have to do is show up.” I can choose to trust this man and come with him to the party. Or I can consider him a fool who is trying to play me and walk away in disbelief. Can’t you see that all the work has been done by him, but the choice is still mine to receive the gift? God’s free gift of salvation works the very same way.

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt and presented his Law to them through Moses, he offered them a choice: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). The Law was brought to us to reveal two things: First, God’s expectation of righteousness with the promise that if we could manage to live up to it, we would have nothing but blessing flow into our lives. Secondly, we could never really live up to God’s expectations because we are too morally weak and frail. Bringing the Law set the stage for humanity to understand our need for salvation. Today God offers us the same choice; only instead of following a complicated and impossible law, we only have to commit to entering into relationship with Jesus and follow his principles by accepting his free gift of salvation through the cross and his resurrection.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.” –C.S. Lewis, “The Trouble with ‘X’” God in the Dock

A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist.  -Sigmund Freud

When I hear the name Sigmund Freud, images of his famous therapy couch always come to mind. But who is this icon of psychology who still has so much influence over modern Western thought? Just a basic understanding of Freud requires a study of his structure of personality, the defense mechanisms, and of course his psychosocial stages of development. The foundation of Freud’s work is the structure of personality; the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is what drives the unconscious mind; it is our animalistic instincts. Based on physical drives like hunger and sex, the id seeks only to please itself. The ego represents the conscience mind, it thinks realistically and logically, it makes plans. The ego knows how to satisfy the needs of the id, but it also knows when the needs of the id need to be repressed until appropriate times. The superego is the moral code that a person develops through the laws of society and the values of parents that have been instilled in the individual since birth. The superego influences and exists in both the id and the ego. Ideally, it creates balance between the two, but often there is conflict, which creates anxiety in the individual. The ego responds to anxiety by using various defense mechanisms. The purpose of the defense mechanisms is to reduce stress; everyone does this from time to time, but it can become a problem if an individual begins to rely too much on them and try to avoid reality. Examples of defense mechanisms are: repression, denial, reaction formation, projection, displacement, sublimation, rationalization, regression, identification, and intellectualization. Freud believed that the personality developed through the psychosexual stages of oral, infants exploring with their mouths; the anal stage, where toddlers are supposedly are obsessed with their feces; the phallic stage where young kids like to play with themselves; latency, where older kids get to just be kids, and finally the genital stage where adolescents begin to discover and pursue the opposite sex. If kids make it through these stages with minimal problems, they’ll grow up into healthy adults.

Freud obviously is invaluable to modern psychology, as he laid the foundation for many forms of therapy that have helped generations of people overcome multitudes of problems, but I find many of his ideas outdated to say the least with some bordering on the absurd and can only come from a worldview that rejects God as an ultimate authority of morality. While there are many details of Freud’s theories I have trouble with, his psychosexual stages are where he and I most significantly part ways. I believe that human beings are sexual in nature, and we all need to develop a healthy understanding of our sexuality. However, I don’t think our sexual natures are truly awakened until adolescence unless there is some kind of abuse or neglect which results in early exposure. Kids aren’t obsessed with their poop, nor are they trying to get off when they play with themselves, they are just exploring their bodies. Boys don’t want to have sex with their moms and girls don’t want to be with their dads. Thankfully, Erik Erikson offers his take on the stages of psychosocial development which are much more realistic and reasonable.

According to Freud, the development of personality, including the formation of the id, ego, superego and defense mechanisms, depends upon an individual’s “psychosexual” development during his/her childhood. What happens, or doesn’t happen, to an individual during five important stages greatly determines who he/she becomes as an adult. Freud believed that each stage is based on biological drives and the child needs to explore and satisfy sexual needs through the pleasure principle in order to successfully move on to the next stage. Erik Erikson, a student of Freud’s sister, Anna, who took up her brother’s work after he died, supported the idea that individuals each have stages they must work through, but he rejected Freud’s pleasure principle and emphasized that success in each stage is dependent on how the individual relates to the outside world, calling the stages psychosocial; in addition, Erikson has added three additional stages into adulthood and old age. Following is a short comparison of each stage.

Freud called the first year of life the oral stage, in which a child explores his world and seeks to find gratification through the mouth; their basic needs are founded in nurturing mothers. Erikson calls this stage trust vs. mistrust. He states that if an infant does not get his basic needs met during this stage, he may develop an attitude of mistrust later in life. Freud considers ages one to three to be the anal stage, when a child’s focus in on the anal zone. Erikson calls this stage autonomy vs. shame and doubt, in which the child begins to test her limits in the world around her. How her parents respond to the testing, and where they place the boundaries on their children, can greatly influence the child’s ability to be autonomous as adults. Freud calls the ages of three to six the phallic stage. This is when the child supposedly has unconscious sexual desires for the parent of the opposite sex, and therefore considers the parent of the same sex to be competition; this is called the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls. Erikson calls this stage initiative vs. guilt. During this stage, children begin to develop a sense of competence in the tasks they choose to perform. If they are given freedom to experiment, they will develop a positive self-image and take initiative later in life; however, if they are not permitted to make their own choices, they may develop a sense of guilt over any decisions they make as adults.

During the school years, ages six to twelve, what Freud call the latency stage, kids finally get to stop unconsciously thinking about sex, and just enjoy being kids; this is when they begin to develop relationships with others outside their immediate family. Erikson calls this stage industry vs. inferiority. This is when a child learns the basic skills for success, and what is expected of him or her through society. If the child does not feel he is learning at the expected rate, he may develop feelings of inferiority that last throughout adulthood. Freud’s final stage occurs in adolescence, ages twelve to eighteen, and sometimes continues through to adulthood. This is called the genital stage, when children work through the struggles of puberty, and they begin to focus their sexual energy on members of the opposite sex. Erikson calls this stage identity vs. role confusion which is the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is when individuals search for identity and try to discover their true selves. Many individuals spend years discovering their role and place in the world. Erikson also added three additional stages in adulthood which are intimacy vs. isolation in young adulthood when the goal is to form intimate relationships, generativity vs. stagnation in middle age when the focus is providing for the next generation, and integrity vs. despair in later life when one should be able to look back at life with few regrets. When compared side by side, Erikson’s stages of development just make more sense than Freud’s and offer us a much more healthy analysis for determining childhood issues.

What Freud and I do agree on is his theory of defense mechanisms. I can see a lot of those in myself and in others as well. Freud states that the ego copes with anxiety by using defense mechanisms. Individuals will unconsciously deny or distort reality to reduce stress. The infrequent use of defense mechanisms is normal; however, often the consistent use of defense mechanisms becomes a problem as some individuals use them to avoid reality altogether. There are many types of defense mechanisms; however, the following four are often the most common.

Repression is a defense mechanism in which individuals will repress, or bury deep into their unconscious, traumatic events that occurred during childhood. The individual is unable to cope with remembering the experience, so it is pushed deep into an unconscious level in order to avoid reliving the pain. Often the pain will resurface in some form in adulthood, as psychological issues or in a physical manifestation.

Denial is a defense mechanism in which an individual refuses to accept the reality of some kind of traumatic event. Rather than experience the pain of the trauma, the individual will pretend he doesn’t care, or even pretend it hasn’t happened. Another form of denial is when an individual refuses to admit problems that are obvious to everyone else.

Projection is when an individual has feelings or thoughts she considers unacceptable, and rather than dealing with reality of the negative parts her personality, she projects the negative behaviors on others and becomes judgmental towards them, because she unconsciously is punishing herself through judging the others.

Rationalization is the defense mechanism when an individual tries to explain away an area of themselves, or an event or action they committed in which they feel inferior. Rather than accept the responsibility of the mistake or lack of ability. The individual will make excuses for himself and rationalize the problem away in his mind.

As a teacher, it helps to be able to identify some of these behaviors in my students, so I can deal with them and the problem in an appropriate way, but we all should become familiar with them so we can recognize if we might be using any of them in an unhealthy way. After all, the whole point of seeking to gain a better understanding of ourselves is so that we can have healthy relationships with others.

After taking the time to study his work, I have a better understanding of Freud’s importance in the foundation of psychology that he laid down. Personally, I have always loved the concept of free association. I have an artistic background and have created many of my best paintings, poems, and songs by just letting my mind and hands wander through my imagination. I think that is part of why art therapy is so successful. And although I don’t agree with Freud’s specific interpretation of dream symbols, I do think exploring dreams is an important part of therapy and can be used to discover many unconscious issues a client might be having. Therefore, even though I disagree with many details in his theories, I recognize that if it wasn’t for Sigmund Freud, we may not have the knowledge and understanding of the human psyche and personality that we have today. However, despite my renewed respect for him, reading up on his specific theories has only led to reinforce what I can accept and what I think should be rejected.

Peter L Richardson
9/5/07

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage, and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Andree Seu, writer for World Magazine, begins one of her columns with an anecdote from the Old Testament: “It just so happens that the unraveling of Haman’s plot began when the king could not sleep one night. This is the point at which things began to run in reverse—when the gallows erected for Mordecai were turned on his own neck, and the annihilation of the Jews became the annihilation of their enemies. Everything hinged on the reading of the records of the chronicles of the king on the occasion of a touch of insomnia.” She later declares “I can do nothing to direct my path or to ensure my own well-being or prosperity or happiness, because I cannot see around corners; therefore I will obey the Holy Spirit all my life” (World Mag, 2/25/12).

Many Christians like to quote the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, which is often interpreted as, “If you love God, everything is going to work out okay!” But the question is how and when? If you keep on reading, this verse is set in the context of predestination, and some conclude that the “okay” really only happens after death in heaven and it is only for those select few God has randomly chosen to accept through Jesus. But is God really that limited?  Here is the verse with the next two that follow:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

The key word here is “foreknew.” At the moment God decided to create this existence we are a part of, he, being omniscient, knew the outcome of it all. He knew that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit, he knew Cain would kill Able, and that much of mankind would reject him and choose to live wickedly. Therefore, he wrote into the story, into history: His Story, the plan of salvation through the Godhead person of the Son, Jesus. He predestined, or predetermined, a way out of judgment for the human creations he loves. He knew beforehand every human being who would reject or accept him, yet he still considered creation worth the trouble. Now, the scripture says those he foreknew he predestined–> those he predestined he called–> those he called he justified–> those he justified he glorified. I believe it works like this:

Predestined: God has a predetermined plan for every human being’s life. Before you are born he has laid out the blueprint of your life, and has called you to fulfill a plan and purpose. This plan and this purpose will be discovered when you begin to seek out truth, wisdom and love.

Called: As you grow, you discover your desires and your talents through nature and nurture. Some things are written into your DNA, while others are born out of life experiences. No matter what time and place you were born into, God has “written” in signs pointing to him and his plan for your life. All of it is a part God’s greater plan for the universe of this age; however, you make the choice of how closely you follow the plan. (I should mention that God’s plan may at times come with great risk and peril for your life; however in general, he will call you to do the very work that you find yourself passionate about and naturally skilled for. The trick is using your gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God in service to mankind instead of just for your own pleasure and means. This service comes in many forms and sizes.)

Justified: We all have the seed of rebellion planted in us. It is passed down from generation to generation, and it is only through the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are able to be made justified. If you choose to follow God and his principles; he will work on your behalf in order for you to do the work and follow the call he has set before you. When your will begins to line up with God’s will, he “levels your path” and answers your prayers. Salvation from eternal death is the free gift of God, but once that gift is accepted; your action of obedience is required for God to be able to complete the work of developing your character and leading you to discover your destiny.

Glorified: Beginning here on earth and continuing later in heaven, God will honor and reward you for choosing to be obedient to the plan he predetermined, or predestined, in your life. (This honor is often not as the world considers honor to be; most of God’s greatest saints pass through history without fame, but they are certainly written into God’s book of life and learn to live their time on earth with a joy and contentment few humans fully understand.) Some would say at this point that God is no longer sovereign if we can stray from the plan and that if we have such free will it diminishes his power. To quote Paul: “by no means!” In my opinion this is where the paradox that is beyond human comprehension comes to light. The fact that God is still accomplishing his plan and purpose despite the free will of billions of humans throughout time just proves how omnipotent and omniscient this God of ours truly is!

This concept also works in the negative. Paul continues to discuss in his letter to the Romans God’s sovereign choice of hardening the hearts of the Jews during Jesus time and the early church so that the gospel would be spread out among the entire world and offered to the Gentiles. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh’s standoff with Moses during the Exodus. Scripture says that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart in order to display his might and power to the Israelites, and later to the world through scripture, in order to build up their faith in him. However, this does not mean that he blocked Pharaoh’s will at any time. God can look into the deepest areas of our souls, into the very essence of our being. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Consider the analogy of a parent who has a good relationship with his child. I know my son pretty well, I know what to say to calm him down when he’s upset, and I also know how to get him excited when he’s feeling down. I could also use that knowledge to push his buttons and provoke a negative reaction in him. True, that is manipulation, but I ask, is manipulation wrong if a greater good will come of it? Perhaps so, considering we are limited to a human perspective, but when it comes to God, who defines himself as love, who claims to be good, can we trust him to manipulate “the clay” at his disposal for the greater good of mankind? Your answer depends on whether or not you believe he is really good.

That is a matter we all need to settle in our own individual hearts. What’s important for this argument is to understand that God did not possess Pharaoh’s heart or use mind control on him for the Exodus. He just knew how to push his buttons. God simply (fore)knew that if he called Moses to stand up to Pharaoh, his pride (and perhaps the threat of losing his cheap labor) would cause him to say “No; absolutely not!” God could have broken the Israelites free right then and there with his power and glory, but the Israelites probably weren’t quite ready for freedom at that point. God knew a hard response from Pharaoh would serve to develop their character and faith, both as individuals and as a people. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” Consider how a watercourse is directed and manipulated by men. We cannot actually cause the water to flow, but we can manipulate where and how it flows by putting up barriers and dams and obstacles and digging ditches. In the simile here, the water is the desires and fears flowing from the heart of the king, and God puts up barriers and dams and obstacles and digs ditches to get the king’s heart to flow in one direction or another.

If God needs to put up obstacles and/or level our paths to develop our character and bring us blessing, doesn’t that mean that our minds and hearts are still our own to make choices and respond how we want? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just use mind control and force us to go one way or the other? God knows our hearts through and through and he knows our thoughts before we even make them; however, it is still our own will and mind that makes the thoughts that make choices as we respond and react to the world we live in. This is just one example of how God is able to work around and despite our free will. This is how he is still sovereign, yet we are still responsible for our choices and the consequences we bear for them whether good or bad.

God used the 10 plagues of the Exodus to harden Pharaoh’s heart and to reveal his power to the Israelites, but Paul uses this story to explain why God might harden the hearts of the Jews in order to bring salvation to all mankind. He also tells us that God desires for all men to be saved, and this includes the Jews. He almost rebukes his Gentile audience as he explains that God will eventually “graft” the Jews back into his kingdom. We see today more and more Jews coming to salvation as they realize the messiah they have been longing for was Jesus, and the promised kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that includes all peoples. Not even Judas, who was so important to God’s plan of salvation, acted outside of his own free will; yet it was God’s sovereignty that caused all things to fall into place at the chosen time in order that we who would choose to follow God’s way would be saved. Andree Seu ends her column with this thought: “Line up your ducks in a row, if you please. But God sees beyond your row, and it will be better in the end, every time, for the person who yields to the still, small voice of the Spirit. For God is the Lord of the ‘just so happens.’”

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“It is logically impossible to make someone do something freely. That is as logically impossible as making a round square or a married bachelor. God’s being all-powerful does not mean that He can bring about the logically impossible…Some goods, for example, moral virtues, can be achieved only through the free cooperation of people…The idea here is that given human freedom, God’s options are restricted.”

–William Lane Craig, “What About Suffering,” On Guard