Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Divided against ourselves


This is how Adam Phillips puts it in Side Effects:
It is Freud’s view that we are ineluctably averse to ourselves (and others) because our desire is fundamentally transgressive. If what we want is what we must not have we are going to be, to put it as mildly as possible, divided against ourselves.

And this is the diagram and the text for how I put it in Radical Disorientation a while back:


Loving and hating God; loving and hating loving self

For Adam, to love God’s character, recognise his authority and embrace his purpose would have meant that he rejected sin. He would need and desire no other standard and calling than God’s loving holiness expressed in his good and righteous commands and promises. He would not want to do away with or replace God. Rather, he would love God with his whole being. And, vitally, this in turn means that he would love himself.

But, as we have seen, Adam, as sinner, hated God. Ironically, made in the image of God, Adam was already ‘like God’. But not content at bearing God’s glory, reflecting and representing God’s character, recognising God’s authority, embracing God’s purpose and obeying God’s commands, he grasped at equality with God. And this was his fall, his shame. Determined to do away with God and seeing the reflection of God in his own being and calling, he took a hammer to himself as mirror and shattered the image of God. And when, in sin, he looked at himself and saw the image of God, shattered yet not obliterated, he hated himself as he hated God. Designed perfectly in the image of God, so far as Adam loved God, he would love himself as the mirror of God. Embracing sin, the situation was reversed. Looking at himself as a sinner, he hated what remained of the image of God and thus hated himself. And all in Adam die the same death.


Consistency in sin would be murder, madness and suicide

The unregenerate, true to himself, that is to say fully consistent as a God-hater, would sin without limit. But unlimited sin would be simultaneous madness, murder and suicide. Madness, because reality is filled with God and the consistent sinner flees from reality: God is truth and the consistent sinner, endeavouring to do away with God, would reject truth. Yet truth is one, though lies are many, and so the rejection of truth, consistently worked through, would be a complete disconnection with reality. Murder, because all other human persons are image-bearers and the consistent sinner, seeking to murder God and yet unable to do so, would, instead and as well, do all in his power to cleanse the planet of every sign of God. Every other human person must be killed. Suicide because the fully consistent sinner would, regarding the remaining image of God upon himself and hating that image, seek to destroy himself. Hating God, the sinner hates truth, love and life, embraces falsehood, hatred and death and so, unrestrained, would plunge into madness, murder and suicide.


God keeps us from consistency

God’s mercy is such, however, that he restrains the sin of those who hate him, holding them back from full consistency. Thus, all around us, though only in part, the unregenerate accept truth, obey commands, reject evil, love others, and cherish life. The Christian doctrine of ‘total depravity’ teaches that sin has corrupted every dimension and faculty of human life: it does not teach that every sinner is as evil as he or she could possibly be.

And thus the sinner is a divided, a self-alienated person. Put simply, the two ‘selves’ of the fallen human person are first, the sinner as sinner, the God-hating self and, second, the sinner as restrained, the residual image-bearer as self. This sets up four relationships and stances within the one human person (see fig.1):

1. Adam (for all sinners) as a God-hater perceives himself as a God-hater and loves this self.

2. Adam the God-hater perceives himself as Adam the residual image-bearer and hates this self.

3. Adam the residual image-bearer perceives himself as Adam the God-hater and hates this self.

4. Adam the residual image-bearer perceives himself as Adam the image-bearer and loves this self.

Only unfallen Adam, Jesus of Nazareth and the fully restored people of God know the undivided self. All other human experience is that of self-alienation and of consequent confusion, fear, anger, and guilt.