Wednesday, January 8, 2020


Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1328) was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic. He had perceived that we erect an array of internal barriers to protect ourselves:

·       A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of our heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as think and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. God into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.

I had been so out-of-touch with myself that I used to ask, “Who am I, and how can I just be myself.” I had built so many barriers against self-knowledge that I was clueless.

When I look back at myself, I ask, “Why do we not want to know ourselves as we truly are? Why do we erect our barriers, which serve to alienate us from ourselves and others?” The obvious answer is that we don’t want to know ourselves. There are certain aspects of ourselves that are just too painful to confront.

But what can be so painful that we build barriers against self-knowledge and even against others seeing us as we are? As with any drug addiction, these barriers offer short-term comforts but long-term and exorbitant costs. One obvious one is the cost of wisdom. If we refuse to know ourselves, we cannot understand others and life in general. Why not? We are the lens through which we see everything else. If we cannot understand what is within, we also cannot understand what is on the outside.

Humility has wisdom. Why? When we honestly examine ourselves, we are humbled by what we see. Ordinarily, we convince ourselves that it’s always the other person’s fault and not ours. We might erect this kind of defensive barrier to protect our ego but at the cost of relationships and even job performance. If we are unwilling to honestly examine ourselves, we will be unable to learn and correct ourselves.

Humility is the ability to accept ourselves as we truly are, and this is painful. What is so painful and so difficult to accept? Many have observed that the human race lives in chronic denial. In a New York Times 2007 article, “Denial Makes the World Go Round,” Benedict Carey, by virtue of the overwhelming evidence, concluded:

·       Everyone is in denial about something; just try denying it and watch friends make a list. For Freud, denial was a defense against external realities that threaten the ego, and many psychologists today would argue that it can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news, like a cancer diagnosis.

·       “The closer you look, the more clearly you see that denial is part of the uneasy bargain we strike to be social creatures,” said Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami and the author of the coming book “Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct.” “We really do want to be moral people, but the fact is that we cut corners to get individual advantage, and we rely on the room that denial gives us to get by, to wiggle out of speeding tickets, and to forgive others for doing the same.”

We cannot stand seeing ourselves as unworthy and immoral cheaters, but why can’t we simply laugh at ourselves and move on? Well, we don’t. It’s simply too threatening. What makes it so threatening? It is not simply that we have emotions of guilt and shame. We also sense that we deserve punishment.

Most of us try to cover over this sense by proving that we don’t deserve punishment through attainments and the approval of others. Others address this sense through self-harm (cuttings, burnings) – 20% of women and 14% of men:

·       The physical pain of cutting not only diffuses negative emotion, but it can also create a sense of calm and relief. Because it works almost instantly, cutting is highly reinforcing—some even say addictive. Individuals who cut describe the sensation as an escape or a release of pressure, similar to how people suffering from bulimia describe purging.

Why would cutting release pressure? Why wouldn’t spending money or taking a walk suffice? Could it be that we know that we deserve punishment and therefore punish ourselves? When asked why they self-harm, many claim “I dunno!..after I cut, I felt better.”

Research affirms the sense of relief that many experience:

·       People who self-harm, writes [Carrie] Arnold, have “learned that, while the pain peaks with self-injury, it then comes down the other side. The physical pain lessens – as does the emotional pain.”

However, when we accidentally cut ourselves, we don’t feel relief. Why then would the cutter feel relief? Evidently, the relief derived from cutting is not strictly biochemical. There must also be a psychological component. However, the relief is only very temporary, like a drug fix. Why? Cutting and drugs do not address the underlying psychological problem.

Of what then does this problem consist? Self-punishment, as some have recognized:

·       “I started self-harming as a teenager as a way to punish myself.”

·       "Sometimes you feel the urge after just the smallest negative feeling. One thing goes wrong like you dropped a book or missed the bus and you immediately feel so inadequate that you want to harm yourself."

Whose standards are we failing? Not those of our parents, who would quickly absolve us. Instead, it’s our own standards!

·       “Every time I cut, I was trying to save myself.”

Indeed, self-harm is often associated with religious practice. Nadim Kazmi has written that among Shia Muslims:

·       There is also nothing strange in seeing participants who, immersed in what appears to be a spiritual ecstasy, are made to calm down, often to prevent further injury to themselves.

Why “spiritual ecstasy?” It seems that the experience is similar to the relief that self-punishment offers to others. How? We need to feel that we are good and worthy. Why don’t we usually feel that way? We correctly sense that we aren’t good and worthy. Instead, we have a sense that we deserve punishment, and once we are self-punished, we can regain that sense of worthiness, at least temporarily.

Often the cure tells us a lot about the nature of the affliction. Once I had giardia. My doctor prescribed just the right antibiotic, and the giardia was killed. This confirmed that my problem had been giardia.

As I grew in the understanding that Christ loved me so much that He died for my sins, my sense of unworthiness and condemnation disappeared, and along with it, my defensive layers of denial. I longer needed them to protect me. Christ became my cure! I was free as Jesus had promised:

·       “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

What a privilege I can now enjoy:

·       Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience... (Hebrews 10:19-22)


It is troubling to hear that many Christians either reject or degrade the Scriptures in favor of the Holy Spirit, thereby separating the Spirit from the Word He had authored and now illuminates. To do this is to reject the necessary resources that God has made available to His Church:

·       Hebrews 5:12-13 (ESV) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (1 Peter 2:2)

Paul and the other Apostles knew that they had been writing Scriptures by the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 2:13). He also knew that the Spirit would illuminate them, as he had written to Timothy:

·       2 Timothy 2:7 (ESV) Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

The Spirit gives us understanding into the Scriptures had authored:

  • 1 Peter 1:10-12 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the SPIRIT OF CHRIST IN THEM was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

  • 2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God AS THEY WERE CARRIED ALONG BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Why would the Spirit give us the Scriptures and illuminate our understanding of them if He could just teach us without them, as many claim? Perhaps because we are very fallible and require more than one Witness. Perhaps also because there could never be a Church if everyone was just receiving their own revelations from the Spirit. In this case, there would be no way to definitively judge among the many claimants the genuine word of the Spirit. In any event, the Apostles understood that the Scriptures were all God-breathed-out (2 Timothy 3:16-17):

  • Acts 1:16 "Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the HOLY SPIRIT FORETOLD by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

  • Hebrews 10:15-16 And the HOLY SPIRIT ALSO BEARS WITNESS to us; for after SAYING,  “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (Jer. 31:33)

  • Matthew 22:43-44 He said to them, "Then how does David IN THE SPIRIT call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet" '?

  • Rev. 2:17 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the SPIRIT SAYS TO THE CHURCHES. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'

  • Neh. 9:30 Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by YOUR SPIRIT IN YOUR PROPHETS. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

  • Acts 28:25-26 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: "THE HOLY SPIRIT SPOKE RIGHTLY THROUGH ISAIAH the prophet to our fathers, saying,…"Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive;…

·       1 Corinthians 2:13-14  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but TAUGHT BY THE SPIRIT, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

  • Ephes. 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD;

The sword of the Spirit is not a matter of the Spirit speaking to us apart from the Scriptures but through the Scriptures. Therefore to reject the Scriptures is to reject the armor of the Spirit. It is to leave us vulnerable to satanic deception.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Western psychotherapy generally regards painful feelings as pathological and tries to cure them. Instead, Buddhism tends to teach us to face our feelings, which might even terrify us, and to accept them.

In Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness, Buddhist and Psychiatrist, Mark Epstein, reveals his struggle against emptiness, which he describes as feelings of inadequacy, disconnection, and as a lack of control. He believes that such feelings should not be regarded as pathological and requiring a cure:

·       Western psychotherapists are trained to understand a report of emptiness as indicative of a deficiency in someone’s emotional upbringing, a defect in character...

According to Epstein, there are definite limits to what therapy can cure:

·       The traditional view of therapy as building up the self simply does not do justice to what we actually seek from the therapeutic process.

Nor does it do justice to who we are. Instead, by accepting our brokenness, we can set it aside and look beyond our broken pieces to relationships characterized by wholeness.

·       As the British child psychotherapist Adam Phillips has written, “It is only when two people forget themselves, in each other’s presence, that they can recognize each other.”

Through self-acceptance, we can begin to regard our brokenness as human, rather than pathological, and achieve wholeness:

·       Our aversion to emptiness is such that we have become expert at explaining it away, distancing ourselves from it, or assigning blame for its existence on the past or on the faults of others. We contaminate it with our personal histories and expect that it will disappear when we have resolved our personal problems.

Epstein reasons that when we recognize and accept our brokenness through meditation, our fears will dissolve:

·       You can never understand what the Buddhists mean if you are so afraid of your personal emptiness. The problem with the Western experience of emptiness was that it was mixed with so much fear.

·       I knew that emptiness (or sunyata), from a Buddhist perspective, was an understanding of one’s true nature, an intuition of the absence of inherent identity in people or in things. It was the core psychological truth of Buddhism.

However, as Epstein points out, this human emptiness isn’t really empty. It’s filled with an array of suppressed feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, threat, and disconnection. This raises several questions:

·       From where did these come?
·       Do Buddhist practices enable us to understand and to accept these feelings as they truly are, or are they a cover for something even deeper?

Self-acceptance is the ideal. It equates with making peace with our struggle to continually suppress these threatening feelings. This peace gives us the calm to see ourselves and life as they truly are. It is also the source of wisdom, because we cannot understand others until we face and understand ourselves, and wisdom enables us to fruitfully manage our lives.

However, self-acceptance is a matter of fully accepting ourselves as we really are. Emptiness is not all that we find? Instead, we are confronted with what is highly threatening and tends to undermine everything that we have wanted to think about ourselves. However, our suppressed feelings must be confronted and accepted or they will continue to dominate our lives. Without confronting our dark-side – and it demands to be heard – we spend our lives trying to prove ourselves and to win acclaim and the approval of others. The drive to be a significant “somebody” is so powerful that it drove Mark David Chapman, a zealous fan of the Beatle, John Lennon, to gun him down after he had obtained his idol’s autograph. He explained

·       “I was an acute nobody. I had to usurp someone else’s importance, someone else’s success. I was ‘Mr. Nobody’ until I killed the biggest Somebody on earth.” At his 2006 parole hearing, he stated: “The result would be that I would be famous, the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention, which I did receive… I was looking for reasons to vent all that anger and confusion and low self-esteem.” (George Weaver, The Significant Life, 47)

Others have turned to arson so that they could rescue someone within the burning building. Others have resorted to self-harm, even suicide, to punish themselves for failing. More commonly, we reward ourselves when we perform well and deprive ourselves of that milkshake when we fail a test.

Ordinarily, we want to be happy. Why then do we deprive or punish ourselves? It seems that we have an indelible moral script that is directing our lives, which produces our suppressed feelings of guilt, shame, worthiness and even dread of our deserved punishment. From where does this script come?

It is now widely accepted that we are wired to make moral judgments, even to the point of reflexively condemning ourselves with feelings of guilt and shame. These feelings are so powerful that when we hurt someone, we have to respond. Generally, we deny, suppress, and cover over these feelings and the threat that they present.

How do we cover over these feelings of moral unworthiness? By convincing ourselves that we are a significant “somebody” or by punishing ourselves. We become control freaks, trying to suppress anything that will not agree with the way we want to see ourselves.

Buddhism teaches us to relinquish control, but how can we? To be out-of-control means that we cannot suppress everything that threatens to expose us, our fears, inadequacies, and anxieties.

Adam and Eve tried to cover over their initial sin with fig leaves and hid from the presence of God. We have invented many other ways of accomplishing the cover-up with our attainments, notoriety, approval, power, and money. However, we are on the run from the core of our being and avoid any possible act of disrespect that might tear away our fig-leaf cover.

I don’t think that Buddhist practices can ever penetrate to the depth of the problem to lance the puss-filled wound. Instead, we are aware of our inadequacy and insecurity, because we are inadequate and insecure. This is because we hadn’t been designed to be self-sufficient but to be relational. We are aware of our moral deficiencies, because we are morally deficient. We are also aware of our disconnection, because we are disconnected from ourselves, others, and most of all from the One who has created us.

Buddhism has helped us to accept our feelings of dread as normal and human but hasn’t accurately diagnosed our dread and shame. Therefore, it hasn’t been able to prescribe the appropriate remedy. We have to be reconciled with our moral and righteous God. This is why we continue to struggle to cover over the moral source of our alienation from our Creator. Only then can we confess our sins and be reconciled to both ourselves and to God through His love and forgiveness.

Consider what happens when we betray a friend. We first feel guilty, but then we try to justify our behavior. In an attempt to alleviate our guilt, we might tell ourselves that the friend had provoked us. However, this doesn’t settle the matter. We continue to obsess about our betrayal. Why? Because our rationalizations have not been able to adequately address our sin.

Since the problem continues to fester, we then might share it with a friend or therapist, in hope of finding support for our rationalizations. Even if we receive what we are looking for, the guilt continues to fester. We might even try to compensate by doing good for our friend, but this too fails to address the problem. Finally, we are forced to repress it.

Real restoration will only be achieved once we humbly confess our betrayal. This reflects the problem with God. Only after our sins are sincerely confessed can we find reconciliation and wholeness.

This requires psychic surgery. My Savior had to first humble me to see myself and my guilt before He would life me up (Luke 18:14; 14:11). This process was so painful that without the assurances of His love and forgiveness, I could never have survived it, but now I am free from the guilt and shame that had once controlled my life. I can now look back and say as King David had written:

·       Psalm 119:71-72 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.