Part VI: The Subconscious and the
Forgiveness of Sins
A Sense of Guilt and a Sense of
OF sin is largely outmoded in modern secular thinking because
sin implies some form of disobedience against an absolute moral
law having to do with man's relationship with God, and not too
many people believe any such relationship exists. It would not
be the same as social misconduct which has to do with man's relationship
to man and is highly relative but obviously cannot be denied.
We have reached the point where social custom has displaced the
law of God as the point of reference, where mores have
replaced morals. Yet the change has not been as liberating
as it was expected to be.
In a BBC broadcast Lord Devlin
pointed out that when good behaviour was based on morality, wars
were to some small extent redeemed by honourable conduct, at
least in countries recognizing the Christian ethic. (65) But at the beginning of
the present century, there was a change in the basis of "right
and wrong conduct" and, increasingly, the sole principle
came to be "Do unto others what you would have them do unto
you." But this degenerated very quickly into mere expedience,
which has become, in practice, the new basis of international
law. We see it in the repudiation of the use of gas warfare,
for example, not because it is morally wrong in the sight of
God, but simply because it is bad policy when the enemy might
use it even more effectively.
Thus history has shown that the
principle "Do unto others what you would they should do
unto you" soon becomes "Do unto others what you think
they would do unto you if they could." Violence in
anticipation of violence is the inevitable consequence. Mores
change; things become justifiable that a previous generation
would have been
65. Devlin, Right Honourable Lord, "The
Sense of Guilt as an Instrument of Law and Order," Listener,
Mar. 25, 1965, pp.438-39.
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horrified at; what was
once seen as sin is now judged only to be impolitic.
But there is another reason. The
public has been very largely persuaded that man is essentially
an accident, an unplanned end product of blind evolutionary forces.
He has no special significance in any metaphysical sense, but
has arisen purely by chance through the operation of natural
laws that are entirely mechanistic. Most people feel such a view
is deeply disturbing when they see themselves as creatures with
high ideals and great aspirations for which they are willing
to make sacrifices. But they soon derive comfort from
it when they reflect upon the miserable failures which have clouded
their ideals and aspirations. The idea that they might be called
to account and held responsible is even more disturbing. So it
helps to be able to appeal to a philosophy that is fashionable
and which re-names sin as mere sickness or even less personally
In the final analysis we judge
things by whether they fulfill the purpose for which they were
made. It is a generally accepted principle that one cannot condemn
something for failing to achieve what it was never intended to
achieve. If man is merely a biochemical machine, he cannot be
judged on any moral grounds since the behaviour of machines is
predetermined by their very nature and is in no sense "moral."
Any failure on man's part, if he is merely a machine, can only
lead to his being rejected from the total scheme of things as
a mechanism which has failed to achieve its intended purpose.
It is fit only to be discarded. No other indictment is really
But if he is something more than
merely a mechanism, then his failure must be judged as something
worse than the breakdown of a machine. And by and large, most
people in their quieter moments do admit to an uneasy feeling
that we ought indeed to judge our own failures and those of other
people as something much more serious. The Christian does so
because he knows that there is a purpose in life which extends
beyond and rises above mere biochemical mechanism, mere survival.
The non-Christian will often deny this, though he is at the same
time apprehensive, for fear that the Christian view may after
all be the right one. He therefore seeks to rationalize his position
by an appeal to the reductionist argument.
But as S. J. Mikolaski has pointed
out, all sane men assume that they have at least some power to
control or to modify their own actions. We are not entirely automatons.
(66) We are convinced
of the reality of some freedom of action and therefore
have to admit to the reality of
66. Mikolaski, Samuel J., "On the Nature
of Man", Faith and Thought (Victoria Institute),
vol.97, no.2, London, 1968, pp.2f.
some responsibility for
our behaviour, for the mind seems capable at times of standing
outside of itself and judging its own promptings in a way that
no mere machine could possibly do. This makes us more than machines.
Penfield, on one occasion, actually
had the opportunity of watching just such a process in action.
(67) While he was
stimulating the motor area of the cortex of a subject in a way
that made him lift one hand, Penfield asked him if he would try,
by an act of will, to prevent the hand from moving. The subject
promptly seized the offending hand with the other one, and did
so. This restraining act was presumably mediated somehow through
the cortex so that two contradictory impulses were now emanating
from the same organ, the brain. One stimulus was to lift the
hand, and this led to an entirely mechanical response. The other
was not to lift the hand and was an act of will, and therefore
not mechanical. But the resulting action and counteraction
came through the same switchboard. It is this kind of situation
which prompted Koestler to propose that while man might, for
some purposes, be usefully treated as a machine, there nevertheless
must be some kind of "ghost in the machine." (68) It is this ghost which
seems able to act with freedom and contra-mechanistically. It
therefore becomes the seat of freedom of choice and so of moral
behaviour -- and of course, immoral behaviour too, of sin.
Thus Penfield concluded that there
must be more than one kind of mechanism in the brain. Some mechanisms
work for the purposes of the mind quite automatically, when suitably
triggered. They therefore constitute at least part of
the physiological basis of mind. But he asked: (69)
What agency is it that calls
upon those mechanisms choosing one rather than another? Is it
another mechanism, or is there in the mind something of different
essence? To declare that two things are one and the same does
not make them so. But it does block the progress of research.
The idea that
what is wrong with man is merely some "mechanistic defect"
(using the word to include electro-chemico-physical realities)
that is partly due to an inherent design weakness but partly
due to wear and tear or misuse of the machine, has the effect
of equating sin with sickness in the sense that chemical upset
67. Penfield, Wilder: in a paper delivered
at University of California Medical Center (San Francisco, 1961),
at a symposium on the subject "Control of the Mind";
quoted by A. Koestler, ref.25, p.xiv.
68. Koestler, Arthur, ref.25, p.xiv.
69. Penfield Wilder, ref.67, p.204.
malfunction may be the
basis of the failure. We do not need to forgive this kind
of failure, we merely fix it, compensate for it, or commiserate
with it. But, curiously, this comforting view of the nature of
man's propensity for wickedness is being abandoned by the psychologists
just about at the same rate that it is being adopted by "Christian"
ministers and teachers. The noted psychologist Mowrer said: (70)
At the very time when psychologists
are becoming distrustful of the sickness approach to personality
disturbance and are beginning to look with more interest and
respect toward certain moral and religious precepts, religionists
themselves are being caught up in and bedazzled by the same preposterous
system of thought as that from which we psychologists are just
Thus the reality
of something other than purely "cortical" mind is being
recognized, and this recognition is being granted in unexpected
places as a possible aspect of human nature which is not merely
sick but sinful. And it may be that the recognition of
this fact is not harmful and morbid, as we have been told for
years, but necessary and healthy for man's total well-being.
As Lord Devlin said in The Listener: (71)
I would therefore conclude that
a sense of guilt is a necessary factor for the maintenance of
order, and indeed that it plays a much more important part in
the preservation of order than any punishment that the state
can impose. If, with the wave of a psychoanalytical wand, you
could tomorrow completely abolish the sense of guilt in the human
mind it would cause, I think it is no exaggeration to say, an
almost instantaneous collapse of law and order.
Is this why
lawlessness is so prevalent? Because mind is not to be
equated with brain and because mind also involves will, which
has some freedom of decision, we ought to recognize in man what
we do not recognize in mere machines, a power of choice of action
which inevitably involves moral responsibility. And when we repeatedly
fail to rise to this responsibility we become burdened with a
healthy sense of guilt, which warns us that our failure
is sin and not merely an excusable sickness and that we
are offending God and betraying ourselves.
Furthermore, to deny this fact
in human experience only aggravates its consequences. W. H. Thorpe
in reviewing a book by A. J. Ayer entitled Humanist Outlook
A vast number of simple people
have come quite genuinely and honestly to a supremely absurd
belief that man is nothing but a complex of
70. Mowrer, O. H., The Crisis in Psychiatry
and Religion, van Nostrand, Princeton, New Jersy, 1961, p.52.
71. Devlin, Right. Honourable Lord, ref.65, April 1, 1965, p.480.
72. Ayer, A. J., Humanist Outlook, Pemberton, London,
no date., reviewed by W. H. Thorpe in New Scientist,
Mar. 20, 1969, p.646.
biochemical mechanisms powered by a combustion
system which energizes a computer (his brain) with prodigious
storage facilities for retaining and coding information.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, a professor
of psychiatry in the University of Vienna, which is widely known
for his therapeutic work, finds that one of the major threats
to health and sanity is what he calls the existential vacuum.
More and more, patients crowd into the clinics and consulting
rooms disrupted by a feeling of inner emptiness, a sense of total
and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives.
And he believes that this is the
direct outcome, the disastrous result, of the denial of value,
of a widespread assumption that since Science in its technique
is largely reductionist, reductionism is the only philosophy
which one can believe.
So long as man
is explained purely as mechanism, it is meaningless to speak
of goals and aspirations which relate to or reach beyond the
physical order. The question, therefore, which has to be answered
is whether there was some purpose in man's creation beyond the
mere filling of a niche in the biophysical order of things. Currently
there is a powerful movement among scientists to deny categorically
any such purposes, because admission would introduce issues which
science has no competence to deal with.
In the Annual Review of Physiology
for 1967, the honour of writing the prefatory chapter
was accorded to Max Kleiber, a notable physiologist, now retired.
His contribution was a series of reminiscences, and he spent
some little time dealing with the question of purpose or teleology
-- which he rejected. He felt very strongly that any explanation
which introduces the concept of a goal of any kind is unscientific.
He said that to introduce such a concept "would make scientific
research an effort to understand nature in terms of a creator's
purposes and that would be theology" rather than science.
But Kleiber cautioned nevertheless against treating the
body as a machine. His reason for so doing was rather surprising.
He said: (73)
In an attempt to clear science
of theology, the postulate that man is a machine is a rather
tricky analogy because an essential characteristic of a machine
is that it is planned for a purpose, which implies a designer,
and that the best, or possibly the only, way to understand a
machine is to understand the purpose the designer had in mind.
The study of man as a machine thus
leads to teleology and that leads naturally to the question of
the mind of the designer of man. This mind must work in a way
similar to that of the human mind, if we are to understand its
planning: we understand the planning of a machine because the
designing engineer thinks as we think. So we are back at
73. Klieber, Max, "An Old Professor of
Animal Husbandry Ruminates," prefatory Chapter, Annual
Review of Physiology, vol.29, 1967, p.11.
theology. Some atheistic teleologists
solve this problem by a switch from a moralizing stern biblical
lord to a bright goddess, Nature. . . .
How true. Teleology,
or purpose, which is nevertheless a hard word or concept to avoid
when describing life processes, is now approved so long as the
designer or purposer is no longer called God, but Nature.
Kleiber said: (74)
A student of engineering properly
speaks of the purpose of a part of an engine. He understands
why the inventor of the machine designed a part in a particular
shape and position because the student of engineering has learned
to think as the designer thinks. But can a biologist learn to
understand what the inventor of a fish or a man had in mind when
he designed these creatures?
The answer is
assumed to be, No!
The Christian is in the position
to say, at least to a satisfying extent, Yes. In the first place,
we know something of the mind of God, because we know something
of the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2: 16), who is the Creator
(John 1:3). We have this understanding, which the secular biologist
lacks, through a revelation which we accept by faith. But the
scientist does not have or will not acknowledge this key, and
to this extent he is forced to deny the whole concept of purpose
and the idea that Mind could exist behind the universe, the mind
of God, a mind which exists in purely spiritual form outside
the frame of reference of scientific experiment. As a consequence,
his whole understanding of Nature is mutilated and incomplete,
no matter how effective at a physical level this understanding
allows him to be.
Years ago a very important "Manifesto"
was announced by a famous group of physiologists, all young men
working vigourously together. Their lives were remarkably conterminous.
They were Carl Ludwig (1816-1895), Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894),
and Emil duBois-Raymond (1818-1896). They declared: "All
the activities of living material, including consciousness, are
ultimately to be explained in terms of physics and chemistry."
(75) These three
men had a tremendous influence upon their own generation of scientists
and upon succeeding generations down to the present day. Their
reputation as researchers was such that everything they said
carried a great deal of weight. A large number of their disciples
adopted this creed and ultimately, I think it is safe to say,
modern reductionist philosophy
74. Ibid., p.14.
75. This is noted by Chauncey D. Leake in "Perspectives
of Adaptation: Historical Backgrounds" in The Handbook
of Physiology, vol.4 of Adaptation to the Environment,
edited by D. B. Dill et. al. American Physiological Society,
stems from the thinking
of these three men -- at least in physiology and in the life
In a manner of speaking, this philosophy
may well have been of benefit to science, but it is not any longer
quite as certain that the kind of science which emerged has been
an unqualified benefit to man. Consciously or otherwise, this
kind of reductionism can become an excuse for a view of man which
sees him annihilated at death, with not the slightest possibility
that personality might have some form of persistence after death.
Many thoughtful people are beginning to realize that the psychological
malaise of our times stems in part from the fact that the common
man finds himself entertaining two quite contradictory philosophies:
on the one hand the persuasion that the "me" really
does have some real existence apart from the machinery which
seems to have given rise to it, and on the other hand, the disturbing
illusion that the scientists have demonstrated, by the very successes
which have marked their progress in the medical and allied fields,
that we really are only a temporary electrochemical phenomenon
which happens by some unknown process to have achieved awareness
of its own existence. One consequence is that while denying moral
responsibility (since no mere machine can be ultimately accountable
for its behaviour) and while therefore denying the reality of
sin, we continue to suffer from a nagging sense of guilt which
we cannot account for, since there seems to be no rational
basis for it.
This is a phenomenon of our day:
a burden of guilt but no sense of sin. Until quite recently modern
psychiatry was quite happy to admit the reality of the sense
of guilt, but it repudiated completely any idea of sin. Man's
blindness in this respect is extraordinary, for we see the effects
of sin everywhere destroying the best efforts of men to deal
with the evils of society. Every law that is passed to correct
an evil is not merely evaded but actually made an occasion for
the further exercise of man's sinful propensities. Yet men persist
in believing that the injustice of society is due to circumstances
which in time will be eliminated by intelligent legislative controls
and by refined techniques of education. The "sinfulness"
of human nature, put into quotation marks because the term itself
is not generally used if it can be avoided is almost universally
attributed to a lack of something which will in due time
be supplied by the further application of science. Evolutionary
philosophy says that man has not had sufficient time yet to eliminate
the beast in himself; educationists say that man has not adequate
knowledge yet but that when he does have it, he will behave rationally
i. e., correctly; the geneticists say that man is suffering from
defective genes which will, when we have adequate control of
be reduced in number
for the improvement of the race; the sociologists say that we
must correct the environment and that with this will come a vast
improvement in human behaviour. All these people are agreed at
least in this: that man's failure is due to a lack of some sort
-- a lack of time to develop, a lack of knowledge (sin being
ignorance), a lack of breeding, a lack of a suitable environment.
But Scripture does not see man's problem as due to a lack. It
sees it as due to something entirely positive, a willfulness
and spirit of downright rebellion. Man cannot even diagnose his
own problem; his mind needs renewing, as Paul says (Romans 12:2).
He can neither discern what is wrong with himself, nor could
he himself correct the situation if he did.
The root cause, which the Bible
calls a sinful nature, results in man's failure to fulfill the
original purpose for which he was created, namely, to enjoy daily
fellowship with God, who created him for that very purpose. In
the final analysis sin is everything which makes this fellowship
impossible or which diminishes it in any way. The sense of loneliness
which results is inescapable, and the true meaning of forgiveness
is that it restores that fellowship with God which is fundamental
to man's inner health and peace. Nor is there any abiding sense
of achievement in any life-work which does not in some way strengthen
or enlarge this fellowship with God. It is impossible that it
should be otherwise, for this is why God made man: it is for
this that he was designed as he is. Without this fellowship man
is truly "alone," and as Kretchmer observed, "absolute
isolation is death." By a strange twist, which shows the
noetic effects of sin in a tragic way, instead of acknowledging
his own death, man tries to comfort himself with the idea that
perhaps it is really God who is dead.
Throughout history there has never
been a society like our own in which the reality of sin has been
so generally denied. Even in the worst days of the Roman Empire
men felt the need to propitiate the gods, not so much because
they had an exalted view of the gods but because they had a more
realistic view of their own worthiness. It is a curious thing
that even some of the cruelest of the Roman Emperors, like Marcus
Aurelius, for example, were very conscious of themselves as sinners.
We may call it superstition, but it was a testimony to a very
real sense of inward unworthiness which was not based on man's
relationship to man but rather man's relationship to the gods.
In Old Testament times oriental potentates like Nebuchadnezzar,
or even earlier still, the king of Nineveh, experienced a genuine
sense of repentance for their sins. Among primitive people the
sense of sin is very real. And though in dealing with it they
are guided almost entirely by fear, the sense is real enough.
In short, men have always recognized the reality of sin and
freely admitted that
the dis-ease which they felt in their souls was the result of
it and could only be treated -- and hopefully cured -- by acknowledgment
of the true cause. Moreover, there is no doubt that in many cases
the more thoughtful among men have recognized that very frequently
even bodily illness may be caused by sickness of the soul. In
the New Testament the Lord Jesus often, though not always, equated
forgiveness of sins with removal of sickness. Today with our
"superior" understanding, we are willing to admit that
a sense of guilt may be accompanied by a physical illness of
which it is the root cause. But since we will not acknowledge
the cause of the sense of guilt, we are unable to deal with the
physical illness, except perhaps by masking it or alleviating
its effects. It would never occur to the vast majority of physicians
or psychiatrists to suggest to a man that his sins need to be
forgiven -- though it might occur to some of them that "misbehaviour"
was a contributing cause.
If our society differs from all
others in this respect, can we discover how it has come about?
I think the cause lies in a philosophical trend which had its
roots much earlier than the nineteenth century and may in fact
be almost conterminous with the development of science as a western
phenomenon. It certainly received a tremendous impulse in the
middle of the last century from the emergence of a clearly defined
and easily conceived theory of evolution which soon became, almost
like a disease which spreads secretly, the basic philosophy of
the vast majority of people in the Western World. And this devastating
effect stems ultimately from the fact that the philosophy of
evolution is essentially atheistic, because it allows the construction
of a World View which appears to account adequately for everything
without the need of any supernatural originator or any superintending
providence. No society has ever before been so practically atheistic.
No society, with the possible exception of the Chinese, ever
before felt itself able to perform so many of its functions,
both individual and corporate, with such complete indifference
to God. Consequently, our society is probably less concerned
with sin than any society in history. Unfortunately, since the
reality of sin remains and since the effect of sin is a sense
of guilt, our society is plagued by a dis-ease with which it
is totally unable to cope. And this dis-ease, which is personal,
soon becomes a social disease exhibiting itself in behaviour
that is completely without moral constraints. Meanwhile
we carry round with us, willy-nilly, a burden of sin which cannot
be removed except by a forgiveness that God alone can bestow.
Nietzsche said that a "bad
conscience is a kind of illness." (76) Man,
76. Nietzsche: quoted in Science, vol.162, 1968, p.1248.
then, is ill without
recognizing the root cause -- a failure to fulfill the real purpose
for which he was created, i.e., to enjoy daily the fellowship
of God who created him. In the final analysis we may define sin
as everything which makes this fellowship impossible. We cannot
escape the sense of loneliness unless this fellowship is restored,
nor is there any sense of real achievement in any life-work which
does not ultimately strengthen and confirm this sense of fellowship.
Without it the individual is completely "alone."
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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The breakdown of this fellowship,
and as a consequence the defaulting of man to fulfill the purpose
for which he was created, is the direct result of his sin, his
active rebellion against the governing principles of life which
were intended to guarantee that fellowship. It is this failure
which must be forgiven before he can be inwardly at peace with