Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 18, 2007

Reflections On True Spirituality: Session 11

Francis SchaefferAt first, I was a little leary of the second half of Francis Schaeffer’s book, True Spirituality which included chapter titles such as “Freedom from the Thought-Life” and “Substantial Healing of Psychological Problems“. They sounded like some kind of mystical, experiential mumbo-jumbo, and would have been a major departure from the sound biblical wisdom and orthodoxy that he presented in the first half of the book. However, I could not have been more wrong and a bad judge of what was to come. If Schaeffer had a split personality, then part one was written by Schaeffer the Theologian/Philosopher and part two was written by Schaeffer the Pastor/Shepherd. Now, those titles ought not to be taken as strict guidelines by which to judge both parts, but I do believe that it helps to grasp the spirit and content of the two sections of True Spirituality.

Chapter 11, “Substantial Healing of the Total Person” proved to be one more instance where Schaeffer not only proved me wrong, but ministered to me in such a powerful way, that I was reminded at how prone I am at being overly theological, yet often wholly inadequate at showing the tenderness and compassion that reflects a personal knowledge and relationship with The Good Shepherd.

At the outset, we must recognize Schaeffer’s taxonomy. His reference to “substantial” healing connotes that a personal is capable of being healed substantially, but not perfectly (119). Being aware of this dynamic is key to understanding what follows. In this chapter, Schaeffer attempts to disarm standards that Christians set for themselves that are unreasonable and unbiblical. Moreover, these expectations are utterly unattainable for a person who is a product of the Fall, at least, so long as that person inhabits a body sown in corruption and weakness (1 Cor 15:42-49). Schaeffer writes,

The basic psychological problem is trying to be what we are not, and trying to carry what we cannot carry. Most of all, the basic problem is not being wiling to be the creatures we are before the Creator (121).

At the base level, our psychological problem of being unsatisfied with who we are as fallen creatures results from our failure to come to terms with our finiteness and falleness. Now, admitting these two is not a sign of succumbing to spiritual defeat, but rather having a right perspective on our limitations and what we are capable of doing. Thus, we can have substantial healing in this life, just not perfectly. Schaeffer uses the example of Atlas carrying the world and walking by you and saying, “Here, you carry the world for a while.” And then Schaeffer comments:

And you are squashed. You are squashed because you cannot carry what you have been handed. The psychological parallel is that man is trying to be the center of the universe and refuses to be the creature he is. He is trying to carry the world on his shoulder and is crushed by the simple factor that it is too much for him to bear. There is nothing complicated about it; he is squashed in trying to bear what no one except God himself can bear because only God is infinite (121-22).

True Spirituality - Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer further demonstrates this point from the point of view of a married couple. Often times, spouses set romantic standards which are greatly unreasonable and terribly unrealistic. And, if these expectations are not met, then the whole marriage crashes to the ground. Schaeffer interjects, “They must have the ideal love affair of the century just because they are who they are (120)!” A marriage based off of stipulations that only the infinite-personal Triune God can meet is doomed for disappointment. There comes a point when the person must realize that he or she is to seek ultimate joy and pleasure in the glory of God, an endless oasis of satisfaction and fulfillment. Otherwise, in the case of a marriage, Schaeffer comments,

You suddenly see a marriage smashed–everything gone to bits, people walking away from each other, destroying something really possible and beautiful–simply because they have set a proud standard and refuse to have a good marriage they can have (120).

Ultimately, there can be no substitute for the needs that only the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, can meet. As husbands and wives, we must not go beyond our finite roles and try to become the center of our spouses’ universe. We will be squashed and they will be let down. With respect to everyday issues, we must not perceive ourselves to be God. The very fact that Christ had to become the Incarnate Son of God to atone for sins shows how inadequate we are in fixing ourselves. Thus, there is no reason to fool ourselves into thinking that we are capable of carrying the whole world on our shoulders, even after we become indwelled by the Spirit. Hence, Schaeffer gives some very sound words of wisdom:

We wait for the resurrection of the body. We wait for the perfect application of the finished work of Christ for the whole of man. We wait for this, but on this side of the Fall, and before Christ comes, we must not insist on “perfection or nothing,” or we will end with the nothing (120).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel that often God has forgiven me of my sin long before I ever forgive myself. Sometimes I just want to be so free from this body! At other times, I feel quite at home. Although I take Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 6:20, “So glorify God in your bodies” as literal, I still “groan” with all of creation for the final redemption of all that has been contaminated by the Fall (Rom 8:18-23). But, praise God for Jesus’ promise in Matt 11:28-30 for the divine rest that he gives us. The celebratory truth that comes out of this teaching is that it is God in Christ who carries the burden that had us pinned to the ground. The weight of sin was placed upon the shoulders of the one who created the universe; he was made sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Now we are free!

Hear these final words from Schaeffer:

If I refuse my place as the creature before the Creator and do not commit myself to him for his use, this is sin. And anything else is also misery. How can you enjoy God on any other level than what you are, and in the present situation? Anything else will bring misery, a torturing of the poor, divided personality we are since the Fall. To live moment by moment through faith on the basis of the blood of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit is the only really integrated way to live. This is the only way to be at rest with myself, for only in this way am I not trying to carry what I cannot. To do otherwise is to throw away my own place of rest, the substantial psychological advance I as a Christian can have in this present life (129).

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