We can get confused about the relationship between our faith and our learning from other sources besides faith. Sometimes we can think that we have to abandon our “worldly” ideas and that the only truth is what you can read in the Bible. Or, conversely, we can assume that the way we look at spiritual things is objective and reliable truth because we read it in the Bible.
What either of these ideas do not take into account is the woundedness in our hearts that we try to heal ourselves. In that woundedness, we construct a view of ourselves and the world around us that is distorted in order to be self-protective. Our perception of God has the same distortion. Sooner or later our self-constructed perceptions will run into reality… something doesn’t work in our lives. We can think that the pain we then encounter doesn’t belong in our lives and maybe that God has abandoned us or turned against us. We encounter to a greater or lesser degree a “dark night of the soul” where we may have a crisis of faith. Our view of things and our ways of maintaining security need to change and become more real. But in the mean time, we have to hurt.
Here’s how John Eldredge describes it in an excerpt from his book, Wild At Heart. It is such a profound expression of the relationship between our spiritual growth and our psychological growth.
“From the place of our woundedness we construct a false self. We find a few gifts that work for us, and we try to live off them. Stuart found he was good at math and science. He shut down his heart and spent all his energies perfecting his “Spock” persona. There, in the academy, he was safe; he was also recognized and rewarded.
“When I was eight,” confesses Brennan Manning, “the impostor, or false self, was born as a defense against pain. The impostor within whispered, ‘Brennan, don’t ever be your real self anymore because nobody likes you as you are. Invent a new self that everybody will admire and nobody will know.’
“Notice the key phrase: “as a defense against pain,” as a way of saving himself. The impostor is our plan for salvation. So God must take it all away. He thwarts our plan for salvation; he shatters the false self. Our plan for redemption is hard to let go of; it clings to our hearts like an octopus.
“Why would God do something so terrible as to wound us in the place of our deepest wound? Jesus warned us that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it” (Luke 9:24). Christ is not using the word bios here; he’s not talking about our physical life. The passage is not about trying to save your skin by ducking martyrdom or something like that. The word Christ uses for “life” is the word psyche-the word for our soul, our inner self, our heart. He says that the things we do to save our psyche, our self, those plans to save and protect our inner life-those are the things that will actually destroy us. “There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death,” says Proverbs 16:25. The false self, our plan for redemption, seems so right to us. It shields us from pain and secures us a little love and admiration. But the false self is a lie; the whole plan is built on pretense. It’s a deadly trap. God loves us too much to leave us there. So he thwarts us, in many, many different ways. ??(Wild at Heart , 107-8)
“This is a very dangerous moment, when God seems set against everything that has meant life to us. Satan spies his opportunity, and leaps to accuse God in our hearts. You see, he says, God is angry with you. He’s disappointed in you. If he loved you he would make things smoother. He’s not out for your best, you know.The Enemy always tempts us back toward control, to recover and rebuild the false self. We must remember that it is out of love that God thwarts our impostor. As Hebrews reminds us, it is the son whom God disciplines, therefore do not lose heart (12:5-6). God thwarts us to save us. We think it will destroy us, but the opposite is true-we must be saved from what really will destroy us. If we would walk with him in our journey, we must walk away from the false self-set it down, give it up willingly. It feels crazy; it feels immensely vulnerable. We simply accept the invitation to leave all that we’ve relied on and venture out with God. We can choose to do it ourselves, or we can wait for God to bring it all down. (Wild at Heart , 111-12)
In these thoughts we begin to see that if we can somehow embrace the pain of what we are going through, that we will end up becoming a better person, someone more able to fully live in the world, someone we really always wanted to be but our false self wouldn’t allow us to be. We are more and more able to see as we allow the “dark night” to teach us is that the “darkness” was lack of awareness, lack of insight. With that new “light” that our pain gives us, we are able to function at a higher level. But we have to be able to recognize the darkness as un-real, as a deficit that needs filling, instead of just meaningless painful experience.
So from that point of view, light is light, whether it comes from the Bible or from the experience of our lives. God is at work to bring us light from many sources, all consistent with each other. The trouble we encounter is one of those sources of light. If we trust him we don’t insist that our way of seeing things is thetruth. It is our own truth that needs developing and growing. We need to become more fully alive, more fully who we are intended to be.