Monday, March 14, 2011

The Ego and The Season of Lent

Fr. Dale Matson

In our readings for the first Sunday of Lent, Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence before their fall from grace. God had breathed His life into them after forming them from the earth. They did not have an identity apart from God. They knew themselves only as God knew them. The idea suggested by Satan followed by the act of disobedience led to their immediate loss of innocence and their sense of shame. They now had identities corrupted by sin that were estranged from God and a changed relationship with one another. Their shame was both an indication of a loss of innocence and the acquisition of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is an important developmental step in our fallen world but it is the result of sin. The rouge test can be used to demonstrate self-awareness at about eighteen months of age. If a child has rouge put on her face and is placed in front of a mirror, she will touch the rouge on her own face indicating that she recognizes herself as the person in the mirror. The cost of self-awareness however, is egocentricity. Children are egocentric to the point of narcissism. Their needs and wants are the only thing that matters. Our parents exchanged the rule of God in the garden for self-rule.

Hopefully, as we mature, we adopt a less egocentric lifestyle. Unfortunately, there are some who remain imprisoned in the narcissism of childhood. They are the folks diagnosed with organic or functional disorders. What the rest of us fail to realize is that even if we are not narcissistic, we are still self-centered and egocentric. We are still focused on and live in our own existential universe. We still see things subjectively through our own eyes and do what is right in our own mind.

What did our Lord Christ have to say about this? “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work’.” (John 4:34, NASB). “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner’.” (John 5:19, NASB). “"I and the Father are one." (John 10:30, NASB).

What is the point of these verses? I believe that they demonstrate that Christ who was fully human and divine was always conscious of His identity in relationship to the Father. Because He was without sin, he enjoyed the relationship with the Father that Adam and Eve lost for themselves and us. As Christians, Christ is revealed in us, is living in us and is being formed in us. As Christians, we are to live a crucified life. Lent is the time to put off the old self (Colossians 3:12), the egocentric self and to put on the new self (Ephesians 4:24). Our real and authentic self is hidden in Christ and “In Him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:28a, NASB). As we are transformed into Christ through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, we shall again know ourselves as we are known. This is living the born again life with access to Christ who is the vine and the tree of life. Amen


Georgia said...

Fr. Matson, Wouldn't it be more Scripturally accurate to use the Greek word Sarx or Sark, flesh or fallen flesh, described in Scripture as the 'old man' rather than Freud's word, 'ego'?

Knowing that our 'flesh' wars against our reborn, regenerated spirit, we understand that we must watch against the thoughts, attitudes, responses and behaviors that God forbids and warns us against in His Word.

Whereas, ego is an unscriptural invention of Freud, who was the sexual abuser of his own daughter and a defender of sexual abusers. He betrayed and victimized the women who bore the wounds of their abusers.
His paradigm is self-proving and detached from God's Truth and reality. It is catchy and people like and believe it, but it is false.

Georgia said...

Another thought - We must contrast I Thessalonians 5:23 description of the human as being comprised of spirit, soul and body (a triune being) with Freud's super-ego, ego and id.

Dallas Willard also describes the soul as a trinity of mind, will and emotions.

The Word of God helps us to discern between what is of His Spirit and what is of our soul (the flesh, sarx).

Dale Matson said...

I use the term ego because I think it is generally understood as "The conscious self" and is exactly the point of the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. To be self conscious is not to be God conscious. To be self conscious is ironically not to see ourselves as we truly are, as we are known by God if we are Christians. Freud used the term ego but did not invent it. Freud had paranoid delusions about his "disciples" murdering him. This may have been the result of his cocaine abuse. Many like Adler and Jung fell out of favor with him. I think his greatest contribution was his understanding that much of what we do, is motivated by forces that are unconscious (forces we are not aware of). The Psalmist asks God to make known his hidden faults (19:12)

Georgia said...

Fr. Matson,
Thank you...though I'm not sure I fully understand:'to be self-conscious is not to be God-conscious.'

I thought the goal of therapy was to become accurately, realistically 'self-aware' and consciously 'intentional'.

The hardest thing for some of us is to 'be still and know I AM GOD' be still, quiet, maintain focus on God and remain conscious contact with GOD without becoming distracted. 'Resting' in God as Scripture teaches is very hard. Trusting is harder. But Oh the joy that comes in His Presence and His Word. From the joy seems to come the courage and peace to face and own those scary shameful hidden faults.

Dale Matson said...

"I thought the goal of therapy was to become accurately, realistically 'self-aware' and consciously 'intentional'." What does John the Baptist mean when he states, "He must become more and I must become less"? The Christian life is not about self actualization (Maslow) or individuation (Jung). It is about dying to self so that Christ may come forth. "He who seeks to save his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matt. 10:39). Much of therapy is ego building and self esteem. "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) The more we know who Christ is the more we will know who we are.

Georgia said...

I agree with you that Jesus must increase and we must decrease, Fr. Matson, but I also know that unhealed trauma so fractures a person, creates turmoil that can prevent success and stability in Christian life and family relationships and makes healing ministry, counseling, therapy and/or professional help necessary.

A Christian should always seek help from a believer, however. Secular psychology is politicized, sexualized and counter to self-denial, abstinence, does not understand the practice of the Christian faith.