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Resistance to Grace

Despite the joy we may experience, the idea of our becoming more God-like is terrifying, to put it mildly. No idea ever came to the minds of people which places on us such a burden. The essence of the idea is simple to comprehend, but if we believe it then it demands from us all that we can possibly give, all that we have.

It is one thing to believe in a nice old God who will take care of us from a lofty position of power which we ourselves could never begin to attain. It is quite another to believe in a God who has it in mind for us precisely that we should attain his position, his power, his wisdom, his identity.

Were we to believe it possible for man to become God, this belief would place on us an obligation to attempt to attain the possible. But we do not want this obligation. We don't want to have to work that hard. We don't want God's responsibility. We don't want the responsibility of having to think all the time. As long as we believe it is impossible to become God-like, we don't have to worry about our spiritual growth, we don't have to push ourselves to higher levels of consciousness, we don't have to be more loving; we can relax and just be human.

If God is in his heaven and we are down here and never shall we meet, then he can have all the responsibility for evolution and the direction of the universe. We can do our bit towards assuring ourselves a comfortable old age, hopefully complete with health, happiness and grateful children and grandchildren; but beyond that we need not bother ourselves. These goals are difficult enough to achieve and should not be disparaged, but once we believe it is possible for man to become like God then we can never really rest and say our work is done.

We must constantly push ourselves to greater wisdom and greater effectiveness. By this belief we will have committed ourselves until the moment of death to self-improvement and spiritual growth. God's responsibility must be our own.

It is no wonder that belief in the possibility of becoming God-like is repugnant. The idea that God is actively nurturing us so that we might grow up to be like him brings us face to face with our own laziness.


Ultimately, there is only one impediment to spiritual growth: laziness. If we overcome our laziness, then all other impediments can be overcome. If we do not overcome laziness, then none of the other hurdles will be overcome.

In looking at discipline we considered the laziness of attempting to avoid necessary suffering - taking the easy way out. In looking at love we considered the laziness of nonlove - the unwillingness to extend one's self.

Laziness is something we have in common with everybody else. It is the closest we can get to the idea of "original sin". It makes sense of the biblical story of the serpent and the apple.

The key lies in what is missing. The story suggests that God habitually walked in the garden in the cool of the day and that there were open channels of communication between him and man. But, if this was so, then why did Adam and Eve, separately and together, before or after the serpent's urging, not say to God, "We are curious as to why you do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We really like it here and we don't want to seem ungrateful, but your law on the matter doesn't make much sense to us. We'd really appreciate it if you could explain it to us". But, of course, they did not say this. Instead they went ahead and broke the law, without making the effort to challenge God directly, question his authority or even communicate with him on a reasonably adult level. They listened to the serpent, but they failed to get God's side of the story before they acted.

Why this failure? Why was no step taken between the temptation and the action? It is this missing step that is the essence of our sin of laziness. The missing step was debate. Adam and Eve could have set up a debate between the serpent and God, but in failing to do so, they failed to obtain God's side of the question. The debate between God and the serpent is symbolic of the debate between good and evil which can and should occur in the minds of people. Our failure to conduct, fully and wholeheartedly, this internal debate between good and evil is the cause of those evil actions which constitute sin.

In deliberating the wisdom of a proposed course of action, we routinely fail to get God's view on the issue. We fail to listen to God within us, to the knowledge of rightness which inherently resides in all our minds. We fail because we are lazy.

To hold these internal debates is work. They require time and energy. If we take them seriously and listen to God within us, we usually find ourselves being urged to take a more difficult path, the path of more effort rather than less. To conduct the debate is to open ourselves to suffering and struggle. We all hold back to some degree. Like our ancestors - right back to Adam and Eve - we are all lazy.


Our laziness is very real. It is the force of entropy within us, holding us back from spiritual evolution. But, it not only relates to the number of hours we spend on our work or devote to our responsibilities towards others. Laziness also takes the form of fear. We can say that it was not so much laziness that prevented Adam and Eve from questioning God as to the reasons behind his law, but fear in the face of the awesomeness of God, fear of his wrath. So they attempted to take the easy way out, the illegitimate shortcut to knowledge they had not worked for, and hoped they could get away with it. But they did not. To question God may let us in for a lot of work, but the moral of the story is that it must be done.

Not all fear is laziness, but much of it is. We fear change from the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have now if we venture forward. We fear new information because of the work that would be involved in incorporating it into our maps of reality. Consequently, we resist its assimilation. We fear new commitments and responsibilities, new relationships and new levels of existence. Consequently, we resist extending ourselves in love.

Psychotherapists know that although clients come to them seeking change, they are actually terrified of change - of the work of change. It is because of this fear or laziness and the realisation that the process will require them to accept total responsibility for their condition that the vast majority of clients who begin, however eagerly, the process of psychotherapy drop out long before it has been completed.

In the earlier stages of spiritual growth, we are mostly unaware of our own laziness, although we may pay lip service to it. As we move towards the more advanced stages of spiritual growth, we become acutely aware of our own laziness. The fight against entropy never ends. No matter how seemingly healthy and spiritually evolved we are, there is still a part of us that does not want to exert us, that clings to the old and familiar, desiring comfort and fearing the pain of change even if the penalty is ineffectiveness, stagnation or regression.

Mental illness

We live our lives in a real world. To live them well it is necessary that we come to understand that reality as best we can. Such understanding does not come easily. Many aspects of the reality of the world and our relationship to it are painful to us. We can understand them only through effort and suffering. We ignore the painful aspects of reality by thrusting unpleasant facts out of our awareness. In other words, we attempts to defend our consciousness, our awareness from reality.

We do this by means which psychologists call defence mechanisms. All of us employ such defences, thus limiting our awareness. If, in our laziness and fear of suffering, we massively defend our awareness, then our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality. Because our actions are based on our understanding, our behaviour will then become unrealistic. When this occurs to a sufficient degree, other people will recognise that we are "out of touch with reality" and will deem us to be mentally ill - even though we ourselves are most likely convinced of our sanity. But, long before that extreme has been reached we will have been served notice by our unconscious of our increasing maladjustment.

Although our conscious mind has denied reality, our unconscious, which is omniscient, knows the truth and attempts to help us out by stimulating, through symptom formation, our conscious mind to the awareness that something is wrong. The means employed may be: bad dreams; anxiety attacks; depression and other symptoms.

We are considering the thesis that the conscious is the seat of psycho-pathology and that mental disorders are disorders of consciousness. It is because our conscious self resists our unconscious wisdom that we become ill. It is precisely because our consciousness is disordered that conflict occurs between it and the unconscious that seeks to heal it. In other words, mental illness occurs when our conscious will deviates substantially from the will of God, which is our own unconscious will. The painful and unwanted symptoms of mental illness can therefore be seen as manifestations of grace.

As is common with grace, most of us reject this gift and do not heed the message. We do this in a variety of ways, all of which attempt to avoid the responsibility of our illness. We try to ignore the illness by pretending they are not real symptoms, that they are common to everyone. We try to get around them by quitting jobs, stopping certain activities, leaving relationships, moving to new places etc. We attempt to rid ourselves of the symptoms with pain killers, little pills from the doctor, or by anaesthetising ourselves with alcohol or other drugs.

Even if we do accept our symptoms, we will usually, in many subtle ways, blame the world outside ourselves - uncaring relatives, false friends, greedy businesses, a sick society or even fate - for our condition.

Only those few who accept responsibility for their symptoms, who realise that their symptoms are a manifestation of a disorder within themselves, will heed the message of their unconscious and accept its grace. They accept their own inadequacy and the pain of the work necessary to heal themselves.

To all willing to face the pain of psychotherapy comes great reward. It was of them that Christ spoke in the first of the beatitudes: "Blessed are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Most must still be taught to assume total responsibility for themselves as part of their healing. This training can be a painstaking process as the therapist methodically confronts clients with their avoidance of responsibility again and again.

Those who have faced their mental illness, accepted total responsibility for it and made the necessary changes in themselves to overcome it, find themselves not only cured and free from the curses of their childhood and ancestry but also living in a new and different world. What they once perceived as problems they now perceive as opportunities. What were once loathsome barriers are now welcome challenges. Previously unwanted thoughts become helpful insights; previously disowned feelings become sources of energy and guidance. Occurrences that once seemed to be burdens now seem to be gifts, including the symptoms from which they have recovered.

Even if they emerge from therapy without a belief in God, such successful clients generally do so with a very real sense that they have been touched by grace.

Psychotherapy is only a tool - a discipline. It is up to the client to choose or reject the tool and, once chosen, it is the client who determines how much to use the tool and to what end.

A therapist may be tempted to think at the successful conclusion of a case that they have "cured" the client. But the reality is that they have been no more than a catalyst - and fortunate to be that since, ultimately, people heal themselves with or without the tool of psychotherapy. Why is it that so few do and so many do not?

Since the path of personal and spiritual growth, albeit difficult, is open to all, why do so few choose to travel it?

Christ addressed this question when he said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14, also Matthew 20:16). But why is it that so few are chosen and what is it that distinguishes those few from the many? The answer that most psychotherapists are accustomed to give is based on a concept of differing severity of psychopathology. In other words, they believe that while most people are sick, some are sicker than others and the most sick will be the most difficult to heal. Moreover, the severity of mental illness is directly determined by the severity and the earliness of parental deprivation experienced in childhood.

This schema is useful in many ways, but nonetheless incomplete. It, for instance, ignores the importance of parenting in late childhood and adolescence. It fails to take into account in the individual client the ephemeral something which might be called the "will to grow". A client may be extremely ill, yet possess a strong will to grow so healing will occur.

On the other hand, a client with a relatively mild neurosis, but who lacks the will to grow will not progress from an unhealthy position. The will to grow will therefore be one crucial determinant in the success or failure of psychotherapy.

The will to grow is in essence the same phenomenon as love. Love is the will to extend one's self for personal and spiritual growth. Genuinely loving people are, by definition, growing people.

Exploration and Discussion

1. Grace originates in a God who is "intimately associated with us - so intimately that he is part of us" and, "We are born that we might become, as a conscious individual, a new life form of God". What are your gut reactions to this postulation? Write down your thoughts quickly and without premeditation, stopping only when you can write no more.

2. How are you resisting grace?

3. Through grace,

(a) Barriers become....

(b) Unwanted thoughts become....

(c) Feelings become....

(d) Symptoms become....

4. Imagine you have a close friend who is struggling with mental illness. Write a brief note to them outlining your new insights into grace and mental illness.