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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part VI: The Subconscious and the Forgiveness of Sins

Chapter 4

A Sense of Guilt and a Sense of Sin

     THE CONCEPT 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 as malfunction.
     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 valid.
     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.

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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:

     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 or physical

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.

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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 recovering.

     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 observed:

     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.

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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:

     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.

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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:

     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, 1964, p.6.

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stems from the thinking of these three men -- at least in physiology and in the life sciences.
     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 breeding, gradually

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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

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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.

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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."
     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 himself. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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