The World's "Peace"
The Berean Search Rough Draft Bible Study Series:
What does the Bible say about "Relaxation Exercises" taught by Psychiatrists and public school counselors?
No Bible study is ever finished. That is, not on earth. The Bible is a gold mine, and no miner leaves it empty handed. But we would be fools to think just because we find a little bit of an answer to one small question of all the questions in the universe, that we have nothing more to learn which, once learned, will give what we have learned a whole new perspective. But any miner who works the mine alone is liable to wind up shafted. God made us most effective when we work together. Proverbs 11:14, 24:6. Please help! Let's get rich together! Write your experiences and Scripture studies which shed further light on this shaft.
Dr. Bowman called me up to her office. It was wonderful. I sat in the rocking chair and we talked.
Dr. Bowman taught me muscle relaxing exercises, and told me about her "quiet place", which was actually similar to mine (Limpy Creek). But I don't think I want to do that, because I have some doubts about experiencing sights, smells, etc. that aren't really there. The good part was she restored confidence to me. She said I'm not going crazy, and it was good that I did the unusual things (smelling soap, etc.) to keep my brain active. She said to continue if I wanted to, and if any guards or anyone says anything, just tell them to talk to her. [Smiley face] I feel much better. We are fortunate to have her.
I share Shelley's apprehension about imagining things which don't exist. This study applies only to the "relaxation exercises" Shelley was offered. It says nothing about the rest of the relationship between Shelley and the prison psychiatrist, which she reports was good. When I read her point that the odd thing about relaxation exercises is imagining things which don't exist, I became curious: What does the Bible say about that? I began my search. Please help me finish it.
Imagining things which don't exist is a different thing from remembering an actual place. It is also a different thing from visualizing something you plan to create. Or which you are praying that God will create. It is also a different thing from creating a fantasy as a literary backdrop for some valuable insight dressed up as a work of fiction. ~To help get a perspective on just what sort of fantasy is invoked through "relaxation exercises", let's look at a variety of types of fantasies. ~"Fantasy", for the purpose of escaping from reality, is a repudiation of
Many fantasies are for things which are Biblically unlawful, such as having sex with a movie star or pinup girl, or being a king with the power of life and death over all his subjects, or simply being rich compared with everybody else, etc.
But even fantasies whose objects are Biblically lawful can be spiritual poison when we assume these objects are things God doesn't want us to have even though they seem like they would make us really happy. Then we feel the farthest thing from relaxation. We feel the emotion called "coveting": frustration, longing, yearning, feeling life isn't fair, resentment, and finally reconsideration whether to continue obeying those commandments of God without which our goal might come closer. In other words, we nurture the suspicion that God is standing in the way of what we need to be fully happy, while Satan is offering a contract that might give us what we want.
Let me clarify that I am not talking about every single daydream that crosses our minds. I'm talking about a daydream which we latch onto, and decide it is not our lot in life, at least not while we obey God, but that it would be better than what we perceive to be our lot in life.
The biggest problem with imagining things which are poisonous is that God, who really is pro-choice, eventually gives up on us and lets us have them!
(Again, we are not yet focusing on a description of the particular type of fantasy invoked through relaxation exercises. We are just laying some background of various fantasies so we will be able to compare that type with.)
There are fantasies whose essence is escape from reality. Like the "buzz" for alcoholics, the "high" for druggies. This is distinct from a physical "vacation", for which one need not exit reality.
The problem with these escapes from reality is that reality is what God has given us to help us grow, and when we try to escape it, we are trying to escape God! And besides how terrible that would be for us if it were even possible, it isn't possible. However, even though we can't escape God, God eventually leaves us alone to fester in the hell we have created, which really is the most terrible kind of existence.
The tap root of most "escapist" fantasies is plain old laziness, about which the Bible has much to say:
The Bible even describes a laziness which is specifically intellectual:
By this passage we can see that it is not only by fantasies that we escape reality, but also by glossing over sound reasoning and Biblical and scientific evidence which challenges our conclusions.
Let us be careful that our fantasies do not amount to mere coveting all day long, as opposed to setting a goal and working hard until we reach it.
We need to ask how the "relaxation exercises" offered by psychologists today are different than the "deep sleep" of the slothful which displaces the work they should be doing so they can pay their bills, and have a full life, so they won't have so many problems making them tense, from which they escape to a deep sleep, which displaces the work they should be doing....
Great excuse! "If I go out and criticize the government policies which turn my bones to jelly, they might come after me. I might put myself at risk. So I just won't go outside. I'll keep myself, and my potential influence, right here in the TV room, safe under lock and key."
Turns out there is a lion in the streets, walking about, seeking whom he may devour. v. 8. But the Bible tells us to go out and face him, and resist him. Stedfast. (Gr: "Strong, firm, immovable...") ~We are supposed to be sober, v. 8: that is, alert to reality, as opposed to escaping it to the oblivion sought by drunkards. We are supposed to be humble, because God resists the proud just as we are supposed to resist the devil.
All this is the context of the familiar encouragement, "Casting al your care upon him; for he careth for you." What greater release of tension can there be than what God offers here? And yet this release comes not through sleep, or fantasy, or imagination, but through submission to one another, humility, standing up like a rock against the ugly devil, and trusting God!
Another familiar passage about releasing all tension follows. Notice that "learning" from Jesus is given as a key to this release. More about this important key later.
Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.
Is there any promise any psychologist can give that can compare with that?
Now let's talk specifically about the fantasy invoked by "relaxation exercises".
Let's say the relaxation visualization is all the person wants. That it is not any kind of "coveting", there is no nurturing of any desire, to actually be in any other real physical place. It is an end in itself, and the person who visits this fantasy is fully satisfied by the freedom to go there only in his imagination.
I am skeptical how long anyone who finds comfort in such a fantasy can remain content just to imagine it, without wishing the universe were so constructed that this imaginary place were actually his home, and eventually resenting God for not making it so. But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that this next logical step never occurs. After all, psychologists do not assert that this is their goal. After all, the stated goal is relaxation, not all the tense emotions of covetousness!
If this is all "relaxation exercises" are, are they, then, any different than watching TV to "just get away from everything"? Are they any different than just sitting out on the patio with enough beer for the look and the taste, not enough to get drunk, but just to sit and do nothing? Are they any different than handling the tension of work by grabbing food?
It appears that the vast majority of Americans today resent the work into which God has placed them, and even the work into which they have placed themselves. ("Work" in the broad sense of all that life requires of us.) Rather than just doing it, they are made "tense" by it, and then they take time out to "cure" their "tension".
"But", you say, "I don't do a relaxation exercise to avoid work, but so that when I return to work I can do it better."
Is it indeed possible for such a "relaxation" method to induce no desire, when one is in the midst of work, to leave the work for the preferred company of the fantasy? Isn't there less tension in the long run for someone who uses that lost time to simply finish the work?
Why not just pray, and to find relaxation in working?
The Bible contrasts hard, intense work with death. It calls the desire for respite from work a death wish. It calls the opportunity to work hard, which is the gift of life, something precious, to be maximized.
Is reduction of tension even a good thing? Let's distinguish between tension, now, and fear.
For those who truly desire to love, the Bible offers wonderful assistance. The kind of love which the Bible teaches will truly free us from fear. We will learn to love God, and others as ourselves, and we will learn to trust God, who promises us victory over suffering and death, as well as everything in between. ~But the Bible is also a book of Big Goals. The Bible challenges us to pray for mountains to be removed, and then to work with God to remove them. Impossible things. In order to stay on track towards such a goal, we have to have desires for those goals. Desire shares with tension a few common elements.
I suspect much of what passes for that "tension" which psychologists are out to reduce is actually no more than the annoying clamoring of conscience, dread of death and unreadiness for what lies beyond, lack of purpose in life, and fear of any number of dangers which God has promised we needn't be afraid of. All these things can be cured with comprehensive Bible study. There is no hope of curing any of these things by any human discipline or approach which neglects comprehensive Bible study, much less censors any Bible study whatsoever!
But just for sake of argument, let's say the only tension which psychologists seek to reduce is the tension, not of wholesome desires, but of cancerous fears. And let's even say the only fears which psychologists seek to reduce are those, not of Biblically defined dangers such as those above, but those which a Bible-free psychology is capable of addressing. I can't imagine what that would be. I can't imagine what tension is left to quell, after you remove from the operating table the clamoring of conscience, unreadiness for death, lack of purpose in life, and fear of dangers which God has promised to keep under control. But let's just enter a little fantasy land of our own, for sake of argument, and imagine there are some tension left for psychology to address, after you take out that tension for which the Bible is the only sensible medicine.
Can lasting relaxation be found apart from God's tender breast? How could that be possible? By what means could mere momentary cessation from stress do anything to relieve the problems which provoke it? What relaxation can change our attitude towards those problems, so that upon our return to them, we will be less irritated by them?
I have to conclude there is no relaxation experience which, by itself, can produce lasting tension reduction. The only way anyone could logically even promise lasting tension reduction would have to be through some philosophy or other which accompanies the tension reduction. In which case any Bible believer ought to be concerned with examining that accompanying philosophy.
And any scientist ought to be concerned, during his "biofeedback" experiments, with measuring long term tension reduction, and its relation to productivity.
THE NEXT STEP IN VISUALIZATION ~Perhaps the inability, of simple visualization of a nice place, to provide true relaxation and peace, is the reason for the logical next step in "relaxation techniques": to visualize a "friend" or "spirit guide".
The character of these "guides", as described by those who meet them and reported in psychological and school counseling literature, has seemed, to a number of Christian activists, to fit the profile of a demon. Hence it is not hard to find Christian literature alleging children are introduced to demon possession in public schools through "relaxation exercises" wherein children are told to visualize "spirit guides".
But I will pass over this issue to the feeling of euphoria which may be experienced through demon possession. This feeling of euphoria is apparently similar to an experience which Christians relate to "the presence of the Lord". The similarity has confused people. It has been submitted as evidence that this "spirit guide" is a "good angel" or may be Jesus Christ Himself.
I have heard a similar feeling reported by drug users, and by New Agers. All I am going by is anecdotal evidence, and not very much of that. But I have listened in astonishment as several people have reported this same wonderful feeling, which I and many others identify as the "presence of the Lord", but in association with obviously godless pursuits. I am going to offer a Bible Study now to explain why this wonderful feeling is experienced so widely, and the significance of that.
The wonderful feeling, or euphoria, or "high", is similarly experienced, according to literature I have read and personal descriptions I have heard, by "spirit guides" introduced through "relaxation exercises", pagans, New Agers, alcoholics, drug users, and yes, by Christians of all denominations, although especially by charismatics among Protestants, and those who especially venerate Mary among Catholics.
There is a euphoria, a feeling which feels vaguely electrical, although it feels wonderful and it does not move at the speed of light, but gently cascades, and grows, when it does, from somewhere near the base of the spine in the head, down around the spine, and from thence, less often, throughout the rest of the body.
Sometimes it is so strong that it utterly fills the whole body, robbing both the will and the capacity to control the body's movements. I have experienced this in bed a few times: I was incapable of moving my body. Charismatics make a ritual of experiencing it while standing at the "altar" after an inspiring sermon, where it causes the person to swoon and fall, so people are ready to catch people and let them down gently, while others are ready with baby blankets to cover the legs of women in the interest of modesty. They call it being "slain in the spirit".
These feelings are also generated, to some degree, when watching any dramatic production on TV or in a movie, or reading any book, and encountering a nugget of wisdom which is just awesome, and helpful, and full of love, and which you want to hang on to for awhile and remember.
(I won't mention hearing such wisdom in everyday conversation because for most people, inspirational conversation is not valued, but considered "heavy" or "bor-ing". Americans today like their inspiration in their movies, in nice, safe, small, controlled doses towards the end.)
It is possible to replicate this feeling at will by revisiting these nuggets of wisdom, although the feeling seems to be proportionate to how dramatic is their impact on us, which declines to the extent we grasp them and assimilate them into our personalities -- so if we want that feeling again, we need more and more wisdom! That's why Bible reading is so rewarding.
But the problem with wisdom, which mitigates the wonderful euphoria it offers, is that it also exposes our sins and demands that we understand our sin, repent of it, and abandon it. (Same problem with the actual "presence of Jesus".) That's no fun, so people seek this euphoria without the risk of encountering wisdom. Or Jesus. ~The "presence of Jesus" is easier to control, however, than Scripture. Jesus Himself may not be controlled, but the "presence of Jesus" feeling can be. One can harden one's heart to any particular specific admonitions which accompany the feeling, and be entertained only by the feeling.
I remember once believing that the "presence of Jesus" feeling is evidence that the thing I was contemplating doing was of God. I remember believing that, until there was a thing I was contemplating doing which I knew very well was not of God, and yet that "presence" still came when I asked for it. I concluded that Jesus loves me so much that He will come any time He is welcome! Even when we are bad!
Is the feeling so often associated with "the presence of Jesus" actually associated with Jesus in any way, since it is a feeling available through pagan sources?
There is something legitimate about the feeling, since it comes, in "every day" experience, in reaction to awesome nuggets of wisdom.
It also comes in reaction to the comforting realization that something we have worried about is finally taken care of; or the realization that "we are doing something right for a change". I don't mean to offer you a comprehensive list of the rules and regulations governing the appearance of this feeling! All I can offer is to rack my brain to remember what I have felt, and for how to put it in words; and to rack my brain again to remember how others have described their experiences. If you will rack your brains too, perhaps together we can get a more comprehensive understanding of how this works. I can't tell you what the Bible says about it, because I can't think of where the Bible even speaks of it. Which is very significant, in view of the widespread assumption that this feeling is a test of God's presence, or of the infallibility of a statement.
But I don't think anyone, listening to "every day" nuggets during a TV show and saying how "inspired" that made them, thinks that the feeling of "inspiration" is evidence that the wisdom they heard was the voice of God. Normally it doesn't even occur to people to try to assign some sort of "infallibility rating", based on the power of that feeling, to what they have just heard. They know what they heard is somehow profound, and it contains at least some truth, which seems wonderful in at least the context they heard it. They want to remember it, in order to see how far they can apply it to the rest of their life.
People don't listen to the woodcutter teaching a lesson about honesty to Pinocchio and think "well this feeling is here, so this is God speaking, and I can quote this truth as Scripture and add it to the Bible, if not start a Bible of my own."
Neither should we regard these feelings as any kind of evidence that our understanding of God and of His Will has just been validated, by that feeling! Apparently God is willing to go sit with anyone, no matter how wicked, no matter how deluded, if that person will just invite Him.
You know what? I just had that feeling again, as soon as I thought of that point in the previous paragraph, and then thought of this Scripture to validate that point. Maybe the heart of that feeling is gratitude. I am grateful that God reminded me of a Scripture which validates the direction I was heading. I am grateful for that awesome little nugget in the mouth of the woodcutter to Pinocchio, and for how helpful that may prove in my life. An alcoholic is grateful to finally forget what was robbing life of all happiness. The pagan is grateful to finally establish communication with a fantasy which talks back, and which actually provides specific, testable information, some of which even tests positive! The pagan is grateful to finally locate a god he can trust, which won't tell him to do all kinds of self-sacrificing virtuous things which God commands.
But if it were a mere reaction to gratitude, it would occur only when we acknowledge the good we have. But the feeling comes many other times. It comes when we are pleading with God; when we are crying before God; and sometimes when we are minding our own business and not thinking about anything in particular. It does not behave as if it were no more than some chemical reaction inside our brains. It behaves as if it were directed by some intelligence outside ourselves. Something more intelligent than this article, actually.
So now that I am getting all these wonderful insights, I am experiencing this glorious feeling again and again! Is the feeling my evidence that I have found the truth, so that now my article is finished? Is this feeling God's imprimatur so you can trust what I say without the need of any further testing? Is this feeling my authority to tell you "this is true because Jesus told me"?
Can I write like many New Agers do, writing all kinds of profound- sounding, half-understandable, "thoughts for the day", and settle all doubts about the authority of what I write by explaining in my introduction that I was merely taking dictation from God, and I know this because all the time I was writing, I felt the Presence of the Lord?
(Gosh, this is really great! I'm experiencing this feeling all the while I am writing this!) NO! This feeling is not the evidence that what I am writing is true! Rather, my gratitude for an answer which seems true is one thing that triggers this feeling!
I would be a fool to think just because I have found a little bit of an answer to one small question of all the questions in the universe, that I have nothing more to learn which, once learned, will give what I have just learned a whole new perspective!
I was a fool to think that feeling proved I was in the right denomination! God will have lunch with anyone, anywhere, in any denomination, and just because God is having lunch with them, does not prove they are not "out to lunch"!
An alcoholic is a fool to think a paycheck's worth of alcohol has anything to do with the little taste of gratitude she finally feels! The problems, untended, only grow!
A psychologist is a fool to think any lessening of tension ensuing from visualizing pretty places, not to mention summoning demonic "spirit guides", validates any information gained from such a journey, or even that there has been any lessening of tension that will not be restored with interest when the "patient" returns to the temporarily ignored problems of reality!
(Again, to the extent any problems have been addressed as an adjunct to the "visualization", the Bible believer should want to examine whether they were addressed Biblically, and a scientist should want to measure how effectively they were addressed; but that is a separate issue from the effect upon tension of the visualization itself.)
This wonderful feeling is a gift of God to us despite our heresies, not because of them, and is certainly not a validation of them! The feeling may be an indicator of sincerity, but not validity. ~There is a sleep which satisfies, and there is a sleep from which one rises with headaches and exhaustion. There is a rest which refreshes, and a "relaxation" which only leaves one more anxious for something real. Something that lasts.
Many assume Jesus' mention of "peace which passeth all understanding" must refer to some cessation of worry, or even of concern, if not of thought altogether. Look up the Greek word translated "passeth" and you will see the reference is not to a peace which is beyond our ability to understand, but rather to a peace which is superior, or of greater value, than any amount of understanding.
What is the nature of such peace? The context in which we discover its existence tells us to always rejoice and give thanks, and to never be anxious, and to think pure thoughts, and to DO what Scripture commands. We learn that this "peace...which passeth all understanding" is a natural consequence of these actions, and specifically of "prayer [the Greek word emphasizes devotion to God] and supplication [the emphasis is on asking God for "every thing" we need] with thanksgiving". There is nothing here about some semi-comatose state to which we may escape from reality.
It doesn't say that the peace of God will be given to us, as if it were some sort of inanimate thing which can be passed from God to us; but rather, that the peace of God will "KEEP" our hearts and minds. The Greek word here describes a military guard either protecting a town from its enemies, or in the case of a siege, when the guard is the enemy of the town, to keep its inhabitants from fleeing. "Peace" is cessation from war. God has peace, since God has no need of war, since God has already won every battle well before it was ever conceived. It is this kind of peace, this absolute "being in control", not just an attitude but a fact, by which God will "keep" our hearts and minds safe from enemy attack, and even safe from ourselves fleeing God to join the enemy.
In another familiar passage, Jesus spoke of peace "not as the world giveth". So right from the git go, we should take warning that God's way of "relaxing" is something different than the world's. The passage says the Holy Spirit will be sent to us on behalf of Jesus, followed by a sentence saying Jesus is leaving us Peace. The similarity of the two thoughts, and their proximity, imply that the second may be a restatement of the first: that the Holy Spirit is the personification of God's Peace. This makes sense when we remember that God's Peace is not a condition, but is rather some sort of intelligent force capable of "keeping" us, just as is the Holy Spirit.
The passage says the primary function of the Holy Spirit is to teach us. ~Putting this all together, we get a picture of God's Peace being a consequence, not only of rejoicing and giving thanks and praying and doing as God commands us, as we learned in the prior passage, but here we learn it comes to us as we learn.
This supports the point I made earlier that the "presence of the Lord" feeling comes to us as a consequence of our gratitude for some nugget of wisdom. But notice also the contrast between this use of the "feeling", and the use made by many to validate whatever philosophies they associate with the feeling. In fact, this passage says nothing about any feeling: it speaks only of learning. The error is to take the feeling as validation of human concepts, which is the very opposite of learning: it is confirming one in one's own foolishness, rather than keeping one open to learning more.
In the following passage we learn that it is "In Jesus" that we have peace. And yet this Peace is not the absence of tribulation, since we have that too!
The world offers the alcoholic "peace" as oblivion.
The world offers the "relaxation exerciser" peace through a mental journey away from problems.
The world offers the pagan peace through a god which legitimizes self gratification and which defines "love" only as that duty which Christians owe him.
The world offers some Christians peace through a "presence of the Lord" which offers a refuge from warfare rather than a battleground for it, and which, as a bonus, transforms the thoughts which come to them into Words of God.
But Jesus offers peace through victory over tribulation! It is not a peace which flees from tribulation, but which thrives on tribulation!
Jesus Himself next demonstrated what He meant by that. He didn't flee tribulation! He walked right into it, and even had to help out his persecutors when they fell down on the job, John 18:4-9! But what victory! Victory over temptation, (the thief's offer, Luke 23:39, regurgitated Peter's temptation, Luke 16:22-23), victory over death itself!
What greater peace can there be, in the face of obstacles which threaten to nullify every good thing we have tried to do, than this assurance that "our labour is not in vain in the Lord", and finally to actually see the seeds we have sown finally bearing fruit? ~What greater peace can there be, in the face of a dangerous enemy, than to know this enemy can do nothing without the permission of God who loves you enough to die for you, and finally to defeat him by God's mighty hand? ~What greater peace can there be, in the face of temptation, than to see how much confidence God has in you despite all your failures, and then finally to overcome it? ~The world offers "peace" as a refuge from the battle by pretending the enemy isn't really coming your way, or at least has stopped for a little while. God offers peace through victory!
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