Shame and Grace Part 9 - The State of Things

Nov 20

Shame and Grace Part 9 - The State of Things

Tue, 11/20/2012 - 06:56 — Thabo Mokete

The conflict of wanting to do good but ending up with bad is not something we could reconcile for ourselves. What can bring an end to the ongoing war between our moral thinking and our instincts?1

The actions of a person are acts of sympathy with internal states. A human being will not act contrary to his or her condition on the inside. We eat when we are hungry, we sit down when tired, we go to bed when we feel sleepy. There is that perfect sympathy, between the state within and the behaviour. I may make up my mind not to do something, but if there is a condition in me that needs that kind of action, I will find myself doing it.

If I am caught in the act of stealing peaches from a tree in my neighbour's yard, I may say to myself "I must stop stealing. Look how shameful this is now". But that is only looking at the act, without being aware of the situation internally that made it necessary for me to steal.  I did not steal for the fun of it. Even if I did steal for the fun of it, what made the fun necessary?  So, with my mind I resolve not to do it, but when the situation inside is triggered by external circumstances, I reach out again. This time, I may be more skilled at avoiding to be caught.

I may make the decision, and call upon the power of my conscious mind to stop the act. But the conscious mind is not aware that there is a situation in me that makes the stealing necessary. This situation is hidden from the thinking self. Therein lies the root of the conflict. The instinct to steal arises out of the condition, and the moral alert not to steal arises out of the guilt. It is a stalemate. Thus I continue stealing, even if I have to steal smart and hide it from my self and others by dressing it up in clever labels.

Grace does not come to me as long as I am entertaining this position. As long as I think I can change my behaviour, I will find that I am caught up in a  loop where it keeps coming to me and defeating me. In addiction terms, this is called the double bind.2 The thinking that I can stop it, but I actually keep doing it. The failure to stop strengthens my belief that I have the power to stop. It's the paradox of addictive behaviour. And so the cycle goes until I “hit rock bottom” and almost lose everything.

Grace comes as I acknowledge that I am stealing and there's no point denying it. It causes me pain to keep doing so, but I am helpless and powerless to stop. I cannot stop. I have a great desire for correction but I fail. That is the first surrender.

The first surrender must give birth to the second surrender2, that is the giving up to a higher power, the healing power of grace to work freely on the condition inside. The power of grace is not just to stop the behaviour by shutting it down. It works at the root of what caused the need to steal the peaches. There may be a number of triggers and switches underneath that made this behaviour necessary. God works on those accurately in his own way, if we keep surrendering to that work.

When  I ultimately stop stealing the peaches, it will be because that behaviour is not necessary anymore. I no longer need that kind of sympathy. The situation has changed within.

The big misunderstanding of the ego is that is thinks it is a reference point for everything;3 That it is standing above nature and all the forces of life. It does not realize that it is part of nature and standing at a place where it is impacted by all kinds of forces that it has no understanding of.

The thinking self is concerned with protecting itself from dangerous people around, from unscrupulous business partners, from an abusive or unfaithful lover, from losing its property, from sickness, from losing a job, from disobedient children. The ego sees demons in these areas and will “pray” around these issues.

What the ego is not aware of is that the environment that impacts it is far greater and wider spread than these things. Far deeper within too. It fails to see the cosmic forces under whose influence the fallen human being is now subject to. We can single out here the forces that determine the times and seasons. The universal cycles of years, seasons, monthly, weekly, and daily cycles. These play a part in the destiny of life on earth and they contribute to the internal and external environment of a person.

The thinking self also fails to recognize that the seeds of its natural being have been fashioned over centuries of human existence. A person who is  twenty years old may say “I am young”. Little does she realize that there are instincts in her that have been developed over thousands of years for survival.4 In the genetic makeup are stored all kinds of instincts that the person may not be even aware of. These operate in the internal environment, typically in the unconscious. Thus a person may be shocked to discover the depths of evil that he or she may be capable of when it erupts.

In addition to that, events and circumstances from the early stages of a person's growth contribute to the building of the internal environment. Further instincts and beliefs develop. Even the society where a person lives and interact with people, shapes the internal condition in ways that may be subtle, sometimes very direct and blunt.

What a person will do then is to want to change the consequences of these interactions of the environments. He or she wants to be good and reject the evil. One may do so by suppressing the lower “bad” instincts. But this suppression itself creates another kind of sickness, a whole range of neurotic tendencies that spiral out of control to bring an even greater shame. Thus in the process of trying to do good, one may create a greater evil.5

When it is said that a person is not a island it is much more true when looked at from this point. The human being is a microcosm that belongs to a greater cosmos. What is in the cosmos interacts with what is in the microcosm. And vice versa.6 It is perfect sympathy of the environments. The internal environment is in synch with the external environment. These are the conditions of our existence.

Paul Tillich, in his Systematic Theology, describes the paradox of existence in this way:
“But this situation of estrangement, in which the law becomes commandment, is just the situation in which the law cannot be fulfilled. The conditions of existence simultaneously make the commandment of the law necessary and its fulfillment impossible.”7

Until the soul comes to that humility of knowing its place of powerlessness to change its own course, it has not met grace. Grace meets us at the point of surrender.

The reality of a tree begins in the roots, not in the fruit. In the same way the reality of a person begins within, not in his or her actions. Thus, our mechanical attempts at altering our behaviour must necessarily fail over and over again. The soul must take on a new reality within. It is the grace of God that ushers the new reality. The mystery of the new state of things and grace is tied up with the mystery of Christ.7 It is John who wrote in the Gospel about the superior gift of grace that came out of the fullness of His love.8

This new state of things starts giving rise to new sympathies in the external environment. This reality is like a new plant that takes roots and grows and fills up the yard. It grows in the same external environment as the old one. However, by its nature it takes from the environment what it is required to grow the new being that has come to life. It then gives back fruit to the environment that is in keeping with its nature.

The new state of things resurrects the higher instincts of a person that were almost dead and suppressed. It awakens what was installed originally in each and every soul. It becomes a new instinct, a creative instinct. Thus, instead of being merely a victim of the environment as was the old condition, the new creative nature lights up its environment and creates new values in it.
The new state of things brings in a new sympathy and makes possible what was impossible before: action that is driven by higher instincts and values.

1. Romans 7:14-25
2. Russell, David; Dimitrov, Vladimir; Fell, Lloyd. Ancient Wisdom and Contemporary Ecological Problems, 2003.
3. Bergson, Henri. Matter And Memory. London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1929.
4. Griffith, Jeremy. A Species In Denial. Sydney: FHA Publishing and Communications Pty Ltd, 2003.
5. Berdyaev, Nicolas. The Destiny Of Man. London: Geoffrey Bles, Ltd, 1955.
6. Berdyaev, Nikolai. The Meaning of The Creative Act. London: Semantron Press, 2009.
7. Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology, Volume 2. London: The University Of Chicago Press, Ltd., 1957.
8. John 1:16-17