It’s a disgustingly sunny January day in California, which means I am hiding indoors with the shades drawn and perusing old blog posts. My friend Pam long ago requested that one particular response I wrote to a blog-passerby become its own post.
It’s been a year since I wrote it, and I’m not sure if I would write this response today. I might, or I might shrug sadly at this reader’s comment, then go eat the most delicious food I could find.
So often, therapists become therapists to somehow repair their own past woundings. Victims of domestic violence become advocates, Adult Children of Alcoholics find their practices filled with other ACA’s. Often, these “wounded healers” eventually decide that in order to be truly free from what previously imprisoned them, they must leave that system entirely. So the DV workers become yoga teachers, the clinicians decide to go back into research, the therapists end up writing novels.
I come from a background filled with misogyny disguised as religion (also, misogyny disguised as feminism… talk about confusing). And I’m undecided what I’ll do with my own history: I might keep one foot in that harmful religious system in order to act as a bridge for those who want to leave it, or maybe I’ll shake the dust off my feet on my way to something much more joyful and free.
(Any feedback about this decision of mine is welcome).
But, I’m always up for filling a friend’s request a year late. So here it is… When I offered an alternative message to Christian Woman about trusting oneself last year, I got this response from a reader (who I can only assume is not still reading):
I am to trust my heart? If I truly claim to believe the Bible than I would think it a bit double-faced to trust my heart, my own “wise and trustworthy heart” and yet believe that the Prophet Jeremiah was honest when he said that it is my heart that is deceitful above all things. I try not to make a habit of trusting things with a reputation of being deceitful. It seems a sketchy ground to be treading upon…
Here was my response:
Reading between the lines of your comment about Jeremiah 17:9, I am guessing you subscribe to an infallible or inerrant approach to the Biblical texts— you believe that all words of the Bible are created equal, and that all of them, in their English translations, provide instruction or insight into how we modern Christians are to relate to God, each other, and how we should lead our lives. In short, scripture is authority.
I come from a different perspective. I agree with the words of Martin Luther, “Scripture is the cradle in which the Christ child lies.” The point of Scripture is not to be an authority in and of itself, but to point us to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. As Marcus Borg puts it, “Jesus trumps the Bible; when they disagree, Jesus wins.” So, while I love the Bible, a mention of a Bible verse doesn’t usually impact me much.
Here’s how I would approach your Jeremiah verse (and please know that I’m not a Biblical scholar, and only a lay theologian…as we all are, I suppose):
- I would ask how language barriers might impact our understanding of the verse— I have heard the word for “heart” in ancient Hebrew is very different than how we understand it as 21st century Americans.
- I would ask what cultural norms in ancient Israel are similar/different our norms today, and how that might impact Jeremiah’s view of the human heart.
- I would weigh that verse against verses that do speak to the goodness and wisdom in our hearts (Gen 1:27, John 14:26, Mark 10:39, 1Pet 3:21, Rom 12:3, Mark 12:30-31). I would compare Jeremiah’s words to the Bible’s first and most foundational description of humankind: We are made in God’s image, a status that was never revoked, even after the introduction of sin (more here).
- I would look at Jeremiah’s entire prophecy in context of the larger Biblical narrative—the one that shifts from a small tribe of chosen people and their God, to a God who comes in flesh and experiences some of the worst violence that the world has to offer, yet speaks of God as a loving Father, as a Mother in labor, striving to birth us into newness (John 3). I would ask whether Jeremiah’s words trump Christ’s description of the counseling, comforting, empowering spirit that we receive at baptism. Or whether Jeremiah’s naming of human hearts as “deceitful” counteracts our created goodness as described in Genesis 1.
Speaking from my more familiar lens of psychology, rather than Biblical hermeneutics, I know that the fruits of the Spirit tend to manifest much more freely and honesty when a person chooses to love and trust herself, rather than taking a stance of mistrust. Mistrust of self creates an anxiety that must constantly be managed, a pervasive sense of guilt or “doing everything wrong,” and a lot of difficulty forming intimate relationships based on trust (because what is believed internally gets projected externally, always. In other words, if you don’t trust self, you cannot trust another).
Self-trust, on the other hand, leads to a greater love of self and others, a sense of empowerment as well as acceptance for things beyond ones control (joy), decreased anxiety (peace), more patience for self and others, more energy for treating self and others well (kindness), ability to be more steadfast in relationships (faithfulness), and a decrease in impulsive behavior (self-control).
The psychological benefits of mistrust of one’s own heart is that it can serve to reduce some anxiety, because trusting yourself (which includes knowing your own limitations, and being able to ask for help when needed) is a much heavier responsibility than trusting something external. But I think we sacrifice a lot in our decision to mistrust our own hearts.
Biblical infallibility or inerrancy is certainly one philosophical option. A theology that sin, not goodness, is humanity’s most primary nature is also an option. But neither are universal beliefs for God’s church. You and I demonstrate the divide well, I think. I find a theology of original goodness, and a historical-metaphorical reading of the Bible, far more compelling for my faith journey.