Little shoes and the 'Freudian' dilemma
We live in a broken and messed up world and it impacts all aspects of society. If I didn’t truly appreciate this before, I do now. When the brokenness comes close to home, a philosophical and disconnected mindset and posture provide no comfort.
Emotions and hurt, raw and real, take centre stage.
We don’t choose messy circumstances and brokenness – they are just there, hovering around, ready to strike. It is not a theoretical notion.
A Genesis 3 world is our home…for now. In some way, shape or form, what is all around will impact us at some level – from a distance, or up close and personal. One would be ignorant and naive to think otherwise.
Over a period of a couple of years - through circumstances not of our choosing and out of our control - this brokenness and messiness came knocking on our door and our hearts; an uninvited guest we could unfortunately not turn away. The impact of this was an unwillingly initiation into the strange and scary world of psychology and psychotherapy.
Like Alice who fell down the rabbit hole, we entered a confusing world of bizarre notions and odd characters; a disorienting and pseudo-world of false colours and strange terminology.
For someone, who for most of her life has operated from a biblical worldview, this obviously caused a new measure of panic and anxiety. I had studied aspects of psychology at varsity within an educational context. And at an intellectual level, one can easily become be fascinated by the many psychological theories out there.
For those who have chosen to reject God, however, psychology seems to hold a measure of hope, promise and meaning to life. Who wouldn’t be captivated by theories that are based on healing one’s own soul?
We were plunged into that world, silently kicking and screaming, and it seemed to be calling the shots. It was spiritual warfare.
I was struggling to breathe.
We found ourselves in a world that I knew could not offer true hope and healing.
As we have had front row seats to this ‘Freudian’ landscape unfolding around us, psychology’s lies have been exposed and the emptiness of its promises seemed to fill our immediate existence.
Here is the connection with ‘little shoes ‘
In 2017, I attended an art exhibition and talk by South African protest artist, Willie Bester. Before his talk, we wondered around his impressive and larger than life multi-media artworks and sculptures. Many of these contained colourful pairs of little shoes, seemingly random. There were four of us and we each came up with a theory as to the deeper meaning and significance of these little shoes. What was the artist trying to say? What was his intent?
I came up with a theory, which I thought quite impressive, but then someone else came up with another explanation I hadn’t even considered, but also perfectly sensible. Each of us had a theory for the little shoes which we believed legitimate and possibly correct.
Willie Bester, the creator of these artworks, then got up to speak. He gently and humbly explained his background, context and journey into the art world. When asked about the little shoes in many of his art installations, his answer was simply this, ‘Shoes are very significant to me as, growing up in poverty, I only got my first pair of shoes, second hand, at the age of 11.’
There was a collective moment of pause in the audience after this admission. I clearly remember a tear running down my cheek and the acknowledgement of my own misplaced confidence in trying to understand the mind of the artist and to assign meaning to something I actually had no clue about – to something I had not created. It would have been absolutely foolish of me to hold onto my own intelligent explanation of the little shoes as truth in place of Willie Bester’s.
That is what ‘little shoes’ has to do with the ‘Freudian' dilemma.
Freud, the ‘father of psychotherapy,’ his peers, and all subsequent psychological theorists – Nietzsche, Jung, Piaget, Erikson, Adler, Rogers, Skinner, Maslow etc., - have attempted to understand the mind, motivations and soul of mankind. They have tried to explain who we are, how we operate and how we derive our identity, value and worth. You don’t have to do much research to realise that many of them disagreed with one another. You also don’t have to delve too far into Freud’s psyche to realise that he was a twisted and tormented individual. (Just research his Oedipus theory)
They literally all looked at the same 'artwork' and came up with their own explanations – all very eloquent and articulate – but all wrong, as they are not the creators of the human mind and soul.
That is the fundamental arrogance of psychology.
How can psychology explain the inner workings of the mind and soul when it didn’t create or design it?
In navigating this world of psychotherapy – often times mercenary, but at one level, sincere in its belief to cure the human condition and fix the brokenness, a few things have become clear:
#1. The ‘little gods’ of psychology
At the core of our being, we are worshippers. From a Biblical perspective, as image bearers of God, we are created to worship God. ‘For by Him all things were created – all things were created through Him and for Him’ [Colossians 1:16]. Everything in human existence is about Him.
From a psychology perspective, however, we are created to be self-worshippers or to worship anything that will facilitate our default narcissism.
At a very simplistic level, psychology defines us as ‘little gods. ’ ‘It is all about me.’ (The I, the "id", the ego and the superego.) Man is central and ultimately good, and God is superfluous. Love of self is ultimate. No wonder it is popular.
The multi-faceted world of psychology reinforces distorted personal narratives, validates perceptions as facts and feelings as truth, excuses certain wrong behaviours, softens evil, and rationalises sin.
But note how Jesus, Truth incarnate, summarised the meaning and purpose of life: ‘Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.’
A correct view of ourselves (our identity) and ‘love of self’ can only be ‘actualised’ (Maslow’s terminology) through worship and wholehearted love, devotion and surrender to God, our maker.
The fundamental and intrinsic flaw of psychology is found in Romans 1, ‘where the truth of God is exchanged for a lie and we worship the created rather than the Creator.’
#2 The ‘little boxes’ of psychology
Psychology is very clever with terminology and lingo.
It has ‘little diagnostic boxes’ where it can comfortably fit behaviours, issues and emotions, and then offer ‘treatments.’
These ‘little boxes’ are carefully constructed, and for the uninitiated or the patient, sound sophisticated and legitimate. Psychology has an intimidating personality.
Developmental stages, cognitive and kinetic behaviours, phobias and disorders, episodes, catharsis, regression, displacement, reliving trauma etc., become a way to find out what is troubling you, to find your true self and a pathway to healing and happiness.
The problem with these ‘little boxes,’ is that the world of psychology has been recognised to be a multidisciplinary field that is dynamic and constantly evolving. At one level, that is terrifying. At another level, that is insightful, because it acknowledges that a field of human study - to attempt to analyse and understand human thought processes, responses and behaviour patterns - is inexhaustible. (Perhaps impossible?)
Genesis 2 strips away the confusing and ever-changing lingo and put this into perspective when the infinite and never-changing God says, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ This is foundational to who we are. Genesis 2 challenges psychology's definition of human beings and human nature.
Then the Psalmist in Psalm 139 says with bold conviction and assurance, ‘O LORD, you have searched me and known me, …you discern my thoughts from afar…you are acquainted with all my ways…for you formed my inward parts and knitted me together in my mother’s womb. O praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven.’
Surely logic must then conclude that the Creator of our bodies, minds and souls is the only One who can truly know and understand us? Surely the supreme Artist is the only One to explain our condition? Surely the ultimate Designer is the only One to offer us meaning to life, healing and the life-giving treatments our hearts crave? Surely only God defines our true identity?
#3 The ‘little excuses’ of psychology
Probably the most fundamental concern with psychology is how cleverly and subtly it articulates ‘blame shifting.’ This is possibly the most dangerous aspect – as these ‘little excuses’ become a panacea.
As long as you have somebody or something to blame, you are excused – be that circumstances, society, culture, your childhood, your relationships, or your parents. If it can be painted as ‘abusive' or 'toxic’, you are off the hook. So introspection and soul-searching don’t become about personal awareness, but rather about finding someone to blame. This may lead to temporary relief, but the cancer of bitterness, resentment and discontent grow, resulting in misery, addictions, apathy and inertia.
Psychology masks the reality of our heart’s condition and confidently asserts that the problem is ‘out there’ and that the solution is ‘within yourself.’
The danger of psychology has its origin in Genesis 3 – where Satan, the father of lies, used these same psychological techniques on Eve. He tempted Adam and Eve to buy into the lie that to be their own ’little gods’ would lead to self-actualisation. Blame and excuses ricocheted and messiness and brokenness entered our world.
The father of psychotherapy is not Sigmund Freud, but rather Satan himself. That is why this is spiritual warfare.
Does our acquaintance with modern day psychology scare me? It terrifies me! I feel it is winning and causing much destruction in the lives of those I love. But then, as I turn to the God of truth, I realise that He is way bigger than psychology.
If he could use a donkey to espouse truth, he can use a psychologist. The father of lies can never win – he has been conquered at the cross and his power is limited, constrained and weak before a holy God.
To be fair, there are certain basic common grace wisdom principles and insights which psychology employs that can be beneficial and helpful. But they cannot fix the heart.
‘Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.’ [Charles Spurgeon]
We do not need to go back to painful pasts and ‘relive’ dark trauma. We need to go to the cross where we find the true ‘psychotherapist’, the perfect ‘soul healer.’ Trauma, mess and brokenness can then be re-framed and reinterpreted through a new perspective.
Jesus takes our burdens, anxieties, traumas, losses and messy histories and gives us hope, healing joy and abundant life. He carries us and holds us fast. When our worship of self as a ‘little god’ breaks down its focus and humbly acknowledges our broken, messed up and sinful hearts, and we worship the Supreme God, our Creator, only then will we have peace and perfect rest for our souls.
The Gospel of Jesus asserts that the problem is ‘within us’ (our hearts) and the solution is ‘out there’ – on the cross, where Jesus took all the blame so we could be free.
At the end of the day, psychology is man’s wisdom.
Is that what you will put your trust in?
Is that where you will turn when your heart and soul are aching?
When the darkness of a broken and messed up world encroaches on your doorstep and your heart, will you run to Jesus? Will you trust Him? He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the One who made you, died for you and is living and interceding for you. One day He will come back for those who are His, to enjoy a world where there is no weeping or brokenness or mess - where true worship will be restored and where we will live happily ever after.
‘Jesus knows everything about me. He understands how I function and operate. He knows how broken I actually am and He comes with the wisdom of the designer.’ [Paul David Tripp]
For further consideration of the worldview that psychology operates from, compared to a biblical worldview, please listen to Dr. Richard Gantz’s testimony: ‘Freud to Jesus’
For helpful Biblical Counselling resources from David Powlison, Ed Welch, Tim Lane, Paul David Tripp et al at CCEF, please click here.