Biblical Pastoral Psychology
Today marks the return of posts under the heading of “eldercraft” — the study of serving as a church elder. I’m adding it as a broad category of posts. Because of the rather modern confusion of roles from the New Testament church era, we are stuck with the term “pastoral care” to describe what elders did for the original churches.
Let no one mistake this: I’d sacrifice a great deal to return to the field of pastoral care. So long as things keep running as they do in this world, that remains a highly unlikely prospect. I’m not willing to compromise my commitment to what I’ve learned, and religious organizations don’t see any reason to change their operations to accommodate me. So I’m left drawing on what experience I’ve had and pressing the case for a better way here on this insignificant blog.
We could learn a lot from guys like Dr. Thomas Szasz. The vast majority of difficulties people have adjusting to this world are moral failures, not some kind of illness in the mind. He would not use my terminology, but the biggest problem is not that demons are now gone from this world, but we understand them so poorly they run rampant. While their infestations are seldom comparable to what we see described in the biblical narrative, they are nonetheless the primary vector of what we see afflicting so many these days. A huge chunk of eldercraft is tied up in an accurate demonology.
Granted, we are forced to use parabolic language to describe spiritual realities, but this should never prevent our minds getting enough clue to formulate a plan of action. The brain was never supposed to rule, but to implement the commands of the Spirit-spirit communion in our souls. A proper working demonology starts with the realization they are spirit entities confined to our realm of existence. This confinement is a critical element in their punishment. There is a sense in which being forced to operate here means the Laws of God bind them; time and space constricts them quite uncomfortably. We can’t possibly grasp the whole picture, but we can at least realize our obedience to God’s Laws, our embrace of the moral fabric of this fallen world, will prevent most of what demons seek to do to us.
As always, the sterile absolutism of Western intellectual culture only makes this job more difficult. The task of a spiritual elder is to reduce the power and influence of demons in this world, to guard against demon intrusions into a situation already bad enough because of the Fall. This whole thing is a living, breathing experience, organic and dynamic, and it requires a flexible and active attention and daily effort. The essential mix of good and bad, ebb and flow, is our normal. The silly Western mythology about demons only aggravates things.
What we discover by our experience is the biggest part of our task is repentance. Getting ourselves to live in the Land of Repentance, and persuading everyone under our care to stay there with us, is one way to characterize the whole mission. It’s a vibrant, living landscape, and nothing is ever finished until we leave this realm of existence altogether. Repentance is a commitment to constant vigilance and pursuit of weak spots. The hedge of holiness requires constant maintenance, care and feeding. The modern field of psychology is simply the human science which traces clinical cause and effect; it offers no moral judgment. When it’s practitioners attempt to posit a scientific “norming” it will always fail, because science is hopelessly disabled in the task of discovering moral truth. That requires a moral and spiritual awareness of divine revelation from the One who designed the universe and keeps a constant living relationship with the moral fabric. Repentance is the commitment to discover and implement the imperatives of that moral fabric.
The task of elder is to develop a sensitivity to how this all works, to live through our own horrendous fights with demons, and thus have some sense of what it’s like for everyone under our care. While the Bible highlights the rather dramatic activity of driving demons out with grave verbal commands, frankly that will seldom happen for us. Most people who make so much of that dramatic activity don’t understand the bigger picture. The vast majority of demon-swatting is simply repenting, which drives them out by default. The vast majority of the time, people drive out their own demons, little by little, by reclaiming the territory of their souls and occupying that turf with a new purpose. When we bring our lives into conformance with the moral fabric of Creation, demons are weakened and forced out.
This world is not their natural abode. They really can’t do anything unless a human grants them permission. People have to agree and cooperate, or demons can’t get much their way in this world. We teach people to stop cooperating. In a very broad sense, that’s the mission of elders; that’s eldercraft.