Our humanity matters. It matters to the Lord and it matters in our Christian walk. I have not always recognized this or believed it. Like most Christians, I have been taught through scripture and reinforced through teachers that Christianity meant being more Christ-like, more spiritual, more conformed to who I was called to be. It meant recognizing that I’m a new creature in Christ, redeemed, forgiven, transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. It meant forgetting those things that were behind and pressing forward to grab hold of why the Lord grabbed hold of me. It meant learning, growing, serving, fellowshipping, giving, and maturing.
Now that’s all fine and good, certainly scriptural and commanded. We have the earnest intent to move forward in the Lord, that is until our humanity gets in the way. And even when it does, it is easy to spiritualize what ails us. It’s an attack of the enemy, a sin that needs removal, a lack of conformity to who we were called to be. In order to be a good Christian, we keep moving in, keep pressing and holding on. We rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, yet there is struggle, lots of struggle. Depending on what kinds of things we are dealing with in our humanity, the struggle can be more severe for some than others. There is a reason for this.
I’ve come to learn that when life happens, things impact us. The more bad life happens the more badly it impacts us. Try as we might to conform or in same cases, just perform, it can seem like an uphill battle. But in order to walk fruitfully in our Christianity, the worst thing we can do is ignore the issues that plague our humanity. Why? It is who we are and how we have been impacted by life.
So when I speak of our humanity I think it’s important to make a distinction between a trichotomist and a dichotomist. The more I study and reflect on my position, I’m coming to a much firmer conviction that humans are made up two parts – body (material) and soul (immaterial). This is the dichotomist position, which maintains that soul is interchangeable for spirit. Trichotomy means humans are made up of three parts – body, soul, and spirit. Now the problem I have with this position is that it separates the part that is regenerated from our humanity. Because that is what our soul is, the seat of how we think, feel, and make decisions. But when all the faculties that make up our soul are not in synch because of hits by life, it tears our soul.
My soul has been torn for a long time. Trouble was I had no idea how much until I entered seminary in Fall 2008 . I recall how gung ho I was to dive into learning and training for ministry, especially for theological processing. This was going to be an adventure. If you were to ask me how was my soul, I would have responded and rather quickly “well just fine, why wouldn’t it be?” I probably would have rolled my eyes in the process. In fact, one of the courses we have to take for the 120 hours is Pastoral Counseling, which is in the Biblical Counseling department. I balked at this prospect. “Biblical Counseling?!? What in the world do I need to take that for?” “Fluff n Stuff”, was the name I quickly dubbed it. I vowed to put it off as long as I can. That is for touchy feely people who have a lot of problems and need help. Little did I know that person was me, well minus the touchy feely part. That would come eventually.
You see I had carried around baggage for decades. Baggage that was formed in my early years and snowballed into a cacophony of damaged esteem and poor choices. Distortions had been internalized and exacerbated by external forces, mainly circumstances and other people. My soul had been wounded and disappointed. But like many people who want to hide the shame, coping mechanisms and external projections were developed to mask the damage. I hid behind a plethora of things. But the Lord knew better.
So he waited until I got to seminary to start cracking my life open, reveal the infections that had festered for so long and begin removing it. And it hurt…a lot, like open heart surgery without anesthetic type hurt. The more clarity I received about what ailed me, the more I would discover how deep the wounds went. It was like unwrapping a bowed box only to find another box, repeat process…a box, within a box, within a box and so on.
The same spiritualizing that provided the surface band-aid treatments in the past, no longer worked. My reasoning abilities that I put so much dependence on, failed. My desire to rise about the internal turmoil, struggled. With each box that opened, the momentary relief was met with more clarity and subsequently, more discouragement. Words of comfort from other Christians, faded. However, I was supposed to get past this, I simply needed some help to do it. There was a deep war inside.
So I gave in and sought help. I needed a counselor who could help guide me through this excavation process , make sense of all these discoveries and help me put the pieces back together. Someone who understood human behavior but could also filter it through the lens of godly wisdom and reconcile the shattered pieces with a call to Christian maturity. The Lord had to break me to realize this is what I needed.
So now that I’m almost done with the ThM program with 3 semesters left, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect back on how I’ve come to this point. As part of my internship that I’m finishing up, one of the last assignments to submit is How is My Soul. It’s caused me to examine the obstacle of my pride and many delusions I embraced. But mostly, it’s caused me to reflect on the care of an awesome God who loved this daughter too much to allow me to go any further without some major uprooting, cleansing and healing.
To be honest, I thought admitting things as I have here was a sign of weakness. Strong people can handle it, they don’t need counselors. But I’ve come to learn that it is the strong ones who recognize where they are weak and refuse to buy into their own mess. The weak ones continue along in it. I wonder too of how many pastors and Christian leaders carry around burdens that have impeded the spiritual transformative process and instead deflect distortions on unsuspecting sheep. Because the reality is that we are conformed not by spiritualizing or knowledge, but through transformed thinking that rightly aligns all of our humanity with our identity in Christ.That’s tough when your soul is torn. It takes strength to admit when your weak, all the while knowing that when your weak, the Lord’s strength can shine through. Hopefully, this tale will motivate some introspection of the reader.
So that is my confession. It is hard and humbling to admit. It is equally as hard to have gone through and still wading through though it gets better as the process continues. I’m comforted everyday in knowing that whatever God started, he won’t abandon and is working things out as he sees fit. And ironically, I’m looking forward to taking that biblical counseling class.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]