Recently, it has come to our attention that many people are confused both about the existence of what is commonly called the subconscious1 and its role. Many Christians, driven by their concern about the preoccupation of psychologists with the subconscious, mistakenly ignore its Biblical basis.
Because the writings of Sigmund Freud have had much influence on our daily vocabulary and familiar idioms, many erroneously assume that the subconscious itself is a Freudian concept.
While we in no way validate Freud's peculiar views and obsessions with the subconscious (please see our newsletter of May '96),2 we do believe that many Christians, in their zeal to distance themselves from the deceptions of Freudianism, assume that the concept of the "subconscious," or "unconscious," is also fallacious.
Thus, they have thrown "the baby out with the bathwater." The insight that our memory works below the level of consciousness pre-dates Freud by over 1500 years!
William Law in his book, The Power of the Spirit, written in the early 1700's and recently re-edited by Dave Hunt, states, "Memory is the faithful repository ("a place where things are deposited and stored")3 of all the fine things that self has ever done, and lest any of them should be lost or forgotten, memory is continually setting them before self's eyes... Imagination, as the last and truest support of self, lays unseen worlds at his feet, and crowns him with secret revenges and fancied honors. This is that natural self that must be denied and crucified, or there can be no disciple of Christ."4 Law lived 200 years before Freud!
Law's statements are particularly interesting, because memory and imagination are precisely the two words philosophers have used for centuries to describe the subconscious or the unconscious.5
Great Books of the Western World states, "Memory is knowledge of past particulars." Its primary function is retention. Recollection occurs through activating connections which have been formed and retaining them. This can happen by chance recall or by purposeful pursuit of the past."6
The following is a secular history of the subconscious. While we do not adhere to some of the philosophies of these gentlemen, this survey does show that the idea of the subconscious far precedes Freud.
Since the early 1600's, the Western world has rediscovered the idea of the unconscious "that had long been taken for granted in Greek and Christian writings."7 In fact, the idea of an unconscious goes back to Augustine (a.d. 354-430), who believed memory extended beyond the grasp of the conscious mind.8 "Nothing can be utterly forgotten if, as Augustine suggests, what seems to be forgotten remains in the memory."9 "The ancients speak of the memory as a storehouse of images. Every variety of thing which can be perceived can be stored up in the memory."10 Augustine lived 1500 years before Freud!
Then came Aquinas (1225-1274 a.d.), who developed a theory of the mind covering "processes in the soul of which we are not aware."11 Most mystics of that time assumed that insights are gained by a process of inner reception in which the conscious mind is passive.12 This was about 600 years before Freud!
Around the 1600's, the West recognized these unconscious mental processes and began seeking to scientifically validate the unconscious and the separation of the conscious mind from material processes. The purpose of this was to link conscious awareness and behavior with a system of processes of which one is not immediately aware and to establish this connection without losing the benefits of scientific precision.13 This was around the time of Descartes, who lived 300 years before Freud!
After Descartes (1637), acceptance of the validity of the subconscious became widespread, and by the close of the 19th century this view was popular in Germany and Britain and, to a lesser extent, in France. "The existence of the unconscious had become a common assumption of educated and psychological discussions."14 Ralph Cudworth (1678) wrote: "There may be some vital energy without clear consciousness or express attention-Our human souls are not always conscious of whatever they have in them...There is also a more interior kind of plastic power in the soul...whereby it is formative of its own cogitations, which it itself is not always conscious of...."15
Among the 17th and 18th century figures exploring the subconscious were Leibnitz, who thought that "ordinary perceptions were the summation of countless small ones, each of which we are not aware of, because they lie below the threshold"16; Rousseau (18th century), who tried to explore the subconscious of his own temperament; and J.G. Hamann, a German religious philosopher who also studied the deeper levels of his own mind as evidenced in his experiences of conversion, in the emotional life and in imaginative thinking. ("How much more the formation of our own ideas remain secret.")17
Between 1750 and 1830, a number of German philosophers and poets increasingly emphasized the emotional and dynamic aspects of the subconscious. Among them were: Herder, Goethe, Fichte, Hegel and Schelling.18 Other German thinkers in the 1880's who made the idea of an unconscious a "commonplace thing" were: Schopenhauer, C.G. Carus, Gustav Fechner, Eduard von Hartmann and Nietzsche.19 Hartmann (1869), anticipating Freud, wrote, "consciousness only touches the surface...."20 Even many of the romantic writers and poets in Germany and England echoed a sense of the powerful, dark, and yet creative aspects of the unconscious mind. Thus, J.P.T. Richler wrote, "The unconscious is really the largest realm in our minds...."21
This same theme is also alluded to in Francis Schaeffer's writings in the mid-1900's. "We are constantly brought face-to-face with the concept of the subconscious, which is the realization that man is more than that which is on the surface. All too often the evangelical Christian acts as though there is nothing to man except that which is above the surface...."22
Others who preceded Freud in the study of the subconscious were William Hamilton, student of medicine; psychiatrist H. Maudsley; and naturalist W.B. Carpenter (1879). During the 1870's several theories of unconscious organic memory were developed. And between 1880 and 1910, many physicians and philosophers in several different countries were concerned with the various aspects of the unconscious.23
This brief review of the history of the unconscious clearly demonstrates that "Freud was not the first to develop a systematic theory of conflicts in the unconscious."24
Believing that we do indeed have a subconscious (memory or unconscious) does not make one a "Freudian" or a "psycho-heretic!"
The Bible alludes many times to parts of our memory and experience that are not accessible to our conscious mind.
In Psalms 19:12-13, David asks God, "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret (covered up, closed up, hidden) faults...let them not have dominion over me...."
From whom are these faults secret? God? I think not. Ourselves? Yes, this is what David is imploring God to do; to show him and cleanse him from his secret faults. These are things that we have hidden away either out of ignorance or simply not wanting to deal with them. Only God, by His Spirit, can show us and cleanse us from them.
The Amplified Bible calls these faults "hidden and unconscious." Its publishers state in the foreword, "...amplification helps the English reader comprehend what the Hebrew and Greek listener understood as a matter of course."25
Psalm 139:23-24 follows this same line of reasoning, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me...." Again David is asking God to expose any "secret, unknown faults" in him, so he can confess and repent of them. And Psalm 51:6 states, "Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me know wisdom." Here, David refers not only to "inward parts," but also to "hidden parts" of our internal architecture. What is he referring to, if there really is no hidden place or secret place?
And in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, what are the "strongholds" that Paul is talking about? Are these strongholds simply conscious attitudes and physical behaviors that we have? Or, could these also be the secret, hidden faults that David asks God to cleanse him of in Psalm 19:12?
Paul also refers to a "root of bitterness" in Hebrews 12:15. We understand that a "root" is something hidden or covered up. Often we are not even aware that a "root of bitterness" has sprung up in us until God, by His Spirit, points it out.
Then, of course, there is the undeniably clear Scripture in Jeremiah 17:9 which tells us that not only is our human heart "deceitful above all things, and desperately [incurably] wicked," but, "who can know it?" No one but God can understand the wickedness of our hearts. In other words, there are things in our hearts that are hidden and secret, even to us!
Daniel 2:30, Psalm 44:21 and 1 Corinthians 14:25 present this same line of thinking. God is the only One who "knoweth the secrets of our hearts" because He is the only One who can see, search and try our hearts.26
Among other Scriptures that hint at covered, closed and hidden things that we are not even aware of are Deuteronomy 7:20, Acts 8:21-23, Psalm 16:7 and Ezekiel 14:1-6.
The Hidden Chambers of the Bible (cheder) rd,x,
Is the idea of a subconscious, where "secret faults" are hidden, Biblical? The actual word "subconscious" or "unconscious" is not used in our translations. The Hebrew word found in Scripture is cheder, which means the innermost part, the hidden chambers, the inward part or the secret place. Of the over 38 Scriptures that use the word cheder, over half refer to a secret, hidden, innermost chamber or parlor. Here are a few examples:
Proverbs 20:27, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts (cheder ) of the belly." (Why would the spirit search our inward parts, if not to reveal hidden sin in us, to us?);
Proverbs 18:8, "The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts (cheder ) of the belly." (If there is no "secret place" or "hidden chambers," where is this "innermost part"? This is also quoted in Proverbs 26:22); Proverbs 20:30, "The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil; so do stripes the inward parts (cheder) of the belly." (What does God mean, if we don't really have an innermost part or hidden chambers where evil can hide?);
And, Proverbs 24:4, Only "by [intimate] knowledge (daath) shall the chambers (cheder) be filled with all precious and pleasant riches." (Intimate knowledge of God happens internally-in our soul. How, then, can these " chambers" be filled with "all precious and pleasant riches," if there really isn't an "innermost part"?)
Psalm 51:6 seems to follow this same line of thinking. David says "...in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom." (God wants this hidden part-this secret place-cleansed of "secret faults" and then filled with all precious and pleasant riches; i.e., God's Wisdom.)
Among other provocative Scriptures that use the word cheder are Ezekiel 8:12, Deuteronomy 32:25, Proverbs 7:27 and 2 Chronicles 18:24.
Two Extremes Among Christians
The Church is really experiencing two extremes right now. On the one hand, many orthodox Christians believe and teach that all we need to do in order to "deal with" our hurts, painful past experiences and fears is to simply appropriate the fact that Christ died for our sins and has risen from the dead to live His Life out in us. They feel the idea of "hidden chambers" or a "secret place" where we hide and bury our hurts, fears and insecurities is purely a Freudian idea and must be discarded. They teach that all we are supposed to do is just forgive and love others because of God's Love and forgiveness to us.
At the other extreme, we encounter Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who believe and teach that the only way we can deal with our hurts, past experiences and fears is by going through years of in-depth therapy, inner healing, visualization, healing of the memories, etc.
Both extremes leave the person with more hurts and on the road to frustration. No wonder there is such confusion, division and ignorance in the Body of Christ today.
While we do not adhere at all to psychology or psychiatry as God's answer to dealing with our sin,27 we do believe Scripture teaches us that we have a secret place - an innermost part, hidden chambers - where we bury our hurts, fears and insecurities if we don't know how to give them to God. These are things that are too painful to retain in our consciousness, so we push them down, bury them and try to forget them. These hidden things, then, can eventually motivate and influence our actions.
Results of These Two Extremes
The results of both these two extreme ways of thinking are similar. The orthodox way of thinking does put Jesus in the center as our only true healer.28 But if they don't allow Him to expose and deal with the root causes of our problems (because they don't believe we have a hidden part), and simply concern themselves with the symptoms, then those symptoms will return again and again.
We are not saying that everything we think and feel has a hidden root cause, but we do believe that much of what makes us bitter and angry and fearful does. As a result of seeing our symptoms return, we end up discouraged, depressed and convinced that God doesn't love us, because He hasn't answered our prayers-He hasn't taken these things from us. And, of course, Satan rejoices!
Similar results occur with the Christian psychologist's or psychiatrist's viewpoint. Many of these counselors and doctors do not put Jesus in the center as the only true Healer of our souls, but rather the therapy itself. All we are doing in our counseling sessions, then, is reprogramming those same negative hurts, fears and insecurities right back into our hidden chambers, where they become even more tenacious strongholds for the enemy. As a result, we again end up discouraged, depressed and convinced that God doesn't love us, because he hasn't answered our prayers-He hasn't taken these things away from us. And once again, Satan rejoices!
We need to understand how to allow the Spirit of God to work in our whole person, not only the conscious part of us where we experience many of the "symptoms" of our problems, but also the "hidden, secret part" of us where many of the roots of our problems lie. If we don't allow the Spirit of God to point out the roots, many of our symptoms will return again and again (as in the two above ways of thinking).
What is needed in the Christian body is: 1) to put Jesus in the center as our only true Healer. Because only Jesus can see our hearts; only He can show us the real "root causes" of our problems; only He can remove them "as far as the east is from the west"; only He can align our feelings with our choices and make us genuine; and only He can give us the Love we need to go on as if nothing has happened.29 And, 2) to allow Jesus, by His Spirit to expose, cleanse and heal our hidden and secret faults, so that God can completely remove these roots from us and we can truly be healed.
At this point, we will be able to let Christ live His Life out through us and we will be able to genuinely love and forgive others as Christ would have us do. We needn't wait, by the way, until all our problems and hurts are dealt with before God can live His Life out through us.
If we can choose to give over to God, any root of bitterness, unforgiveness, unbelief, fear, etc. (whatever God shows us), then His Life and His Love will flow through us in a new and powerful way. As a result, we'll experience an intimacy with Him that we haven't known before-experiencing more of His Love not only for ourselves, but "unconditionally" for others.
Man has recognized for a long time that a substantial portion of our memory lies below the conscious level and through the ages it has been given many names. This idea did not originate with Freud. It is Biblical and it appears to be parallel to what the Hebrew calls the "innermost part" or "the hidden chambers" (cheder)- the place where secret faults are stored.
So, as Christians we don't have to work at cleaning up our past as psychology teaches, but simply giving God permission to expose, in the present, the whole man-not only our conscious sins, but also our secret faults. Once He brings up the roots and they are dealt with as He would have us to do, then He will remove them "as far as the east is from the west" and we will truly be healed.
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Portions of this article have been taken from Nan's book, Be Ye Transformed.