I just got back from the Caribbean. My father-in-law celebrated his 70th birthday by taking his family on a seven day cruise, and it was a fabulous time. I have several reflections regarding this cruise and will take a little bit of time to visit them in the next few days/posts.
My kids never have been on a cruise. This was my third. To say that my children were a little overwhelmed would be a slight understatement. They were absolutely amazed by the experience, and my joy on this cruise was simply watching them as they experienced new thing after new thing after new thing.
Of course, there were a few not-so-new things: like swimming. We swam every day of the cruise whether on ship or at the beach. The kids love swimming.
My son; however, is not a strong swimmer. He's still in the beginning of learning, and for the first couple of times we went to the pool, we did not take his swim jacket. Instead, he spent his time jumping from the edge of the pool into my arms. Over and over and over again, he would jump and have me push him to the side. He never tired of this little game. Of course, I got a little tired of it. You can only get splashed in the eyes with salt water so much before you need a break--much to my son's chagrin.
"Daddy, catch me!" he would say as I stopped for a breather. And before you knew it, he was hurling himself toward me knowing I would catch him. He never feared going under because he knew I was there to lift him up and get him to safety.
Sigmund Freud said that humankind invented God to be such a safety net--at least psychologically. In our despair; in our times of frustration; in our times of unknowing; in our times of a felt need of assistance; we could turn to a heavenly "father figure" who would emotionally help us through certain situations. He believed a sign of maturity was getting past this need to the point which we could rely upon ourselves and face situations without the need of such a psychological crutch.
There are many who have argued, I think successfully, that one could turn Freud's argument around and say that atheism could also be seen as a psychological crutch in facing reality--a crutch in the sense of not having to deal with some sticky questions in the moral arena. But at this time, I do not want to go down that road.
Rather, I would like to ask a couple of questions:
1. Are there times when "crutches" are required?
2. Do we ever reach a point when we do not need a "crutch"?
To the first, I would argue--absolutely.
To the second, I would say--probably not.
My son definitely needs my help swimming at this point. If I, or someone else does not help him, he would drown. Period. He requires my presence to get him through this stage of swimming.
But what happens when he learns to swim on his own? Will he need me any longer? No. He won't. This is a step in maturation for certain.
But I do not think you can compare the maturation in achieving the ability to swim with the maturation in living what I would call the good life.
That last term deserves some defining, I think. I define the good life as a life lived to a particular moral standard: one who does not cheat, steal, kill, destroy--who seeks the greater good for his or her self and for others as well. Who is compassionate, kind, understanding, and respectful of others no matter how one is treated to the contrary. Who does not think only of one's self, but readily and willingly seeks the betterment of one's neighbor and tries to paint all one's neighbor does in a positive light. I could probably add a few things, but let this suffice for now.
Can anyone achieve this kind of life? Can anyone perfectly attain it? Can we as a species overcome our own, instinctive self-interest to become such people without assistance?
I personally do not believe so. I personally believe we need guidance, assistance, a crutch to lean on when we fail over and over and over. Other humans are inadequate in helping us achieve the good life, for in some way or another, no human being can live the perfect, good life.
But there was one who took on human flesh, lived among us, and achieved this kind of life. Christians call Him God incarnate: Jesus. He lived the life we should live, and rather than hold this achievement over our heads and look down upon us as inferior beings, He loved us and called us to follow Him. He looked upon our brokenness and our failings; He endured our misdeeds--misdeeds that cost Him His life, and rather than call for revenge, said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
I know my own misdeeds. I know my own brokenness. I know I cannot achieve the good life on my own. I know I fall far short of it. It would lead me to despair if I didn't know I had a crutch to lean on--a crutch of forgiveness; a crutch of grace.
I don't think it is a psychological one.
I think it's real and an absolute necessity for anyone who seeks to live the good life.