We must not worship the false god Therapy

From a talk given by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury to a convention organised by Billy Graham and held in Amsterdam
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Let us look first at our world. A wonderful world, a beautiful world, God's world. No true Christian ever despises the world. We love it; we exalt in it; we cherish it. And we love humanity made in God's image.

Let us look first at our world. A wonderful world, a beautiful world, God's world. No true Christian ever despises the world. We love it; we exalt in it; we cherish it. And we love humanity made in God's image.

But, alongside all these things, the world is certainly broken. We all know it. Not for nothing did Sir Isaiah Berlin speak of the "the broken timber of humanity". As a lapsed Jew, he knew that the magnificent capabilities of human nature had been shattered. Berlin believed the answer to this lay in an affirmation of a gospel of agnostic liberalism because - as he saw it - no one discipline, no one religion, can possibly convey the whole truth.

Yet, from a Christian perspective, such an analysis is badly flawed, relying as it does on an over-optimistic view of humanity. The brokenness of our world goes far deeper than that.

Sin is depicted by St Paul in three graphic pictures: sin enslaves, sin kills, sin reigns. The Greek verb, "basileuo" (meaning "to reign") occurs five times in one brief passage by him. Three times it is used of the reign of sin, and twice of God's people reigning in life through Christ's victory on the cross. The language depicts a world in which evil triumphs and reigns as a tyrant unless Christ's victory is accepted. And, if we look at the world, we can be in no doubt whatsoever about the destructive might of sin!

And yet human nature tries to run away from the truth. Rather, the reign of sin disguises itself and seeks to shift the centre of attention elsewhere. Thus, while the predicament of human nature is so clearly shown in our powerlessness over wrongdoing and our consequent need for radical transformation in Christ, we seek solutions in things which, though good in themselves, are no substitute for Christ. Indeed, they are false gods.

Western culture today is obsessed with three alternative "saviours", therapy, education and wealth, among many others. None can provide lasting healing for our broken world.

First, therapy. Our society is fascinated with the healing of the body and mind. Its unspoken assumption is that if we can but keep in tune with the wellbeing of our inner selves, all will be well. Of course, there is nothing wrong with many therapeutic practices, and Christ was the supreme example of a whole person, at one with Himself. Yet therapy can easily fail to face up to the reality of sin in our lives. And when therapy replaces faith and when therapeutic techniques are seen as the total answer to humanity's deepest needs and longings, another idolatry is introduced.

That idolatry reveals itself when it replaces the gospel by focusing solely on satisfying "my happiness, my needs, and my desires". Christ the "saviour" is then replaced by Christ the "counsellor", missing the appeal to a holy God and his call to us to turn to him in repentance and faith.

Or, we look to education to repair the world's brokenness. Now, education is rightly seen as a major way of bringing communities out of poverty. But when education is seen as the answer to mankind's problems, then serious troubles begin. Indeed, one asks: why is it that, in spite of universal education in first-world countries, there is such crime, vandalism and breakdown of family life? Why is it also that education does not meet the loneliness of the human heart and the feelings of guilt?

But what of that other pseudo-saviour, wealth? Without wealth-creation, societies cannot prosper. It is true, of course, as Paul Getty once said, that "money does not bring happiness - but, oh boy, doesn't it keep the children in touch!"

But it is a false god when wealth, riches and possessions become the ultimate aims of life. In church life, too, we know of its insidious temptations. Think of the number of telly evangelists for whom the lure of money has become an inescapable part of their gospel! Despite its attractions, wealth cannot solve the problems of humanity. We need a better saviour.