Positive Psychology and the Christian Salvation

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” — Luke 7:47, NIV

In recent times, the field of positive psychology has been criticised for over-emphasising on positivity and individualism while ignoring social and structural factors that influences individual outcomes [1]. Out of these criticisms, the second wave of positive psychology was given birth. The second wave takes into consideration the times when positive psychology subjects may not have a positive intention. It recognises the need to engage with the difficulties of life as these difficulties can actually be useful and valuable in some respects and be conducive to flourishing [2]. In fact, current studies aims to help people learn ways to experience more positive emotion on the daily basis even when life is stressful [3]. Now, if we were to consider that there are three different types of happiness in the human experience — the pleasant life, the engaged life, and the meaningful life [4], what is that one thing that will make one’s life truly happy?

If we were to consider the Christian Utopian Community as the benchmark of happiness on the ground of the Christian faith — “all the believers were one in heart and mind”, and “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32&34, NIV) — then the rootedness in faith and the teachings of the apostles is the reason why early Christians were engaged.  Likewise, the rootedness in the call of Christ’s final command meant that the early Christians led meaningful lives. The ability to bask in the glory of constant miracles and experiences of God’s power meant that the early Christians were constantly in the state of pleasure (manifested through fear [5]).

As perfect as the Christian Utopia may sound, there seem to be a critical aspect of the human experience missing — the recognition that we are all humans. And humans are shit (and downright sinful [6]). On the surface of the literature, the collective holiness of the early church seem to conveniently disregard the sinful nature of the human experience. Adding to the this, Luke wrote about how God punished Ananias and Sapphira for their dishonesty in the offering (Acts 5:1-10, NIV). Does this God sound too good to be real? Why isn’t He punishing people for similar “sins” in the modern church? Either that, or are we missing part of the story?

In the hopes of helping people thrive and flourish, modern psychology looks both to the positive and negative so as to allow for a broader scope of interventions [2]. Now, if we were to consider the Christian theological framework from this perspective, does that mean that Christian Hedonism [7] should be built on the human experience of sin?

No doubt, when Jesus was anointed by Mary Magdalene in Luke 7, Jesus explains through a parable that the one whose many sins were forgiven will love more while the one whose little sins were forgiven will love lesser. On the surface of the literature, does that mean grace-experienced is positively correlated to sins-forgiven? What about sins-not-forgiven? Paul explained in Romans 5 that law was introduced by God to increase trespasses. And with the increase of sin, grace will likewise be increased. Now, if we were to consider sin to be a necessity for salvation, then why does the church teaches believers to flee from it?

I believe that the concept of sin is not just the innate desire to rebel against God. Rather, it is the innate inability to meet God’s righteous requirements due to the hidden brokenness that we all carry within us. It is not about eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, it is the constant thinking about it. It is who we are. And for the matter, I firmly believe that God had His mind wrapped around this truth already when He created the first human from dust. He knew about the brokenness. He knew about us missing the mark. He knew how much we needed Him. He also knew how sin would be a necessity to bring out the awesome nature of His all-encompassing grace.

To flee from sin or the nature of it is to deny oneself and to deny God’s salvation in its totality. To flee from sin is to deny the fact that we are humans and we are shit in every aspect of it. Heck, if we are so good, why then do we need God in the first place? Why deny God-seeking individuals from church for their petty little “crime” like homosexuality, pre-marital sex, divorce, drugs-related crimes, domestic abuse, etc? Sure, the entire Bible tells us to flee from sin. But they were all from the prophets and the epistles. How would you know if their writings were not influenced by cultural backgrounds and were solely words from God? Which of them are from Christ Himself? Sure, God condemns people for their adultery and idolatry. But does He give them the opportunity to repent before any form of judgement and punishment? Surely He does!

Even though positive psychology only aims to help people thrive and lead flourishing lives, we all know that the concept of thriving in life require a certain scale of measurement. Can that be self-reported [8]? Can it be heart-rate [9]? Can it be finding implicit associations [10]? Or is it something more tangible? Something like, the ability to be one’s own self while knowing that through the resurrection of Christ, we will one day be back to where we belong?

Here I would like to clarify that I am not condoning repeated sins. Rather, I am saying that the ability to be one’s own self liberate the individual from social-contractual obligations to be someone whom he is not. And while being liberated, he basks in the light of He who let light shine out of darknesses; opening us to the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV). It is this transformative light, accompanied with the liberating truth of being able to be oneself, that is able to set oneself free.

How can you ever be made whole in Christ (Colossians 2:10) if we were forced to deny ourselves from recognising our sinful past? On the contrary, we are only able to be made complete in Christ when we recognise how sinful we inherently were, are, and will be, and how He forgave it all (Colossians 2:13-14).

Do not disregard sin in our fight to attain salvation. Rather, dive into the moment and watch God lift you up from every single hole that you have dug for yourselves.

Remember. It is when you recognise the Truth, then the Truth will set you free.

References:

[1] – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247933233_The_Negative_Side_of_Positive_Psychology

[2] – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/second-wave-positive-psyc_b_10218316

[3] – https://undark.org/2018/05/01/whats-wrong-with-positivity/

[4] – https://theskillcollective.com/blog/the-3-types-of-happiness

[5] – The Fear of the Lord that will ultimately lead to Christian Hedonism.

[6] – The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? — Jeremiah 17:9, NIV.

[7] – https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-christian-hedonism

[8] – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00286474

[9] – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01630/full

[10] – https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

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