These days with the Covid-19 pandemic/endemic so much a factor in our lives, we are more apt than usual to question our human immune system. The word “immunity” occupies more space in our thought process than perhaps ever before.
Britannica.com defines immunity as “the ability of an individual to recognize the ‘self’ molecules that make up one's own body and to distinguish them from such ‘nonself’ molecules as those found in infectious microorganisms and toxins.”
Let’s think about this now in a bit broader perspective.
It’s easy enough to grasp the concept in High School Biology class of how the body has this inner wisdom to recognize itself and protect it from foreign objects that seem toxic and in need of our resistance and rejection. Perhaps over time you’ve come to learn what people go through who receive an organ transplant from another donor. These recipients must take medicine to suppress their natural immune system so their body doesn’t go into “rejection” against that transplanted organ. Or you may have known people who go through the process of limb amputation. These amputees commonly experience “phantom” limb pain, or other sensations like itching as if the limb were still attached. The body fights to hold on to what is “self” and to reject what is “other.”
But what if the mind works in this same way?
What if the mind has its own psychic immune system that aims to hold on to what is “self” and to reject what is “other?” What if the person we identify ourselves as being is protected by a defense mechanism that casts out a different identity?
Many of us know about “cognitive dissonance,” but in a similar way I have found when working with persons in my own counseling or psychotherapy practice that what we say about ourselves identifies our psychic immune system. We fight, as human beings, to hold on to what we say we are and to reject that which we might simply refer to as “other.” The most important words within the human mind are those that follow “I am…………”
In philosophy one might follow the French rationalist, Rene Descartes, in believing that “I think, therefore I am.” In psychology one might follow, in like fashion, the Swiss analyst, Carl Jung, in believing that “as I am, so I act.” In my own experience working with troubled individuals who think they are “less than” or “not good enough” it becomes quite evident that their feelings and behaviors are conditioned by their beliefs about the “self” their psychic immune system must then act to protect and preserve. We who think we are bad do bad things to protect our bad “self” from incoming threats to change us.
We may be familiar with the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” enough to understand that we humans tend to get what we expect of ourselves. And others, for that matter. If we expect failure, we get failure. If we expect success, we get success. Our minds and bodies go to work maintaining the very thing we believe to be true. If I say “I am…….a failure,” I’ll actually work at failing if only to preserve my “self” and protect it against the “other” that is rendered a foreign object or invasive toxin or germ.
If you’re following me here, imagine what it’s like for me as a Pastor who then hears people in church confessing words such as “I am……..a sinner.” It’s but a hop, skip and jump for Christians to go from believing they are sinners to then believing they are unworthy of God’s love and, for that matter, unable to do good works. To me as a therapist/pastor, not much else is as cringe-worthy as hearing a person say “I am a born sinner who can only please God by praying the sinner’s prayer and accepting Jesus as my Savior.”
To be fair, I do view Jesus as my Savior as well.
However, such an acceptance of Jesus as my Savior means something very different to me in my older years than it did when I was younger.
I used to believe I was indeed a sinner who displeased and angered God. Years ago I even believed in the old Roman Catholic and then Calvinist Protestant line about going to hell when I died and there being tortured by God through all eternity if I failed to ask forgiveness for being who I was: a sinner. I used to fear God. And I used to believe that the only reason God would even consider forgiving me for being a sinner is that Jesus, his only begotten Son, was brutally tortured in my place so his blood could miraculously wash away my sin and saved me from having to be tortured for eternity in hell. I then believed I was unworthy and only Christ was worthy. What’s more, I then called myself a Christian.
With some age, and I’d like to think wisdom, I’ve come to accept Jesus as my Savior who saves me from Christianity. I’ve repented of my sin of calling myself a sinner. I’ve repented of my sin of believing that God is to ever be feared, or believing that I could both fear and love God at the same time (the two are mutually exclusive not just according to good psychology but also good theology). Consider I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” When Jesus asks us to be perfect as God is perfect, He means we are to be perfect in love. Which involves obeying the good advice presented dozens of times in the Bible: “fear not.”
Jesus, my Savior, uses the word we translate as “save” in English (from the Greek word sozo) in only one context. Had nothing to do with believing nor confessing nor asking for God’s forgiveness. Nor even his own death by crucifixion. It had only to do with taking up our own cross and following Him.
What died on my own cross was my Christian identity as being “a sinner” saved by my believing in Christ's cross instead of my own. As this heresy died and I stopped calling myself a sinner saved by anything less than identifying with Christ and following him, I experienced a miraculous transformation and repentance. I found myself free to love as never before. The more I have identified myself as “a lover” after the example of Jesus Christ, the more I’ve found myself saved from my own fears and frustrations; i.e., my sins.
It seems reasonable to me that we who take up our cross and follow Christ begin this process into alignment with God’s “I am….” or image in which we are created. In my book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I refer to this process as resetting our default from the world’s “fear” to our factory setting of “love.” Baptism, as I write there in my spiritual autobiography, was for me an act of going into my Settings and changing my identity to become a little Christ both in crucifixion and resurrection.
So let’s think again about God’s gift of immunity for the body. If that includes also the mind and soul, the absolute worst thing we can call our “selves” is “sinners.” Sinners are immune to the “sozos” Jesus offers His disciples. Sinners remain sinful and fearful, while resisting love’s threat to take its place. What if we instead remember our baptism? What if we instead renounce the identity this world gave us as “sinners” and accept God’s prevenient grace backing up to our factory default Setting?
What if we repent and call ourselves the “lovers” that we truly are in God’s “I AM” imagery.
Then what could God’s gift of our immune system empower (and save) us for in today’s world of pandemic/endemic fear?