The Apostle Paul noted in his letter to the church in Rome that the human condition is such that, by varying degrees, we take the truths of God and turn them into lies. (Rom. 1:25) At a conscious level, we think we are wise doing so, he says, but we are just making ourselves into fools. In the end, as an old proverb declares, there is a way that seems wise to the fool, but the end is destruction and death. (Prov. 14:12)
How is this so? How is it that we take God’s truths and turn them into lies? And what happens when we do?
Timothy Treadwell lived with grizzly bears for thirteen years in Alaska. He ventured to not only get to know them but to get physically close, even touching them. He founded the Grizzly People and his life and work were memorialized in the 2005 documentary film Grizzly Man.
Timothy had become an alcoholic after he lost the role of Woody Boyd in the sitcom Cheers. For Timothy, alcohol greased the skids for heroin. But then he became fascinated by bears. He believed he had a calling to rescue grizzlies from poachers and protect them for the future—and believed that his relationship with those bears redeemed him from his addictions. Even though he travelled around the United States to teach high school students about bears, Timothy supposedly hated modern civilization and people, and felt more at home with nature. Still, by 2001, Timothy had become enough of a celebrity to appear on television programs like Discovery, David Letterman’s show, and Dateline NBC—engaging and teaching the very civilization he couldn’t stand.
In 2003, Timothy decided to push the limits with bears even further. He went to Alaska again, this time with his girlfriend Amie, who feared the bears but still went with him. Timothy stayed in the park a bit later in the fall than usual when the bears feed more intensely to gain fat for hibernation during the winter. But the limited sources of food heading into winter typically cause the bears to be even more aggressive. And bears other than grizzlies unfamiliar to Timothy came to the area looking for food as well. According to a colleague who valued his work, Timothy didn’t use certain standard safety precautions like an electric fence around his camp or pepper spray.
On October 5th, Timothy had talked with a friend and noted everything was fine. The next day, the air taxi pilot landed to pick up Timothy and his girlfriend. What he found was a horrific bloodbath. A brown bear had eaten him and his girlfriend. Body parts were strewn and fingers and limbs were found inside the bear’s body. A camera that had somehow been turned on for the last several minutes of their lives recorded the bloodcurdling screams of torment as they were being eaten alive.
I didn’t have Timothy or Amie in my office for analysis prior to their deaths. So there is so much I do not know about them. So much. Yet, sadly, I know a lot. I say sadly because Timothy, and Amie with him, are us. They represent you and me and our human condition. They do so in a veiled way however. They are not evil people in the way we normally use the term “evil,” like the more obvious evil within Adolf Hitler. In fact, they both strike one as being sincere…though naively sincere. Seems they meant no harm to anyone.
And Timothy loved nature. I identify. In my upcoming book to be published May, 2015, Faith of a Father: A Father’s Open Letter to his Daughter, I share how I myself much prefer being in the woods with Mother Nature than in the concrete and asphalt jungles we’ve built for ourselves. I do feel at times one with nature which no doubt Timothy experienced as well. Maybe I feel at one because I was taken from her dust and to her dust I shall return. Or perhaps I feel at one because I didn’t have a mother who cared for me and “Mother Nature” gave me some sense of feminine beauty and solace. Or perhaps I feel at one because I understand the more masculine, testosterone-driven violence built into her. Like the grizzlies, I have my own aggression that emerges when I feel my needs and wants are threatened. Just ask my wife. Like Timothy, I project myself onto nature as Timothy did with the bears. He saw himself in those grizzlies. His inner hatred and invisible emotional violence toward people was no doubt mirrored in those very bears he was inexplicably drawn to.
In a cultured society, the veils over our spiritual condition know almost no limits. From gorgeous nightgowns, thousand dollar suits, charm, wit, intelligence, smooth as silk conversations, beautiful architecture, to simple courtesies and socially acceptable placement of our forks, spoons, and knives, we present ourselves well. Very well. And most enculturated human beings are indeed good people. Doggone it, I’d like to think I’m a good person. And my children and grandchildren are good people. And we good people work hard at life. We try our best. Like Timothy and Amie we are sincere; we are people of integrity.
But we lie. We are all liars. I say that about myself and my wife, so I don’t say it in the abstract or as if I am in some preferred position. In fact, my entire clinical practice rests on that fact. I don’t like it. In fact, I can’t stand it. But it’s true. Everyone I work with in counseling and depth therapy denies truths within themselves. They lie to themselves. Everyone…without exception. We lie to ourselves so well we don’t know we are lying…that is, consciously. But we know deeper inside. Still, we consciously fool ourselves into thinking we are speaking the truth to ourselves. The fact is three-quarters of my work in therapy is in dealing with people’s self-lying—their defenses against truth. Truths they have long hidden from themselves about themselves, or their families growing up, or the way life really is. In my profession, such work is called the “analysis of defenses.” Within a secular frame, we use defenses to run from the truth because the truth is painful. We have evolved with pain receptors wired into our brains connecting us to our bodies and to our emotions. We dodge physical and emotional pain, sometimes at all cost.
I don’t know the emotional pain Timothy was running from, but no doubt he was running hard and fast. He ran from the pain of rejection in his audition for Cheers, and whatever that rejection represented for him. He ran from life in his addictions. And he projected whatever he was running from in his heart onto the bears. In taking such risk in touching the bears, he was trying desperately to touch his own heart. But he had no idea how to really get to it. Besides, he was too scared; the bears were actually less scary.
Within a Biblical frame, however, the game of lying to ourselves is much bigger than dodging pain—though that would certainly be enough reason to lie to ourselves. The Apostle Paul said that we don’t only take the truths of life but we take the truths of God and turn them into lies. I could never prove—though the scientist in me would like to—that all the ways people run from truth is not only running from their physical and emotional pains, but also from the quiet pain screaming out at them from deep within that we are in unimaginable trouble with the God who is really there. The Apostle Paul clearly had that in mind in his letter. Somewhere in his clouded consciousness, so did Timothy. So do we all. (Rom. 1:18ff)
In believing we all lie to ourselves, the Apostle Paul stood on Moses’ shoulders. According to Moses, the Big Lie happened at the dawn of the human race—and we’ve all participated in that lie since. And that Big Lie may have started all the lies we all tell ourselves. Moses used simple symbols similar to other pagan myths on human beginnings—like a tree, garden, and snake—to tell the story. However, talking about violence in bears, Moses made the drama between God and the human race look incomprehensibly violent.
As the story goes, there was a tree in the middle of the garden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam and Eve—the name “Adam” meaning “mankind”—to not eat its fruit or even touch it. If they did, they’d die. But this couple chose to believe the lie that they would never die.
Standing on the platform of that lie—not willing to face the reality presented to them—they chose to engage evil. In doing so, they entered the universal drama of good versus evil. The race’s engagement of evil—our first choice to sin so to speak—became the “original” sin. Thus our “fall” into evil.
God had set up life so that engaging evil would bring what he warned. Candidly, when I went to seminary decades ago as a young man, I was shocked with this reality. God’s reaction was not to scold Adam and Eve. Instead, he delivered what he had promised—death. As its prelude, however, they’d have to suffer. For the woman, suffering came in the form of childbearing pain. And for the man, as hard labor in the struggle for survival. (Genesis 3:16-19) These examples of suffering no doubt represented all the struggles—and all the suffering—that life would throw at us. So the idea was that God was “punishing” us by having us suffer through our existence—an existence now made miserably short. We’d have to die. Moses made all this very clear:
Then God said to the woman:
I will cause you to have much trouble
When you are pregnant,
And when you give birth to children,
You will have great pain.
Then God said to the man, “You listened to what your wife said, and you ate fruit from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat. “So I will put a curse on the ground, and you will have to work very hard for your food. In pain you will eat its food all the days of your life.
The ground will produce thorns and weeds for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will sweat and work hard for your food.
Later you will return to the ground,
because you were taken from it.
You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust.”
(Gen. 3:17-19, NCV; italics mine)
Coming from Adam, we had all mysteriously become slaves to the Big Lie and to the sin that followed in its wake. Given that my own mother had been an alcoholic who had not invested in me emotionally, and given that my father had abused me emotionally, I knew only too well we were slaves to sin. Slavery to dark forces fit my reality. And I knew intimately my own struggles to free myself from the stranglehold of those dark forces—forces that wrapped themselves in and around the depths of my psyche much like a brain tumor wrapping itself in and around the neurons of one’s brain. Besides, like the Apostle Paul, I knew—and felt—the struggles with the more “normal neurotic” conflicts of choosing between good and evil within us. So believing we were slaves to ungodly perverse forces within us was easy; I was already a slave. So were my parents. Over the years, I had paid a dear price for that slavery. So Moses was right. The consequences of my slavery were terrible. But I hadn’t anticipated the fuller meaning given to our slavery to evil. The way God set up life, we’d end up suffering and dying because we sinned. I was taken aback; actually, I was shocked. I hadn’t put evil and death together before…not like that. But Moses had. And so did the Apostle Paul. For both Moses and Paul, we suffer and die because we chose to indulge in evil. (Rom. 5:12) And we chose to indulge because we believed the Big Lie that we’d never suffer and die for our choice.
So, in one creative way or another, we’re all Timothies. We all reach out to touch the bear rather than deal with our real knowledge of our inexplicably troubled relationship with God buried deep in our hearts. We all lie. In doing so, we proclaim ourselves wise but instead become fools whose end is destruction. So in Adam—just like Timothy—suffering and death are eating us alive. Except our bloodcurdling screams are silent.