“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

The book of Judges in the Old Testament was written many centuries ago and closes with the verse above. That such words could be written so long ago in the history of the people of Israel would seem to indicate that our modern or post-modern experience with selfish relativism is not particularly new. If fact, this state of affairs has its roots in humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve, who ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to be like God (Genesis 3:1-5). Instead of becoming like God, however, they became like the devil. Ever since, whatever sinful human beings consider to be right in their own eyes is only ever seen from the standpoint of their sin, which is anything but right. Tragically, every human being is born blinded by sin.

A member of the church recently gave me an article from the “Houses of Worship” column in The Wall Street Journal (06 December 2019) written by a Jewish psychoanalyst named Erica Komisar. Entitled, “Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children,” Ms. Komisar cites a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology which found, “Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation.” She also reports that “nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religion.” Her advice to parents with no formal belief system who want to help their children prepare for the brutality and barbarism (my words) of our modern/post-modern world is to lie to their children, if necessary, about the benefits of participating in religion so that their children will acquire the goodness which religion can instill. That is a remarkable strategy.

As well intended as this advice might be, it seems fundamentally flawed. First, as the title, “Psychoanalysis: A Servant of Truth,” of opening chapter in Neville Symington’s book, The Analytic Experience (London: Free Association Books, 1986), would seem to indicate, truth is foundational for psychoanalysis in the pursuit of mental health. Second, trying to raise children to be well-adjusted, upright, contributing, moral citizens through lies seems self-contradictory at best. Third, it can be traumatic enough for children as they mature to become cognizant of their parents’ own flaws and hypocrisies. To discover also that their good religious upbringing was merely a parental ploy could potentially destroy their world view and leave them abandoned to themselves. In her own eyes, however, Ms. Komisar believes that she is doing right.

Another Jewish religious leader remarkably adept at analyzing the human psyche and the sinful state of human affairs offered a more radical proposal when he asserted, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This radical proposal sought not to make better parents or to achieve more well-adjusted children. Tinkering with human sin along moral or psychological or societal or religious lines always ends in failure, the death of every living man, woman, and child. Instead, this proposal sought to penetrate to the core of human sin and its fruits by assuming the sin of every man, woman, and child and in exchange granting every one of us moribund sinners true righteousness, new life, and the promise of eternal life, apart from the efforts of human religion.

The truth is that all human religions are sinful human constructs devised and designed to gain favour with the gods and to justify one’s own sin through one’s own efforts. In religion “everyone [does] what [is] right in his own eyes” collectively and then projects this collective self-righteousness onto some “god” or “gods.” Such was the case too in Jesus’ day. “It was Caiaphas [the high priest] who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people” (John 18:14). So, sinful humanity, Jew and Gentile together, brutally crucified the son of man who was not only perfectly one with his father but who gave himself not to adjust or to improve sinful humanity but to save it from itself.

Truth be told, the greatest gift that a parent can give a child is the gift that God the Father gives to all his lost children. That gift is his only begotten son who by virtue of his cross and resurrection justifies us sinners in the eyes of God and thereby frees us from the powers of sin and death. This liberation from sin and death is accomplished by faith alone in the word of Christ alone, because “if the Son should set you free (eleutheroo), you will truly be free (eleutheroi)” (John 8:36).