Ten years ago we flew to Europe to take part in our first European ministry trip. Our flight took us over Iceland and I remember looking down from the plane at these rather huge chunks of ice floating in the water below. Even from such a great distance in the air they still looked quite large. The truth though is even more startling, as you can see from the picture on the right! That only one eighth of the iceberg is actually above the water leaving seven eights below water and out of sight.
It reminded me of an article I was reading that stated that ‘our subconscious is much like an icebergs, seven eights of it is below the level of our consciousness’. Dr. Charles Mayo of the famous Mayo Clinic once reported that seventy-five percent of our human actions are controlled by our unconscious while twenty-five percent is controlled by our conscious thought. No wonder the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:19-21 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”
Our subconscious is a very powerful force, shaping who we are and what we do!
Each one of us have found ourselves struggling with these forces which are hidden deep within us that somehow control how we react to situations. Sigmund Freud has pointed out that some of our reactions are due in part to unconscious tendencies which come into direct conflict with our conscious intentions. For example, a woman who is very anxious to have children always reads the word ‘stock’ as ‘stork.’ It happens against her conscious will, because there is a deeper instinct which controls her reactions more that she realizes.
But lets say you have just become a Christian making your conscious mind to go in a entirely new direction. But deep within, out of sight, your unconscious mind is still going in the same old direction. Could it be that the reason many Christian’s struggle in life is because their subconscious is canceling out what the converted conscious mind is trying to do?
There is a documented story of a woman who at the age of three was closed up in a closet by a nurse. This produced an unconscious fear of the dark, shut-in places like subways, tunnels, narrow dimly lighted streets at night, somber shadows in the woods filled her with horror. But she was forced to travel. When her train was to pass through a long tunnel, her teeth would chatter for hours beforehand, her feet would be cold, her face white and set. With all her will she would restrain screams of wild anguish. And yet her intellect knew perfectly well that there was no more danger in the tunnel than when the train was speeding along the sun-lit tracks. The fears had dropped into her subconscious and there they worked havoc.
I wonder how many of us wake up in the morning tired because the conflict in our subconscious realms are working while we are asleep.
Jesus was well aware of this inner conflict when he said in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” Could Jesus be describing the existence of our unconscious desires and our ability to repress them, even to our denying their very existence.
Repression verses Confession
I have read where people have tried to repress these tendencies. But I can find nowhere in the New Testament where repression of our suppressed desires is advocated. All of us know that repressing the pains of old wounds never eliminates them and will not keep them from resurfacing at a most awkward time in our lives. Attempting to repress a distressing idea or memory from the field of conscious awareness will often times bring about the law of ‘Reversed Effort!’ Usually the conscious effort at repressing will bring about the opposite result.
If you try too hard to miss a pothole in the road while driving your car,
you’ll probably hit it.
But then, neither does confession get at the root of the matter. Admitting you drove into the pothole while attempting to miss it doesn’t help either. In fact 2000 years of confessional practice is useless if we do not understand the power of the subconscious within.
So if ‘repression’ and ‘confession’ do not touch the problem then what does? Could conversion be the answer? The answer would have to be ‘NO’ if it stops at the conversion of the conscious mind only! The conflict that rages within, as Paul mentions in Romans 7:19-21, will continue between the new life in the conscious and the old life in the subconscious. We must come to the understanding that the subconscious must be converted or we are not fully saved.
So! How Do We Convert the Subconscious Mind?
I am sure many of us have read in Matthew 12:35 where Jesus says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Every good deed, every good thought, every good attitude is held within the subconscious mind and becomes apart of the good stored up within our subconscious. It is held there until a crisis arises in our conscious state predisposing us to goodness. So we become good by habit. Habitually storing within our subconscious good acts that will bring forth goodness in times of crises. This makes goodness not depending on whether we feel like being good or not but becomes a part of our make-up, who we really are. We become naturally good because our nature is to be good, it is second nature to us to be good, to say the right thing or take the right attitude.
If we take the urges of our subconscious and give them over to the Holy Spirit, fully surrendering them then the Holy Spirit will cleanse, redirect and bring them to a place where they are in unity with the conscious mind. So that the subconscious and the conscious mind are under a single control making you an integrated person.
You change the subconscious and then the subconscious changes you. By exercising self-control and perseverance through submission to the Holy Spirit you change what is stored within. (2 Peter 3:6) Then we become almost automatically good, automatic because we have chosen through our infinite decisions what the character of the subconscious will be.