The Christian Counselor as a Pastoral Guide and a Moral Theologian: Helping One Defeat OneselfThere has been much written in this blog and among other theologians and writers regarding the external nature of temptation, occasion of sin and the ploys of Satan in regards to our soul. I would like to focus more on the internal struggle of temptation between man, the action and God. Within our fallen nature, we have more to worry about than a diabolical being, corrupted individuals and the whiles of the flesh. Instead, it is sometimes within our very own will that we experience our most intense battles against concupscience, selfishness and our own desires. This is where the Christian Counselor must combine the pastoral sensitivity of his vocation with the legalistic understanding of moral theology.
The Mind is Willing but the Flesh is Weak
Christ said it best, “the mind is willing but the flesh is weak”. This is due to our fallen nature that while made in the image and likeness of God and desiring of good, is still nevertheless inclined to false goods that are detrimental to the soul’s salvation. The internal struggle to do what is right and to submit one’s will to God is the ultimate battle one will face.
A list of terms will be necessary in understanding the inner struggle of the soul against temptation. First, when one speaks of man, we see two parts, body and soul. Within the soul exists to faculties, the intellect and the will. The intellect is the understanding part of our soul while the will is the decision part of our soul. The intellect presents information to the will and the will then decides what to act upon or not act upon. The will, however, is tied up with a multitude of physical sensations that go beyond the mental realm. The will must deal with various physical appetites that may contradict the understanding of the intellect. These various appetites are documented in St. Thomas Aquinas’ moral theology and can play havoc within the core of the soul. If the intellect is guided with a sound and moral conscience, then the battle is more intense with the passions, but if the intellect is guided with an unsound or ignorant conscience, then in many cases the will is subjugated without a ‘shot fired’ to the demands of the passions. No evil action is detected and the action is carried on without remorse. Obviously in today’s age of science, other factors of mental illness must also be tied to immoral decision making but we will remain focused on mentally sound decision making agents.
While one is compelled to rectify an erroneous or unsound conscience, many fall to various illicit moral actions without a sense of remorse or fear. However, the true battle that rages involves the certain and sound conscience that trumpets what is right and wrong despite the desires of the flesh. While hedonists and other secular materialists would consider this a psychological pathology of a divided man, Christianity would applaud such a stance of a soundly formed conscience. Only until the next life shall the intellect, will and physical appetites work in harmony. Until then, the certain and sound conscience voices the demands of Christ despite the body’s other carnal or dishonest desires.
Can we overcome these desires and listen to what is right? Unfortunately, due to the severity of damage to our nature after Adam’s fall, one cannot by himself choose good without the grace of the Holy Spirit. While our free will does play a role in accepting God’s grace, one cannot dare accomplish salvation or good actions without the grace of God.
How Does Grace Work?
Grace is a gift from God given to his creation. Like a medicine to the soul, it has a variety of functions. Some grace restores union with God (sanctifying), while other graces are applied to certain needs of the soul (sacramental). Everyday grace (actual), however, is applied to everyday situations that divide the will between a morally right or morally wrong option. No good choice is possible without actual grace.
This was once debated between Pelagius and St. Augustine. Pelagius daringly denied the existence of original sin and concluded that men can make good choices without the grace of God. Pelagius contended that man is capable of choosing God without grace. St. Augustine countered that since Adam fell, man’s nature was damaged and needed God’s grace to choose good.
Within the inner workings of the soul, God feeds grace to the intellect and will to overcome temptation. It there where the battle begins. Do we accept the gentle whispers of our God to do what is right, or to fulfill a vocation, or do we choose our own will and our own desires? Counseling can help, but one needs to make one’s own stand.
This dialogue with God can bear fruit if we allow the grace to purify our soul. Virtue and consistent practice will replace vice, and God’s will shall shine over our own. Spiritual fruits will grow as our will becomes open to God’s will and we will become surprised to see that submission to God’s will is actually freedom from our fallen nature.
Christian Counseling Education is a great way to learn how to counsel those who need spiritual guidance in their own internal wars against sin. If you are interested, please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C