The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 7 — The Call of Salvation

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SALVATION

Recovering, Reframing, and Reclaiming
the Early Quaker Experience

Part 7

The Call of Salvation

We have discussed the concept of cognitive dissonance and its relationship to conversion or metanoia: if deep change is to occur, somehow a powerful dissonance must be triggered; our well-established schematic network of core beliefs must be challenged by love. How might that happen in such a way that our response will be to open ourselves to a deeply transformative religious conversion?

One is through being confronted directly by another person. Nayler titled his essay Love to the Lost: And a Hand held forth to the Helpless To Lead out of the Dark because it was written “in love to the soul which lies in death.”86 He speaks to “that of God” in us, to “that seed which is not of this world, which savors spiritually and judgeth not according to outward appearance.”87 Like much Quaker preaching, Love to the Lost issues many challenges that could trigger cognitive dissonance in a relatively self-aware and biblically-literate Christian. One such, from the section entitled “Concerning Redemption,” is this:

[Thy] talk of redemption doth not deliver thee from [the prince of this world’s] temptations; but into it [sic] thou falls, and commits the sin that is of his moving, and so art of the devil; but that which is of God [within you] lies under [your sinfulness], in death and captivity, and bonds of iniquity, and so thou canst not have power, nor the promise, nor salvation … and so art not of the promised seed, but an enemy to it, and by thy lusts and pleasures and self-will art in Pharaoh’s state and nature, keeping the seed of God in the house of bondage, and dost not pity nor regard the cries thereof, which cries against thy pride and excess, envy and wrath, and all thy wickedness by which thou oppressest the seed of God in thee….”88

Reading that passage, such a Christian could experience powerful cognitive dissonance.

Another common source would be our reading of the scriptures. In the same teaching section of Matthew 5 in which we are instructed to be as perfect as God, Jesus challenges our self-centered orientation in no uncertain terms, turning on its head the commonsense reasoning of normal morality.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Mat. 5:38-42).

Although taught to assimilate such teachings, some believers (and even non-believers), reading them, may feel themselves to be addressed and challenged by God through them, and the dissonance previously avoided or resolved for them by their religious tradition may be activated.

Cognitive dissonance can also come from dissatisfaction arising from our life experience. Nayler addresses the possibility that we might find “something in thee that in all these worldly delights cry [sic] vanity and emptiness, and can find no satisfaction therein….”89 (That “something” would, for the first Friends, be Christ, the Word of God: as Jesus taught, hearing the word can lead to the birth of the Kingdom of God in us.90) Or we might realize that we have harmed someone we love because of our selfishness: when “the hardness of heart comes to be felt” and we feel “trouble within,”91 we may begin to feel a desire to become a better, more loving person. We may feel a longing for fulfillment of the promise Ezekiel (36:26) described: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”

Another important source of cognitive dissonance is the example of other people: we may be inspired to seek change by the life of someone who helps others despite personal cost. But whatever the trigger, this kind of cognitive dissonance can bring us to question our basic assumptions and to open ourselves to the possibility of a schematic shift from self to love. That experience is called by Nayler “feeling the measure of God”92 in our hearts. However small that “measure” of love may be at the time, if we recognize its beauty and potential, and if we begin to desire to be grounded in it, then we have entered the path of salvation.

[Previous: Inheriting the World’s Perspective] [Next: Responding to the Call]

NOTES for Part 7
[86] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 52.
[87] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 48.
[88] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 115.
[89] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 114.
[90] See, for example, Luke 8:1-15.
[91] Nayler, Love to the Lost, pp. 55-56.
[92] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 127.

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