Bible Psychology - thousands of years ahead of its time

On the deeper questions of life some of these ancient Hebrews knew so much more than we do that we may need to sit humbly at their feet and be taught by them. We may be beyond them in scientific knowledge, but in the understanding of God and man and the meaning of life in this world, they are beyond us in such a way that we can never overtake them.
James D. Smart, The Old Testament In Dialogue With Modern Man
The early theologian nailed it in Genesis chapters 1-11.

The first few chapters of Genesis have nothing to do with creation, of course. Anyone who focuses on this aspect has the potential for missing something deeply profound. The writer, compiling the words in about the 9th or 10th century before our common era (BCE) was using a collection of myths and legends to form the backdrop to some of the deepest insights. It could even be that he was the only one at the time who saw it - but, because he did, he wanted to write it down.

With Genesis 2 and 3 we need to focus on the insight that man's life is lived out in relationship to other people: The man and his wife; the two brothers; the family; the community, the nation, the world - ever expanding. Life is not lived out in solitude. From the moment we are born, it is the impact other people have on our lives that shapes who we are. But, at the same time, the wise mind behind the first eleven chapters of Genesis recognises that we are each individually accountable. Yes, those around us - parents, guardians, the influential - can have a serious impact on our lives, loading onto us all their fears and frustrations, but it is up to us, at some point in life to understand how we are affected by such things, and work to put them right.

At the end of chapter 2, the writer encapsulates a concept which resonates right down to our day, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." (italics mine)

The writer concocts a scenario in order to introduce wrongdoing and shame. He borrows from the Babylonian legend, but he secures the serpent in the psyche of the man. It is chaos. It is lies and slander and opposition. "I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. So I hid." The man is full of guilt, shame, and fear.

To the man, God asks, "Who told you you were naked?" To the woman, "What is this you have done?" The theologian is not painting God as some ill-advised parent exacerbating a problem with a child by asking, "What have you done?" when he knows full well what they have done. It infuriates a child to be put in a corner like that - admit the wrong, or lie. No, what the writer wants to convey is this: Search within yourself for the answer. Blaming others only perpetuates the problem. Things will only go from bad to worse, as the unfolding drama of Genesis 1-11 bears out. The man blames the woman and God, "The woman you put here with me..." The woman blames the serpent - that is to say, herself. "I'm such a bad person. I'm broken, I can't be fixed. What did you expect?" The writer identifies that the answer is to stop blaming others and start seeing who we are, and why.

The "why" aspect is introduced in the story of Cain and Abel. The brothers each present an offering to God. Abel's is accepted, Cain's is not. In their book, Raising Cain, child psychologists Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson portray God as responding sharply to Cain, lecturing him sternly - in other words, telling him to "Get over it!" This betrays a common mistake in allowing our own view of God colour how we read the scriptures. Why do we have to read God's words with an indignant voice? Genesis chapter 4 contains a wealth of insight. "Why are you hot with anger, and why has your countenance fallen?" If we hear this question asked in a compassionate manner, it becomes a plea for Cain to look into his own heart. "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it." This primitive therapist understands that we must do the work to find out what is wrong. It is not just because Abel's offering was accepted while his was not: Cain, why does that upset you? Why does it make you angry? What shame and guilt is it unearthing? What lie?

But Cain isn't interested. His callous answer underlies much of the horror we see today, "Am I my brother's keeper?" By the end of chapter 4, with Lamech's verse, we have the introduction of the revenge killing. Because man does not look within himself but pushes outwards, the guilt, shame and fear, are spread even wider.

The deluge of Noah's day is a stepping stone to the spread of races, which goes hand in hand with intolerance, and from there we meet the great dictator, Nimrod, who plays on the fears and insecurities of others, and subjugated a people. Together they build a city, and subsequently find themselves scattered to the four corners of the earth, their languages confused, and it is such a state that the first 11 chapters of Genesis leaves humankind.
Man is alive and haunted by the suspicion that the world is not as it was intended to be and that he himself has somehow missed his destiny.
James D. Smart, The Old Testament In Dialogue With Modern Man
Man's inability to look within has profound consequences for people everywhere. Nothing has changed to this day. It was not thousands of years ahead of its time. So it was then, so it is today. Members of the human race in general still have no desire to accept that the answer lies within. We still blame others. We still seek our revenge. We still live by fear and frustration, guilt, shame and anger.

The difference with our primitive psychologist is that he tied it in with the divine. He saw man's life as a life in conflict with God. We are all on the run, hiding from God. Whether we are deeply religious, or definitely atheist, we occupy the same road, running from God because of our shame - because we are too frightened to face the question, "Why...?"
Man's dilemma is not that he cannot find God, but rather that he cannot get free from God. What he calls his search for God is really a search for some other god than the one who constantly presses upon him such seemingly intolerable claims that in loyalty to his own self-sovereignty he feels compelled to deny him.
James D. Smart, The Old Testament in Dialogue with Modern Man
We say there is no proof of God. Well. here's the proof. Thousands of years ahead of its time in matters of the mind! Modern psychology testifies to the truth written in the Scriptures so many years ago: It is not the event that creates us, but our interpretation of the event. It is shame, guilt, and frustration - they form the barrier to realising our true selves, our authentic selves. So, what is stopping us from taking the extra step and accepting what the primitive therapist also understood - to fully know ourselves is to be re-united with God? Why do we not accept this? Because of pride. Because we think we are better. We cannot conceive of the fact that primitive man saw things more clearly than we do. Because, we simply don't want to accept it! "I'll have to do stuff...I don't like this angry God..." But God doesn't require anything from you. He doesn't make any demands. He simply asks, "Where do your demons come from?"

If we take the ancient writer's advice and find the answers within our own lives, we will begin to feel the weight being taken off. We will feel at peace. In those first few chapters it is pictured as God's ability to lift the earth out of chaos, or his ability to keep a man alive in the face of chaotic waters. The writer knew even then that an ability to search inwards and confront those questions would heal the breach within us, and reunite us with a God who has everything in his control. We don't need to know what is ahead. It is pictured in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 12 as Abraham confidently taking his family to a land that he did not know, because he had unstinting confidence in his God.

Genesis is not the story of the origins of life, the beginnings - it is the story of our beginnings, yours and mine. From the moment shame finds a foothold in our lives, we are damaged. We remain damaged until we find the root of such shame inside ourselves. When did it start, and why? Answer that, and life can truly begin.
But perhaps if man in estrangement looks into such a passage as Gen., ch.3, as into a mirror, and catches a glimpse of himself in flight, he may suddenly come to himself, and giving up all thought of self-concealment, be willing to stand exposed before God as the wayward creature that he is.
James D. Smart, The Old Testament In Dialogue With Modern Man